Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (June 30, 2013)

LUKE 9:51-62

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord Jesus Christ is not fond of excuses.  No, that’s not saying it clearly enough.  How about this?  The Lord Jesus Christ despises excuses.  He will not accept them.  He will not believe them.  Anyone who thinks that he can excuse himself for doing what is evil or failing to do what is good should not deceive himself.  If you try to excuse your sins, you will not be forgiven for them.  For, this is what the Lord says: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) 
     And yet, we all persist in giving God our excuses.  “Lord, I meant to do your will, but it just didn’t work with my schedule, with my girlfriend, with my buddies, with what my job demands, with my hobbies, with my habits,” etc….  “Lord, your words are a bit hard to take.  My friends really hate what you have to say about this or that issue.  I think that we would get a lot more people interested in church if we just stopped talking about it.  Isn’t the main thing that people hear about Jesus and love?  Jesus didn’t turn anyone away, so why set up barriers or turn people away by harping on sins?” 
     They all sound like good excuses, don’t they?  We find just enough reason to convince ourselves that God’s word can be ignored or defied.  And we convince ourselves that God should be pleased with it because our motives are good and our hearts are in the right place.  Lies!  A heart that deviates from God’s word is never in the right place.  Pleading an excuse to sin against God is a demand to sin against God.  He will not excuse you.  And if you persist, he will not forgive you.  Repent.
     Now, when we think of people who make excuses for their sins, it is easy to imagine people who want to get away with some heinous or dastardly sin.  But consider the people in our gospel lesson.  These were not felons.  In fact, they seem quite religious.  We would probably consider them good-hearted, well-intentioned people.  These are the kinds of folks you would like as your neighbor and to have your kids on the same little league team as theirs.  But they revealed divided hearts.  They were willing to follow Jesus—but on their terms, as long as it fit their schedules, as long as it wasn’t inconvenient.
     As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58)  Perhaps the reason Jesus answered this man so tersely is because he wanted him to understand that being Jesus’ disciple is not going to be easy.  This man may have hoped to bask in the glory as one of Jesus’ entourage.  Jesus assured him that following him meant hardship and rejection from the world.  Bearing his name means being treated like him.  Being Jesus’ disciple is not about being popular.  It is about being faithful, especially when it is not popular.  Jesus did not want hardship to become an excuse for this man to forsake Jesus later.
      To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)  Jewish custom demanded that the dead be buried by sundown.  If this man’s father had died, he should have been tending to it.  In other words, this man pledged, “I will follow you…later, when it is convenient.”  Family obligations sound like a good and reasonable excuse, but such excuses exalt man over God, even if that man is one’s family. 
     Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62)  No employer wants workers who would rather be somewhere else.  No farmer plows his field by looking backward.  And no disciple pledges, “I will follow you, but….” 
     The Lord is not interested in excuses; for sins are never excused.  When you confess your sins to the Lord, he does not say, “Oh, it’s alright.”  Because it is not.  Sins are never alright.  The Son of Man did not come to grant you excuses.  He did not come to give you license to do more evil.  Therefore, do not seek ways to excuse yourself.  A faithful disciple does not look for excuses, but for mercy.
     The Son of Man came to make atonement for all of your sins.  He came to earn you a pardon for all of your transgressions.  He did not give you a free pass; he gave you mercy.  As our gospel declares twice: [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51,53)  He was committed to his course to go to Jerusalem, the place of sacrifice.  He was determined to go to suffer and die, to make atonement for your sins, and to be a sin offering for you.  Jesus did not give his heavenly Father any excuses.  He did not say that his task was too hard, too gruesome, inconvenient, thankless, or unfair.  Jesus sought no excuses, even though he was making a payment he did not owe.  He set his face toward Jerusalem and did not look back.  He sought to have mercy upon you.  The Son of Man did not have a place to lay his head, but rather had a crown of thorns placed upon his head.  He had charges nailed above his head.  And finally, his lifeless head and body found rest in a borrowed grave.
     Jesus set his face toward the cross.  That cross shows you two things.  First, it shows you what God thinks of sin.  He despises and damns every infraction against his commands.  He did not withhold any wrath or punishment from his only begotten Son.  Sin has brought about the bloody death even of God the Son.  That is how bad it is.  Secondly, the cross shows you what God thinks of you—how dearly God loves you; how much he desires your salvation.  Jesus did not offer up excuses why he could not be bothered with your problems.  He took your guilt.  He put an end to your excuses.  He silences every accusation.  His death has made atonement for you.
     A faithful disciple looks not for excuses, but mercy.  So, when you come before the Lord in your prayers or when you come before your pastor in private confession and absolution, do not make excuses for your sins.  Confess your sins boldly.  You are not here to impress your God by down-playing your sins or by making false claims of faithfulness.  Acknowledge your sin.  Do not hide your guilt.  You are here to seek mercy.  You are here to obtain forgiveness.  You are here to hold the Lord to his promises.  And what does he promise?  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)  
     A faithful disciple looks not for excuses, but for mercy.  And the Lord is most merciful to you.  He is eager to forgive your sins.  He does not tell you your sins are okay; he declares that they are forgiven.  He bled and died because of them.  He bled and died for you!  But he did this willingly.  He set his face toward Jerusalem where he acquitted you of all guilt and delivered you from all punishment.  So set your face toward Jesus, and you will find mercy.  Come to this altar, and here you will receive it.

