Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sermon -- The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels (September 29, 2013)

LUKE 10:17-20 / REVELATION 12:7-12

In the name + of Jesus.

      And there was a war in heaven. (Revelation 12:7)  That just sounds wrong.  When we speak of heaven, we think of bliss and peace and rest.  But instead we hear of a battle.  It was a fight for supremacy. 
     On the one hand, it was stupid.  Does Satan really think that he can overthrow the Lord?  Does Satan really believe that he can reign supreme?  God’s throne stands unchallenged.  It’s not that it shouldn’t be taken.  It can’t be taken.  There is no other God.  There can’t be any other God, no matter what any rival thinks.
     On the other hand, Satan does not believe that God should reign supreme.  Satan does believe that he can thwart God.  Satan is called the prince of this world.  He wants to be God.  He has no interest in giving up his reign. 
     And so, there was a war in heaven.  But the Lord employed his angelic creatures to cast out the demonic creatures.  The archangel, Michael, and his angels (were) fighting against the dragon.  And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.  And the great dragon was thrown down…  And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Revelation 12:7-10) 
     St. Michael and his angels are employed by God to serve the heirs of salvation, that is, you.  While there are a few times God records how the lives of his saints were spared by the intervention of the angels, the angels usually go about their work silently.  Yes, God’s angels watch over you.  They protect you, but they do not promote themselves to you.
     Of course, you do know the most obvious way the angels have thrown down the enemy who accuses God’s people.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them…and said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy…  For unto you is born this day…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:9-11)  It is Jesus who overcomes the devil and takes away his claim on you.  And again, the angels appeared and said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5-6)  It is Jesus who has paid for sin, conquered death, and crushed Satan underfoot.  The angels declare God’s love and Jesus’ victory.
     Therefore, rejoice!  For the accuser has been thrown down.  He does not own you or control you.  He can no longer accuse you or afflict you.  Jesus Christ has overruled every taunt and every accusation.  Your guilt has been taken away.  Your sins have been forgiven.  And your death is not to be feared.  For, the Lord Jesus has taken away its terror.  It can only hold you for a short time.  But “now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come.” (Revelation 12:7-10)  Your eternity is with God, and your heaven is secure.  There is no war, but only bliss and rest and peace.  For the devil and his demons have been thrown down, and there is no longer any place for them in heaven. (Revelation 12:8)
     The head-crushing blow of the ancient serpent took place when Jesus suffered, died, rose, and ascended into heaven.  There is no longer any question about Jesus’ reign.  And for that reason, there is no longer any question about your forgiveness or salvation.  If Jesus reigns, his word is supreme.  He declares that you are forgiven.  You are saved.  Your eternity will be glorious and joyous.  But the glory has not come for you just yet.
     As pleasing as it is to hear that St. Michael and his angels have thrown down the accuser, and as comforting as it is to hear that Jesus lives and reigns forever, we are alerted to the reality of life in the Church Militant.  Rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them!  But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:10)
     And there is a war in heaven, that is, in the heavenly realms.  The Church is militant, and the battle rages.  But be sure that you do not mistake your enemy.  You might think that your enemy is a thief or a murderer or a slanderer or a terrorist.  Granted, these things can make life difficult.  They can do some real damage.  But these are not the real enemy.
     And there is a war in heaven.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)  Thieves can take your things.  Slanderers can take your good name.  Terrorists can take your security.  Murderers can take your life.  But none of them can take your salvation.
     There is a war in the heavenly realms.  Your enemy is still the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  He will not concede that he is defeated.  He still exalts himself as the prince of this world.  He still has no interest in giving up his reign.  He fights hard and he fights dirty.  If he cannot be God, he will play God.  He wants to deceive you with hollow promises.  He lures unsuspecting souls into his trap.  He has no mercy because he does not care.  He has come down in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12)  He still tempts, still taunts, and still accuses.  He wants you to despair so that you are consumed by your sins and give up on your Savior.
     There is a war in the heavenly realms.  And though you cannot defeat the enemy, your Savior has!  Rejoice!  For the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:10-11)  Your victory remains where it always has been.  Jesus does not tell you to make plans to go out and to conquer and to fix the world.  Instead, seek refuge in the Savior who has already won the victory.  “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)  The victory comes through the blood of Jesus Christ which atones for your sins and purifies you.  The victory is heard in the word of the Lord which overrules every accusation of Satan.
     And that is why the Church gathers week after week around the altar to receive the Lord’s Supper.  St. Michael and his archangels are here.  We join with them and with all the company of heaven to laud and magnify the name of our Savior.  The Lamb of God is here.  He who takes away the sin of the world comes here again today to have mercy upon us and to grant us peace.  Here the blood of Jesus Christ is given to take away sins and deliver from death and the devil.  Here, Satan is cast down.  His accusations melt in the presence of God, and the word of forgiveness and salvation stand.
     Rejoice!  For the accuser has been thrown down.  He lies crushed under Jesus’ feet.  And though people may rage against you and you may feel the fury of the devil, do not fear.  Jesus promises, “Nothing shall hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)  Salvation belongs to our God.  All authority has been given to Jesus, even authority to raise the dead to eternal life.  He commands his angels to watch over you.  He sends his ministers to absolve you.  He himself has won your salvation.  And therefore, he declares peace.

