Monday, January 28, 2013

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (January 27, 2013)

LUKE 4:14-21

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  It was his custom to go there and hear the readings from Moses and the Prophets.  As a rabbi, he also had the opportunity to teach and to preach.  On this particular day in Nazareth, the assigned reading was from Isaiah, chapter 61.  The synagogue leader handed the scroll to Jesus for the reading.  Jesus read it, and then sat down to expound on the text.  “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), he said.
     In other words, when Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18), Jesus was telling them the “me” in Isaiah is Jesus.  He had come from God.  He was anointed by God.  And he was commissioned by God to preach good news to the poor.  He had come to Israel to proclaim that God loves them.
     Now, Jesus’ message then was not too different from what we hear today.  The message that people expect to hear in church is this: “God loves you.”  For that matter, you can talk to people who have no use for the church and they still will say the same thing: “God loves you.  God would never shut anyone out.  God would never turn anyone away.  God does not want us to judge or condemn anyone.  God wants us to love each other.  And God loves you just the way you are.”  It is an appealing message, and it is very popular.  However, when people say, “God loves you,” you must ask, “Based on what?”  How do you know God loves you?  Just because you think he should?  Because you are so good?  Because you think God never condemns anyone for any reason?  Such a god is an idol and a lie, no matter how popular he is. 
     This is what the Lord says: “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5,6)  The Lord God is a jealous God.  You owe him honor and glory and obedience, and he will not share this with anyone else; for, he alone is God.  But he is not a God devoid of love.  He says so himself.  What is his love based upon?  His love is based on his holy justice.  He loves all who are holy and obedient.  As he said, he shows love to those who love him and keep his commandments.  There is no love, however, for those who fail to keep them. 
     Yes, you owe God.  You owe him love, honor, glory, and obedience.  But you have not given God what you owe.  You are worse than poor; you have racked up a debt beyond limit.  You continue to raise the debt ceiling day after day with your sins.  Your conscience oppresses you with guilt, and rightly so.  For, you are guilty.  You know what you’re supposed to do, but you haven’t.  And you don’t.  You owe God, and you cannot begin to pay him back.  You can’t even deliver the obedience you owe him.
     Dear friends, if you recognize how poor and beggarly you are before God, this is good.  There is no good news for those who demand a reward from God.  But for those who are poor in spirit and who boast of nothing, there is good news.  A Savior has come for you.  He came to Nazareth to read the word of God in the synagogue.  Jesus is more than a rabbi or a teacher who has come to preach the word of God.  God himself has come to proclaim good news to you.  Jesus read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)  Then he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)  He is the Lord’s anointed.  He fulfills the Lord’s promise.  The Lord’s anointed proclaims the Lord’s favor.
     Jesus proclaims the good news: “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)  This is not a prophet who comes and talks about God’s favor.  This is God who proclaims it, who enacts it, and who fulfills it.  Jesus is the Lord’s anointed who proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. 
     It is likely that we all know people who have endured hardship in the past number of years.  Jobs were lost.  Homes were foreclosed.  Financial burdens were heaped upon people for various reasons.  Credit card debt has become massive and crushing for many.  Back in Old Testament days, people who endured such hardships sold themselves into slavery to repay their debts.  For years, they labored to pay back what they owed.  But every 50th year came the Year of Jubilee.  It was in that year that mercy was given on all who had suffered in debt and slavery.  All debts were forgiven.  All slaves were set free.  Land which had to be sold away was restored.  Full pardon was granted.  The slate was wiped clean.
     This is what Jesus came to decree and to enact.  The Lord’s Anointed proclaims the Lord’s favor.  Jesus came to settle all debts, to free you from your captivity to sin and death and judgment, and to end the oppression of your conscience.  He comes to pardon you from all of your guilt and to clean the slate.  The Lord’s Anointed proclaims the Lord’s favor.  God loves you.
     But as we said before, when you hear, “God loves you,” you should ask, “Based on what?”  God’s love still remains based on his holy justice.  So Jesus acted for you so that God can be just and so that God can show his favor upon you.  Therefore, Jesus has come to pay the debt that you owe.  He delivered on the holy obedience that God demands.  Jesus’ holy life supplies all the perfect love that God seeks and the willing obedience that God commands.  The Commandments have been kept.  And Jesus’ sacrificial death supplies all of the judgment and justice that God demands.  The guilty one was condemned – Jesus bearing all of your guilt for you.  Jesus gave up his life as the payment for you.  God has been satisfied.  The debt is paid.  You have been pardoned.  The slate is clean.  Your conscience can be put to rest.  God’s love is yours.  Based on what?  Based on the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Lord’s Anointed proclaims the Lord’s favor.
     I imagine that the indentured slaves of Old Testament times yearned for the Year of Jubilee and the day that they would be set free.  To have to wait for the 50th year for full pardon must have been agonizing.  And while the Lord decreed it, Scripture gives no record that the Year of Jubilee was actually observed. If so, then no one was ever pardoned and no debt was ever forgiven.  You, however, do not need to wait years for relief; nor do you need to wonder if the Lord really forgives or pardons.  The Lord’s favor is yours.  The Lord’s Anointed speaks and acts through his appointed servant so that you can know the Lord’s favor rests upon you.  It is based on Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection.  It is distributed to you in holy absolution, in holy baptism, in holy communion, and by divine decree.
     Though you were poor, now you are rich!  The debts have been paid off, and the Lord pours out his riches into your hands.  You have been granted a full pardon.  The slate has been wiped clean.  The Lord’s favor love is yours.  The Lord’s Anointed proclaims it and fulfilled it. 