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Happy Anniversary, dear (a day late)!

I meant to post this yesterday, but sometimes life happens.

21 years ago, I married my best friend.  She's still my best friend, and I'm still very happy she's my wife.  Love you, Laura!

Here's some photos from our wedding at Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

Today marks the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.  This occasion is just as important as Reformation Day (October 31, 1517) and is worthy of celebration.  Here is some of the background.

In 1530, the princes of Lutheran territories in Germany were summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V in Augsburg.  Though he wanted to attend, Martin Luther was urged not to appear before the Diet (that is, Council) at Augsburg for fear that he would be arrested and/or executed.  So, Luther journeyed as far as the Coburg Castle, and the princes went to Augsburg.  (Luther was still a marked man – marked both as a heretic and an outlaw.  Had his prince not been his defender, Luther surely would have been executed years prior.)

Philip Melanchthon, a colleague of Luther’s at the University of Wittenberg, was the theologian who was to be the guide for these princes.  However, it was the princes, not the theologians, who were to make their stand and confess the Christian faith before the Emperor.

The Emperor was in no mood to have a divided Christendom in his realm.  His goal at Augsburg was to force the Lutheran princes submit to the Roman church.  Arrest, confiscation of lands, loss of power, and loss of life were real threats that faced the Lutheran princes if they did not renounce their faith.

The Lutherans were hopeful that the issues which separated them from the Roman church might be debated or discussed.  But such hopes were quickly dashed when they arrived at Augsburg.  It was clear that the Emperor had no interest in such a debate.  He did not want to give time or credence to the Lutheran confession. 

In order to be heard, the Lutherans prepared a statement.  They knew they would have one chance to be heard before the Diet of Augsburg, so they prepared a confession.  Philip Melanchthon wrote it, and Martin Luther reviewed and approved it.  One of Luther’s comments about the confession: “I have read Master Philip’s Apology*.  I am well pleased with it, and know nothing to improve or to change in it; neither would this be proper, since I cannot step so gently and softly.  Christ, our Lord, grant that it may produce much and great fruit, which, indeed, we hope and pray for.  Amen.” (Historic Introduction to the Symbolical Books, Frederick Bente.  Printed in Concordia Triglotta © 1921, p 18)  [*Note: An “Apology” is a defense.]

The Augsburg Confession was publicly read before the Diet of Augsburg on June 25, 1530.

