Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Last Shot

Below is the last shot Faith took for her high school basketball career.  According to MLive, Faith had 16 points and 7 rebounds in her final game.  They began district playoffs on Monday and played Reese who is ranked #1 in the state.  We found why: MLS lost 85-37.  Reese has a very good team.

But it was a hard loss for MLS, especially for the senior girls.  It is the last time they walked off the court.  The "tomorrows" are left to the juniors and others.

We are very proud of Faith and all that she was able to accomplish and enjoy for four years of varsity basketball at MLS.  And yes, she made her last shot.

Lenten Meditation

Lent definitely has some great hymns. 

The best hymns are the ones that sing back to God all that he has done for us.  What I think of God might mean nothing to someone else.  And while it might sound pious to sing over and over again how I love God, I praise God, I adore God, I cherish God, I worship God, etc...., another worshiper will learn about my feelings.  He will learn nothing about God.  Nor will he learn why I think so much about our Lord.  Such praise hymns end up being more about me and my thoughts.

One particularly vivid Lenten hymn is presented to you here for your contemplation.  The hymn is not posted in its entirety, but all of it deserves to be sung boisterously by God's people.  As it turns out, most verses end with a note of praise.  But we certainly know what we are praising Jesus for in most uncertain terms.

Christ, the Life of all the living,
   Christ, the Death of death our foe,
Who thyself for me once giving
   To the darkest depths of woe--
Through thy sufferings, death, and merit
   I eternal life inherit.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
   Dearest Jesus, unto to thee.

Heartless scoffers did surround thee,
   Treating thee with cruel scorn,
And with piercing thorns they crowned thee,
   All disgrace thou, Lord, has borne
That as thine thou mighest own me
   And with heavenly glory crown me.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
    Dearest Jesus, unto to thee.

Thou hast suffered great affliction
   And hast borne it patiently,
Even death by crucifixion,
   Fully to atone for me.
Thou didst choose to be tormented
   That my doom should be prevented.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
    Dearest Jesus, unto to thee.

Then, for all that wrought my pardon,
   For thy sorrows deep and sore,
For thine anguish in the garden,
   I will thank thee evermore,
Thank thee for thy groaning, sighing,
   For thy bleeding and thy dying,
For that last triumphant cry,
   And shall praise thee, Lord, on high.
                              -- Christ, the Light of All the Living (CW 114:1,4,6,7)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Papal names

The Roman Catholic Church will soon be electing a new pope.  I don't know how much political or theological debate and jockeying will be going on amongst the many cardinals from the around the world.  My interest is one of spectator.  For better or for worse, the Pope is the most visible Christian, particularly Christian clergy, in the world.

I have always wondered how the Pope picks his new, papal name.  Is there a list of some sort which suggests front runners?  By his new name, does the new pope associate himself with popes of similar names?  What would an entirely new name suggest?  (I'm not holding my breath for the first "Pope Luther".)

Maybe there is some kind of papal name generator.  If not, perhaps they can use this one:

If they had gone this route before, we could have enjoyed some rather colorful papal names.  For example, instead of Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla could have become Pope Pink Panther.  Instead of  Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger could have been Pope Death Blade.  (As it turns out, I also would have been "Death Blade.")  Okay, perhaps the papal name generator offers some more dignified selections, but I still wonder why they pick what they do.

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Lent (February 24, 2013)

