Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Pastoral Concern re: Administering the Lord's Supper

The pastor is called, among other things, to administer the Lord's Supper to the congregation.  In this role, he stands in the stead of Christ.  He speaks Jesus' words.  He becomes Jesus' hands, as it were, in giving Jesus' body and blood to the Lord's redeemed people.

But what about the pastor's reception of the Lord's Supper?  Here, there are three basic options.
1)  The pastor receives Holy Communion from an elder.
2)  The pastor administers the Lord's Supper to himself.
3)  The pastor refrains from receiving the Lord's Supper until he is able to receive it from another pastor at a different setting, such as a pastors' conference or when he is on vacation.  (This practice was not uncommon not so long ago.)

As with any ceremony, the pastor should be teaching God's people about Jesus and his salvation.  So, what lesson does the pastor want to teach?

The last of the three options can be dismissed immediately.  The pastor needs the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins as much as anyone else in the congregation.  Though he has been called to a sacred office, that does not make him sacred.  Denying himself the Lord's Supper is foolish, undesirable, and unsalutary. 

So that leaves us with the first two options.  What is the pastor hoping to teach with each?

By receiving Holy Communion from an elder, the pastor is showing that he is just as much a miserable, wretched sinner as anyone else is.  He kneels at the railing like every other member of the congregation to partake in the sacred meal and receive sacred blessings.  His actions highlight the unity he shares with the congregation he serves.

By administering Holy Communion to himself, the pastor is highlighting that he is acting in the stead of Jesus Christ.  As Jesus first administered the Lord's Supper to the apostles on Maundy Thursday, so the pastor does.  Jesus, no doubt, participated in the Passover meal.  Matthew 26:29 suggests that Jesus also drank of the cup with the apostles when he passed the communal cup around to them.  As the master of the ceremony, Jesus would have administered this meal to himself along with his guests.  Of course, Jesus does not manifest himself as the master of ceremonies anymore.  He has called ministers to speak and to act in his stead.  By administering first to himself, the pastor highlights that office.

Now, doing one does not automatically deny the other; that is to say, the pastor who kneels at the altar does not deny he acts in the stead of Christ when he administers the Lord's Supper nor does the pastor who administers to himself deny that he is united with the congregation as a wretched sinner.  But the question still remains: Which of the two ceremonies makes a better confession or teaches a better lesson?

I suppose a pastor's setting may influence his answer.  But it seems to me that the pastor does well to highlight the office he is in--that he speaks and acts in the stead of Christ to administer the gifts of Christ to Christ's redeemed people.  That office is already highlighted as the pastor speaks the absolution, reads the lessons (especially the gospel), preaches the sermon, and proclaims the benediction.  It seems consistent that the pastor's office is also demonstrated in how he administers Christ's body and blood.

Of course, this ceremony is not a matter of good versus evil.  But it certainly can be debated if one is better than the other.  I tend to think that option 2 is better.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Graduation at Michigan Lutheran Seminary

It was a big weekend in Saginaw for us.  First, there was the commencement concert which involved the entire student body at Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) on Friday.  So Faith, Nathanael, and Andrew all had a part.  Faith also was part of the band portion and with Hardin Street Harmony, MLS's swing choir.

Then, the Class of 2013 graduated from MLS on Saturday, May 25.  Faith, being the top ranked student in her class who will be going on the teacher track at Martin Luther College, was one of the class speakers.  She did a fine job. 

It was so nice to have so many family members with us.  I know that it meant a lot to Faith, even though no one was able to visit for as long as we would have wanted.  And I inexplicably did not get a photo of Faith with Grandma Schmidt.  How did that happen?

Faith, I am so proud of you and all of your accomplishments throughout your high school years.  Your senior year was better than we could have scripted.  I pray that God will continue to bless you and keep you for the rest of your life in whatever it is you do.

Some photos from the weekend.
Hardin Street Harmony

Class speaker
President Petermann presents Faith with her diploma.

Aunt Kris, Grandma Schroeder, Faith, and Grandpa Schroeder.
Photo bomb courtesy of Nathanael.

Aunt Liz, Faith, and Uncle David

The Schroeder family

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Athanasian Creed

            The Athanasian Creed is one of the three catholic creeds.  The word catholic means universal, as in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  The word creed comes from the Latin word credo which means “I believe.”  Luther said of this creed, “I doubt whether the New Testament church has a more important document since the Apostolic age.”