The Augsburg Confession can be divided into two parts. 
1)                  Articles I-XXI confess that the Evangelical Lutheran Church is catholic, that is, it is part of the holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.  Lutherans did not invent new teachings or abandon the historic Christian faith.  It is not in rebellion against the Church.  Luther began a reformation, not a revolution.  We believe, teach, and confess what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. 
2)                  Articles XXII-XXVIII confess that the Lutheran Church has found abuses in Roman teaching and practice.  These abuses are highlighted and reasons are given for their correction or omission from the Lutheran churches.

All Lutherans do well to be familiar with the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530 (Melanchthon later edited it without the authority or consent of the Evangelical Lutheran Church), as it is the most basic confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  To date, it has not been refuted or shown to be false.  It is a faithful confession of Scripture, and it describes what Lutherans believe and practice.

Lutherans also do well to uphold this confession and to follow its descriptions so that we remain faithful in our teachings and practice.  In doing so, we assure ourselves that we do not fall into the errors of the Roman church or swerve too far the other way and fall into the errors of Protestant churches.

For a reading of the Augsburg Confession (and please do read it!), you can consult our church library or go to this link: .

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Pentecost (June 23, 2013)

LUKE 9:18-24
In the name + of Jesus.

     In the history of the world, no one has had more books written about him than Jesus.  People have always been fascinated by him.  Sometimes that fascination is in trying to discredit or destroy him.  Others misrepresent Jesus and his teachings so that Jesus appears to defend what it is they believe.  Still others rejoice at hearing his word and keeping it.  People either love Jesus or hate him.  There is no in between.  One way or another, people are forced to make a confession about Jesus.
     Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  And they answered, “John the Baptist.  But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” (Luke 9:18-19)  I suppose people would have thought Jesus would be flattered by such comments.  He was not.  Those confessions were wrong.  In fact, as flattering as they sounded, such confessions were unbelief.  To say that Jesus is a nice guy, a great teacher, or a role model does not confess who he is.  Flattery is not faith.  Compliments are not a confession.  Beware!  Many people think that simply because they do not curse Jesus that they should be saved by him.  Confessing Christ demands more than that.
     So Jesus said to his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)  St. Luke does not record Jesus commending Peter for his confession.  Rather, Jesus immediately told the disciples what it means that he is the Christ.  It does not mean that he is a nice guy, that he is a great teacher, or that he is a role model.  It means the cross.  Sinners are not saved by pithy slogans or inspirational advice.  Sinners are not even saved by strong, moral guidance.  Sinners are saved only by the bloody sacrifice of God’s Son.  “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22) 
     Jesus is the Christ of God?  Yes!  And that means the cross.  The Christ had to suffer; for, sins must be paid for.  The Christ had to be rejected by the teachers of the Law; for the kingdom is not earned by obedience.  It comes by grace.  The Christ had to be killed; for he is the Lamb of God, and the blood of the Lamb delivers from death.  These things were not optional.  To save you, they were necessary.  To save you, they were done. 
     Jesus is the Christ, and that means the cross.  At the cross, the righteous anger of God was satisfied.  That anger was poured out in full on Jesus.  He suffered wrath and torment and abandonment and hell.  He suffered for you.  He died in your place.  He rescued you from all of the hell that you had coming.  That is what he came for.  Anything less than the cross means that the Christ has not saved you.  To confess anything less means you have denied him, not matter how kindly you compliment him.  Confessing Christ means a cross.
     But confessing Christ does not mean a cross just for Jesus.  It means a cross for you, too.  Jesus said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)  Confessing Christ means a cross for you, too.  It is not optional.  It is necessary.
     If you cringe at the idea of bearing a cross, that is no surprise.  The cross is for killing, and your sinful nature does not want to die.  Your flesh will always try to avoid the cross.  Your sinful flesh has convinced you that you should not have a cross but glory.  It has you believe that a Christian life is never marked by pain or frustration but by constant happiness.  You want a reward for being a Christian.  You want children who don’t get sick or fail.  You want marriages that have no strife.  You want promotions at work and recognition from peers.  You want lawns without weeds and weekends without rain.  You want to be celebrated.
     But confessing Christ means a cross.  Listen again to Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Christ calls you to follow him, but he does not promise that you will be praised for it.  In fact, St. Paul warned that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)  That means following Christ will not be easy.  You will be fighting a world that mocks you for believing Jesus and for putting his words into practice.  You will be fighting friends who encourage you to do what is evil. 
     What’s worse is that you are your own worst enemy.  You want to save your life.  You want to be praised by the world, and so you seek the praise of friends, co-workers, and classmates.  You give in to what the world craves because it us much easier to follow along than to stand alone.  It is easier to give in rather than to fight against it.  You want to save your life and your popularity and your reputation.  The world may praise you, but God cannot.  God cannot commend a sin-corrupted heart.  And God surely will not be merciful to anyone who craves sin rather than repents of it.
     Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Confessing Christ means a cross—daily!  The battle does not end until you are delivered to the Church Triumphant.  But for now, you dwell in the Church Militant.  The battle against the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh goes on. 
     Your cross may be obvious or secret.  It may be a temptation you are prone to or a neighbor who makes life miserable.  Whatever your cross is, your flesh hates it.  Again, your flesh craves glory, praise, and ease.  But your cross is supposed to drive you to your knees.  It shows you that you are weak and helpless.  It leads you to cry out to the Lord for mercy and to rely on Jesus alone.  The cross you bear is not designed for your entertainment, but for your salvation.  Do not despise that which forces you to call upon your Savior.  Though it is a burden, the cross is always for your good.
     Confessing Christ means a cross.  It means serving your Lord faithfully even when it is painful or inconvenient.  It means crucifying your sinful flesh so that it does not control you.  It means that you acknowledge your sins and kill them by daily contrition and repentance.  It means daily fleeing to Jesus for hope and comfort.
     Confessing Christ means a cross.  It means participating in the death of Christ as you receive his body and blood.  It means being bathed in his blood through holy baptism.  It means returning to your baptism in contrition and repentance, in confession and absolution.  It means dying and rising every day.  It means that all things begin and end with Jesus.
     These things are not optional.  They are necessary for salvation.  The cross is how Jesus won your salvation.  The word and sacraments are where he administers his salvation.  Your cross shows you how much you need these.  Flee to Jesus for your salvation.  Cling to him who clung to the cross to redeem you.  You are in Christ.  For now, that means the cross.  But soon, it results in everlasting glory.  For the resurrection and heavenly glory come through the cross. 