LUKE 13:31-35

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Apostle Matthew wrote, Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching…, proclaiming the gospel…, and healing every disease….” (Matthew 4:23)  While this made Jesus very popular among many people, it also made other people view him as a threat.  Jesus had his share of enemies, which is no surprise.  Many live as enemies of the cross, and the whole reason Jesus came was to bear the cross.  But what does come as a surprise is that the religious establishment hated him.  The Pharisees were supposed to be the good guys, and yet their words and actions were filled with venom.
     Therefore, when they came to Jesus in our Gospel, we have good reason to believe that they did not have Jesus’ best interests at heart.  At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” (Luke 13:31)  It was later in Luke’s Gospel that we hear that Herod was eager to see Jesus, but only that he might see a miracle.  When Jesus did not perform for Herod, Herod did not kill him.  He mocked him and berated him, but he did not have him beheaded.
     So why did the Pharisees warn Jesus to flee?  Because they were convinced that Jesus was like any other man.  They assumed he could be manipulated by fear.  They had hoped that, if they scared him enough, Jesus would abandon his teaching, preaching, and healing every disease.  And Herod was a serious enough threat.  He had already beheaded John the Baptist for preaching and teaching.  That should be enough to intimidate Jesus.  They could live with Jesus as long as he would shut up and go away.  Jesus had longed to gather all Israel to himself, but the Pharisees were not willing.  They would not flee to Jesus for refuge.  They wanted him to flee from them.
     Jesus, however, would not be deterred from his faithful service to his Father or from his love to save sinners.  So his reply was not as much to Herod as it was to the Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.  Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13:32-33)  Jesus longs to be your refuge.  He was committed to enduring anything to do that for you. 
     Fear is a tremendous motivator, but that does not mean it is a good motivator.  Fear may compel you to cross the street more quickly, and that is good.  But fear also prevents you from doing what is right.  Fear keeps you from doing good when doing what is good is hard or inconvenient.  You fear that you will be mocked for being chaste, for upholding God’s design for marriage, and for preserving the marriage bed for marriage.  You fear that your friends will turn on you if you confess the Bible as the only source of undeniable truth and the Christian faith as the only hope for heaven.  You fear that God will not keep his promises to provide for your needs if you make your offerings more generous.  You fear that defending the falsely accused means that you will also be smeared by the false accusations.  You fear that refusing to walk in the counsel of the wicked, to stand in the way of sinners, or to sit in the seat of scoffers means you will walk and stand and sit alone.  You fear the praise and friendship of sinners more than you fear the judgment of God.  Therefore, you find it hard to quit your sin and easy to concede to the world.  Repent.
     St. Paul warns you, “Many…walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)  Many take refuge in the cravings of their sinful hearts.  The flesh desires ease, comfort, and satisfaction.  But the flesh is never satisfied.  The cravings do not end.  It is a useless god which gives no lasting comfort or joy.  It is a worthless refuge which gives no peace or security.  Do not fear the enemies of the cross, and do not flee to them for refuge or approval.  Their end is destruction and shame.  If you side with them, yours will be too.  Repent.
     Jesus longs to be your refuge.  He told the Pharisees that he would not be swayed from his goal.  ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’” (Luke 13:32)  Jesus continued to preach, teach, and heal every disease, but that was not his goal.  His goal would be achieved in Jerusalem on the third day.  First, he would take up our infirmities and weaknesses.  He would suffer and die for all sin.  It certainly was not the easy thing.  It would have been easier for God if he had done nothing for us.  It is always easier to do nothing.  But our Lord did not choose what was easy.  His goal was not his convenience; it is your salvation.  Therefore, Jesus was committed to doing all that the Father had given him to do.  He did this so that he could be your refuge.  He longs to be your refuge from fear, from shame, and from death.  He spread out his arms to be pierced to the cross to pay for all of your sins.  And now, he spreads his protective arms over you to bless you and to keep you safe.
     On the third day, Jesus reached his goal—the resurrection from the dead.  In doing so, Jesus becomes your eternal refuge and removes all of your fears.  You do not need to fear God’s wrath.  Where sin has been taken away, God has no reason to be angry.  You do not need to fear the grave.  Since death has been overcome, the grave holds no terror.  You do not need to fear the world and its warped attitudes.  The world and its desires are passing away.  You, however, have been delivered from all of its shame and decay.  You do not even need to fear the enemies of the cross.  Though they may marshal all their powers to threaten and scare you or even to harm you, the King of heaven and earth remains your refuge.  He did not forsake you when he carried your sin to the cross and left it dead in the grave.  He will not forsake you who take your refuge in him.
     Jesus longs to be your refuge.  By taking refuge in him, you have nothing to fear.  Granted, taking refuge in Jesus means that you may have to suffer loss.  But even if you lose gifts that God gives you for this world, you have still really lost nothing.  It is all temporary anyway.  Many crave for these things because this is the best they hope to get.  Not so with you.  St. Paul reminds you: Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)  
     Jesus met his goal on the third day—the goal of delivering you from death.  Therefore, you have a refuge even in death.  And your refuge is impenetrable and imperishable.  Even if you must give up earthly things, it is the earth that must give you up on the Last Day.  The Lord Jesus Christ will raise you from the grave and will transform your frail body to be a holy, glorious, immortal body.  Then you will have a place in the glories of heaven with blessings beyond value and beyond measure.  And unlike the blessings in this world, the blessings of heaven cannot be lost or taken away.  On the contrary, your Savior will be there.  And he who sits on the throne will shelter [you] with his presence. (Revelation 7:15)  Jesus longs to be your refuge.  It is a worthless refuge which cannot provide peace and security.  Jesus he provides you with peace and security in God’s kingdom forever.  So fear not.  Jesus longs to be your refuge.  His goal is to save you from sin and deliver you from death.  And he has reached his goal.

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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Prayer of the Day - 2nd Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you see that we have no power to defend ourselves.  Guard and keep us both outwardly and inwardly from all adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The prayer of the highlights what we do not want to admit: We have no power to defend ourselves.  That is evidence by how easily we are decieved, how frequently we rebel, and how persistently we try to defend ourselves for our sins.  But our sins have no excuses and no defense.  Before the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, we have no power to defend ourselves.  Before God, we have no right to defend ourselves.

Therefore, we flee to our Lord for refuge.  We pray that the Lord would guard and keep us from all adversities.  We usually think of adversities which would effect our bodies -- such as car accidents, wars, broken wrists (sorry, Philip), diseases, bumps, and bruises.  And while the Lord usually does defend us against such things, they are not the enemy.  Car accidents do not send people to hell.  Sin and unbelief do.

