Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas carols (secular) -- the Gold Standard


The versions of these songs are the gold standard for secular Christmas music.  While others have also taken a shot at recording these songs, and some of those versions may be good, these are the best versions produced.  Convince me otherwise.  Feel free to add your own selections.

Criteria of selections.
1.  These are secular pieces.  Sacred music is entirely its own category, and sacred selections are sung best as a congregation.
2.  These are songs that have been sung, sung again, and sung again by various artists.  For example, I don’t know if anyone has re-recorded “Merry Christmas, Darling” by the Carpenters. ( ; footage from a Christmas special).  If it has been redone, the Carpenters are the gold standard.
3.  Some songs, in my opinion, have yet to find their gold standard.
4.  Some songs won’t have a gold standard.  Ever. (Sorry, “I Saw Mommy Kissing santa Claus.”  Go here: for the worst version of the worst Christmas song ever.  (I am willing to listen to other entries for bad Christmas songs, but that’s another blog entry.)
5.  Instrumental versions and lyrical versions may have different gold standards.
Caroling, Caroling – Nat King Cole

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) – Nat King Cole   (Recorded on TV special)

White Christmas – Bing Crosby

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – Johnny Mathis

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams

Happy Holidays – Andy Williams

Holly, Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – Gene Autry

The Little Drummer Boy – The Harry Simeone Chorale

Sleigh Ride (Instrumental) – Leroy Anderson & the Boston Pops

Here We Come A-Caroling – Ray Conniff Singers

We Need a Little Christmas – Percy Faith

O Tannenbaum (instrumental) – Vince Guaraldi Trio

NOTE: I don’t think Nat King Cole and the Ray Conniff Singers have produced a bad version of any Christmas song.  Perhaps add Bing Crosby.  These should be essential additions to anyone’s Christmas CD’s (or iPod’s, for those more technologically advanced that me).

Local Tourist -- Town Square, Plymouth, MI

Today, our Local Tourist visits the town square in Plymouth, MI.  It has been lit up with trees throughout the town square.  While pretty, they are all done in memory of someone who has died.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Sermon -- End Times 4, Christ the King (November 25, 2012)

JOHN 18:33-37
In the name + of Jesus.

     When Jesus stood trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33)  Pilate had a vested interest in this question.  If Jesus were a king, he could have been conspiring to lead a revolution, trying to overthrow the Romans and causing a good amount of bloodshed in Jerusalem.  Jesus assured Pilate that he did not have to fear about his governorship.  “My kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36), Jesus confessed. 

     But others had said Jesus was a king.  Pilate’s interrogation revealed that.  Pilate said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew?  Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me.” (John 18:33-35)  The Jews had charged that Jesus claimed to be a king.  That’s because Jesus had confessed that he is the Messiah.  The Messiah would be the King of the Jews.  He would even reign over the world.  Now, many Jews did not believe in him, but that is what it meant when Jesus confessed he is the Christ, the Son of God.

     A short time later when Jesus hung from the cross, people taunted Jesus again with his confession.  The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “…He is the King of Israel….” (Matthew 27:41-42)  Their mockery only makes sense if they repeated the claims of Jesus himself.  And in fact, Jesus had testified before Pontius Pilate that he is a king and reigns over a kingdom.  But Jesus does not reign with armies or artillery.  His kingdom is not marked by borders.  In fact, his kingdom is not even visible.  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36) 

     It is a strange kingdom, indeed, which cannot be seen or visited or marked on a map.  While his kingdom is invisible, Jesus does tell you where you will find it.  Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.  For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)  Jesus Christ is our divine king, and our divine king reveals divine truth.  Jesus reigns through his holy word.  His servants do not fight; they preach.  Everyone who believes Jesus’ words dwells within his kingdom, as Jesus said, Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)  Our divine king reveals divine truth, and his people listen to it.

     There is another kingdom.  Satan is the prince of this world, and he rules over all people by his lies and deception.  He convinces people that they are good enough, that they should do whatever it takes to make themselves happy, that they are answerable to no one, and that they can determine for themselves what is good and evil.  You know his lies, because he tempts you with them, too.  And his lies are seductive because they appeal to your sinful nature.  You also want to do whatever you please, and you also want to believe that you do not have to answer to anyone for it, not even God.  You pit your selfishness against the selfishness of others, which leads to jealousy, bitterness, gossip, dissensions, and even hatred.  You even believe the lie that all of this is someone else’s fault.  Do not be deceived.  The devil wants to claim you for his kingdom.  Though he may promise pleasure for a while, the cost is eternal.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and the torment and shame and guilt of hell is unending and immeasurable.