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013


It has only been a week, but we managed to do a lot and see a lot.  The main focus of this vacation was to get together with all of the Schmidt family (and almost everyone made it!) in the Wisconsin Dells for a 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  We stayed at Mt. Olympus, and we all had a blast!

Items on the itinerary:
Air Zoo, Kalamazoo, MI (now that we've been their twice, we have broken even on our membership)
Jelly Belly tour, Pleasant Prairie, WI
Kopp's Custard, Milwaukee, WI (flavor of the day -- mint chocolate chip)
Grandma & Grandpa Schroeder's in Sheboygan, WI (got to see Aunt Kristin, too)
Capital Tour, Madison, WI
Mt. Olympus, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Cheesy Tourist shops, Wisconsin Dells, WI
Schmidt house, Ixonia, WI
Football camp for Nathanael & Andrew, Saginaw, MI
Rau's Country Store -- Frankenmuth, MI

And of course, some photos.  Enjoy!

Grandma and Grandpa Schroeder
                                  Grandma and Grandpa Schmidt with all available grandchildren.

                              Mt. Olympus Theme Park and Water Park, Wisconsin Dells, WI

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Prayer of the Day -- 4th Sunday after Pentecost

O God, protector of all the faithful, you alone make strong; you alone make holy.  Show us your mercy and forgive our sins day by day.  Guide us through our earthly lives that we do not lose the things you have prepared for us in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

We pray to our loving Father for his protection.  While we certainly would like to be free from the pain, toil, and grief that come from living in a sinful world, our prayer here is for protection against that which would harm our soul and destroy our salvation.  We pray to be kept free and safe from our sin.

It is our Lord alone who makes us strong against temptations.  That is why we pray, "Lead us not into temptation."  It is not that God tempts us.  It is that God preserves us when temptations come.  And they come so that we will call on him.