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bible Gem (Ezekiel 20:44)

It is impossible to say that one Bible verse is more divine than another, but some strike us in more vivid ways than others do.  Here is one from my Bible reading this morning:

"And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the LORD." (Ezekiel 20:44)

This verses highlights the glory of God -- that he is faithful to his promises and that he upholds the glory of his name.  He is our merciful Redeemer, our gracious Savior, and our Comforter.  He does not redeem, save, or comfort because of our deeds; they are corrupt and deserve judgment.  Rather, all he does is for the sake of his name, of his very being, which loves and forgives sinners.

Therefore, we will stand at the judgment as those who are holy and blameless.  For we have been baptized into his name.  We are marked with his name.  At every benediction, the Lord puts his name on us again to bless us.  We are his, and we will be judged as his.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.  And blessed are those who are marked by his name and judged for his name's sake.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sermon -- 18th Sunday after Pentecost (September 22, 2013)

LUKE 16:1-13

In the name + of Jesus.

     It was perhaps the most gut-wrenching thing the manager could have heard.  The boss-man had summoned him and said, “What is this I hear about you?  Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” (Luke 16:2)
     Oh, there’s a lot that the manager could have been thinking.  What had the master heard?  What could the manager still hide?  Could he blame someone else?  Could he convince his master that it was all a pack of lies?  But it wasn’t.  He offered no excuses.  He didn’t even fight it.  He was a bad manager. 
     He quickly called his master’s debtors in, scrambling to put together some kind of ledger to present to his master.  He didn’t even know who owed what!  Surely he had been dodging this bullet for quite some time.  The time had finally come for his performance review.  He had to give an account.  He was a bad manager.  He was guilty.  He deserved to be fired. 
     Dear Christians, you understand that you, too, are managers, don’t you?  There is nothing you have that is actually yours.  The earth is the LORD’s and … those who dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)  You see?  It is not just that your stuff is on loan from God.  Even YOU are the Lord’s.  You entered this world because God was pleased to bring you in, and you will depart from this world just as empty handed as when you entered it.
     Everything you are and everything you have is a gift from God.  He entrusts his wealth to you.  He is very interested in how you are using it.  And you ought to know that the day will come when he will call to you account for how you have used his gifts.  Have you used God’s gifts to honor him with them or do you live as if God has no right to his gifts?  Have you used your wealth to bless your fellowman in his need, or do you hoard your gifts and pile up more than you need?  Have you taken care of God’s gifts to you, such as your life and your body, or do you give yourself over to gluttony, intoxication, and sloth?  Do you recognize that all your possessions are temporary and will fail, or is your life wrapped up in maintaining and accumulating wealth as if it were eternal?  We have all been poor managers of God’s gifts.  The day will come when the Lord will say, “What is this I hear about you?”  And the Lord will settle accounts with you.
      Like the crooked manager, you and I have also been unfaithful with what God has given us.  Like the crooked manager, we would also do well not to come up with excuses why this is not so grievous or damnable.  We are subject to judgment.  The charges against us are valid.  It is pointless and foolish to try to bargain with God in these matters.  He knows all, so there is no point in hiding or whitewashing anything.
     The dishonest manager did not waste any time.  He knew that his days were numbered.  He knew that his time was short.  There was nothing he could do about his past.  That was done.  But he took great measures to watch out for his future.  He had no strength for hard labor.  He refused to become a beggar and entrust himself to the kindness of strangers.  While he still had time, he made friends with his master’s debtors.  You can accuse him of being even more dishonest.  But just as diligence had not been his goal earlier, neither was honesty his goal now.  His goal was simple: I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” (Luke 16:4)  The dishonest manager had put all his energies into making sure that his future would be secure.  And for that, the master commended him.