     But our divine King reveals divine truth to set you free and to keep you free from Satan’s kingdom.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)  Jesus overcame the devil and established his kingdom by fulfilling all of God’s truth.  The devil’s claim on all mankind came when he got man to believe his lies and defy God’s words.  Therefore, Jesus came to rectify this.  Man once again came to fulfill God’s demands and be holy.  Jesus obeyed the truth and fulfilled all of God’s commands.  Jesus delivered you out of the devil’s kingdom and brought you into the kingdom of righteousness when covered you in his righteousness at your baptism.  The blood of Jesus purifies you of all sin.  Our divine King reveals divine truth – you have been snatched from the devil and are now claimed by Jesus.

     God also declares that nothing sinful can enter his holy presence.  Rather than tell you that your sins are not that big of a deal, Jesus upholds God’s truth.  Your sins have separated you from your God.  You had been cut off from mercy, blessing, peace, and heaven.  Jesus does not sugar coat the severity of sin and the consequences of sin.  God’s truth stands: The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  Therefore, Jesus suffered and died for you.  In this way, Jesus fulfills God’s truth.  All your guilt has been taken away.   All your punishment has been consumed.  The wrath of God is done.  Jesus Christ rose from the dead to guarantee it and to proclaim it.  Our divine King reveals this divine truth: Your sins are removed from you.  Death is overcome for you.  God is pleased with you.  Heaven is yours. 

     Do not be deceived by the devil and his lies.  Right now, it appears that the devil rules.  Sin is rampant.  Wickedness abounds.  Death awaits all people.  And it seems like Jesus is just letting everyone do what they want without any real consequences.  That’s how it seems, but it is not the truth.  The King will appear, and the Judgment will come.  Answers must be given.  But you have a Savior who gives you your answer.  Rejoice in his saving truth.  He delivers you from death to life and from hell to heaven.

     There is a vast difference between those who are in the kingdom of God and those who are not.  Remember: Jesus lives and reigns among us by his holy word, not by miraculous acts or displays of glory.  His word has been planted in you.  Therefore, you receive his blessings.  Those who are outside the kingdom may seem to prosper.  Do not envy them.  They are marked for death and damnation.  They live in shame.  They are consumed by guilt.  They are plagued with doubts about the future and certainly about eternity.  Death scares them to death.  Why?  Because Satan lies to them.  They may or may not recognize that they have no truth to cling to.  But knowing that they have no answers is no comfort.  That just breeds more angst.

     Jesus said, Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)  Our divine king reveals divine truth.  He gives you all the answers you long for, and his word soothes your hearts.  You have been brought into the kingdom of God, and you have received all its benefits.  You have forgiveness for all your sins, blessing in place of your shame, consolation in your sorrows, peace which calms you in your stress, life in the midst of death, and eternal joys which will never cease. 

     The King who saved you from your sins is also the King who delivers you from death.  The King who endured your hell is the King who decrees that you have a place waiting for you in heaven.  He is the King who supplies all your needs and who conquers your enemies.  As you strive to be loyal subjects of your king and wonder if you have been good enough for him, Jesus speaks tenderly to you.  He reminds you of his royal decree: You are forgiven.  You are saints.  You are heirs of an eternal kingdom.  This is the divine truth he has revealed to you. 

     Jesus Christ is your divine King.  He lives and reigns for you.  And soon, you shall live and reign with him – for the victory over sin, death, and hell are yours.  The joys of the kingdom are yours.  You have God’s word on it.

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

Sermon -- Thanksgiving Eve (November 21, 2012)

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul wrote, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:11-12)  St. Paul had seen the highs and lows of it.  He knew feast and famine.  He knew joy and sorrow.  He knew peace and persecution.  He knew what it was to enjoy fellowship with his Christians friends and he knew what it was to flee from his enemies.  What is remarkable is this: He was content in the midst of it all.  When he enjoyed having abundance, he did not forget the God who blessed him so richly.  When he endured the lean times, he did not despise God who withheld blessings from him.  That is because he knew he had a loving and merciful Father in heaven no matter what.  Though his circumstances changed, his God did not.  The Father knew exactly what Paul needed at all times, and the Father always supplied St. Paul’s needs.