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

Conception to Birth Visualized. So cool!

Here is a clip (10 minutes) of images from conception to birth.  The intro is also fascinating, as Alexander Tsiaras explains the science taking place both in the formation of the person and in the technology to chart this.  He credits "divinity." It would have been nice if he had explicitly honored our Lord and Creator.  (I don't know if he is a Christian or not.)  That being said, the technology and the science speaks volumes to us.  God is an awesome Creator!

Hard to believe that there are people who support, promote, and encourage the abortion of these babies.  See the next post for a litany for the protection of the unborn.  Kyrie, eleison!

A Prayer for the Unborn, in recognition of 40 years of Roe vs. Wade

A Litany for the Gift of Life and for the Protection of the Unborn

P:         Almighty and eternal God, you have created this world and all of us in it.  We praise you, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Lead all people everywhere to see that you are our Maker and that we are the work of your hands so that all would consider human life to be sacred.  Protect and defend all to whom you give life, whether born or unborn, until that day when you take our life from us again.  Lord, in your mercy,
C:        Hear our prayer.

P:         Heavenly Father, you do not delight in the death of the wicked, but that all would turn from their evil ways and live.  Keep us from evil, and forgive us our sins.  Strengthen us to proclaim your Law and to warn those who would continue in their sins.  At this time, we especially pray that you would help us to warn those who continue in the sin of abortion.  Work mightily through your word to bring to repentance all who seek, provide, or support these willful acts of murder.  Change the hearts of people who see this wrong and dare to call it a right, and who are so blind to call good what is evil.  We ask not only that our nation may be cleansed of this heinous sin, but also that you turn all people from their evil ways so that they would live.  Lord, in your mercy,
C:        Hear our prayer.

P:         Lord of the nations, you have given authority to the governments of this world to bring order and protection and to punish the wrongdoer.  We pray for our rulers that they would act responsibly in their positions over us.  Cause the leaders of our nation to restore justice for the unborn, who are being oppressed and killed.  Grant our President wisdom and courage to speak out against abortion.  Guide our legislators to propose, support, and pass laws that would protect the life of all people, whether unborn, elderly, frail, defenseless, or handicapped.  Move our judges to do your will in all cases which decide life and death.  Teach all rulers to despise what is evil and to cling to what is good.  Lord, in your mercy, 
C:        Hear our prayer.