     Now, here is the lesson for you: The Lord will settle your account.  He will summon you to answer for yourself.  But what is past is past.  And most of what is past cannot be fixed.  The sins have been committed.  The damage has been done, and the losses cannot be reclaimed.  Rather than defend it, repent.  And rather than fixate on the past, your concern should be about the future.  The Lord will settle your account, and that is where you should put your attention.
     Your future, however, is not going to be determined by your record.  The Lord settles your account for you.  Jesus has come on your behalf.  He settles everything.  The Father assessed his Son several times in the Gospels, and every time, Jesus was declared to be God’s beloved.  Since God can only love and approve that which is holy, we know that Jesus was holy.  He was a faithful servant in God’s household, perfectly carrying out all of the duties assigned to him. 
     Jesus settled your account for you.  He did not ask how much you owed before he took on your debt.  He has covered your past with his blood.  The debt is paid.  You owe your master nothing.  Jesus spent himself completely in order to win your place in eternal dwellings.  And he sums up your account with his word from Mt. Calvary: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)  That word was used by merchants in the marketplace when customers completed their final payment.  The debt was wiped out, and the merchant declared, “It is finished!  Paid in full!”  That is Jesus’ assessment for you from the cross.  He life was spent.  His blood was spilled.  Your debt is done.  “Paid in full!  It is finished!”
     What’s more, Jesus is the steward who squanders his Father’s mercy.  He is not stingy.  He does not merely cover what has been past.  He goes on to cover your faults and failings tomorrow, too.  He continues to pour out mercy, as if he will never run out.  And do you know what?  He never does.  This is not an excuse for you to abuse his mercy, any more than you are encouraged to abuse his other gifts.  But he assures you that you are safe in his care.  There is not going to come a day when the Father says you have reached your quota of mercy and that you are done. 
     In the parable, the master did not come back to correct the manager’s forgiveness.  And in the same way, the heavenly Father will not come back and tell you that Jesus’ forgiveness was too generous or unjust.  There is not going to be a day when you hear, “You know, on second thought, that was really bad.  I can’t forgive that.”  Jesus has settled your account.  The debt is paid.  Sins are covered.  It is settled. 
     Dear Christians, your money will fail.  Your gifts will wear out.  The Lord will call you out of this world, and you will depart with nothing in your hands and nothing to you name – nothing except a Savior who has paid the price and gives you eternal dwellings.  That is all that matters.  Therefore, be shrewd, and recognize the only thing that has eternal value.  Devote yourself to your Lord Jesus Christ.  Flee to him for his gifts of mercy and forgiveness.  So do not fear your judgment.  Jesus has covered every debt.  The Lord has settled your account, and it is settled.

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

Saturday, September 21, 2013

MLS Football vs. St. Louis

After a successful week against Saginaw Valley Lutheran (JV and Varsity both won), MLS took on St. Louis.  The JV played host at MLS and won handily, 34-0.  All points were scored in the first half and the second half was marked by turnovers and missed assignments.  Nevertheless, the defense managed to keep St. Louis out of the end zone.

Here is one photo from the game vs. St. Louis.  This was Andrew's picture-perfect TD pass to Casey Williams.

Friday night had the MLS varsity travelling to St. Louis.  (I really like their stadium's setting next to a stream and into the side of a hill.  Cool!) 

The varsity had everything go right for them and was winning 35-0 at the end of the first quarter.  Things settled down after that and MLS went on to capture a 52-14 win.

Nathanael had a GREAT night with an INT, and on offense 4 catches for 94 yards and a TD.  His one catch in the 3rd quarter fell short of the goal line by 2 yards, but was a spectacular stretched-out, diving catch (and that's not just a proud dad talking either).