It is God who guides us, who protects us, and who preserves us.  Most importantly, it is our Father in heaven who supplies forgiveness of our sins to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.  As he applies Jesus' saving work to us through the preached word and administered sacraments, he continues to give us the very things grant and preserve us in his salvation.  Therefore, he answers our prayer so that we will enjoy the good things he has prepared for us in heaven.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 9, 2013)

LUKE 7:11-17

In the name + of Jesus.

     The city of Nain had a gate through which people entered and exited.  On the way out was a procession.  The woman whom we hear about had made this journey before.  The last time it was her husband being carried out.  Today, it was her only son.  She was not only devastated, she was also now destitute.  Her dearly beloved had died and could no longer provide for her or protect her.  Now her only begotten son was taken from her, too.  Death had swept away her family.  The crowds who followed her could only weep with her.  They did not have any answers for her.  They would offer sympathy, but they could offer no solutions.
     On the way into Nain was another procession, not led by a victim of death, but by the Lord of Life.  A large crowd was accompanying Jesus because he had performed deeds of mercy and had words of consolation.  Though Jesus had already healed the sick and the dying, the young man being carried out of Nain was way beyond sick.  He was past dying.  He was dead.  The two processions, bottle-necked by the narrow gate at Nain, met—one led by the dead, the other led by Life.
     It is a custom in our day to pay respect to a funeral procession on the way to the cemetery.  Drivers yield as the deceased is driven to his final resting place.  Of course, selfishness can get the better of you when this happens.  If you are like me, you can become irked by this custom.  I want to get my errands done as fast as possible, but then I find myself bothered that I must be inconvenienced because someone else has died.  But if we must wait for a funeral procession to pass by, let’s put that moment to better use and pray for the widow and the children or whoever is now without their loved one.  Who knows what pain and grief and inconvenience those people now face? 
     Jesus did not step to the side out of respect for the deceased.  Rather, the two processions confronted each other.  When the Lord saw (the mother), he had compassion on her. (Luke 7:13)  This translation understates it.  I don’t know if there is a good way for the English language to convey the Lord’s compassion for this woman.  The idea is that his guts were ripped up and churning in mercy for her.  Jesus knew the bitterness that death brings into the world and the pain people endure when death invades one’s home.  Jesus had presumably seen his earthly father, Joseph, carried out to his grave by this time.  He was not immune to sorrow.  He was not unfazed by death.
     When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her. (Luke 7:13)  Jesus’ guts ached for this woman in her grief.  There is no way you can pretty up death.  That is because it is the consequence and curse of sin.  Sin has cut us off from God.  Death cuts us off from our loved ones.  The grave cuts us off from life.  Death clings to you, and there is nothing you can do about it.  Just like the crowd from Nain, you can only offer sympathy.  You have no solution.  You can’t fix the death of a loved one.  You cannot escape your own.  The only way to escape death is to put an end to sin.  And yet, you don’t.  You go on sinning.  You continue to be self-absorbed—unconcerned about the pain and the struggles of others, but perturbed when others do not give you recognition and preference for your own pain and struggles.  Even the threat of death and hell is not enough to get you to stop sinning.  Your curse is earned.  Your death is deserved.  God should have no sympathy for you.  Repent.