P:         Heavenly Father, you have commanded us to live chaste and decent lives.  Bring all people to recognize the virtue of chastity, to exercise self-control over their sexual impulses, to honor marriage, and to keep the marriage bed pure so that every pregnancy is a cause for joy rather than regret.  Teach husbands and wives to regard children as a reward to be cherished and not a burden to be avoided.  Grant to all pregnant women, according to your mercy, a happy result in their childbearing.  Lord, in your mercy,
C:        Hear our prayer.

P:         Merciful Father, we thank you for the mercies you have bestowed upon us through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Many still bear the guilt, the shame, and the scars from sins they have committed against you.  Reveal to fearful sinners your mercies through the sufferings and death of your Son, Jesus Christ – whose body was cut, abused, and pierced to pay for sin, whose life was given up for the benefit of all, and whose blood was shed to cover over our guilt and shame.  Lord, in your mercy,
C:        Hear our prayer.

P:         Gracious Redeemer, you have called us to be the salt of the earth that this world might be preserved from greater wickedness.  Grant that more people will take your word to heart so that they will not sin by killing their children.  Bless those who work in our Pregnancy Counseling Centers so that they may faithfully speak your word to those who come to them.  Let your fear of your wrath crush those who plot wickedness, and let your forgiveness deliver the penitent from damnation and despair.  Lord, in your mercy,
C:        Hear our prayer.

P:         Gracious Redeemer, you have called us to be lights to the world.  Embolden us to bring your word to those around us.  Strengthen each of us so that, by our words, deeds, and prayers, we may truly be little christs to this world – doing your will, defending the helpless, aiding the needy, standing by the lonely, comforting the fearful, holding on to your truth, upholding your glory, and demonstrating your love.  Lord, in your mercy,
C:        Hear our prayer.

Other intercessions may be offered.

P:         Heavenly Father, we bring all of our petitions and intercessions to you, trusting that you will hear and act for our good, according to the promises of your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we join to pray….


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 20, 2013)