Here is a photo of Nathanael's catch.  I would like to take credit for artistic license, but it is just blurry.  Hopefully, it still displays how good a catch it was.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chapel Devotion at Huron Valley Lutheran High School (September 17, 2013)

HEBREWS 13:7,17
Respect Your Christian Leaders.
(Chapel at Huron Valley Lutheran High School; Westland, MI)

            Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.
            Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable to you. (HCSB)

            Why do you go to church?  Why do you read your Bible?
            To know how to act?  How to serve others?  How to live well?
            You don’t have to go to church for that.  Even pagans know how to behave.  Many godless people are still nice people.  And those who do not believe in Jesus still believe that it is honorable to put in an honest day’s work, to contribute time and money to charities, and to help their neighbors when they have need.  They do not need to go to church to know that these things are right and good.  So you don’t need to go to church for that reason either.  And you don’t even need a Bible to know that these are good things.
            Why do you need a pastor?
            To offer advice?  Dr. Phil can do that.
            To give you some encouragement?  A coach or a parent can do that.
            We like to think that churches and pastors are unique because they give us moral guidance and sound advice and loving admonition.  And though pastors generally do that, so do others.  That is not what makes your church different from the world or your pastor different from a mentor or a psychologist.
            So why do you need a pastor?  Why does he deserve honor and obedience from you?
            You will find your answer in the liturgy.  In The Lutheran Hymnal (that’s the old hymnal that your teachers grew up with), the pastor spoke these words Sunday after Sunday: “…and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.”
            Whenever our Lord revealed himself to his people, he always veiled himself and hid his glory.  That was especially true of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is God who hid himself in flesh and blood.  In humility he spoke, acted, served, suffered, and died.  This is where God revealed his saving mercy to the world.  And this flesh and blood God has called flesh and blood, weak and frail men to be his ministers to proclaim, deliver, and dispense that divine mercy in his stead and by his command.
            Your pastor was called by your congregation to stand, to speak, to listen, and to act in the stead of Christ.  He is there to dispense God’s mercy and forgiveness.  He is Christ’s mouth who calls you to repent and calls you to put all your trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation.  He is Christ’s hands who pours water on those being baptized.  He is Christ’s ears who hears your confession and Christ’s mouth who proclaims absolution upon you.  He is Christ’s hands who administers the body and blood of Christ to the penitent.  You will not get that from any coach or mentor or from Dr. Phil.  But your pastor has been given to you for just this purpose.  He stands in the stead of Christ to distribute the gifts of Christ.
            That is why the writer to the Hebrews urges you to obey your leaders who speak the word of God to you. 
            Once again, you may get the idea that obeying your leaders means being good, being nice, and behaving yourself.  But you do not need your pastor for that.  As we already considered, even atheists can do these things.  Yes, your pastor wants you to live a godly life and he will encourage that.  But you obey your pastor best by doing this one thing: coming to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness in the word and sacraments.
            Your pastor will not be surprised that you sin.  He knows that you are a sinner.  (He is a sinner who has his own sins to confess, too.)  Your pastor knows you need forgiveness, comfort, and salvation.  And that is why he is grieved if you are not flocking to the Divine Service.  He is gravely concerned for you, as he must give an account for his watch over you.  And he is gravely concerned for your salvation if you are not making word and sacrament your highest priority.  And he is gravely concerned if you are not gravely concerned about your own salvation.  And he will tell you so.
            It is not profitable if you despise your pastor’s office; for he stands in the stead of Christ.  It is not profitable if you ignore your pastor’s preaching; for he proclaims the word of Christ.  And it is not profitable to you if you neglect preaching and his word.  You’ve memorized that: “We should regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.” (Luther’s explanation of the 3rd Commandment)  That’s because your salvation is found there.
            You will always have temptations and other struggles.  You will also fall into temptation and be grieved by these struggles.  Your pastor will not be surprised at that.  He, too, is flesh and blood.  He knows what it is to be a sinner.  But he has been given to you to point you your Savior, Jesus Christ and to absolve you in his name.
It brings great joy to the pastor to see the people in his charge coming to hear God’s word, to confess their sins, to receive absolution, and to partake in the Lord’s Supper.  He speaks and acts in the stead of Christ to dispense God’s forgiveness and deliver his salvation.  These things are most profitable to you.  They bring everlasting joy to you who receive them.  It brings great joy to your pastor to deliver them to you.  And Jesus and the angels in heaven rejoice too.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Pastoral Concern: Where did you go on Sunday?

This past Sunday we celebrated another Divine Service.  We used the Common Service (version from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, the official WELS hymnal). 