     Now, we are almost 2,000 years removed from the days of St. Paul.  So we might think, “Sure.  It was easy for Paul.  He did not have a family to fret about.  He did not have the bills I have.  He never faced the prospect that he could be downsized from his job.  God always took care of him.”  It is easy to paint an image in our minds which suggests that Paul had no real problems.  But that is what we do in our sinful hearts.  Each of us convinces ourselves, “There are no greater problems than my problems.”  We dismiss other people’s fears and minimize their problems.  It is all because we are self-absorbed and self-important sinners.  Do you know why my problems are significant and yours aren’t?  Because my problems are mine and yours aren’t.  That is a cruel, egotistical, and even idolatrous way to look at things, but we are all cruel, egotistical, and even idolatrous.  Repent.

     We may imagine St. Paul breezing through life without any real concerns or worries.  Of course, this is not true.  Read through 2 Corinthians 10-11 and you will learn of St. Paul’s many woes and struggles – woes and struggles that you have never had to face.  But that doesn’t really matter.  It is not a competition.  We are not here to determine who is having a harder life – you vs. St. Paul.  And it is pointless to compare your blessings or your struggles with your siblings, your neighbor, or with the people in the church with you.  God blesses everyone differently.  He gives both blessings and crosses, and he hands them out differently to each one of us.  But no matter what you enjoy or what you endure, you all have a loving and merciful Father in heaven who knows exactly what you need.  And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in Christ Jesus.

     St. Paul wrote, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.” (Philippians 4:11)  Chances are you have experienced both.  Reflecting upon this year may fill you with grief rather than gratitude.  No matter what, King Solomon would have you remember this: “When times are good, be happy, but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)  No matter which times God is putting you through, he remains your good and merciful Father in heaven.  He knows your needs, and my God will supply every need of yours.

     It is the nature of sinners to question God’s actions, God’s love, and God’s wisdom.  That is what caused Adam and Eve to rebel in the Garden of Eden.  It is what causes you to resent God for the way he blesses you – whether giving you plenty and variety or restricting you to scant little. 

     Children do not know what is best for them.  They can make some silly demands and foolish choices.  So it is for you.  You are children of the heavenly Father.  He knows all things; you do not.  He knows every reason behind your circumstances; you knowledge is limited.  You crave what you want; God knows best what you truly need, and is able to deliver on it.  My God will supply every need of yours. 

     The Father knows that your greatest need is your eternal salvation.  He always acts with this in mind.  This is what moved him to send his only begotten Son into the world.  Jesus lived and died for you.  He supplied all the willing obedience you have not given.  The Son of Man lived without having a place to call his own.  He died with his only possession being his garments, and even those were taken from him.  And yet he spent his life praising and thanking his Father.  Jesus has atoned for your discontent with his gratitude.  Jesus covers your complaints with his words of praise.  And he shed his holy, precious blood to redeem you from all your sins.  Why?  Because this is precisely what you need.  If you would have eternal life, you need to be found righteous and you need your sins removed.  Therefore, Jesus willingly and gladly lived and died for you.  In Baptism he gave you the righteousness you need.  In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives you the forgiveness you need.  Whoever believes in Jesus has the Advocate he needs at the final judgment.  Your salvation is secure.  God has supplied every need of yours.

     If the Lord cares that much for you to do this so that you would dwell with him for eternity, will he not also love and preserve you for this momentary time?  Your heavenly Father knows what you need.  And what you may need is to learn that every blessing in this world is fleeting and that all worldly treasures are not to be trusted.  If that is what you need, you can be sure that your Father in heaven will supply it.  The Lord disciplines those he loves.  If he loves you as his own child, the Lord will bless you as is best for you – whether high or low, whether in abundance or in need.  All that he has you enjoy or endure is for your good whether you know it or not. 

     My God will supply every need of yours, no matter what.  No matter what changes you have to endure, your heavenly Father does not change.  That is why St. Paul could write, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13) 

     Perhaps the Lord will pour out abundance in the months to come.  Perhaps he will remove blessings from you to teach you to forsake this world and to yearn for heaven.  Perhaps the economy will thrive.  Perhaps these past years have been a mere appetizer for the depression that is coming.  Perhaps your situation will get better than you’ve ever dreamed it could.  Perhaps it will become more dire than you think you can handle.  Perhaps.  I don’t know.  You don’t either.  I doubt St. Paul planned to spend so many years in prison that his ministry would have to be done through epistles.  St. Paul was probably also amazed that he had survived as much as he already had.  Whether God blesses you with abundance or pittance, you need not fret.  Whatever God gives you, he gives it to you because it is what you need.  And he gives it to you because he is your good and merciful Father in heaven.