            Although named for Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria (ca. 296-373), it is almost certain that he did not write it.  Neither Athanasius nor his contemporaries ever refer to it.  But even if Athanasius did not write the creed, he certainly would have ascribed to it.  Athanasius was one of the bishops at the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) which opposed the heresy of Arius (ca. 250-336).  Arius denied the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, teaching that he is of a similar substance to God the Father, but not of the same substance.  In essence, Arius claimed that Jesus Christ is not the eternal God.  This belief has resurfaced in modern-day cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.  The Council of Nicaea adopted the Nicene Creed to affirm that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God” and “of one being with the Father.”

            The Athanasian Creed first appeared in Gaul (France) late in the 5th century.  Early in that century, Europe was invaded from the east by barbarian tribes, notably the Vandals and Goths.  This event marked the beginning of the Dark Ages.  During this time, the people and the clergy lapsed into illiteracy and ignorance of the Scriptures.  In addition, some of the invaders were Arian in their beliefs.  Out of this confusion came the need for a clear statement of faith.  The result was the Athanasian Creed.

            The Athanasian Creed quickly assumed an important role in the orthodox church.  (Much of the visible church was overrun with Arianism.)  Emperor Charlemagne (ca. 742-814), in order to preserve the true Christian faith, decreed that all churchmen had to learn this creed and to be able to teach it to the laity. 

            The second portion of the Athanasian Creed reaffirms the Nicene Creed regarding the person of Jesus Christ.  However, it begins with a most excellent presentation on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  It says no more and no less than Scriptures say, letting the paradox of God’s nature stand (i.e., God is one; God is three).

            Confessors of the creed should not be put off by the second to last article which says: “Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire” (cp also John 5:28,29).  The article does not teach salvation attained by human works, but simply reflects that our good works (or lack thereof) are evidence of God-given faith (or unbelief).  When we remember that our good works are actually God’s work through us, then we will understand this article correctly (cf Ephesians 2:8-10).  In addition, we remember that are judged based on Jesus’ merits, not our own.  We have been given the credit for Christ’s righteousness.  Therefore, we are heirs of eternal life.

            This creed ought to bring us great comfort, as it speaks clearly about our God and his plan for our salvation.  Its clearness and boldness are refreshing in this age of doctrinal confusion.  This is no wishy-washy confession.  It states what the Scriptures teach – there is no God but the Lord revealed in the Scriptures, and there is no salvation outside of the name of Jesus Christ.  All who deny this deny the truth; and all who deny the truth forfeit salvation.

            Finally, a study of this creed and the history which surrounds it shows how important it is for us to be familiar with the history of the Christian Church.  When we understand how Christians who have gone before us identified error and combated it, then we will better be able to do the same.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sermon -- Pentecost (May 19, 2013)

JOHN 15:26-27

Note: This sermon was preached on the day
when three teens observed the Rite of Confirmation.

In the name + of Jesus.

