Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (April 28, 2013)

JOHN 13:31-35

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     One of the reasons Jesus is so popular with Americans is because of such words in our gospel today.  Jesus said, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” (John 13:34)  We live in a world where we are exhausted by the hatred, violence, and brutality we see.  We do not want to hear any more reports about terrorism or cyber-bullying.  We prefer to hear reports about acts of kindness.  We would even prefer reports about how nothing is really going on except that people are busy going about their lives and not causing anyone harm.  That might not sell newspapers, but it is better news that we usually get.  So, when people hear Jesus say that you are to “love one another,” they naturally praise Jesus for saying so.  
     The problem is with the word, “love.”  It has become such an elastic word that it almost becomes meaningless.  No man would put his feelings for his wife on par with a plate of nachos.  And yet he might say that he loves them both.  So what does that word really mean?  And what do people mean when they say that they just want everyone to love each other?
     When Samson was shacking up with Delilah, she would pout and moan because he would not tell her the reason for his strength.  Finally, she said, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” (Judges 16:15)  The truth is neither really loved the other at all.  Samson used Delilah.  Delilah used Samson, hoping to cash in big by handing Samson over to his enemies.  Both would have said they loved the other, but that was a lie.  Both wanted to use the other and make it seem innocent by calling it love.
     The world does not love.  People want to use, to get, to manipulate, and to demand first tolerance and then acceptance of whatever it is they are doing.  And if you will not accept or praise them for their choices—whether they are chaste or perverted, they will badger and malign and persecute you until you do.  After all, if you won’t love and tolerate them, you need to be pressured until you do.  This is not love at all, but manipulation and self-promotion.
     It is no different in your own homes.  Whether it is parents or children, we act as though love is bestowing one’s blessing one whatever behavior or opinion a loved one takes.  We have been led to believe that we are not to make a judgment, much less a condemnation, of anyone’s actions.  Christian parents know better.  But when a child engages in behavior that parents know is wicked, they begin to change their minds about the behavior.  Perhaps it is because you think that loving your children means that you have to do whatever it is to make them happy.  But what kind of love is it that grants permission to practice what God condemns?  Love will turn the other cheek when you are attacked, but love will not turn a blind eye to sin.  Why are we content to let people go to hell as long as they are happy on their way?  In this world, that is what love is: Letting people do whatever it is they want as long as they are happy doing it.  That is a great lie.  Defending sinful behavior brings a curse both on the one who practices it and on the one who encourages and defends it.  This is not love.  Not even close.  Repent.
     If you want to invoke Jesus’ name as the one who tells us to love each other, then make sure you listen carefully to what that means.  Jesus said, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)  The key phrase is this: “just as I have loved you.”  Jesus shows you what love is and what love does.  Love is not about seeking praise.  Love is not excusing everyone for everything.  Love is about seeking the good of someone else.  This is precisely what Jesus Christ has done for you.
     Jesus Christ does not bless or encourage or tolerate your sins.  That which is holy cannot embrace that which is evil.  So, Jesus does not excuse you for your self-absorbed love and for your tolerance of the sins of others.  Such actions and attitudes fall under God’s judgment.  What Jesus has done for you is to become sin for you.  All of your iniquity was poured upon him.  Drenched in your sin, Jesus stood before God’s court and was fully condemned.  He was punished for every infraction.  He was spared no mercy.  The Father’s love was completely withheld from him so that he endured hell while he was on the cross.  For, that is the consequence of sin.
     Jesus did not excuse your sins; he suffered and died for them.  In doing so, Jesus sought your highest good.  He made sure that you would not be cut off from God’s love and blessing.  He made sure that you would not be rejected and condemned.  Having taken your sin, Jesus, in exchange, gave you his righteousness.  You were baptized into Jesus and have been drenched in Jesus’ righteousness.  Therefore, God sees you as one who is blameless.  This is for your good, for it means that you are pleasing to God.  It means you shall receive a place in heaven.  It means you have God’s blessings.
     This is how Jesus loved you.  He died for sins he did not commit so that you would have blessings you do not deserve.  Jesus forgives your sins.  Jesus tells you that you are loved by God.  You are not merely tolerated, you are embraced as God’s own.  The Lord does not turn a blind eye to you, but watches over you to care for you, to admonish you, to protect you, and to preserve you. 
     And now, Jesus says, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)  This is the love that Jesus wants his disciples to reflect to one another and to all the world.  Brothers and sisters, you will continue to be sinners in this world, and you will even sin against each other.  The world would not blame you if you responded to such sins with vengeance and slander and law suits.  But you are not taught by Jesus to attack, to threaten, or to retaliate.  This is not love. 
     St. Peter would have you consider: “Let none of you suffer as … an evildoer…  If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.  Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 15,16,19)  It is commendable to show mercy and to seek the good of your neighbor, even if he has sinned against you.  You may destroy your neighbor with vengeance, but this is not love.  You will never win your brother over by destroying him or with vengeance.  It is true that the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine,” but the glory of God is not seen in his vengeance.  It is revealed in his forgiveness.  This is how Jesus has loved you.  He has been merciful.  He forgives your sin.  He has sought your good.  He has secured your blessing.
     And now Jesus says, Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)  Your glory is that you have been forgiven.  Your glory is also that you forgive.  While you grow in the faith and God’s light shines more brightly in you, you will grow in mercy, in love, and in doing and seeking good for others.  Love will not tolerate sin, but love will forgive it.  Christ will continue to transform your hearts and minds so that they will be like his.  Christ will continue to guide you so that you reflect his love to others. 
     But more than anything, it is Christ who will continue to be loving and merciful to you because you need it.  Seek his mercy, for he seeks your good.  Come to his altar, for that is where he gives his good things.  That is where you find forgiveness and mercy for you, and that is what will compel you to love and forgive others.  You seek the good of others because you have a Savior who has sought you for eternity.  This is love.  And since you have known it through Jesus’ words and actions on your behalf, you get to show it in your words and actions toward others.