     I don’t know how God will bless you.  You don’t either.  What God has not revealed to you – don’t worry about it.  You don’t need to know it.  It is God’s concern.  Your comfort is what God has made known to you.  Know this: Your God does not change.  He is your good and merciful Father in heaven.  His love does not waver.  His forgiveness covers you.  His strength sustains you.  He knows your needs and does all things for your good.  He watches over your life on earth and reserves your place in heaven.  So let your heart be content.  Let your lips give thanks.  Put your mind at ease.  My God will supply every need of yours.

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

Sermon -- End Times 3, Saints Triumphant (November 18, 2012)

DANIEL 12:1-3

In the name + of Jesus.

Blessed are the saints of God; they are bought with Christ’s own blood.
They are ransomed from the grave; life eternal they shall have.
With them numbered may we be here and in eternity. (CW 394:1)

     Dear Christians, as you sang that opening hymn, you may have prayed that you would one day be among the saints of God.  But I hope you realize this: You already are saints of God.  You have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.  You have been ransomed from the grave.  Though you will go to your grave one day, you will not remain.  The grave does not own you; Jesus does.  Remember?  “Bought with Christ’s own blood.”  That is what ransoms you.  Life eternal you shall have.  In fact, life eternal you already have.  You do not yet have heaven.  That will come.  But you have life in Christ already, and that never ends.  You are numbered with the saints of God here, and God will sustain you through his word and sacraments so that you will be numbered among the saints in the Church Triumphant forever.

     But if you have a hard time considering yourself among the blessed saints of God, it is probably because you do not look like a saint.  You don’t act like a saint.  And the adjective triumphant is not one that you would use to describe your life.  An honest assessment of yourself and your life proves that you are a sinful being living in a sinful world.  You face the same vexing and seductive temptations day after day.  They are seductive because you would like to give in to them.  They are vexing because you do.  You sin against your God, your spouse, your children, your co-workers, and so forth.  This is not saintly, but wicked.

     You also do not appear to be especially triumphant.  You have to deal with a body that is failing—one organ, one nerve, or one sense at a time.  You have family or friends whom you see suffer and struggle, and it grieves you.  You face hardships from people who deceive you and lie about you.  You hurt from the cruel words of loved ones or the heartless actions of strangers.  You seem to barely be getting by, and there are days you would like to just quit – quit your job, quit your friends, quit your responsibilities, and maybe even on really bad days quit your life.  And you wonder, “This is what it is like to be a child of God?!”

     In this world you will have trouble, but all this is not of trouble Daniel foretold.  Daniel warned that a time of persecution is coming upon the Church.  Satan will be unleashed and launch a last-ditch assault, and he will try to eradicate the Church from the earth when the end of the world is imminent.  I can’t tell you when it will be, and I can’t tell you how bad it might get.  I can only tell you that Daniel describes it as a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” (Daniel 12:1)  You will feel even less like the saints of God when that hardship comes.  The Lord loves his Church, and yet he will let her endure intense pain, loss, and suffering.  If you wonder where the glory is now, you may be tempted to renounce the faith altogether when persecution comes with great fury. Beware.  Keep watch.  You are still the saints of God.  You are still blessed.  And your hope remains the same: Jesus Christ.

     The Lord foretold through the prophet Daniel: At that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.  And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:1-3)

     Brothers and sisters, you will shine in glory.  But your glory is not now.  It will be for you like it was for Jesus.  In this world, you will live in humility and weakness and suffering.  The glory comes after the resurrection.  Then, you will shine in glory.

     It is not until the resurrection that you will finally appear to be exactly what God says you are.  The judgment will come.  The dead will be raised.  And the Lord will show before the entire population of the world’s history who are blessed and who are cursed.  Those who are blessed will shine in glory and be taken to the bliss of heaven.  Those who are evil will delivered over to everlasting shame and damnation.  There will be no mistaking who is who.  And the hymn we sang today will ring especially true on that day: “Blessed are the saints of God.”  You are the saints of God.  At the resurrection, you will not know it by faith, but by sight.  You will shine in glory.