     In their studies for their confirmation, these three catechumens learned the 3rd petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  They also memorized Luther’s explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.  It often happens when memory work is assigned, teens like to request, “Can’t I just tell you what I think it means?”  As noble as that sounds, it is not wise.  When you pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” can you say you actually know what God’s will is? 
     If someone asks you want God wants, your answer had better not begin with the words, “I think….”  If you tell me what you think God’s will is, you are probably not telling me God’s will at all.  You are telling me what you would like it to be.  Or you are telling me what you think and you are assuming that your will is God’s will.  This is not only dangerous; it is arrogant, and it is idolatry.  Unless you are actually repeating what God has said, claiming to speak for God is blasphemy.  God must be the one to tell you what he wills and what he warns against.  God speaks for himself, and we dare not confuse our convictions with God’s word.
     So, how can you know what God’s will is?  How can you know what God desires and what God condemns?  You don’t have to guess.  God has revealed these things to us through his Holy Spirit.  Only the Spirit of God reveals the will of God.
     Now a follow-up question: How do you know what message is from the Holy Spirit and which message is from a different or demonic spirit?  Once again, sinners tend to resort to their feelings.  Some look for signs to confirm their desires—and by George, they always manage to find their signs.  It is a dangerous and deadly deception for you to look within yourself for divine guidance.  For, you are not divine.  And you can be sure that the Lord will never grant you permission to do what he condemns, no matter how many signs are telling you that it is okay to do so.  Our minds and our hearts are corrupt and self-serving.  That is why God does not speak to us through our feelings or our opinions. 
     The Spirit of God reveals the will of God.  Jesus had told his apostles that he would send the Helper, the Spirit of God, to show them the things of God.  The Holy Spirit would be given to the apostles and bear witness to Jesus and all of his words.  Jesus had not written these things down.  That was entrusted to the apostles.  Jesus told them so: “You…will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:27)  Through the apostles, the Holy Spirit would proclaim and record the words and works of Jesus.  In this way, we don’t have to guess what Jesus would want or do.  We have a written record.  We have God’s own word.  In the Bible, God speaks for himself.  There, the Spirit of God reveals the will of God.
     God tells us what he desires and demands.  He tells us what he commends and what he condemns in many aspects of life.  He tells us what is pure in sex and marriage and what is a perversion of them.  He tells us what parents owe their children and what children owe their parents.  He praises the one who loves his neighbor and helps him in his need, and he pounces on the one who would use his neighbor and scheme to swindle him out of his time, money, and energy.   He commands us to regard his word as holy (because it is!) and to adhere to all of it (because everything God says matters!).  And he condemns us if we would distort or discard any of it in order to make God conform to our liking.  Where God has not spoken, you are free to do as you please.  God does not care what color you paint your bedroom, how you prepare your eggs, or who your favorite team is.  But when the Spirit of God reveals the will of God, it is not open for debate.  The word of the Lord stands, even if it stands against you.  And if it does stand against you, if it does reveal that you are listening to a different spirit, repent.  For it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
     On the Day of Pentecost, Jesus poured out his Holy Spirit upon the apostles.  He gave them the Divine Helper who helped them remember every word Jesus had spoken, every promise Jesus had fulfilled, and every deed Jesus had done.  Jesus sent his Spirit to guide them in all truth.  The Spirit of God revealed the will of God to them.  Jesus had said, “The Spirit of truth… will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)  The Holy Spirit granted these apostles the courage and the ability to speak to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost.  Crowds who had gathered from around the world with their divided languages heard the apostles declare the wonders and the will of God in their own native languages.  Through these apostles, the Spirit of God revealed the will of God.
     What, then, is that will?  Peter declared it in his second epistle: The Lord is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)  Peter declared it in his first epistle: “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)  And he proclaimed it to the crowds at Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)  It is God’s will that you would be saved from your sin—from your blasphemy which presumes that your opinions are God’s opinions, from your idolatry which puts your desires above God’s word, and from your unclean spirit which does not want to listen to God to begin with. 
     The Spirit of God reveals the will of God, and he bears witness to all Jesus has done for you.  For it was God’s will to save you.  Therefore, God came to redeem you.  He became flesh to deliver you.  Jesus submitted himself to all of God’s word.  He has done the will of God by doing all that is commanded of man.  In doing this, he has won God’s favor.  But to save you, Jesus did not bask in God’s favor.  Instead, he absorbed the curse of sinners.  It was God’s will to crush Jesus, to cause him to suffer, and to make his life a sin offering for the world.  First, this reveals that God has no tolerance for sin and no mercy for sinners.  Jesus died an excruciating death under the divine curse of an Almighty God.
     But Jesus’ sufferings and death also reveal the height and depth of God’s love for you—that Jesus would die mercilessly so that you would be shown mercy; that Jesus would take all your sin so that you would be found blameless before God; that Jesus would pay the price for every presumptuous word you would utter and for every time you followed your self-indulgent feelings over God’s word.  Jesus took God’s curse for these so that God could call you his saints.  Jesus gave himself into death so that you would have eternal life.  This is God’s will.  It has been fulfilled by Jesus.  It has been revealed by the Holy Spirit.  It has been proclaimed by the apostles.  It is still preached by God’s ministers.  And it has been given to you.