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Prayer of the Day -- 5th Sunday of Easter

O God, you form the minds of your faithful people into a single will.  Make us love what you command and desire what you promise, that among the many changes of this world, our hearts may ever yearn for the lasting joys of heaven; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

In this prayer, we recognize that every element of our Christian faith and life must rest upon God and be worked by God.  It is God who...
          ...forms the minds of his people into a single will,
          ...makes us love what he commands,
          ...makes us desire what he promises, and
          ...teaches us to yearn for the lasting joys of heaven.

In contrast, this world goes through many changes.  While that is not always bad, to rest one's faith on anything in this world proves unwise and even deadly.  Nothing in this world is permanent.  Nothing in this world offers a solid foundation.  Some of those things we trust in (jobs, family, friends, et al.) can be ripped from us suddenly and tragically.  When that happens, those who trusted in these things find that their life has been groundless.  It is a frightening and perilous place to be.

Our Lord forms our minds into a single will.  He transforms our hearts and minds so that they reflect his heart and mind.  He causes us to renounce our trust in worldly things, even if those things are great blessings.  He shows us that his promises are the only solid ground on which our lives rest.  Only his word brings eternal salvation and security.  Only his will is truly and eternally good.

So, when we pray this prayer, we pray against ourselves and this world.  We pray that God would kill our misplaced trust in what we see and feel and would redirect our trust and lives to conform with his words and promises.  It is sometimes a painful lesson, but the cross is not meant for our comfort.  It is meant to kill us and to point us to Jesus.  And there,  in Christ alone, will we find full salvation and eternal security.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (April 21, 2013)