     But it is important to understand why you have such confidence.  It is through Jesus Christ who had come once to ransom you.  Jesus Christ became flesh to redeem you from sin, death, and Satan.  He suffered all of the hatred and pain and rejection at the hands of sinful men.  He died in shame and contempt under the curse of the heavenly Father.  He died for sinners to redeem you from all of your shame, your guilt, and your regrets.  He paid the price so that sin cannot condemn you.  Satan cannot accuse you.  The grave does not own you.  Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is the proof of his judgment upon you.  He who is flesh and blood conquered death for you.  He assures you that you, who are flesh and blood, will rise from the grave, too.  He lives and reigns to verify your forgiveness, to deliver you from evil, and to bring you to heaven. 

     Jesus has called you out of a world that is dying and cursed because it is infested with evil.  He has cleansed you through your baptism so that you are purified from evil.  And if you are pure, then there is no more curse upon you.  Jesus has saved you through your baptism.  This is how he has made you saints of God.  Jesus sustains you through his absolution.  This is how he assures you that you are still saints of God.  Jesus strengthens you through his supper.  This is where he feeds you and strengthens you as saints of God.  This is where you get to join in with the saints in heaven for the feast of victory.  Though the glory is hidden, it is here.  Though you may not seem triumphant, the victory is yours.  Here, the Lord dispenses his forgiveness.  Here, the Lord pours out his mercy.  Here, the Lord makes you partakers of eternal life.

     Jesus has called you out of shame and contempt and sin and death.  Jesus gives you peace and blessing and life.  Keep yourselves free from the evil that is so prevalent and celebrated in this world.  Do not go back to deeds that lead to death.  Repent of your sins and flee to Jesus.  In Jesus, you will always find forgiveness, a life of comfort and hope, and eternal salvation.  In Jesus, you have deliverance from the devil’s taunting and death’s threats.  In Jesus, all shame is covered and all glory awaits. 

     You will shine in glory with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  You’ve been forever redeemed from the curse.  You are forever blessed among the saints of God.  For now, the glory is hidden, but you will shine in glory.  You have been made wise for salvation, knowing that your judgment and your eternity rest in the hands of Jesus Christ.  You have been made wise to know that Jesus dispenses his mercy and salvation through his Church which preaches his word, proclaims his absolution, and administers his sacraments.  You have been made wise to know that the wedding feast of the Lamb is here, that the saints of God gather around the feast, and that what has begun here will continue through all eternity.  And you know that those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above. (Daniel 12:3) 

     You will shine in glory, for you are the saints of God.  You have been bought with Christ’s own blood.  You have been ransomed from the grave.  Life eternal you shall have.  You are numbered with God’s saints here and, by God’s gracious care, in eternity.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Prayer of the Day -- End Times 3 (Saints Triumphant)

Almighty God and Savior, you have set the final day and hour when we shall be delivered from this world of sin and death.  Keep us ever watchful for the coming of your Son that we may sit with him and all your holy ones at the marriage feast in heaven; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

We recall that the Day of Judgment is a day unknown to anyone on earth.  While that might fill us with fear and trepidation, it need not -- not when we remember that the Judge of all is our Savior.  He who renders the verdict has already given us ours: Forgiven, and therefore heirs of eternal life.

Therefore, Judgment Day is a day when we will, once and for all time, be delivered from evil.  No more death or mourning or cyring or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4). 

Therefore, we keep watch.  We watch our lives so that we are not ensnared by sin, deceived by false teachings, or overcome by despair.  We keep watch for Jesus, knowing that he will come again and put an end to all frustrations and temptations and that he will deliver us forever from evil.  And we keep focused on Jesus who comes to us at the sacrament.  We partake with all saints in the marriage feast for a moment at the Supper, and we look forward to the unending feast, again with all the saints, in the glories of heaven.

Friday, November 16, 2012

From Conception to Birth -- COOL!!

This is an amazing video which presents images of a baby from its conception to birth.

The elapsed images of a baby from conception to birth begin at about the 1:58 mark.  The first 2 minutes explains how they got these images (basically MRI stuff) and the end of the video has the man marvel at how the cells just happen to know how to develop into a baby.  He attributes it to divinity (but also uses the words mystery and magic).  I don’t know if this man is a Christian or not.  Perhaps he feels compelled to pander to the scientific community who rejects the involvement or even the existence of God. 

Christians, of course, know that the Lord is the Maker of heaven and earth and of all who dwell within it.  He is the one behind the mystery, and yet we still marvel at it.

For you formed my inward parts;

    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,

    when I was being made in secret,
       intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)

For more information about how you can help support those who are struggling with temptations to abort their babies, you can visit Christian Life Resources at:
Or you can check out the Pregnancy Counseling Center in Redford at:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Now Playing....