     Today, three teens will be vowing to be faithful to these Spirit-given teachings for the rest of their lives.  In some respect, they will be swearing to do the impossible.  They cannot keep themselves faithful anymore than you can keep yourself from sinning.  It is God the Holy Spirit who must give them life and strength and conviction.  It is the Holy Spirit who confirms us in the faith.  It is the Spirit of God who conforms our minds and hears to the will of God.  And the Spirit of God only does this in his word and sacrament.  This is where he reveals the will of God.  This is where he pours out the salvation of Jesus Christ.
     This is what you need.  This is what all Christians need.  It is the only hope we have, but it is the only hope which saves.  Remember: You may struggle in your faithfulness to God, but God is always faithful to you.  The Spirit of God reveals the will of God, and he shows you that your God is a gracious Savior who desires your salvation.  And that is why we pray, “Thy will be done.”

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

Sermon -- Wedding of Daniel Belanger & KImberly Storm (May 18, 2013)


ROMANS 12:10
Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Normally, I would not stand before a bride and groom on their wedding day and tell them that their marriage is to be a competition.  That is a recipe for disaster.  It is not hard to imagine what could go wrong with a marriage that is a matter of getting one’s way, winning arguments, and keeping score.  And since you both have sinful hearts, you would both find something appealing about winning at the expense of each other.  Selfishness is never satisfied.  While selfishness loves to take, it despises giving.  Everyone always wants more.  You are only happy as long as you get what you want.  And you will only be happy until you want something else.  Now, if you compete with each other in who can score more victories, eventually one or both of you are going to want to quit that game.  But marriage is not a game or a contest, and you are not rivals.
     Yet, the verse you chose speaks about a sort of competition.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)  Both of you are pledging to devote yourselves to serving, loving, and honoring the other.  This is a noble goal, and it will serve your marriage well.  God gives a man and a woman to each other so that they will be a blessing for one another.
     When God had created all things, everything in the world was perfect.  He created the man, Adam; and since Adam was holy, Adam could have lived contently by himself.  But God knew that creation was not complete without a wife for the man.  So from the side of the groom, Adam, God made a bride for him.  Adam recognized the tremendous gift God had given him.  Filled with joy, Adam gave us the first poem in the history of mankind to celebrate the joy of finding a wife.
     Dan, to my knowledge, you are not a poet, but you would surely speak highly of the bride whom the Lord gives to you.  Kimberly, I don’t know that the sight of Dan makes you break out into song, but you surely are thankful for the husband God grants you.  You are each a blessing from God to each other.  You get to rejoice together in the good times, to encourage each other in tough times, and to comfort each other in sad times.  And since the person you are binding yourself to today is God’s gift to you, you will honor God by honoring one another.  Outdo one another in honor.  Outdo one another in love.
     The reality is, you will not be competing against each other in this.  You will be competing against your own sinful flesh in trying to love and honor each other.  Sinners have a warped definition of love.  Our love is usually given as long as the one whom we love makes us happy.  If you don’t make me happy, then I don’t need you, want you, or love you.  This is not love for anyone but oneself.  This is your sinful condition.  All people are born with it.  Kimberly, you have seen it at work already in 5 year olds.  It is no different in adults.  But if your love is limited to when your spouse makes you happy, things will get sour pretty fast.  You will start keeping track of who does more for the marriage, and you will always be convinced that the other one is coming up short.  But true love does not keep score.  Day after day, you will need to repent and to kill every desire to win, to control, and to conquer.
     Even though you are sinners, you are not without hope.  The verse you have chosen from Romans gives you a hint of what your hope will always be.  Love one another with brotherly affection. (Romans 12:10)  What is brotherly affection?  Scripture defines it as the love that Christians have for another.  So, what makes that kind of love so special?  Because it is drawn from the love that Jesus Christ has for us, his Church. 
     Jesus Christ is called the Groom, and the Church is his Bride.  As Eve received her life from the side of Adam, so the Church receives its life from the wounded side of Jesus Christ.  Everything that Jesus did was for the benefit of the Church, for the benefit of you.  He does not leave you to suffer the judgment you deserve for your selfish attitude, for failing to cherish his gifts, or for withholding love from your loved ones.  Jesus has taken that judgment for you.  He did not do this because you deserve this honor.  He did it simply because it is for your good.  You need his mercy, his forgiveness, and his salvation.  Therefore, Jesus secured it for you.  Jesus lived and died in order to redeem you from sin and death.
     Jesus has outdone everyone in love.  Love is not Jesus’ feeling toward you; it is his policy.  Even when you grieve him with your sins, Jesus does not despise or dismiss you.  For, he loves you.  Having bled and died for you, he forgives all your sins.  He wants you to be his for eternity.  Through holy baptism, he has put his name on you so that you would receive his gifts and be heirs of heaven.  This is the honor Jesus has bestowed on his Bride, the Church.  It is the honor he pours out on you.  In turn, the Church submits to Jesus to receive these good things from him.  The Church honors Jesus by observing his commands and by serving others.  This is how we show our love to him.
     This is the brotherly love you get to demonstrate for one another.  Outdo one another in love, in honor, in serving one another, and in seeking the good of the other.  Dan, you get to love Kimberly, exalt her, provide for her, and protect her.  All that you do is for her well-being.  And Kimberly, you get to submit to Dan, meaning that you get to receive his name, his honor, his protection, his wealth, and all that is his to give.  You receive good things from him, and you honor him by doing so.  Outdo one another in love.
     The husband is God’s gift to the wife.  The wife is God’s gift to the husband.  Each is for the good of the other.  You get to honor each other more than anyone else.  You get to serve each other more than anyone else.  And when you sin against the other, you get to forgive because you will need each other’s mercy.  It is all just as Jesus Christ does to love his Bride, the Church.  And it is all just as the Church does to honor Jesus Christ. 
     Outdo one another in love.  In this way, you will find joy in the spouse God has given you.  And in this way, you will honor God who has given you to one another.  In this way, you will reflect the love that Jesus has and shows you.