JOHN 10:22-30

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     Our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)  This is one of the most endearing images of our Savior in all of Scripture.  He is a gracious, tender shepherd who watches over his flock.  He is not merely employed to care for the sheep.  He is totally invested in it.  He lays down his life for the sake of the flock.  He would die so that his sheep might live.  He sacrifices everything so that the sheep can have everything.
     But it is even more than that.  Jesus states, “I give (my sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)  He who died for you is risen.  He cannot die again, for he has conquered death and rules over it.  And he lives and reigns to watch over you, to tend you, to care for you, to feed you, and to protect you.  While you are still threatened and hunted by your enemies—sin, death, and the devil—Jesus has crushed these enemies.  Sin has been paid for.  Death has been overcome by Jesus’ resurrection.  The devil has been crushed under Jesus’ feet.  The enemies may try to convince you that they are formidable foes.  But they cannot harm you.  They may snarl and snap at you, but Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He is your defender and your Savior.  Jesus speaks, and the enemies can only whimper in response.  The Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Jesus said: “I give (my sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)  From these words, you may falsely conclude that you can never fall from grace.  Some churches even teach, “Once saved, always saved.”  If that is true, you cannot lose God’s salvation no matter what you do.  And what is scary is that many Christians live that way.
     Remember the words of Isaiah, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)  Dear Christians, you are still sheep, are you not?  And you are still prone to going your own way.  Many voices tempt and seduce you.  Why are they seductive?  Because they say what you want to hear.  You want to hear that adultery and fornication and porn are healthy.  You want to hear that gossiping is harmless.  You want to hear that coming to God’s house is optional.  You want to hear that faith will grow strong even when it is not being fed.  You want to hear that all people go to heaven because a loving God would never find fault with us or the people we like. 
     Dear flock of Christ, the devil still prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Though he cannot harm Jesus, he still hopes to seize you.  And so the father of lies deceives and seduces, trying to draw you away from Jesus.  He wants you listening to the same twisted words that deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He wants you to believe that he shows you a better, more satisfying, and more loving way.  And he plays on your sinful desires. 
     Remember: “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)  We are still sheep.  We are still prone to stray.  And the devil tries to imitate the voice of your Good Shepherd so that you will wander over to him.  He sounds so pious, so loving, so wise, so tolerant, so promising.  He convinced Eve that the fruit was desirable for gaining wisdom.  He tells you that his ways are desirable for instant happiness.  And you are attracted to it.  So, like Eve, you grasp what is forbidden.  Like Adam, you sink your teeth into that which contains the curse and contaminates the soul.  But it is the roaring lion who sinks his teeth into you.  And you, who are but sheep, are defenseless.  You, who are but sheep, will perish.
     This is what happens to sheep who stray.  This is the price of neglecting your Shepherd’s voice.  What is a sheep to do?  If you know that straying from your Good Shepherd is a sure-fire way to fall into Satan’s grasp, what hope can you have? 
     Dear Christians, you have a Good Shepherd for a good reason.  If you are alarmed by sin, death, and Satan—and you should be!—then stay ever closer to your Good Shepherd.  He is the only one who has put away sin.  He is the only one who is a refuge in death.  He is the only one who has crushed the serpent’s head.  So flock to him for refuge.  Go where you will find him.  He is not found in your feelings or your sincerity or in your own thoughts about him.  He comes only through his Word, whether preached or tied to elements in the Sacraments.  That is where his sheep come, for that is where you hear his voice.  That is where you are fed.  That is where you find your protection.  Even in the valley of the shadow of death, you fear no evil.  Even in the presence of your enemies, you get to feast.  For, the Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice.” (John 10:27)  You are here because Jesus has graciously made you his sheep.  You keep coming because Jesus graciously keeps you in his care.  You come because Jesus is found only in his word and sacraments.   You come because this is the only way Jesus dispenses his forgiveness.  You come because this is where you find your protection from your enemies.  This is where you find his rod and his staff, his Law and his Gospel, his word and his sacraments.  This is how your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Jesus has promised: “I give (my sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)  As long as you remain in Christ, no one can snatch you out of his hand.  The devil cannot pluck your faith from your heart.  When he challenges Jesus’ claim on you, he is lying.  You have been baptized into Jesus.  His name is on you.  You are his.  Your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Death cannot snatch you out of God’s grace.  Even though you will one day go to your grave, you are not lost.  God’s love remains yours.  Yes, you will enter the valley of the shadow of death, but you will pass through.  For your Good Shepherd has already gone before you.  He entered death and rose again to life.  And your Good Shepherd will bring you out of death to life as well.  Even at the grave, the Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Not even your sins can snatch you out of Jesus’ hands.  That is not permission, much less encouragement, to give into your sins.  You have been set free from your sins!  Why would you pursue them again when they only lead to death?  Nevertheless, you continue to stumble.  You are weak, and your weakness gets the better of you.  Even then, your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.  The blood of Jesus purifies you from all sin. (1 John 1:7)  Your place in God’s flock is not so shaky that you never know that whether you belong to Jesus or not.  Even in your weaknesses, your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.  You do not have a place in his flock because you are such good sheep, but because Jesus is such a Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd has laid down his life for you.  The Good Shepherd lives to guard and keep you, to nourish and bless you.  The Good Shepherd forgives your sin.  He has destroyed your enemies.  So, have no fear, little flock.  Nothing can snatch you out of his hands.  He has entrusted you to his heavenly Father who is greater than all.  Therefore, nothing can snatch you out of the Father’s hands. 
     Behold!  Your Good Shepherd speaks.  Behold!  Your Good Shepherd has anointed you.  Behold!  Your Good Shepherd has spread out his table for you.  Behold!  Your Good Shepherd lives.  He tends to your needs.  He guides your way.  He defends you from your enemies.  Have no fear, little flock.  Your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.