Therefore, our most fervent prayer is for protection and strength against all that would assault the soul.  Most often, that assault comes from within our sinful hearts and depraved minds.  The devil may dangle temptations before us, but it is we who act on them.  The world may foster corrupt and selfish attitudes, but it is we who give into them and pursue them.

Our refuge alone is our Lord.  Jesus provides forgiveness for all our sins and deliverance from death.  The Holy Spirit remains the Lord and Giver of life who sustains us through the word and sacraments.  And, of course, we pray daily to our Father in heaven that he would lead us not into temptation (that is, to bear up under it) and deliver us from evil.  God is our refuge and strength.  Therefore, we flee to him for mercy and protection.  And God is faithful.  He will keep us safe.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lenten Meditation

We are coming up on another Lenten Vespers tonight.  We will begin the Passion readings from the Gospel according to St. Luke.  Rather than blend all of the Passion readings from all of the Gospels together, we ponder what St. Luke records as he has a specific aim in his Gospel.

The Lenten Vespers also differ from Sunday's Divine Services as the Vespers focus more intently on the sufferings and death (the Passion, from that Latin, passio, meaning sufferings) for us.  Some people are unsettled thinking of the Son of God being beaten and tormented and finally dying by crucifixion.  But such agonies were necessary.  He dies for sins.  For sinners.  For us. 

Yes, sins are that bad.  The wages of sin are that great.  And God's love is greater.

If you think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great,
   Here you see its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed; see who bears the awful load--
   'Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.
                                               (Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted, CW 127:3)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (February 17, 2013)

LUKE 4:1-13

In the name + of Jesus.