Go to full-size imageJOHN 2:1-11

Ideas for this sermon were gleaned from a sermon by Rev. Mark D. Lovett of Concordia Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hoisington, Kansas, printed in Gottestdienst, Vol. 20, No. 4.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Mary came to her Son at the wedding in Cana with the news: “They have no wine.” (John 2:3)  This was no mere passing along of information.  This was a catastrophe. Mary knew her Psalms.  She had learned to confess, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15)  Wine was not just a way for the people to party.  It was a staple at every dinner table.  Wine meant prosperity and God’s blessing.  On the other hand, a lack of wine meant judgment.  The prophet Isaiah had proclaimed, “There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished.” (Isaiah 24:11)  When there is no wine, there is no blessing.  And at the wedding at Cana, they had run out of wine.  No wine, no feast and no joy.
     Mary knew where to turn for help.  She turned to Jesus.  His attendance at this wedding was no happy coincidence.  It was by divine design.  Surely Jesus would do something.  After all, Jesus had come to do great things.  Jesus would bring joy and feasting and blessing to Israel.  Surely he would help here.  However, Jesus did not respond with a blessing, but with a rebuke.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4)
     Jesus had come to establish a kingdom which would bring joy and feasting and blessing to Israel—to the world, in fact.  But Jesus’ kingdom was not going to be ushered in at the wedding in Cana.  It would not come by giving people momentary relief to their embarrassing problems.  It certainly would not come by Jesus acting as a miracle worker at the prompting of his mother.  Jesus said to her, “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4)  That hour would come when Jesus fulfilled all the work he had been given to do.  And though she was dismissed, Mary was not discouraged.  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)  Jesus would bring joy to the feast.
     In the same way, Jesus does not usually act because you demand it.  Like Mary, you may come to Jesus and highlight to him what are your shortcomings, where you have run out of resources, when you have come to your wits’ end, and when you have no more solutions.  You should not be surprised that your resources, your wits, and your solutions run dry.  You are a sinner living in a sinful world.  You are frustrated by the people you have to deal with and by the circumstances which make life hard.  You try to find joy and peace from what this sinful world has to offer.  You hope that your money, your friends, your job, your hobbies, or whatever else will supply it.  But like the wedding party in Cana, you may suddenly find that the source of your joy is gone.  Frustration turns to desperation.  You scrape and scrounge for anything to bring you joy, and you find nothing.  The blessings have run dry, and so does your hope.  Do not seek joy from a sinful, dying world.  You will always be disappointed.
     The wedding at Cana had no more wine.  The master of the banquet had no clue.  The groom at Cana had no answers.  Feast had turned to famine.  Joy had turned to frustration and desperation.  The Lord would also have you recognize that you are powerless, helpless, and hopeless.  The Lord lets you experience the panic and the pain of being at your wit’s end.  Your solutions might bring a moment of happiness, but they produce no joy.  Your answers might provide a moment’s rest, but no lasting peace.  The Lord wants you to know it and feel it so that you will finally give up trying to find joy and peace and comfort in what is momentary and uncertain.  That is why he answers not with a blessing, but with a rebuke.  Repent.
      The Lord may give a rebuke, but he follows it up with blessing.  Mary was sure of it.  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)  Jesus would bring joy to the feast.  Mary was sure of it.  You can be, too.  Jesus is the only one who will bring joy to you, too.
     Jesus ordered the servants to fill the water jars used for purification.  The people were interested in the party; they were not interested in purification.  The water had run dry and no one seemed to be in any hurry to fill them.  But Jesus ordered the jars to be filled.  And then, from water which was intended to purify, Jesus brought forth what was missing from the banquet.  What the groom had failed to provide for his bride and the guests, the heavenly Bridegroom provided in the highest quality and in abundant measure.  The Lord brought forth … wine to gladden the heart of man….” (Psalm 104:15)  Jesus brought joy to the feast.
     This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. (John 2:11)  Jesus showed that he is the Lord’s Anointed by his miraculous sign.  It is no accident that Jesus chose a wedding to be the occasion that he would perform his first miraculous sign.  For, he is the heavenly Bridegroom who comes to give his Bride all that she is lacking.  Jesus has delivered to you into his kingdom through the purifying waters of baptism.  In these waters, he provides you with the righteousness which you lack and which you need.  You may think what you need is a more plentiful bank account, more understanding friends, a more caring spouse, a more luxurious home, a more convenient job, a more comfortable life, etc….  As quickly as you can find these, just as quickly can they be taken from you.  Those who have these things—which is your perception more often than their reality—are not saved by them.  If you lack God’s favor and blessing, what good is anything else???  The heavenly Groom gives his Bride what she lacks.  He cleanses your very heart and soul.  He clothes you in his own righteousness so that you have all you need to stand before the Father.
     Jesus brings joy so that you may feast.  At the feast, Jesus continues to provide God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Though you have fallen short in living up to God’s standards, and though you have sought peace, joy, and blessing from other suitors, your Groom does not disown you.  On the contrary, Jesus lived and died for you.  He shed his holy blood as the bride price to make you his own.  The blood he poured out for you for he gives to you in the Lord’s Supper.  In the wine, he gives you his holy blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Here, he keeps his Bride pure and blameless and beautiful.  Here, in the wine, he pours out blessing and salvation.  Here, you already take your place in the heavenly banquet is set.  He brings joy to the feast; for he brings joy and comfort through the feast.
     This is how Jesus ushers in his kingdom – through the shedding of his blood and by his sacrificial death for you.  The benefits of this are given you to through the baptismal waters which purify you and through the festival meal which the heavenly Groom provides for his Church.  Jesus makes sure that you will always have what you need, and he does not skimp on his mercy and forgiveness.  The waters always cleanse.  The food always nourishes.  The wine does not run out.   God’s blessings are not chintzy.  Therefore, your joy is not fragile and your comfort is not iffy.  Jesus brings joy to the feast.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, January 18, 2013

'Tis the season

It's basketball season again!

Here are a few photos of the Schroeders who are playing at MLS.  Faith is on varsity.  Nathanael is on varsity.  Andrew is playing for the Freshmen squad.  His face mask is required after he managed to get a concussion in December.




Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Something I heard while radio surfing

Last night on the ride back home from Saginaw, I got to hear what is arguably the happiest, most up-beat break-up song that has ever been recorded.  The man is confronting his wife for cheating on him, and all he can do is sing a real toe-tapping tune.