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

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sermon -- LWMS Rally (April 20, 2013)

JOHN 10:40-42

In the name + of Jesus.

     John the Baptist never performed a miraculous sign.  All he did was preach the word.  The results were mixed.  Many people came out to be baptized by John.  Even tramps and thieves were repenting at John’s preaching.  But then there were others.  Pharisees and teachers of the law were offended by John.  They did not repent.  They did not think they needed to.  And they were disgusted that the tax collectors and prostitutes believed that God had a place in his kingdom for the likes of them.
     John preached.  He was a voice.  John baptized.  He was an instrument.  But John did not perform or dazzle.  He did not perform a miraculous sign.  Not one.  John did one thing—he pointed people to Jesus.  He called people to repent of themselves and to go to Christ for hope, for comfort, and for salvation.  The testimony of the crowds speaks volumes: “Everything John said about this man was true.” (John 10:41)
     There is a thrill when we hear pastors and missionaries tell stories about sinners who are brought into the kingdom of God.  Some stories are stunning.  And some pastors and missionaries get to tell many amazing stories.  It is exciting and it is easy to rally behind the missionaries who have the best and the most stories.  We give thanks to God for every sinner who has been redeemed.  The angels rejoice, too.
     But for every sweet story, Satan hands out a bitter pill.  And it is easy to swallow it.  You hear how this pastor has had streams of guests flowing into his mission.  You hear how that missionary witnessed a family convert from the belligerent to the blessed.  But then other missionaries have few stories.  Some preach and seem to see no fruits from their labors.  You may also wonder why you are not seeing more guests and conversions at your own church.  Suspicions are raised.  You wonder what is wrong with some missionaries because they don’t have more stories.  You wonder: Why doesn’t my church have these amazing stories?  Why aren’t the results more miraculous? 
     Your pastor may well get frustrated, too.  From time to time, all of God’s ministers feel like they may as well be voices in the wilderness, shouting to the desert air.  When no one is listening, at least you aren’t disappointed when nothing happens.  We all long for miraculous results.  Do not be deceived.  Faithfulness is not proven by results.  Dejected pastors do not need suspicions, but encouragement.  And do not pray for miraculous signs.  God’s word does not need any assistance.  If they do not listen when your pastor tells them about Jesus, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
     When the crowds commended John the Baptist, they did not say, “Wow!  He really packs them in!  He really gets results!”  Instead, they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” (John 10:42)  God’s word is true whether people repent or not.  Preaching the gospel is fruitful whether you see the harvest or not.  John never performed a miraculous sign.  John preached about Jesus, and everything John said about that man was true.  That is what is needed.  That is all the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the Pharisees needed.  That is what the world needs.  You need it, too.
     You need to hear that your sins are not taken away by miracles, but by the God who became flesh for you.  God does not demand signs, but obedience.  Since you have not given it, Jesus Christ lived on behalf of all mankind.  He lived and kept and preached God’s truth.  There is your righteousness.
     Then he died for all who have fallen for the lies—
            for the lies that say you only need to behave,
            that you only need to be nice,
            that you must perform up to a certain level and produce results and grow the church. 
     Jesus has paid the price for all sinners—
            for the dejected who think that God has failed them,
            for the prideful who want to share credit for God’s conversions,
            for the glory seekers who think that faithfulness is measured by numbers,
            for the heathen whose fear has him cowering before his idols,
            for the loud-mouthed man who glories in his sin,
            for the quiet woman who hides her sins and lives in secret shame,
            for Pharisees, for prostitutes, and for you. 
     For all people, this truth stands: Jesus Christ has come into this world to save sinners.  He has endured the scorn, the shame, and the wrath of God for all.  Therefore, he brings forgiveness of sins to all.  He bestows peace upon all.  He has comfort and salvation for all.
     Jesus reveals and gives his blessings through his preached word.  Miraculous signs are not necessary.  Miraculous results prove nothing—though we rejoice when God gives them.  As Jesus’ ministers proclaim his word, the Lord grants faith where and when he wills.  The charge given to his ministers and missionaries remains the same as that entrusted to John the Baptist: Preach the Gospel.  Point people to Jesus.  Tell the truth.  For, that is where God’s mercy is revealed.  That is where God’s forgiveness is given. 
     That is why we rally to God’s truth.  That is why we support those who preach it.  It is all that saves, and it is all you need.