     God should have no sympathy for you; and yet, he does.  When Jesus came to Nain and saw the grieving widow and her dead son, he confronted and overcame death.  The Lord … had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. (Luke 7:13-14)  Jesus touched the coffin.  Under normal circumstances, this would have made him unclean.  That which demonstrated man’s corruption, such as leprosy or death, made a man unclean when he came into contact with it.  But Jesus did not hesitate.  In the sight of the crowds, he went up to the coffin and touched it.  Jesus confronted death.
     Rather than becoming unclean by rubbing against corruption, Jesus confronted and cleansed that which was corrupt.  Jesus overcame death.  He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (Luke 7:15-16)  Death and Life confronted each other, and Jesus, who is the Life, overcame death. 
     As amazing as Jesus’ miracle is, you may be left feeling a little empty hearing about it.  After all, we still make funeral processions to grave sites.  Our world still knows widows and widowers, grieving children and heart-broken parents.  Jesus may have gotten a widow in Nain to stop crying, but our tears still flow.  The grave still seems to have the upper hand.  Death still marks us and mocks us.
     Fear not, dear Christians.  Your Lord has not forgotten you.  His guts still churn and ache for you in mercy.  Jesus confronted and overcame death for you.  He became man to suffer what all mankind deserves.  Remember that sin is the cause and the curse of death.  So Jesus has taken your sins from you.  In his body, he bore your sin.  His flesh was pierced for you.  His blood flowed for you.  His body was laid in a grave to sanctify the grave for you.  Death received its full wages when Jesus died for you. 
     Jesus confronted and overcame death.  He did not avoid the cross.  He confronted death for you willingly.  But on the third day, he rose from the grave.  Death has been overcome.  The belly of the earth cannot keep its prey down.  That’s because the belly of your Savior churned in mercy for your salvation.  Your flesh and blood Savior has risen to show you that your flesh and blood will, too, rise from the grave.  Your body will never again know sickness, disease, weakness, or death.  For Jesus is risen.  Death is done.
     Jesus raised the young man from Nain by touching him.  He personally confronted death and personally applied his life-giving touch to the young man from Nain.  It is much the same today.  Jesus touches you and personally applies to you the forgiveness of your sins and the deliverance from death and hell.  He has attached his word to the waters of baptism to make baptism more than merely symbolic.  When the sacred water was poured out on Emma this morning, the Lord Jesus touched her and made her his own.  He took away her sins.  He made her a new creation, a saint.  Death no longer marks her; for she is the Lord’s.  And it is the same for you who have been baptized.  Though you will go to a grave, it does not own you.  Jesus does.  Like his, your body shall rise to live forever.  For Jesus has confronted and overcome death, and you are the spoils.
     Jesus has confronted and overcome death.  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (Luke 7:16)  And so it is with you.  Jesus has delivered you from the death of sin and has made you alive.  And your Lord has entrusted you to your mother, the Church, to discipline, sustain, comfort, and encourage you for the rest of your life. 
     To do this, Jesus has attached his word to the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  Here again, Jesus touches you personally.  Here, you get to receive the body and blood that has overcome death and the grave.  Here, you receive the medicine of immortality.  Here is your salvation, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins, for you, for eternal life.  The feast of heaven is here already.  Death has been confronted.  The grave is overcome.  And now you and all the Church follow Jesus in the procession that will enter heaven.