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Track Meets

Last weekend, we had a bunch of our kids involved in track meets.  Caleb and Philip had just the one at Huron Valley Lutheran High School.  Here are some of their photos.


After that, we headed up north to finally catch one of Faith's and Nathanael's track meets.  Apparently, they have both been having a very good year.  They have both done well at the 110 meter hurdles.  Less favorite is the 300 meter hurdles, but that is what we got to see because we got up there late.  Anyway, it was the last time Faith would ever run that race.  She was not nearly as broken up by that as she was by the end of basketball season.

Anyway, here are a few photos of Faith and Nathanael (gray sleeves), taken on a bitter, cold, and windy day at Akron-Fairgrove High School.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sermon -- Ascension, transferred (May 12, 2013)

LUKE 24:44-53

In the name + of Jesus.

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

     In the Temple, the priests daily made sacrifices for the people.  A priest would enter the Holy Place every morning and evening and serve before the altar of incense.  After the sacrifice was complete, the priest would leave the holy place.  He would stand on the steps of the temple, extend his hands, and bestow the Lord’s blessing upon the Lord’s people.  You would be familiar with this blessing.  The priest declared, “The LORD bless you and keep you.  The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.  The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)  And with that blessing came God’s promise: “So shall (the priests) put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27)
     Our Lord Jesus Christ had also completed his work of sacrificing.  His sacrifice, of course, was himself.  The Lamb of God had been slain for the sins of the world.  “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” sing the hosts of heaven.  Emphasis on “was.”  He is no longer slain.  As foretold, Jesus completed all that had been written about him in Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.  (Jesus) said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24:46-47)  Jesus fulfilled all that was written about him in the Scriptures. 
     Christ is risen.  His sacrifice is complete and perfect.  He has taken away your sin.  He has conquered death and vanquished hell.  He has rendered the devil powerless.  Jesus Christ lives and reigns forever.  And so, when he raises his hands and bestows his blessings, he does not merely wish blessings upon you.  He actually bestows what he has won for you.  As he has done for Mansour this morning, so also for you who have been baptized, Jesus has put his name on you.  You are his; and his blessings—ALL his blessings—are yours!
     Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-51)  Lifting up his hands, Jesus blessed them.  He had completed his saving works, and so he ascended into heaven.  While you might get the idea that Jesus’ ascension into heaven means that he is kicking back in heaven and has nothing to do with you anymore, that is not true.  “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” (Apostles’ Creed)  That means Jesus lives and reigns and continues to bestow his blessings upon you.
     One of the reasons that Jesus’ ascension probably does not receive as much attention as it should is because we forget who Jesus is.  You hear that Jesus has ascended to the throne of God and rules over all things, and it is generally met with a yawn.  God reigns over all things.  Not really a surprise, is it?  But Jesus Christ is also true man.  He was born in the flesh.  He lived and died in the flesh.  When Jesus rose from the grave, he did not shed his humanity.  The man, Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven.  Your flesh and blood brother has all authority over all things.  God the Father seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21)  If Jesus Christ reigns, then the one who rules over the universe is man.
     If you find it hard to believe that man rules heaven and earth, it is because you are familiar with the hearts and minds of men.  You have seen man’s wickedness by observing how awful people are when they speak to one another or about one another, in the shameful way people use one another, in the jealous way we look at one another, and in the callous way we think of one another.  That wickedness rears its ugly, vicious head especially when men receive power and authority.  Men use power to crush enemies and destroy rivals.  You yourself get frustrated because you do not have the power or authority to get what you want—whether better behaved children, better pay, or a better parking space.  So if a man has been given all authority in heaven and earth, you tremble at the thought of how it will be used.  And it is probably because you know how you would use it.