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Trinity and the Athanasian Creed

We have been going through the backgrounds of the three ecumenical Creeds of the Christian Church (Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed) for our Adult Bible Class on Sundays.  All three confess the Triune God, but it is the Athanasian Creed which gives the most attention to this teaching.  While some feel it is a bit long, it is masterfully written in that it confesses the Trinity without saying too much or too little of what the Trinity is.

It would be nice to be able to compare the Trinity to something we are familiar with, but there is no analogy and nothing on earth that is like the Trinity.  It is and remains a mystery.  Not that it's a secret.  We believe in one God, and that one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are baptized in (or into) the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  (Note: That's in the "name", not "names;" for God is one.)  That is not a secret, but it remains a mystery.  In other words, we can't unravel it. 

Any efforts to try to explain or understand this results in either heresy or a grand headache.  It is best to let God reveal himself as he is than for us to try to craft God into a form we can understand.  In that case, we have invented our own god, which, then, is really no God at all.

To help understand why analogies are bad, I offer you the video below from

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 14, 2013)

JOHN 21:1-19

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     St. Peter has a good reputation for saying what is on his mind and for spilling out the thoughts of his heart.  From St. Peter, we hear beautiful and bold confessions.  We also hear cringe-worthy statements made in fear and ignorance.  Whether he makes you proud of him or disappointed in him, Peter openly displays and honestly declares the contents of his heart.
     One day when Peter and some of the other disciples were fishing, Jesus was with them.  After a night of hard work, they had nothing to show for their labors but wet nets.  Jesus encouraged them to let down their nets for a catch.  They pulled up so many fish that their nets began to tear and their boats began to sink.  Peter made his confession: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)  His confession was honest, and it was right.  But rather than departing, Jesus called Peter to stay with him, to follow him, and to labor with him in preaching and teaching the gospel.
     Peter, as you know, went on to prove that he was a sinful man.  When Jesus stood trial for being the Son of God, Peter denied him.  Three times, Peter could have made a bold confession—a confession he swore he would uphold even if he had to die with Jesus.  All three times, Peter refused to associate himself with Jesus.
     And now in our gospel, just a few weeks after Jesus had risen from the dead, Peter and the disciples are found fishing again.  And again, a hard night’s work has yielded up nothing.  In the grey of the morning, Jesus called to the disciples from the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.  That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:5-7) 
    Once again, Jesus provided a miraculous catch of fish.  Once again, the risen Lord appeared to his disciples.  Once again, the Lord would bring comfort to a sinful man.  Once again, Jesus did not depart from Peter, but would give him a joyful confession to make.  And once again, the Lord would call that sinful man into the holy ministry.  A risen Savior gave a living hope.
     It seems that Jesus was practically reversing the past when he spoke with Peter after their breakfast.  Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  ...He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:15-17)  Simon Peter was not nearly so bold in his answers.  He did not dare boast of his amazing love for Jesus or of his willingness to die for him.  He had failed at that already.  Peter’s faith would not rest on his undying commitment to Jesus.  It would have to rest on Jesus’ amazing love and undying commitment to him.  Peter again made a good confession.  Again, the little rock, Peter, was grounded on the true Rock, which is Christ.  A risen Savior gives a living hope.