...Backstairs at the White House.

We are thoroughly enjoying this 4-DVD set, and we are grateful the Northville Library had it on their shelves! 

Backstairs at the White House is a mini-series (remember them?) which first aired on NBC back in 1978.  I vaguely remember it from back then, but it must have made quite an impression because I remember most of it pretty well.  I've also read the book a few times, so that helps.  Anyway, the mini-series follows the book pretty closely.

The story is about a mother and daughter who both served on the servant staff in the White House from the Taft administration until the end of the Eisenhower administration.  Maggie Rodgers, the mother, began her work in 1909 and worked thirty years, even being brought back for a brief time by request of the first lady.  Her daughter, Lilian Rodgers Parks, overlapped her mother a little bit and put in about 3 decades herself.  Lilian's service is all the more incredible because she had to get along on a crutch because of polio.  She and FDR actually developed a little bit of a bond because of that.  Lilian is the one who wrote the book with many, many notes her mother had taken.

We will be returning it soon, so go and get it.  It is a long mini-series, so plan on several nights to watch it.  If you like American history at all, you will not regret a moment of it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sermon -- End Times 2 -- Last Judgment (November 11, 2012)

HEBREWS 9:24-28

In the name + of Jesus.

     Presidential elections produce their share of both angst and euphoria among voters.  Either you are elated at the results of this past week, or you are alarmed.  Those who are disappointed sneer at those who are happy, and those who are happy snicker at those who are disappointed.  One group anticipates that things will surely get better; the other that things will surely fall apart.  Both sides play a dangerous game.  It’s not just that the country is divided by factions.  That is nothing new.  History shows that Americans and especially politicians can be much more dirty and divisive than we seem to be now.  The dangerous part has to do with where you pin your hopes. 
     I said it before the election, and I will say it again:  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)  Of course, such counsel is nothing new.  That is the word of the Lord, and it has been written in ink for some 3,000 years.  Whether you want your prince to be a Democrat, a Republican, one who enjoys tea parties or occupies Wall Street, do not put your trust in such a person.  The prince you support may promise to line the pockets of some or to empty the pockets of others, but do not think that he would have solved or will solve your problems.
     Dear Christian friends, your problems are still the same, and they have nothing to do with elections or economies.  They have everything to do with your heart.  You are a sinful creature who trusts in many things you should not trust in.  You trust in the economy to fix things.  You trust in elected officials to fix the economy.  You trust in doctors to spare you from death.  You trust in possessions to make you happy.  You trust in your job or your friends for your sense of worth.  But all of these things can be swept away in a moment’s notice.  Do not put your trust in princes, in wealth, or anything else in this world.  It is all idolatry.  Repent.
     The First Commandment states: You shall have no other gods.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love and trust in God above all things. (Luther’s Small Catechism)  But we do fear, love, and trust in other things than God.  The problem is not really princes, politicians, wealth, or health.  It all comes down to hearts that turn from God.  Your sin does not come from your wallet or from a political campaign – though your sins may be evident there.  Your sin comes from come from your heart.  Your sin is the reason you are going to die.  It is the reason that judgment is coming upon the world.  It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) 
     This is certain: Everyone is going to die, and everyone is going to face judgment.  Everyone must give an answer for the deeds they have done, for the words they have uttered, and even for the very thoughts and desires of their hearts.  No one can escape it.  Everything will be made known.  Every secret will be laid bare.  And you think your greatest fears are dodged or realized at presidential elections?! 