Here it is -- Mist of a Distant Fire by the Sanford Townsend Band.

Honorable mention -- Red Rubber Ball by the Cyrkle (written by Paul Simon)

For bonus points, can you tell which group had their song piped in????

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after the Epiphany (January 13, 2013)

LUKE 3:15-17,21-22

In the name + of Jesus.

     There is no doubt that people want to be accepted.  They want to belong.  Some people have contests about who has more Facebook friends.  And there is something disturbing when someone “unfriends” you, even if you haven’t seen that person since high school or never comment to each other.  When you are unfriended, you feel rejected.  You feel like an outcast.  Of course, some forms of rejection hurt even more.  A man who loses his job feels useless.  A man or woman who is divorced feels belittled and betrayed.  Sadly, this desire to be wanted compels some girls give themselves away to alleged boyfriends who would rather use them than love them.  It often seems that we would rather be used than be rejected.
     It is perhaps the “why” which torments us when we are rejected.  Why did she leave me?  Why did he unfriend me?  Why don’t they like me?  Of course, there are times when we know the “why.”  If you’ve burned the bridge or betrayed a secret, you know why he turned his back on you.  So you know why, not that it helps.  You are still banished, forsaken, and rejected.  Even if you cause the break-up, severed and strained relationships still hurt.
     You and I are so eager to feel like we belong that we cozy up to worldly attitudes and adopt worldly ways.  We act out on our greed, our jealousies, our selfishness, our resentment, and our discontent.  Then we tell our stories to our friends, expecting them to approve of our actions.  No matter how wrong we are, our friends usually come through and tell us that we are right.  Our friends don’t care what God says.  They just want us to be happy.  And we just want to be accepted.  As long as we have that, we feel good.  As long as someone is pleased with us, we are pleased with ourselves and our actions. 
     John the Baptist warned that the Christ was coming.  He does not give tacit approval to whatever we do.  He judges whether or not we have obeyed God and loved our neighbor.  That is how we get God’s approval.  John declared, “He who is mightier than I is coming….  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:15-17)  Whether you sinned on purpose or in weakness, you are guilty.  God’s anger rightly burns against you.  You should be rejected as chaff.  
     And yet, God does not unfriend you.  The Christ who comes does not come first with judgment, but with mercy.  He comes to reconcile you to his Father.  He comes to make you acceptable and to find a place for you in his kingdom. 
     When John the Baptist preached, he summoned the people to be baptized in repentance for their sins.  Jesus also came to the Jordan to be baptized.  Jesus, however, did not come in repentance, for he had no sins for which he needed to repent.  Jesus did not come for his sins, but for sinners.  He came for you.  In his baptism, Jesus united himself to you and to all sinners.  In those baptismal waters, he soaked up all of your sin and guilt, taking it upon himself.  In doing this, he also would take upon himself your judgment, your punishment, and your death.  Jesus, therefore, was banished by his Father.  He was rejected and forsaken upon the cross; for he was carrying the sins of the world.  He was punished and condemned in your place, so that you will not be punished or condemned. 
     When the priests served before the Lord throughout the Old Testament, they had a daily reminder that man has been cut off from God.  Each day, the priests would enter the temple to make the morning and evening sacrifices.  In front of the altar of incense was a huge curtain.  Behind the curtain were the Holy of Holies and the ark of the covenant.  It was the dwelling place of God.  The curtain, a hand-breadth thick, proclaimed loud and clear: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” (Isaiah 59:2)  That which is sinful cannot enter the presence of God.  That which is corrupt cannot exist with him who is holy.  And at the moment Jesus died, that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.  Your iniquities had separated you from your God, but your sins have been taken away.  You do have access to the Most Holy Place.  God is pleased with you.  You have been reconciled.  You belong in God’s kingdom.  God calls you his friend.
     What Jesus secured for you at the cross is applied to you in your baptism.  Just as Jesus united you to himself in baptism, so he also unites you to him through your baptism.  Jesus’ baptism, therefore, testifies as to what you have received in your own baptism.  When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22) 
     Jesus opens heaven through baptism.  Just as the curtain of the temple was torn open when Jesus died to pay for sins, so also heaven was opened up to you when you were baptized into Jesus’ name.  For sin had separated you from your God.  But when you were baptized, your sins were washed away.  Though you had been corrupt, you were purified from all unrighteousness.  And since you are clean and pure in God’s sight, you are accepted by him.  You belong in his kingdom.  He cannot reject you, for God does not despise that which is holy.
     Jesus opens heaven through baptism.  When Jesus had been baptized…, the Holy Spirit descended on him….” (Luke 3:21)  You, too, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He has made his home in your heart and has given you a right spirit.  That is why you are eager to do what is good and right.  You can even love, forgiven, and have patience for people who are unlovable; for that is how God treats sinners.  You do not need to flee to find acceptance with the wicked.  You do not have to resort to worldly attitudes and actions to feel like you belong.  The Lord has made his dwelling within you.  You are acceptable to him.  You are his.
     Jesus opens heaven through baptism; for God’s favor is yours.  When Jesus  had been baptized…, a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)  Yes, God is pleased with you.  Since you have been united with Jesus who gives you his righteousness and takes away your sin, God can only be pleased with you.  What is more, he calls you his child!  You not only have a place in the kingdom, you are part of the family.  You are heirs of his kingdom.  You have a place at his table.  You own his blessings.
     The Lord had revealed Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God at his baptism.  Heaven itself opened up to declare it so.  And so it is through your baptism.  Jesus opens heaven through baptism.  The Holy Spirit comes to you through baptism.  The Father declares that you are his beloved child through baptism.  The Lord is pleased with you.  You have been accepted.  The Holy of Holies is your dwelling place.  And God is your friend.