     Perhaps you are not as bold with your words and actions as Peter was.  But that does not mean your words and actions do not make confession for you.  By them, you show the content in your heart and mind.  From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, and it reveals the sin that dwells within.  Why do you speak sarcastically to people?  To build yourself up by belittling them.  Why are you slow to take extra steps to help someone in need?  Because you are not willing to give up your time, effort, or money.  Why do you mock others for their opinions or their decisions?  Because you are convinced that you are smarter and better than them.  Your words and actions testify against you.  You have exalted yourself over others.  You have loved yourself far more than your neighbor, and even over God; for you delight in your thoughts more than God’s. 
     You can understand why Peter had begged the Lord to depart from him.  It seems easier to flee from the Lord than to flee from your sins.  However, you cannot flee from the Lord; nor can you shrug off your sins.  Your sins cling to you.  Or worse, you cling to your sins!  They condemn you.  Since you cannot rid yourself of sin and since you cannot escape God’s notice, you surely cannot escape the judgment. 
     You have not escaped God’s notice, but that is good.  For, it is the Lord Jesus who has made the payment for your sins.  Your risen Savior gives you a living hope.  By his words and actions, Jesus fulfilled God’s commands.  His words were always true.  His actions were always done in love.  From the overflow of his heart, he spoke and acted, and he revealed his righteousness to all who saw and heard him.  Even as Jesus was being sentenced to die for sins he did not commit, he did not try to avoid this cursed death.  He had taken notice of you in your sinful condition.  And so he acted to take your sins from you.  His love for you drove him to the cross to die in your place.
     But now Jesus has risen!  Your risen Savior gives you a living hope.  He forgives your sins, no matter how shameful they may be.  He pardons you for any crude or careless words.  He exonerates you for any harsh or heartless deeds.  It is not that he excuses them; it is that he has paid for them.  His blood has atoned for you.  And now he lives to tell you, again and again, that you are forgiven.  You are free from condemnation.  You are free to serve with words of kindness and deeds of mercy, with a grateful heart, a joyful spirit, and a chaste mind.
     Your risen Savior comes to give you a living hope.  And your hope always lives to comfort you.  Your hope is not wishful thinking.  Peter did not have to wish that he was back in Jesus’ good graces.  Jesus appeared and poured out his grace upon him.  And so it is with you.  God has poured his grace upon you in your baptism.  God pours out his mercy upon you as you are absolved.  Jesus Christ pours his grace into you when you feast in the holy supper.  These cleanse you of your sins and continue to testify that you are forgiven, loved, and saved.  Your risen Savior gives you a living hope.
     Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  And three times, Peter confessed his faith.  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)  Jesus assured this weak, sinful man that the Lord would use him for great and glorious things despite his faults.  The apostle went to proclaim the same forgiveness that was given to him by his risen Savior.
     And it is true of anyone who is a Christian.  You will never be holy on this side of heaven.  Even on your best day you are flawed.  But the Lord is still pleased to call you his own.  He still forgives.  And he still works in you to do good, to be helpful, and to bless others through you.  Your confession may not be a martyr’s death as it was for Peter.  But like him, you do make a confession with your words and deeds.  Your light shines as a sinner who knows you are forgiven and whom God calls a saint.  Therefore, you are eager to serve other sinners, and to love as love has been shown to you. 
     Your risen Savior gives you a living hope.  He lives and reigns to forgive you and to bless you.  Therefore, you live to be merciful and bless others.  In this way, God is glorified.  You never lose your hope, and he never ceases to by your risen Savior.

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

Words of Wisdom, Resurrection victory

Here is an excerpt from an Easter sermon by Rev. David Peterson, pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church (LC-MS), Fort Wayne, Indiana.  It comes from his book, "Thy Kingdom Come," available at for about $20-$25.  It is a book of  more than 60 sermons for the Lenten and Easter season, including a few sermons on Minor Festivals that fall in these seasons.  It well worth the cost.  If you get it, please resist all urges to come up to me and ask, "Why can't YOU preach like that?"