So this is where the Common Service took us:

To our baptism. 
          ("In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.")
To our place in this world. 
          ("Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.")
To Christmas and the angelic choir. 
          ("Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men.")
To the Prophets. 
          ("A reading from the book of Exodus, the 2nd book of Moses.")
To the Apostles.
           ("A reading from St. Paul's first letter to Timothy.")
To the mouth of Jesus.
           ("The gospel for today....")
To the generations of Christians who have gone before us.  
          ("We believe in one God....")
To the prayers of King David. 
          ("Create in me a clean heart, O God.")
To the throne of God. 
           ("Our Father, who art in heaven....")
To the glories of heaven and the angelic choirs there.  
          ("Holy, holy, holy Lord God of heavenly hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory.")
To Palm Sunday. 
          ("Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is he, blessed is he, 
          blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!")
To Good Friday. 
          ("Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.")
To Easter Sunday. 
          (Christ is here--not symbolically, but really.  He comes to us in the sacrament 
          and gives victory over sin and death.)
To the eternal banquet of heaven together with all the saints there.  
          ("Take and eat; the body of Christ.  Take and drink; the blood of Christ.  For you.")
Toward the grave, but now without fear. 
          ("Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your word...")
To the blessing of being marked as God's own. 
          ("The Lord bless you and keep you....")

There is no question that the historic liturgy continues to serve as a blessing for the Lord's Church.  It repeats the live and promises of Jesus and assures God's people that they will receive good things on that Sunday (especially when the sermon misses the mark or is just plain bad). 

Why would anyone want "something better"?  What IS better than this?
The Lord is good to his people, and the historic, western liturgy highlights that and repeats it every week.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sermon -- 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 15, 2013)

LUKE 15:1-10

In the name + of Jesus.