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sermon -- Epiphany (January 6, 2013)

MATTHEW 2:1-12

In the name + of Jesus.

     When Magi came to Jerusalem, they made a confession: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)  The Magi only came to Jerusalem because the Lord had revealed the news to them through a star.  We know precious little about what kind of star this was.  Even among scholars, their best guesses remain guesses.  But what we do know is that the Magi credited the star with revealing to them that the King of the Jews was born.
     King Herod did not know that Jesus had been born.  It was not revealed to him by a star.  He did not even know it from the Scriptures.  So he called in the priests and the scribes to find out what had been foretold about the King who would be born to the Jews, the Messiah.  The Scriptures had foretold that they should have expected a star.  Speaking even through a pagan prophet, Balaam, the Lord had foretold: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17)  The star had arisen.  The King was born, as the Lord had promised.
     The question lingered for the Magi and for Herod: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)  Herod consulted the ones who should know.  Sure enough, the priests and scribes knew exactly where to look.  They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:5-6) 
     Each continued to make a confession by their words and their actions.  The Lord had revealed good news.  The priests and scribes quoted God’s revelation, but they did not go and see.  They would not waste their time.  Herod heard the revelation from the Magi and from the Prophets.  He wanted the newborn king killed.  He would not tolerate a rival.  The Lord had revealed his good news to the Magi first by the star and then by the Scriptures.  The star summoned them to Jerusalem.  The Scriptures sent them to Bethlehem.  Then the star pinpointed the very house.  The Magi made no secret of their intentions.  “We saw his star … and we have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) 
     In writing the account of the Magi, St. Matthew highlights the surprise that they came at all.  Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem…. (Matthew 2:1, emphasis added)  You could almost imagine the people who saw them say, “What are they doing here?!”  After all, Jesus was the star out of Jacob.  He is the scepter from Israel.  He is the King of the Jews.  And yet, the Magi came.  They confessed, “Even though we come from pagan astrologers, he is our star.  And even though we are foreigners, he is our king.  He holds the scepter for us.  We have come to worship him.”
     In many ways, the reaction is the same regarding you.  Any time we gather around God’s word and sacraments, people could justifiably be asking, “What are they doing here?!”  Whether you are kneeling by the manger or kneeling at God’s altar, you don’t deserve a place here.  Your origins are no different.  You were conceived in sin.  You had no claim on God’s kingdom.  For, you have transgressed against the Lord.  You and I have been like the priests and the scribes.  We know what the Lord says.  We know what the right thing to do is.  But instead of doing what is right and good and kind, we do nothing.  It is always easier to do nothing.  It is always easier not to lend a hand and not to sacrifice a minute of your time.  It is easy to tell the Lord, “I don’t have time to come and kneel before you.  I’m so busy.  I have things to get done.”  And I’m sure you do.  We all do.  We fault the priests and scribes because they put forth no effort to come and see the newborn King.  But aren’t we under the same condemnation for our negligence?
     Or worse, we are as guilty as King Herod.  Every heart has one throne in it.  Herod had no room for anyone but himself.  He would kill Jesus before he would honor him.  How often do your words and actions confess, “Lord, this is my time.  This is my will.  This is my opinion.”?  That is what we confess with every sin we commit.  We would not have Jesus as our King.  Rather, we confess, “Right now, I will be King.  This time, I will be lord.”  With such sinful hearts, we have come again to God’s house.  The angels and archangels might well be asking, “What are they doing here?!”