     Dear Christians, do you not know that the Lord Jesus Christ still reigns?  Do you not realize that the kingdom of God provides a comfort that the kingdoms on this earth never will?  Do you not believe that the promises of God are the only promises that are reliable?  No man has perfect judgment.  They are faulty at best.  While some may promise you the way to a better life now, they will never take away this world’s problems.  The poor you will always have among you.  There will always be wars and rumors of wars.  It is appointed for man to die, and everyone will.  The only refuge in all of these things and the only hope in the face of the coming judgment is Jesus Christ.  The only kingdom that will endure through it all is the kingdom of God.  It is your only refuge in the judgment, and your only comfort in a deceptive and disappointing world.
     The only prince who is trustworthy is the Prince of Peace.  The peace and the hope Jesus gives you can never be swept away by elections or superstorms, by present dangers or future threats, by poverty, by stress, or even by death.  Jesus has provided refuge for you by his perfect sacrifice on your behalf.  And a perfect sacrifice means a perfect judgment.  For Christ has entered…into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  (Hebrews 9:24) 
     Jesus has won for us forgiveness and deliverance from every curse and consequence of sin.  He has fulfilled all that was foreshadowed in the Old Testament.  The writer to the Hebrews makes reference to the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God on earth, to make offerings on the Day of Atonement.  On that day, the High Priest brought in the blood of a goat, first to atone for his own sins, and then more blood to atone for the sins of Israel.  But the Day of Atonement was repeated year after year.  Annually, the High Priest would have to make further atonement for the sins of the people.  No payment was ever enough.  No amount of blood appeased God once and for all.  High Priests died off.  Generations came and went.  Sin and death still reigned.
     But Jesus is an eternal High Priest.  He enters not a man-made temple, but heaven itself.  He enters not with the blood of goats, but with his holy, precious blood shed at his innocent sufferings and death.  Jesus Christ is both the High Priest who presents our offering to God and he is the offering itself.  The holy Son of God has given himself as the holy sacrifice for you.  His holy blood atones for your lack of fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  Jesus Christ lives and reigns above all things to guarantee your forgiveness.  His perfect sacrifice atones for you.  His holy blood covers you.  His perfect sacrifice means a perfect judgment.
     Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save.  Trust in the Prince of Peace, your immortal Savior, who has brought you into an eternal kingdom.  This is the kingdom to which you now belong.  Granted, you get to live in this country and to enjoy its blessings.  God never guarantees how rich those blessings will be or how long they will last.  But then, God does not want you to be deceived by the riches of this world.  You have much better blessings that are coming – blessing which cannot be stolen, lost, or devalued.  In fact, you already enjoy some of those blessings now.  You have forgiveness of sins, comfort in times of sorrow, joy in the face of danger, and security in the time of judgment.  For you have been brought into the Holy Christian Church, the kingdom of God, where sins have been atoned for and where death has been overcome.  Jesus’ sufferings and death have guaranteed that.  His perfect sacrifice means a perfect judgment.
     Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)  Do not wait for the world to become a slice of heaven on earth.  Politicians may promise that, but they cannot deliver on it because they cannot overcome sin and death.  Jesus Christ has overcome sin and death.  Look for his coming.  Wait for his salvation.  Cling to his promises, and you will never be disappointed. 
     Put your trust in the Prince of Peace.  He holds your judgment in his hands, and he has assured you that you will be found holy and blameless on the Last Day.  He has every right to make such a judgment – for his blood has washed away your sins and covers you in righteousness.  That blood was poured upon you in your baptism.  It is poured into you at the Lord’s Supper.  It is your refuge, your comfort, and it is all you need.  His perfect sacrifice means a perfect judgment upon you and a perfect kingdom for you.  That is the only kingdom that endures.  It is the only promise that is trustworthy.  For, Jesus is the only Prince who saves.