     If you think evil of other people, it is because the same evil dwells within your own heart.  You know what it is to be petty and bitter.  You smugly look down on others, and then you are offended when others snub you.  You know just how wicked people can be, because you have seen it in yourself.  Your guilt bears witness against you.  Jesus reigns with an iron scepter, and you should be crushed by it.  Repent!
     But Jesus does not lift up his hands to wage war.  Lifting up his hands, he blesses you.  Jesus took on your human nature in order to bind himself to you.  For, the Lord does not despise mankind whom he has created.  Therefore, he became man to redeem it.  Jesus lived a holy life as man in order to fulfill the Commandments.  Though he had no sin of his own, he bound himself to your sin.  He bore your sin and guilt.  He lifted up his hands in blessing at the cross to pay for them there.  His gruesome death is for your highest good, for the forgiveness of your sins.
     On the third day, Jesus was raised from the grave.  He did not shed his humanity in his resurrection.  The flesh and blood he became he has redeemed.  In flesh and blood, he rose from the grave to show you that you, too, shall rise from the grave in your body.  Having set you free from sin and death, Jesus will raise you up glorious and incorruptible.  Lifting up his hands, he blesses you with this victory.
     Forty days after Jesus rose from the dust of the earth, Jesus ascended into the glories of heaven.  The flesh and blood, gloriously risen Savior entered the very presence of God.  Again, Jesus did this for you.  He shall exalt you to be what God had always created you to be—holy children of God who will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever.  The man, Jesus Christ, has paved the way.  If this man stands in the presence of holy God, you can be sure that you who are mankind shall dwell there, too.  For through baptism, you have been washed in his blood.  You have been marked in his name.  He lifts up his hands and bestows his blessings of forgiveness and salvation upon you.  Jesus Christ has exalted you to the status of children of the Most High God.  And he will exalt you even more to the eternal dwellings of heaven.
     Until that day, you still bear your status as God’s redeemed.  Christ has put his name on you to bless you and so that you will be little christs before the world.  Your whole life bears witnesses that Jesus is at work in you.  You are confessors of Jesus’ salvation.  You are evidence of God’s mercy.  You bear the name of Jesus Christ, and you bear the glad tidings of eternal life.  You get to speak of repentance and forgiveness because these have been given to you.  You get to reflect the light of Christ to show love to others, with the gracious words you get to speak to others, and in the prayers you offer up to others. 
     …And lifting up his hands he blessed them.  While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:50-51)  Though Jesus has ascended to heaven, he has not abandoned you.  He lives and reigns at the right hand of God.  In other words, where God is at work to save, there Jesus is at work to bless.  Though his word, through the sacraments, and through his ministers, Jesus is at work.  There, he puts his name on you.  There, he lifts up his hands.  There, he blesses you.

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

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ascension Day Prayer

Lord Jesus, King of glory, on this day you ascended far above the heavens and at God’s right hand you rule the nations.  Leave us not alone, we pray, but grant us the Spirit of truth that at your command and by your power we may be your witnesses in all the world; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

We recognize two things on Ascension Day -- Jesus' actual ascension into heaven, and that he is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  God's right hand is where he reveals his deliverance and salvation.  Where his word and sacraments are, there God is at work to save.

Jesus' ascension also encourages us to look heavenward.  It is from there that Jesus will return to take us out of this world of sorrow and all of its evils and problems.  While it is not easy or fun to endure frustrations and pains in this world, they do teach us to long for the world to come which will be much better by far.  Therefore, we live in this world for as long as our Lord is pleased, and we look for the life of the world to come when we will be forever free from sin, sorrow, pain, and death. 