     [The devil] is a liar, and the father of lies. (John 8:44)  From the Garden of Eden right up until today, the devil lies and deceives and murders.  He does not care about you.  He seeks to devour you.  Do not underestimate him.  He is relentless.  He will tempt you and taunt you and torment you without end.  He is a formidable enemy; some might say an “old, evil Foe.”
     He has been described in the Bible in many ways.  He is a roaring lion.  He is a deadly serpent.  He even masquerades as an angel of light.  But no matter what form the devil would take, his goal is the same—to see you damned.  And he will do whatever it takes to get you damned.  [The devil] is a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44), and he is good at it.  His temptations may not be new or inventive, but they don’t need to be.  They are still effective.  You know it is true, as you find yourself being ensnared by the same sins, again and again.  You are plagued, frustrated, even disgusted with yourself because you have never overcome them.  You know it is wrong.  You know you are wrong.  But you still fall into temptation too easily and too often. 
     Satan knows the weak spots and the sore spots.  He does not play fair.  He keeps on poking the sore spots.  He keeps on attacking the weak spots.  He does not cease with the temptations.  And when you fall, he strikes again by afflicting you with guilt and shame.  He kicks you when you are down.  He does not let you up for air.  He doesn’t care.  He wants you to perish.
     But for us fights the Valiant One whom God himself elected.  Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist to be united with us in our cause.  Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit to take up his place as our substitute—not just in death, but in his life, too.  Remember, man is supposed to obey the Commandments.  Though the first holy man had succumbed to the devil’s temptations, the second holy man would not.  Jesus had come to rectify all that Adam got wrong in the Garden of Eden.
     That first holy man was put in a lush garden, surrounded by all he could possibly need to thrive.  He was also given a command by which he could demonstrate his love and obedience to the Father in heaven.  But Satan came and got Adam to challenge God’s love and God’s word.  “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1) Satan tempted the woman.  With Adam standing right by her side, Satan hissed, “God knows when you eat of (the fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God….” (Genesis 3:5)  The temptation was attractive.  Satan promised a knowledge and a glory which was greater than God had given.  They bought the lie.  They rejected God’s word.  They ate the forbidden fruit.  Only then did they recognize the emptiness of Satan’s promises.  Instead of being cloaked in glory, they tried to cover their shame with fig leaves.  Instead of joy, they were heaped in guilt and fear.  Instead of life, they were sentenced to death.  Far from being like God, the image of God in which they were created was killed.
     Now, if a holy man and woman could be overcome by the old, evil Foe, what makes you think that you can stand against him?  Satan still lies and deceives.  He attacks the same way—challenging God’s word, questioning God’s love, and appealing to your love of yourself.  And you play right into the devil’s hands.  He knows that you love yourself more than God and that you prefer your cravings to God’s will.  He has you living as if God is an idiot and a killjoy, and as if the serpent is the source of life.  You fall for the temptations.  You buy the lie.  And you pay the price.  Satan’s lies never produce the joy, the satisfaction, and the life that you want.  He entices you with whatever it is you crave, but it does not satisfy you.  He promises you glory, but it results only in shame.  He guarantees the good life, but always ends up in death.  And yes, God actually said it would.  God is not the one who has lied to you.  Repent.
     Therefore, for us fights the Valiant One.  In the genealogy St. Luke produces, he traces Jesus’ line all the way back to Adam and even calls Adam the son of God. (Luke 3:38)  At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father says of Jesus, “You are my beloved Son.” (Luke 3:22)  Just as Satan attacked that first “son of God,” so he attacked the second.  As soon as he was baptized, Satan assaulted the second Adam, the true Son of God.  “The Son of God,” hmmm?  Did God actually say that?  Well, then, if you really are, turn the stone to bread.  This isn’t the Garden, Jesus.  This is the wilderness.  There is nothing lush here.  If you are the Son of God, turning the rocks into loaves is easy.  You’ve done the bread-in-the-wilderness thing before.  Do it again.  I mean, if you are the Son of God,” (Luke 4:3) anyways.  The Valiant One did not buy the lie. 
     And so it continued.  “The Christ,” you say?  That means you have come to suffer and die.  Really?  Does it really have to come to that?  If you want glory, Jesus, I’ve got glory for you.  After all, I am the prince of this world.  I own them all.  You want ‘em, Jesus?  You can have ‘em!  Just give me a nod, a kneel, one quick genuflection, and just like that, no cross, no pain, no shame!  The Valiant One did not flinch.  “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve.” (Luke 4:8) 
     For us fights the Valiant One.  Jesus Christ overcame all temptation.  He did not choose what was easiest.  He chose fasting over feasting.  He chose suffering over ease.  He chose shame over glory.  He chose pain over peace.  He chose bitter rejection over popularity.  And he chose the cross over the crown.  That is because he chose to save you.  Jesus came to rectify the sins of Adam and Eve and all their sons and daughters.  He chose you.  And so he fought the battle that you have not won.  Could not win.  He came to fight your battle, to fulfill your obedience, and to overcome your enemy for you.  For us fights the Valiant One.  Jesus came to bear your shame, to suffer your fate, to feel your curse, and to die your death. 
     This is your hope in every temptation.  You have been baptized and declared by God to be his beloved child.  That means that the devil has declared you to be his foe.  He came after Jesus as soon as he was baptized.  Likewise, he will come after you.  But you still fall into temptation.  You may ramp up your efforts in Lent to practice better discipline, to pray more, and to live more godly lives.  These are good and noble aims.  But you will also find that such efforts only prove your weaknesses.  You still find yourself failing to worship the Lord and to serve him only.  You still sin the same sins.  You still lose the same battles.
     Dear Christians, do not fear and do not despair!  For us fights the Valiant One.  He did not leave your enemy wounded or lame.  Jesus has destroyed the devil’s work.  The serpent’s fangs have been broken.  The serpent’s head was crushed by a cross at the Place of the Skull.  Even there, which Satan viewed as a more opportune time to destroy Jesus, Jesus overcame.  At the cross, Satan spoke through the scribes and priests at the cross, challenging him, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 27:40)  Jesus did not flinch.  He remained obedient.  He was fully committed.  He fought the battle to the end, and he overcame.  By his death, Jesus paid the price for your sins.  He poured out the blood to atone for you.  By his death, Jesus removed Satan’s claims upon you.  By his resurrection, Jesus put an end to sin and its curse.  By your baptism, the Father marked you as his own beloved and redeemed sons and daughters.
     For us fights the Valiant One, Jesus Christ.  He has overcome the devil.  He has crushed the serpent’s head.  He has won the victory.  That is your hope at all times.  Even when you come to the Lord in your sins again, the Valiant One speaks the final word.  It is finished.  You are forgiven.  The victory is yours.  The Son of God says so.  And that is the everlasting truth.

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Last home game for the MLS Lady Cardinals

Girls' high school basketball can be brutal.  Last night we attended the Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) game vs. Carrollton.  MLS came up short 37-28.  But the action under the basket was fierce.  Girls were shoving and pushing and throwing arms and elbows to get position.  Faith took quite a beating.  (She usually does.)  Fouls were rarely called.  To be fair, Faith got 4 herself.  Though with the level of shoving and pushing, I had to wonder what finally moved the ref to blow his whistle.  Not many of the fouls looked different than the regular play.  Maybe it was a cumulative thing.

Anyway, the most noteworthy part of the game was this: It was the last game Faith and her senior teammates will ever play in the MLS gym.  There are a few away games left, but the home games are over.  One nice moment was the senior lady Cardinals joining to sing the national anthem before the game.

After the game ended (Oddly, there was never a final buzzer.  The scorer's table missed the last inbounds pass and did not turn on the clock.  The ref just blew the whistle and everyone shook hands and walked off the court.  It was a strange non-ending.), Faith went, knelt down, and kissed the "S" at center-court. 

I know she will miss playing there.  And I will miss watching her.