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

Monday, June 3, 2013

That's NOT Lutheran

It was not long ago that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) voted not merely to permit openly gay and lesbian members, but to have and ordain openly gay and lesbian clergy in their congregations.  Therefore, this little piece of news should come as no surprise, as grievous as it is.  The ELCA has elected its first (stand by for more to follow) openly gay bishop.  For a review on this story, go to this link:

A man who had been ordained a mere two years ago has been elected to the position of bishop.  Words of praise have been pouring out from ELCA representatives as they congratulate themselves and declare that they are "proud to be Lutheran."  Sadly, their actions are not Lutheran or Scriptural or Christian.  The world will cherish them for this.  The Lord has other words.

Pray that the Lord of the Church will lead them to repent. 
Pray that the Lord would keep us bold to confess and act according to his word. 
Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Pastoral Concern -- Why I don't like my own sermons

Someone once told me that a pastor will only like about four sermons he ever writes. 

I think that doesn't mean he believes his sermons are bad.  I think it means that he can think of any number of ways his sermon could be improved or that he can think of others topics that could have been addressed but weren't.  Sometimes a sermon is poor.  They can't all be award winners.  But I think the assessment above is correct: A pastor will only like about four sermons that he ever writes.  I think I am up to one.

To illustrate why I am sometimes left feeling that a sermon did not carry its weight well enough, consider the Gospel from this past Sunday:

GOSPEL                               Luke 7:1-10
                After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum.  Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.  When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.   And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  And Jesus went with them.  When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  Therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But say the word, and let my servant be healed.  For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

From this Gospel, here are a sampling of thoughts that could have been addressed.
>   A centurion -- A Roman soldier, not a son of Israel or of the covenant, is counted
       as a believer and receives mercy
>   At the point of death -- We are all sinners who are dead / dying in a sinful world. 
       Only Jesus' intervention saves us.
>   "He is worthy" / "I am not worthy" -- The centurion was not swayed by his friends'
       assessment of him.  He recognized that others' fondness of him was not God's
       judgment of him.  He did not boast of his worth or his accomplishments.  He confessed
       his unworthiness and sought mercy.  The Jewish elders spoke of his merit.  The centurion
       demonstrated humility.
>   Under authority -- We are all under God's authoritative word.  We regularly challenge
       God's word and defy his commands.  We earn his wrath.  And we forfeit his blessings by
       doing so.
>   Jesus marveled at the centurion -- Amazingly, the only times we hear that Jesus marveled
       at someone are when Jesus is interacting with Gentiles.  That is the case here, too.
>   Not even in Israel -- There are no rights to the kingdom of God.  Our resume, our bloodline, 
       or our heritage will not save us.
>   They found the servant well -- Jesus demonstrates his compassion and mercy in a very real
       way.  His work is necessary for the forgiveness of sins and cleansing of hearts and souls. 
       But he also cares for our bodies.  That is seen in a Savior who becomes flesh and blood to
       redeem sinners who are flesh and blood.  Even though he will not cure every disease, he
       does promise a resurrection to everlasting glory.  Bodies will rise gloriously from the grave
       and will be eternally immune to disease, decay, and death.  This is what we yearn for, and
       Jesus will deliver it.

Certainly there are other points that can be made.  But time limits what can be said.  Hopefully, what was preached was said well enough.  And perhaps God enlightens listeners to some of these other truths as they ponder what is said by the preacher.

The other piece of advice given to me regarding this struggle to say all that can be said is this: You have 40 years in the ministry.  You get to preach on these lessons more than once.

Hopefully by then, after years of ruminating on a Scripture lesson, I will find more to be pleased about in my own preaching.

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 2, 2013)

LUKE 7:1-10

In the name + of Jesus.