From Easter Sunday, by Rev. Peterson, who taunts death and the grave:

          "Now all men have been reconciled to the Father in the death of Jesus Christ.  No one who believes in Him, even if he sleep, will ever die.  Jesus has risen for our justification.  He has declared us righteous and holy and welcomes us to Himself in the Holy Communion.  You can scowl, threaten, and attack, but you have lost.  You are defeated.  You have come to an end.  Jesus lives!
          "So we bury our dead, O grave, only to mock you, not because they are dead, but because they live, because they are with Jesus, and their bodies sleep while they wait for the resurrection to come.  We bury our dead because they have been sanctified and sealed for the resurrection through the risen body and blood of Jesus poured out on them in the Holy Communion.  They go into you only that they might follow Jesus out of you and defeat you.
          "You think that is victory?  It is utter defeat.  But you get no pity, bitter tyrant, from us, for Jesus lives.  He is our king.
          "So I ask again: Where, O grave, where is your victory?  Where is your sting?  They are gone.  Jesus lives.  And Jesus, alive out of the grave, is here for us--living, risen, in His holy body and His precious blood, the seal of the new life, the forgiveness of sins, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, given to us to eat and to drink that we would never die and never suffer your lying tyranny.
          "Alleluia.  Alleluia.  Jesus lives."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 7, 2013)

JOHN 20:19-31

In the name + of Jesus.