Jesus ascended to heaven to prepare a place for us there.  By his word and sacraments, he prepares us for that place.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Every Sunday Communion -- a Lutheran Confession

The link below goes to a thoughtful, well-written article about the Lutheran Confessions and the confession Lutherans make by observing the every Sunday celebration of the Lord's Supper.  It is not a terribly long article, but if you need the Cliff's Notes version of it, here it is:

Every Sunday Communion:
     It is salutary.
     It is wise.
     It is Lutheran.

Now, read the article:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2013)

JOHN 14:23-29

In the name + of Jesus.

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

     The Psalms teach us to pray, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)  Unfortunately, words can have various shades of meaning.  When someone confesses that the Lord is our “help,” that person might consider the Lord to be on the level of a thyroid pill.  It might balance things out, but you can still pretty much get by without him.  He is only to be used in times of grave danger or difficulty.
     But that is not the case.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is much more than a knee brace or a pair of corrective lenses.  He does not give crutches to the lame or even sessions of physical therapy.  He tells the lame man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (John 5:8)  He gives sight to the blind.  He makes the deaf hear.  He loosens the tongue of the mute.  He drives the demons out of the man who is possessed.  He raises the dead.  He does not teach you, “Apart from me, things can get pretty rough.”  He says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, emphasis added)  Our Help is in the name of the Lord.  He is the Helper who saves those who are hopelessly lost. 
     In our Gospel, Jesus was speaking to his disciples during Maundy Thursday.  He was preparing them for the fact that he would not be with them much longer—not just for the next few hours, but for the rest of their lives.  He was taken from them by crucifixion, and he was restored to them by his resurrection.  For forty days, Jesus came to his apostles and taught them about the kingdom of God.  But after that time, Jesus ascended into heaven.  They would not see him again.  It would have been easy for the apostles to think—and for you to draw the same conclusion—that, if Jesus is gone, then his promises are at best iffy.  For many people, Jesus is “out of sight, out of mind.”
     The apostles had heard Jesus’ teachings.  They learned his promises.  But once Jesus ascended, would they remember them?  And if they would be Jesus’ witnesses to the world, would they get their message right and keep it straight?  Therefore, Jesus told the apostles, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26)  The apostles were not on their own.  Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to teach them, to remind them, and to guide them in recording Jesus’ words and promises.       
     You may hear that people are not interested in religion and that it is best not to talk about it.  That is untrue.  Even atheists are interested in religion, even if it is expressed by their vehemence against Jesus.  The problem is not that people don’t care about God; the problem is who they think God is.  Just this past week, NBA player, Jason Collins, announced that he is a gay man.  The response to his announcement was predictable.  For the most part, he was celebrated by athletes, celebrities, and politicians.  However, when ESPN reporter, Chris Broussard, was asked what he thought about the announcement, he said that Mr. Collins is violating God’s word.  He also stated that any violation of God’s word is sin, and that people should repent of their sins.  Broussard was right.  Every infraction against God’s word is sin.  All sin is damnable.  Every sinner must repent.  Unfortunately, because of whatever pressured he faced, it was not Collins but Broussard who has since repented of his statement.  God’s word was rejected.  Sin has been upheld.  And those who take their stand with God are vilified.
     You need not stop the presses to learn that Mr. Collins is a sinner.  You are one, too.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The response to sin, however, is where the real story is.  And sadly, it was no surprise—because sinners always turn to themselves to be their own authority for ethics, for morals, and for judgment.  We long to be our own gods.  Satan still convinces sinners, “Don’t listen to what God has to say.  He does not really love you.  Listen to your own voice.  Do what pleases you; for that is best for you.”  And we, too, try to find comfort in our opinions.  We assume that God always agrees with us.  Our actions are always righteous, or at least justifiable.  And when we have pangs of guilt, we turn to our friends because we count on them to excuse us for our sins and to assure us that we are right when we do what is wrong.  This is no help to you at all.
     You will not find peace in defying the Lord.  It will not matter if your neighbor is guilty, too.  It will not matter if your co-worker is worse.  It will not matter if the whole world feels it is right.  Sinners presume that they have the right to speak for God.  Sinners often feel that God needs correction.  This is blasphemous.  Refusing to heed God’s word is rebellion.  The Holy Spirit reveals this so that you will not try to find solace in your excuses or peace in your friends telling you that you are fine.  Do not confuse your friends’ praise of you with God’s assessment of you.  You have turned a deaf ear to God’s word.  You have not obeyed.  You are guilty, and you are accountable.  Your sin does not produce peace, but punishment.  You’ve earned your death.  You are hopelessly lost.  Repent.
     Our help is in the name of the Lord.  He comes to save those who are hopelessly lost.  He has given his words and promises to the apostles so that they could write them down for you to read, learn, and take them to heart.  They are given so that you would know Jesus provides complete salvation for you.  Yes, your sins deserve death and damnation.  But Jesus has taken the cup of God’s wrath and has drained it down to its dregs for you.  His crucifixion pays for your sins.  It does not merely help you on your way; it saves you completely.  And Jesus’ resurrection shows you that his innocent death is the full price for you to receive a place in Paradise.  Jesus does not merely help you to see the way.  He IS the way.  Jesus fought your enemies of sin, death, and the devil for you.  Jesus conquered them for you.  And he gives you the spoils—forgiveness for your sins, victory over the grave, and life everlasting.
     Our help is in the name of the Lord.  He provides the only peace that will last.  Therefore, take Jesus’ words to heart: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)  Jesus gives you a peace that stands against every foe, every battle, every weakness, and every fear.  It is the peace of knowing that Jesus forgives your sins.  It is the peace of knowing that you are not condemned for your weaknesses.  It is the peace of knowing that you are God’s beloved even when you despise yourself.  It is the peace of knowing that heaven awaits when this world is filled with pain.  It is the peace of knowing that, when people desert you, criticize you, or vilify you, God’s judgment is the only one that matters. 
     Our help is in the name of the Lord.  Your salvation and your peace remain in Christ; therefore, your salvation and your peace remain constant—in times of joy or sorrow, in times of celebration or trouble, in times of persecution, destruction, or death.  The word of the Lord endures forever.  The Holy Spirit does not forsake you.  God’s promises do not wobble.
     Our help is in the name of the Lord.  Therefore, you will never be severed from his heavenly peace.  Jesus has sent you his Holy Spirit through the very words he had given to the prophets and the apostles.  This is where God imparts life and faith and salvation to you.  The Holy Spirit who taught reminded the apostles of all that Jesus had said and done teaches you that Jesus saves you.  The Helper reminds you that Jesus says you are his own.  You are not helpless.  You are not even in danger.  You are sealed with the Holy Spirit through your baptism.  Our help is in the name of the Lord, and so we are saved. 