Here is her final shot on the MLS court.  She made it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers (February 13, 2013)

EXODUS 39:24-26 / HEBREWS 4:14-16
Our Great High Priest Stands in God’s Presence.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord had chosen Israel to be the nation through whom the Lord would bring the Savior of all the nations.  For this reason, the Lord also chose to dwell among the people of Israel.  The place the Lord chose to dwell was in Israel’s tabernacle, in the Holy of Holies.  The Lord dwelt in a cloud that hovered over the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant.  Not in the flesh but in a cloud, he was Immanuel: God with us.
     The Lord had made his dwelling in the midst of the Israelites, but they did not have unlimited access to him.  Israel may have been chosen, but they were still sinners.  And sinners cannot dwell in the presence of the Lord God.  Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false or does not swear deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3,4) 
     The Lord revealed this separation between himself and Israel by a curtain that hung in the tabernacle.  The Lord had forbidden people from stepping behind that thick curtain and entering the Holy of Holies.  Not even the Lord’s ordained priests could stand in his presence.  They may have been set apart for holy service, but they themselves were not holy.  Iniquity still separated them from God.
     The Lord did allow one person to set foot behind that curtain and into the Holy of Holies, the high priest.  The high priest stood in the presence of God, sprinkling blood on the Ark of the Covenant, to make atonement for the sins of the people.  But in order that he would not be struck down, the high priest had to follow God’s directives to stand in the presence of God.  The Lord restricted the high priest’s visit to one day a year, the Day of Atonement.  The Lord even prescribed the vestments which the high priest had to wear in his presence.
     Regarding his robe, the Lord had given these instructions: On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe.  And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die. (Exodus 28:33-35)  Only in this way could the high priest stand in God’s presence.
     The bells around the high priest’s robe broadcasted his movement in the Holy of Holies.  What right did he have to stand in the presence of almighty God?  Why shouldn’t he be cut down and killed?  Why should the Lord accept atonement from his hands?  Whatever fears or doubts the Israelites outside the tabernacle had were answered by the bells on the robe of the high priest.  The ching-a-ling of the bells broadcasted that God had not slain the high priest.  He had followed the rules.  He had faithfully executed the rites and ceremonies of the sacrifice.  Atonement was made.  Sins were pardoned.  Man had stood in God’s presence for a moment and, therefore, man could hope to dwell in God’s presence eternally.
     High priest after high priest donned the sacred robe in God’s presence.  Annually, the bells were heard in the Holy of Holies.  Faithfully, the Lord decreed atonement.  But no man had undone the curse of sin.  The sacrifices had to be repeated, and the high priests all went to their graves.  Aaron died in the wilderness.  Eleazar entered the Promised Land, but there he was buried.  Phinehas, too.  Dust they were, and to dust they returned.  The curtain still separated man from God. 
     Sin is ugly, and its ugliness is seen in you.  We all try to hide it.  You hid your faults and flaws when you began dating your wife.  You dress up your behavior so that you can impress your boss.  It is important to you that your friends and neighbors think you are a good person.  But it is all a fa├žade.  Trying to dress up your behavior is like putting lipstick and a dress on a pig.  It does not change the nature of the pig.  You can’t pretty it up; you are still a sinner.  Even your righteousness is filthy rags.  Try as hard as you want, you are still weak and warped and wicked.  Sin is not pretty.  Anyone who tries to make it pretty is lying.  You do not have clean hands or a pure heart.  God could be just to strike you down.  Repent; for you are only filthy rags.
     You need a high priest who enters God’s presence and who provides a lasting atonement.  You need a high priest whose sacrifice removes the curse of sin once and for all.  Jesus is your great high priest.  He robed himself in flesh and became one with all of us.  He is Immanuel, God who dwells with us—not merely in our midst, but one with us.  Jesus did not pretend that life was pretty.  He witnessed sin in all its ugliness.  He submitted himself to weakness and temptation.  He dwelt and dealt with people in all of their deceit and hypocrisy and phoniness and cruelty.  Yet he did not recoil from sinners or regret his coming.  He assumed our flesh and carried our cause into the very presence of God.
     When the Old Testament high priest ministered before the Lord, he was vested in brilliant garments.  The bells on the hem of his robe jingled and testified that God had not slain him as he made atonement.  Jesus, our great high priest, was stripped of his garments.  Veiled only in flesh, Jesus, our great high priest, made atonement.  There was no jingling of bells.  In silence, he was slain.  His clean hands were pierced to the cross.  From his pure heart, blood and water poured forth to purify you from all unrighteousness.  Jesus, our great high priest, atoned for all your sins.  The Father was pleased with his sacrifice.  Sin has been taken away.  The curse has been removed.  Therefore, the curtain was ripped in half.  Atonement was made. 
     Having completed atonement for sin, Jesus rose from the grave forever victorious over death.  Man is no longer marked for an endless ugliness of death and decay.  Through baptism, Jesus has cloaked you in garments of salvation.  Like Jesus, you shall be arrayed in an incorruptible, imperishable, risen flesh.  Jesus ascended into heaven, the presence of God, the Holy of Holies.  There, he forever serves you as your eternal high priest.  To this day, the man Jesus Christ stands in God’s presence and, therefore, man now can dwell in God’s presence eternally.
     Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
     Dear Christians, draw near the altar.  The Holy of Holies is open to you.  For a moment, you get to stand in the presence of God and partake of the most holy things.  Your great high priest, Jesus, pours out the blood which atones for you.  This is the grace that sustains you at all times and in every need.  Therefore, you will ascend the hill of the Lord.  You will forever stand in God’s holy place.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth -- Lent begins

There are so many good hymns in the Lenten season.  So many Lenten hymns offer vivid descriptions of God's love and compassion upon sinners.  They deserve to be sung often, even memorized. 