M:        Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25)  Ten apostles told the one who had missed out.  Their eyes bulged with enthusiasm.  The excitement of their words could not keep up with the excitement in their hearts.  Yes, Jesus had been crucified.  “And Thomas, do you remember when he had told us it was going to happen like this?  And remember?  Remember, Thomas?  He also said that he would rise again on the third day!  And he did!  Peter and John ran to the tomb, and it was empty.  The women saw angels who said he was risen!  Mary Magdalene saw Jesus himself!  So did some other women.  Peter saw him Sunday afternoon.  We ALL saw him Sunday night!  Thomas, it was just like he said.  He would rise from the dead.  He did rise from the dead.  Thomas, we all saw him!”
     Thomas was not convinced.  He was not convinced by the testimony of the women.  He was not convinced by the empty tomb.  He was not convinced when ten of his closest companions told him.  Not even Jesus’ promise was enough.  Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25) 
     Jesus did not owe Thomas special treatment.  The word of the Lord should have been plenty.  But Jesus did appear to Thomas.  Thomas wanted tangible proof?  Jesus gave him tangible proof.  Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” (John 20:27)  Then he gave Thomas a rebuke: Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)  
     Thomas’ problem was not that he was skeptical.  No one would blame Thomas for that.  But Thomas had become faithless.  He had Jesus’ promise, but that was not enough.  He had the testimony of the women who had seen the angel at the empty tomb and had repeated the angel’s message, but he would not believe the women.  He had the word of his fellow apostles who had seen Jesus, spoke with him, and ate with him.  But Thomas would not listen.  Thomas would not trust the words and promises of God, nor of those who repeated them.  “Unless I see...” (John 20:25), Thomas demanded.  Thomas would only believe what he could see and touch and feel.  This is not faith at all.
     Be careful that you do not feel superior to Doubting Thomas.  Every sin boils down to doubt, or unbelief.  We do not keep God’s Commandments because we do not believe God has our best interest at heart.  We prefer our own will, and we do not fear God’s wrath or believe God’s judgment.  We are not content because we do not believe God gives us what is best for us.  We are afraid because we do not believe that God works everything for our good.  We hoard our wealth because we do not believe that God will supply our needs.  Or we squander our wealth because we do not believe our greatest treasures are spiritual things.  We do not take God at his word.  We want more proof.  We want to see more evidence.  We sin against him, because we do not believe him.  Repent.
     Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)  These are written that you may believe that Jesus Christ is truly risen.  It was witnessed by the women who did not expect his resurrection.  It was witnessed by the apostles who were hiding out in a locked room because of fear.  It was even witnessed by an apostle who refused to believe it could be true.  And these apostles have preached and written this word so that you may believe and that, by believing, you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
     It is written so that you can know that God’s love for you is nothing that you should doubt.  For, God’s love is not given in scraps.  God does not reveal his love with occasional moments of joy or with random acts of kindness.  God’s love is revealed by his total commitment to redeem you from all of your sin.  He sent Jesus to pay for all of your sin.  He gave his life completely for your lack of trust, lack of obedience, lack of restraint, lack of patience, and for every other place where you have fallen short.  Because you have fallen short, because you are spiritually bankrupt, Jesus has covered the full cost.  You never have to doubt God’s love because it never comes up short.  Even if you have not been faithful to him, God is always faithful to his promises.  Sins are forgiven.  The debt is paid.  Christ is risen.  Death is done.  These are written that you may believe that Jesus Christ has, indeed, risen.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29)  For this is a saving faith.
     Of course, Jesus does not make such visitations anymore.  Jesus will not be entering your living room or even this sanctuary, inviting you to examine his wounds.  He imparts forgiveness to you just as he has declared his resurrection to you – through the words of witnesses and messengers.  But the message is more than just imparting information.  Jesus’ ministers do not just tell stories.  He gave them much greater authority than that.
     On the evening of that day, the first day of the week…, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:19,21-23) 
     Through the Spirit, the Lord gives life to all who are dead in sin.  Jesus breathed on these disciples and poured out his Holy Spirit into them.  Then Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  He gave them his Holy Spirit so that they can go and breathe him into others, in the stead and by the command of Christ.  They were to speak as if it were Christ himself speaking.  Jesus gave them his authority and attached this promise: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23) 
     These are written that you may believe that Jesus forgives you through ministers who speak in the stead and by the command of Jesus.  Jesus has given his Church the holy ministry so that people continue to hear the voice of their Risen Savior.  He who paid for all sin still forgives the sins of the penitent.  How do you know that the pastor’s words are not just a nice guy wishing you well?  Jesus attaches his promise to it.  How you do you know that the water poured out onto the infant’s head truly washes away sins?  Jesus attached his promise to it.  How do you know that the bread and the wine are the body and blood of Christ rather than a mere reenactment?  Jesus attaches his promise to it.  He breathes his Holy Spirit through the word.  It is the breath of life, and by it he imparts life to you.
     These are written that you may believe that Jesus forgives you.  As you hear God’s word, it is the voice of God you hear.  As you hear Jesus’ forgiveness, it is the voice of your Savior you hear.  As the word is preached, it is the Holy Spirit who breathes new life into you, who puts sin to death in you, and who renews you day after day.
     Therefore, do not disbelieve, but believe.  Take God at his word.  Hold him to his word.  Cling to his promises.  If he says that your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.  God’s word is greater than your guilt.  If he says that death is conquered, then it is harmless.  God’s word is more powerful than the grave.  If he says you are his dear children, then he is your heavenly Father.  God’s promise makes you heirs of eternal life.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.  God does not lie.  Christ is risen.  Death is overcome.  Your sins are forgiven.  God’s love is yours.

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

Friday, April 5, 2013

Post Easter Getaway

After the services during Holy Week and Easter Sunday, we skipped town for a few days.  Here are some photos from our trip.  First, a few days in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, then a trip to eastern Ohio for some site-seeing.  Enjoy!

My brother, Paul, my parents, and me at the Schroeder house in Sheboygan.
Playing a little football at the Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.

Mausoleum of Pres. William and Ida McKinley in
Canton, OH.  The McKinley's also had two daughters
who died in infancy.  They are interred here, too.

The white shirt in this photo is believed to have been worn by Pres. McKinley as he was recovering after being shot in Buffalo, NY.  A replica of the pistol used in the assassination is at the right, middle.  Below the pistol, lower right, is a funeral rosette which was on a horse that pulled Pres. McKinley's casket from the church to the cemetery in Canton.  (He was later moved to the mausoleum pictured above.)  The brass plaque just upper left from the pistol was taken from his casket.  All this memorabilia is at the President McKinley Library and Museum in Canton, OH.

My lovely wife stands in the William McKinley Birthplace Memorial in Niles, OH. 
This memorial also has a library on one wing and an auditorium/museum on the other. 
It is a very impressive structure.