     A Roman soldier had been deployed to serve in the territory of Galilee.  While he was there, he made Capernaum his home.  He learned about the Lord from the Jews who lived around him.  He embraced the saving faith.  He cherished the holy Redeemer.  He even demonstrated that by building the synagogue in Capernaum, supplying the funds, the laborers, or both.  It’s no wonder the elders in Capernaum loved him.  And it’s no wonder these elders grieved with him as his beloved servant lay sick and dying.
     When they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  And Jesus went with them. (Luke 7:4-6)  The elders of Capernaum loved the centurion.  He worshiped with them.  He and his soldiers kept the streets safe.  And he was a generous benefactor to the people.  Therefore, they concluded that he was worthy of divine favor.
     While the Jews’ assessment of the centurion was flattering, the Roman soldier did not buy it.  He knew his heart.  He understood his place.  And he confessed so.  When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  Therefore I did not presume to come to you.” (Luke 7:6-7)  Great faith submits to divine authority.  The centurion recognized that God had commanded him how to live.  God demands that all people be holy in thought, word, and deed.  That was not open for debate.  God had commanded it.  It must be so.  The centurion knew that it was not so; not in his case.  He submitted to God’s judgment.  He confessed: “I am not worthy.”
     And so, the centurion said, I did not presume to come to you.  But say the word, and let my servant be healed.  For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:7-8)  This Roman soldier made his living receiving orders and giving them.  He was under authority, and he had authority.  He knew that commands were never open for debate, whether he received them from superiors or gave them to the men in his charge.  Each command was given with authority.  Therefore, each command would be carried out.  Good soldiers would submit.  Rebellious soldiers would be court-martialed and executed.
     The word of the Lord stands supreme to military authority.  We see God’s authoritative word at creation.  God simply commanded things to come into being.  “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  It had to be so, because God had said so.  The Lord gives his Commandments with the same authority.  His Commandments are standing orders to be fully obeyed.  You win no points for effort or intentions, either.  No sergeant tells his recruits to try marching.  No sergeant commends his troops because they meant to clean the barracks.  In the same way, none of God’s Commandments begin with the word, “Try.”  You shall not have other gods.  You shall not dishonor God’s name or neglect God’s word.  The Lord not only judges deeds, but even motives.  You shall not murder, commit adultery, or steal; and neither shall you hate or lust or covet.  Nor do you get to choose when to obey.  In love you are to help and bless and serve all people, even the wicked.  This is a standing order.  This is his divine will.  You have no permission to challenge God’s commands, much less to defy them.  What can you say?  You have not obeyed.  You haven’t even wanted to.  You have not submitted to divine authority or obeyed divine commands.  Repent.
     When he dedicated the temple, King Solomon knew that the word which was proclaimed there would be heard by others outside of Israel.  The glory of that message was more than God’s holiness.  Rather, it was God’s mercy.  Every sacrifice foretold of divine atonement.  The Roman centurion had heard about this mercy.  He would cling to the promises he had heard.  He would trust that God had not made his promises deceitfully.  He had heard about Jesus, and he believed that Jesus’ words had authority.  If Jesus said so, it would be so.  A great faith submits to divine authority.
     The centurion’s faith did not rest on his merit, but on God’s mercy.  He sought healing for his servant.  The centurion urged Jesus to give his command.  His word had divine authority.  Whatever Jesus commanded would take place.  It would be so, because he said so.  Lord, if you say, “Go,” the illness will go.  If you say, “Come,” healing will come.  If you say, “Do this,” it will be done.  When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9)  Great faith submits to divine authority and clings to it.  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. (Luke 7:10)  The Lord Jesus did show mercy.  He did give the divine word.  As he said, so it was.  The servant was healed.  Great faith sought this word and this act of mercy.  Great faith submitted to divine authority and received divine mercy.
     Your Lord has been most merciful to you as well.  He does not treat you as your sins deserve.  He does not owe you such mercy.  Yet, this is the love that God has for you—that God would offer up the life of his own holy, obedient Son for people who deny him, defy him, and disobey him.  The Lord does not leave you to die in your sins.  He sent Jesus for you.  Jesus has taken up your sins.  He demonstrated his mercy not merely with words but also with actions.  God’s word demands that those who sin are worthy of death.  So Jesus submitted to the curse of the Law for you.  Jesus submitted himself to a sinner’s death for you.  He redeems you from the curse by becoming a curse for you.  Jesus has consumed all of God’s wrath and punishment.  What’s more, he swallowed up death for you.
     Jesus conquered death, and so his word now even overrules the grave.  The risen Lord appeared to his apostles and proclaimed peace to them.  It is not that he wants you to have peace.  Jesus declares that you have it.  It is so because he says so.  He adds his word to water to wash you clean of all sins and to cloak you in his righteousness.  You are forgiven because he says so.  You are blameless because he says so.  You are delivered from death and hell because he says so.  God does not ask you if you feel you are worthy to receive these things.  It is his gracious promise to you.  Great faith submits to divine authority and receives divine mercy.
     The Risen Savior stands behind every word that comes from the mouth of God.  This puts to flight any doubts or fears, guilt or grief.  Jesus gives you a place in the kingdom of God.  Jesus shushes the conscience that afflicts you with past sins.  Jesus consoles you when death would suggest it has claim on you and your loved ones.  Jesus assures you that you are his forever—redeemed from death, delivered from sin, and reconciled to God.  He made these promises with his blood.  He confirmed these promises by his resurrection.  He repeats these promises in preaching, in absolution, and in the sacraments.  Great faith runs and clings to these things because our wounded souls need constant healing.  Great faith submits to divine authority; and you have it on divine authority that God’s mercy is yours.

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