Put to music and rhyme, these hymns become lodged in our memories.  For better or for worse, we learn our theology best when we learn our hymns.  For that reason, it is wisest (some might say, "meet, right, and salutary") that we gravitate toward hymns that proclaim solid theology in such vivid terms.  These hymns may not be the most popular amongst various church bodies and congregations.  But it is far better to learn what is solid rather than what is sentimental.  And the more familiar we become with what is solid, the more we appreciate the sentiment and emotional ties we have with these rich hymns.

For meditation, I offer to you: A Lamb Goes Uncomplianing Forth by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth
   Our guilt and evil bearing
And, laden with the sins of earth,
   None else the burden sharing.
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
   To slaughter led without complaint,
      That spotless life to offer,
Bears shame and stripes and wounds and death,
   Anguish and mockery and says,
      "Willing all this I suffer."

This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great friend,
   The Lamb of God, our Savior;
Him God the Father chose to send
   To gain for us his favor.
"Go forth, my Son," the Father said,
   "And free my children from their dread
      Of guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
   But by your passion they will share
      The fruit of your salvation."

"Yes, Father, yes, most willingly
   I'll do what you command me.
My will conforms to your decree;
   I'll do what you have asked me."
O wondrous Love, what have you done?
   The Father offers up his Son,
      Desiring our salvation.
O Love, how strong you are to save!
   You make his bed within the grave
      Who built the world's foundation.

From morn till eve, in all I do.
   I'll praise you, Christ, my treasure.
To sacrifice myself fo ryou
   Shall be my sin and pleasure.
My stream of life shall ever be
   A current flowing ceaselessly,
      Your constant praise outpouring.
I'll treasure in my memory,
   O Lord, all you have done for me,
      Your gracious love adoring.  (CW 100)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sermon -- The Transfiguration of our Lord (February 10, 2013