     Dear Christians, you are not here because you are better or smarter or more worthy than anyone.  You are here because God graciously revealed to you that a Savior has been sent for you.  You are here because the Lord has called you through the Gospel to know that forgiveness is yours through this Savior.  The Lord has revealed that Jesus Christ is God who has come for you to deliver you from your sins of neglect and rebellion.  He is not a King who slays you for your sins.  Rather, he is a King who would be slain for you for your sins.
     Therefore, you come as the Magi did.  We have come to worship him.  We fall on our knees before him in humility.  We acknowledge that he is God.  We confess that he is our Savior.  And even if the devil would taunt you and challenge you by asking, “What are you doing here?!” as if you don’t belong, then confess: “The Lord has called me here.  He has revealed his mercy here.  He delivers his forgiveness to me through this Savior who has been born.  I am here because I need him.  So, even though I have been rebellious, he is a merciful King for me.  And even though I have sinned against him, he is a Savior for me.”  We have come to worship him, and we are eager to receive the gifts he brings.
     The Magi arrived at Bethlehem and fell in worship before Jesus.  They presented Jesus with gifts to honor him.  And even their gifts make a confession.  With gold, they recognize Jesus as their King.  Frankincense was often combined with sacrifices.  And so the frankincense confesses that Jesus would be the sacrifice which pays for all of your sins.  Myrrh is used for embalming the bodies of the dead.  And so the myrrh confesses that Jesus would go to the grave wrapped in aloes and myrrh to deliver you from death and the grave.  Jesus came to die for your sins and rise to give you deliverance from death and hell.  Jesus came for you.  He is your King and brings you into the kingdom of God.  The Herods of this world may attack it, but they can never destroy it.  Your King forever reigns.  His sacrifice always atones.  Your eternity is safe.
     The Magi went to Bethlehem to find God revealed in human flesh.  That is where God’s mercy was revealed.  Jesus is the only one who could supply it.  Today, we kneel where the Lord reveals and delivers his mercy and forgiveness.  We gather at God’s house because here the word is preached and here the sacraments are administered.  Here, God reveals your salvation.  We have come here to worship him, knowing that he is the one with the gifts which save.

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

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mormons and Muslims

While Satan's lies may not always be new, they are often effective.  He tempts us, and we find ourselves falling into the same temptations again and again.

This is even true regarding different religions.  While some religions seem to have nothing to do with one another, the same lies can be found in them.  Case in point: Mormons vs. Muslims.

This "Lutheran Satire" video comes from a Lutheran pastor.  You may not be able to read all the quotations comparing the Qur'an with the Book of Mormon, but they demonstrate parallel teachings.  You can take a look here.

Note:  You might find the presentation a little hokey, but please overlook that.  Lutheran Satire is meant to teach through entertainment.  This would certainly be presented differently in a Bible Class or in a lecture hall.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Local Tourist -- Northville on New Year's Eve

Another installment from your Local Tourist.  These photos are a little blurry.  The camera was not agreeing with me.  Anyway, here is Main Street in Northville, as well as the park in the middle of town.  Enjoy!