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sermon -- Reformation Sunday; End Times 1 (November 4, 2012)

MARK 13:5-11

In the name + of Jesus.

     As you know, there is a tremendous reward for being a Christian.  Jesus Christ has cleansed you and claimed you through your baptism.  Through baptism, Jesus has bestowed upon you blessings that are beyond measure and cost.  He forgives you of all your sins.  In fact, if you ever wonder if you are truly forgiven, you can confess, “I am baptized.  God’s promises are mine, and God does not lie to me.  Therefore, my sins are forgiven.”  You are Christ’s.  His blessings are yours.  There is nothing greater on earth.
     Nevertheless, Jesus told the apostles that there would be a tremendous cost for being a Christian.  Be on your guard.  For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.” (Mark 13:9)  The apostles were reviled, ridiculed, arrested, flogged, and martyred.  They were considered enemies of both the church and the state.  What heinous crime was worthy of such treatment?  Jesus said, “The gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (Mark 13:10)  The apostles were commissioned to do this preaching.  For preaching the gospel, they were charged with treason, blasphemy, and other crimes.  For proclaiming God’s love, they were hated.  For preaching the forgiveness of sins, they were condemned.  For opening up the gates of heaven, many people wanted them to go to hell.  For showing people the resurrection to eternal life, they were put to death. 
     Jesus had warned them: See that no one leads you astray.  But be on your guard.” (Mark 13:5,9)  Life as a Christian means life under the cross.  That means both blessings and cost.  The apostles were arrested and tried before the Sanhedrin, before governors, and even before Caesar.  It was not a time to be cowardly or to concede, but to confess.  The apostles were to do nothing other than to witness what they had seen and heard from Jesus.  A Savior has lived in righteousness for sinful mankind.  A Savior has died under God’s curse to atone for sins.  A Savior has risen from the grave to declare peace between God and men, to deliver from hell into heaven, and to assure you that the grave does not reign – Jesus does.  They were simply to say whatever had been given them.  It was not their opinion.  It was not their propaganda.  It was the good news promised by God and fulfilled by Jesus. 
     It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  When you have an opportunity to confess your faith, you simply confess the faith.  It is not your opinion.  It is not propaganda.  It is the good news promised by God and fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  It is God’s word which you believe and confess. 
     Nothing has changed.  You will likely never have to face the fury the apostles endured, but confessing the gospel still evokes bitter opposition.  People hate this gracious Savior because they don’t believe they need grace and they don’t believe they need to be saved.  Even if a person gives himself to drunkenness, to speculating about his neighbors and assuming the worst about them, to coveting another man’s wife, to belittling his children, and to gratifying whatever carnal desires he has, he still believes he is a good person.  He despises God’s word.  He rejects God’s judgment.  
     But God’s word is not open for debate.  People may reject it and despise it, but God’s word cannot be changed any more than God himself can be changed.  People may despise you for confessing God’s word.  But when that happens, see that no one leads you astray.  But be on your guard. (Mark 13:5,9)  Do not find ways to make God’s word more compatible with wickedness or tolerable to the ungodly or permissive to your own sinful weaknesses.  Say whatever is given to you, and what is given to you is God’s word.  God has spoken, plainly and clearly, for himself.  What God condemns, let him condemn.  What God blesses, let him bless.  If you change God’s word to suit your audience, you lose who God is.  You forfeit your Savior. 
     You will likely never be called upon to speak before a president, a governor, or even your mayor.  You do get to speak to co-workers, friends, and relatives.  It should not matter how great or small they seem to you.  Say whatever is given to you.  Confess the faith.  Let God speak for himself, and let your voice be the one which proclaims that word – just as St. John and St. Peter did before the Sanhedrin, just as St. Paul did before Nero, and just as Luther did before Emperor Charles V.
     Say whatever is given to you.  Confess the faith boldly and freely.  But be on your guard. (Mark 13:9)  Do not fear when you are called on to confess.  Fear will tempt you to go silent or even to deny the faith.  But this is what the Lord says: “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4-5)  Though you testify before men about the hope that is in you, you are not accountable to men.  Though men may judge you for your confession, men are not the judge.  Friends may forsake you.  Activists may attack you.  Religious leaders may banish you.  Caesar may execute you.  They do not have the final verdict upon you.  Say and cling to what has been given to you – God’s word.  For the Lord is the judge.  He has the only word with authority.  He holds the final verdict.
     You have a Savior who has taken all the slander away from you.  He was condemned for every time you have failed to live up to the word of the Lord or confess the word of the Lord.  He died under your verdict of condemnation and has risen to render you a new verdict.  You have been given a word that overrules every other word, no matter how vicious, vindictive, or final it sounds.  You have been given a salvation which cannot be lost no matter how brutally you are treated.  No matter how badly they slander you, you have been given an eternal verdict by the Risen Lord.  No matter what they take away from you, you have been given a place in the kingdom of God for now and eternity. 
     Therefore, say whatever has been given to you.  You have been given a Savior who lives and reigns no matter how violently the world rejects him or vehemently the world hates you.  The Lord has given you a word that cannot be overruled and a kingdom that will never be overthrown.  He has given you an eternal life which can never be taken from you and a resurrection that can never perish. 
     Say whatever has been given to you.  For what has been given to you shall save you.  When they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)  The Holy Spirit has given you words to confess.  The Holy Spirit who dwells in you will proclaim his word through you.  That word will sustain you in the face of every temptation, in the face of every enemy, and even in the face of death. 
     So say whatever has been given to you and do not fear anyone who would raise his hand or his voice against God and his people.  The Lord still reigns – just as he reigned in Jerusalem even when the apostles were arrested and flogged, just as he reigned in Alexandria when Athanasius was exiled five times, just as he reigned in Wittenberg when Luther was excommunicated, just as he does in Novi no matter what anyone says about you or against you.  Whether God’s people confess the faith with their mouths or with their blood, the Lord Jesus lives and reigns.  So say this word which has been given to you.  His word stands forever, and the kingdom ours remaineth.

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