LUKE 9:28-36

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus had ascended a mountain to pray.  He took along with him Peter, James, and John.  These three disciples were often privy to Jesus’ most intimate moments of both agony and glory.  On that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James, and John would be doing all they could to fight off sleep.  In the moments they were able to keep their eyes opened, they would have witnessed Jesus in utter humility and weakness as he prayed for strength to do his Father’s will.
     In the case of today’s Gospel, we see the polar opposite.  Jesus does not appear in humility; his appearance glows and blazes in glory.  Jesus does not struggle in weakness; his very being oozes with his divinity.  Jesus does not pray in the black of night, but a bright cloud appears and envelopes him and his disciples.  Jesus is not abandoned by his companions.  On the contrary, Jesus is flanked by heavenly guests, Moses and Elijah.  And on the night of Jesus’ transfiguration, the Father does not remain silent.  Rather, the Father confirms Jesus as his beloved Son.
     Most note-worthy of all at Jesus’ transfiguration is what the Father tells the disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)  The disciples had been fascinated with the vision they were seeing.  They were excited by the glory of Jesus and the saints of old.  Peter did not want to let it go.  Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Luke 9:33)  Who could blame Peter for wanting the glory to go on and on?  But the Father did not tell the disciples to take a good look.  And he certainly did not tell Peter to start making plans for a shrine.  He said, “This is my Son…; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)  If you want to know his glory, then listen to him.
     Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had been engaged in a heavenly conversation.  Sainted prophets were speaking with their Lord.  It would have been a very good idea for Peter to keep his mouth shut and his ears open.  After all, wouldn’t you want to know what they talk about in heaven?  Moses and Elijah represented the entire Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets.  And St. Luke tells us exactly what they were talking about.  Behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30-31)  Moses, Elijah, angels and archangels, all the company of heaven are engaged in conversation about this one thing: Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection at Jerusalem.  Though Jesus radiated glory on the mount of transfiguration, God’s glory is most vividly revealed at the mountain we call Calvary.  That is where we see God’s compassion for sinners.  That is his glory.  That is what the Law and the Prophets proclaim to us.  That is all Moses and Elijah could talk about with Jesus.  Even angels long to look into these things.  That is what the Father wanted Peter, James, and John to listen to.  If you want to know Jesus’ glory, then listen to him.
     That is the problem we sinners face, however.  We don’t listen to God.  We don’t let his word stand.  We are in love with our own opinions.  We go off and do whatever it is we please, no matter what God has said.  Then we insist that we did not defy God with our defiance.  “Yeah, I heard what God said.  But I am sure that his word did not mean me.  Don’t you dare tell my kids that they are guilty of sin.  My friends are cool; leave them alone.  How can you be so heartless and tactless to tell people that outside of Jesus there is only death and hell?”  And on and on it goes.  We are embarrassed that Jesus limits salvation to himself and doesn’t just give everyone everything.  But when the Lord speaks, he is not negotiating.  He is not waiting for any counter-offer regarding what is good and what is evil or between what is pleasing and what is forbidden. 
     If you turn a deaf ear to the Word made flesh or defy him, it is because you are seeking to establish your own glory at the expense of his.  You are trying to seek glory by having everything the way you like, by satisfying every craving you have, and by foisting your will on everyone else.  You either believe that God’s Word is to be reinterpreted, or that it does not apply to you.  This is simply refusing to listen to God, whose word has been written down in a permanent record so that anyone can see for themselves what God has plainly and clearly said.  Eternal shame awaits those who do not listen.  Repent.
     The Father declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)  Listen to him, because he alone has good news to announce to sinners.  Listen to him, because he alone will reveal how God is merciful to those who have defied him.  Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about his exodus (which is a more literal rendering of the word).  The exodus that most people are familiar with is when God led his people out of the land of death and slavery and brought them into the Promised Land.  And this is what Jesus has come to do for you.
     Jesus brings you out of sin and death and hell so that you will enter the glories of heaven.  But he did not do it by radiating in glory on some unnamed mountain in Israel.  He did it by suffering in weakness, by being crucified in humility, and by dying under a curse.  He died for your sins.  He cried out from the cross in agony.  On that day, there was not a word that came from his Father in heaven.  Rather than hearing of his Father’s love and approval, Jesus was disowned and deserted.  He endured pain and shame and damnation for your sins.
     When Peter, James and John were on the mountain and the cloud surrounded them, they fell to the ground in fear.  The cloud was the presence of God.  They had good reason to be afraid in God’s holy presence and to bury their faces in the ground.  But the still could hear Jesus’ words.  He brings words of peace and mercy and forgiveness.  And they are not just empty words.  They are divine promises of a Savior who went to hell and back to redeem you.  By his exodus from this world at Mt. Calvary, Jesus brought you out of slavery to sin.  He gave himself into death for you to bring you forgiveness of all your sin and freedom from all your guilt.  By his exodus from the grave at Jerusalem, Jesus has delivered you from the grave.  You are free from death and decay.  Your body shall rise to live forever free from weakness and pain and death.  By his exodus from the world in his ascension to heaven, Jesus shows you that you have a heavenly home waiting for you.  There is the glory that Peter desired.  There, we will dwell forever with Moses and Elijah, with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.  If you want to know such glory, then listen to him.
     But like Jesus, we do not live on the glorious mountain.  Jesus went down that hill to take up the cross and to suffer and die for us.  Then the glory would come.  And so it is for you.  Yes, you have great glory coming.  You will dwell in God’s presence without fear.  You will shine like stars and appear as the glorious sons and daughters of God.  You will, but not yet.  Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)  But if you want to know that glory, then listen to Jesus.  He will call out to you and continue to lead you to repent of your sins so that you will not die in them.  Listen to him.  He will encourage and console you when you feel that you are practically alone in your faith and life.  Listen to him.  He will soothe and comfort you in all of your guilt and fears.  He will point you to the altar where you can hear him promise, “For you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  Listen to him.  For there, your Lord comes to you.  There, heaven touches earth.  There, we partake in holy things.  And there, Jesus both reveals and administers his glory and his mercy.  For the glory of the Lord is this: By his sufferings, Jesus forgives the guilt of sinners.  By his death, Jesus grants life to the dying.  By his resurrection, Jesus opens heaven to you.  This is what they talk about in heaven.  This is why the angels sing for joy.  This is the news the Church gathers to hear.  Listen to him.

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

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ash Wednesday...with ashes, no less!

 Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

            These words paraphrase Genesis 3:19 where the Lord proclaimed a curse upon man when he had first sinned.  St. Paul repeated that thought in his letter to the Romans: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

            Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  This is the harsh reality of sin.  The use of ashes to express repentance long pre-dates the New Testament Church.  In the era of the Patriarchs, Job confessed his sin and declared, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) 

The Imposition of Ashes teaches a dual lesson. 

            1)  It is a mark of penitence.  We demonstrate outwardly the sorrow for sin that we have inwardly. 
            2)  It is a mark of death.  It is a reminder that we are all dust, and to dust we will return.  The ashes remind us that we are helpless in our sinful condition.  Our only hope is a Savior.  We repent of our works; we cling to Jesus for his.
            We will observe this ceremony at our Ash Wednesday service (February 13, 7:00 PM).  The service begins with the Imposition of Ashes.  Following a general confession, the ushers will invite people by row to come to the communion railing to receive the ashes.  The penitent will kneel at the railing (like Lord’s Supper), and wait as the pastor applies the ashes to the forehead in the shape of a cross.  Please resist all temptations to scratch or smear the ashes, as this will only make a mess on your hands.  (The ashes can easily be washed off after the service with soapy water.)