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

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Prayer of the Church -- 6th Sunday of Easter

Father of lights, every good and perfect gift comes from you.  Inspire us to think those things that are true and long for those things that are good, that we may always make our petitions according to your gracious will; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Once again, the Church prays that God would transform her mind and heart so that they would be more like that of Christ.  And once again, this is God's work.

This prayer expresses our desire to "think those things that are true."  Truth is not something that is influenced or adjusted according to popularity.  Truth always stands, regardless of place or time.  Truth is what our Lord reveals to us in the Scriptures.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but God's truth never will.  It may not be popular.  It may be rejected and denied.  But it will not fail.  May God always direct our minds to his word so that our lives will be lived according to it.

We also pray that God would teach us to "long for those things that are good."  Again, God sets the definition of "good."  We are poor judges of what is good.  We let our flesh tell us what is good.  Our flesh would have us believe that "good" is limited to what is good for me.  But what is good for me is often at the expense of someone else.  My neighbor would not think it is good at all, because he had to suffer or to pay for my good.  Good is what God determines, for God is good.  And as our loving, heavenly Father, we can be sure that whatever he gives to us (whether we view it as good or bad) is always what is good for us.  It may cause us to well up with praise and thanksgiving, or it may drive us to our knees in pain and frustration.  Whatever our Father gives us is ultimately driving us to Jesus for our salvation.  That is always good.

When our Lord teaches us to think and to desire what is true and good, we will pray for exactly what the Father desires for us.  Even if our prayer boils down to, "Father, you know best.  Give me what I truly need, for I know that will be good", this is a prayer that would please our God.  And he will always say "yes" to these prayers.