            No one should feel obligated to receive the ashes on the forehead.  If you do not want to come forward, then remain seated as the ushers come to your row.  They will simply pass by and go to the next row.  Children may participate at the discretion of their parents.  While this ceremony may still seem foreign to some Lutherans, the ceremony serves a valuable purpose.  It truly sets the tone for Lenten season.  We are marked as sinners.  We are marked for death.  We are marked with a cross, signifying that our only hope is Jesus Christ. 

            And while members of the church might seem a little uneasy being marked with the ashes, the ceremony serves a valuable purpose especially for the pastor.  He is reminded quite vividly that these people he serves and loves will one day die and be buried.  And he may be the one to serve them in that capacity as well.  One by one, he marks each member, even his own family members, and declares, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return!"  That is why the people need Jesus; and that is why Jesus has supplied them with a pastor.

            Our comfort comes from Jesus who takes our sin.  He dies our death.  He marks us as his own who have been baptized into his name.  That is where the penitent find comfort.  That is where the dying find life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Things that make me go, "ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!"

This past Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl.  Following their win, Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis was interviewed.  When asked about the Ravens' win, he stated (if not directly quoted, it's pretty close), "It's quite simple, if God is for you, who can be against you?"

Lewis was referring to Romans 8:31 which, I assure you, had nothing to do with who wins the Super Bowl, a football game, or any kind of earthly endeavor.  Lewis ripped this verse from its contact so badly that it hurts.  It is misleading.  It is wrong.

Contrary to Lewis' opinion, God does not care who wins Super Bowls.  To be fair, Lewis is not the first athlete to make such a ridiculous use of Scripture.  Nor will he be the last. 

If we take Lewis' claim at face value, what shall we conclude?  That the Ravens are God's chosen people and the 49er's are not?  That God loves Baltimore and despises San Francisco?  Or does it extend to Maryland vs. California?  Does it mean that there are more of God's people on the Ravens' squad than the 49er's?  Or is it the whole organization that is under God's blessing/judgment?  Or is it that God loves Ray Lewis so much that Ray had to be rewarded?  Or maybe God prefers one Harbaugh over another?  You see the idiocy in making such a claim as Lewis did.  (And, Packer fans, Reggie White made similar comments after Super Bowl XXXI.  Apparently, God did not love Reggie as much in Super Bowl XXXII.)

Earthly success and prosperity are NO evidence of God's love or favoritism.  If so, I guess God is really steamed at the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

For as much as people in Baltimore will be celebrating, and for as excited as Lewis is to end his career with a championship ring, none of this is any evidence that God loves them.  I am willing to bet that the Ravens have some heathens in their organization.  Does God suspend his wrath and judgment upon them because they are champions now?  Again, idiocy.  Or as I stated in the title, "ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!"

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)  This has to do with our salvation.  Jesus suffered and died to pay for our sins and to reconcile us to God the Father.  If God loves us so much that he would suffer and die to save us, there is no one and nothing which can remove God's favor from us.  God's favor is revealed through Jesus Christ.  It was secured through Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection.  It is delivered to us through the word and sacraments.  Our verdict is, "Forgiven."  Our salvation is certain.  Our home is heaven.  God has promised it with a blood-oath.   If God is for us in this way, who could possibly overrule him?  Who would dare correct him?  Since nothing can undo Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection, nothing can undo God's favor and salvation for us.  Therefore, who can stand against us? 

Lions' fans, as exciting as it would be to see your team hoist a Super Bowl trophy, it is no evidence of God's love or favor.  Your crucified and risen Savior is the only evidence you have of God being for you.  It is also the only evidence you need.  God IS for you -- for your forgiveness, for your salvation, for your eternal well-being, and for all time.  And nothing stands in the way of that.

Big Basketball weekend!

I know that the Super Bowl dominated most people's weekend, but we got to enjoy some fun basketball this weekend.

Andrew's freshmen team played on Thursday, but we did not know he had a game until it had already ended.  Apperently, Andrew's team had learned of the schedule change just that morning.  Anyway, I guess they won pretty handily.  Too bad we could not be there.

Faith's team played a very strong Bullock Creek team, and the MLS girls really came out and played well.  They came up short, but in a very solid effort.  If they keep playing like that, the will add many more notches to the win column.

Nathanael's varsity squad played Alma on Friday night.  MLS was missing a few players, but they held off a big (I mean football-BIG) Alma team.  (They must have a good football team in Alma!)  We sure enjoyed the MLS games.

But the big part of the weekend was the co-ed grade school tournament at MLS.  Caleb and his team played, and Philip and some other St. Peter's 5th graders got to fill the bench a bit.  The 5th graders even got to play one game, and Philip ended up with 6 points!  Nice going!

A good team effort got St. Peter's the 3rd place trophy as they went 3-1 for the weekend, with 3 of those games being pretty tight.  Their only loss was a 2 point loss in double OT -- a heart-breaker!

Some photos from the tournament....