     The world is a messed up place, and it is not hard to find proof.  The world is also full of people who have made a mess of their lives and of themselves.  It is not hard to find proof of that either.  Usually, we find it when we look at someone else.  We find people who have given themselves over to whatever temptation their hearts desire.  Now their sins, their habits, and their vices own them.  Sometimes they are victims of circumstance.  Sometimes they are victims of their own poor choices and stupidity.  Some days we are merciful toward them; other days we are judgmental of them.  Either way, we have our proof: The world is a mess, and people’s lives are a mess, too.
     Sin entered the world through one man, Adam.  His rebellion opened the door for every mess you get yourself into, and for every mess you see other people fall into.  In the Garden of Eden, there had been no evil that we needed to be delivered from, but now the world is full of evils.  Through Adam’s sin, the whole world fell victim to death, decay, destruction, disease, and depravity.  And though God spares us from some of these, he also has us endure others.  The Lord does not want you to forget: The world is a messed up place, and your own life is messy too.
     Many have wondered: Why didn’t the Lord just strike Adam and Eve down and start over?  After all, if you are writing a note or drawing something and you mess it up, you crumple up the paper and start over.  You think nothing of it.  Why save a poorly worded letter or try to fix an ugly drawing?  And in that vein, why spare Adam and Eve when all who descend from them are going to be poor, sinful beings?  Why spare a world that is going to be littered with evils and problems?  Why not scrub the slate clean and start over with people who will obey?
     It isn’t hard to offer up Adam and Eve, is it?  And it is not hard to cast off the drug addict, or the foul-mouthed drunk at Ford Field, or the man who fathers and then deserts his children, or even the tired, bitter woman who takes your order.  We don’t believe they are worth the effort.  But what about you?  Why didn’t God strike you down in your infancy so that you would not say such regrettable things to your parents?  So that you would not undercut your coworker?  So that you would not resent God and mock his wisdom?  Why didn’t the Lord scrub the slate clean with you, your parents, or your children and create better, more obedient models?
     God gives you his answer.  Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord declared, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11)  The Lord is not willing that any should perish.  The Lord is not willing to simply cast off those who are lost and wandering, those who are resentful or rebellious, or those who are weak and frail.  You and I do not have the patience or mercy for such people, even though you ARE such people.  But you have a Savior who is merciful.  He does not cast you off because you have made a mess of things.  He does not let you go because he is sick of your wandering.  You have a Savior who receives sinners and eats with them!
     It is easy to see the Pharisee, and it is just as easy to be one.  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)  Jesus needs to remind us what it means that he is a Savior.  He does not come for righteous people.  They don’t need a Savior.  They do not even need to repent.
     But sinners – they need a Savior.  And you are sinners; therefore, you need a Savior.  Whoever has a messy life and whoever continues to make a mess of things need someone who will clean it up.  That is why Jesus came.  The Lord did not stand at a distance and make decrees of sympathy.  He put on flesh and blood to walk on the dirty streets, to enter the messy homes, to participate in the disasters—both natural and man-made, and to share in human frailty and weakness.  He came to dwell among sinners so that he could seek those who had strayed from God’s ways.  He came to look for people who had once been minted in God’s image but who were lost.  Whether they were one in a hundred or one in a million, the Lord sought the lost and longed to bring them back to the Father.  Jesus receives sinners.
     And it is more than Jesus sat next to sinners.  You are not some social experiment to God.  Jesus is not like the millionaire who sleeps out on the streets for one or two nights so that he can go back to his mansion and boast at cocktail parties that he understands the plight of the homeless.  To seek the lost and to bring back the straying, Jesus expressed solidarity with them.  Jesus received sinners and ate with them.  The Pharisees got that, and they criticized Jesus for it.  The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)  By eating with them, Jesus expressed a communion with them.  A communion with sinners! 
     Though Jesus did not participate in the sins of mankind, he did assume them.  The Lord has taken up your sins, no matter how shameful they have been and no matter how often they have been repeated.  He suffered for the shame of prostitutes, for the slander of liars, for the greed of thieves, for the rebellion of the stubborn, for the arrogance of the self-righteous, for the pride of the judgmental, for filthy thoughts, for messy lives, and for the foolishness of everyone who pits his own wisdom against God’s.  Because you have strayed, Jesus was banished.  Because you were lost, Jesus was cast off as worthless and condemned as criminal.
     The Lord was not willing that any sinner should have to perish, and so Jesus suffered and died in the place of all sinners.  You have been baptized into Jesus, and so now the slate has been washed clean.  God sees you as blameless.  Jesus has been glorified as the Savior, and you are honored as the one he has saved.  Angels and archangels rejoice over you.  The Lord has found you, and he has delivered you out of sin and death and into his kingdom.  It is a cause for celebration.  “Rejoice with me,” the Lord summons.  And he prepares the feast for you.
     Oh, you know that you are still sinners and that you can still make quite a mess of things.  Therefore, you still need Jesus.  Dear friends, Jesus does not grow tired of you.  Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  And the feast now is even greater than the meal Jesus enjoyed at the home of tax collectors and sinners.  The feast still demonstrates Jesus’ communion with sinners.  Yes, communion with sinners!  Jesus summons you to the feast now.  He still expresses solidarity with you, for he has made you his dear brother or sister who has been forgiven of all sins.   And at the feast, he continues to pour out his forgiveness to you.  Here, he sustains you, strengthens you, and keeps you united to him.
     Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.  Whether you are one in ten, one in a hundred, or one in a billion, Jesus knows you and receives you as his own.  Jesus invites you to the feast where he himself is.  His body and blood were given at the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  They are delivered here to you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Jesus has come to feast with sinners, and Jesus comes again to sinners as we feast.  Communion with sinners!  A feast with our Lord!  He is pleased to be our host.  We rejoice to be his companions.  And heaven celebrates that God is good.

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sermon -- 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 8, 2013)

LUKE 14:25-33

In the name + of Jesus.

      In 1521, a German monk was declared an outlaw who could be killed on sight.  What was his crime?  He was preaching that forgiveness of sins came only through the merits of Jesus Christ.  He was claiming that the only words that are trustworthy and true are those in the Bible.  He stated that salvation comes by faith in Jesus and not in one’s own works and performances.  Worst of all, he declared that Jesus is Lord and that his words are final, far above the words of any church or council or pope.  For exposing lies and proclaiming God’s truth, Martin Luther was condemned as a heretic.  He was marked as an outlaw.  He lived the rest of his life under the constant threat that he or any of his family could be exiled, jailed, or killed.  Under these very real threats, Luther penned these words, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, TLH 262:4) 
     Do not get the idea that Luther was a sourpuss or the wet blanket at every gathering.  Luther enjoyed God’s blessings.  He cherished his wife and children.  He did not despise the gifts that God had given him.  However, he did recognize that, as thankful as he was for such blessings, goods, fame, child, and wife did not provide him with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  Even if he lost everything, he still had a Savior who gave him eternal blessings.
     That is how we understand Jesus’ words here.  Jesus’ words are purposely harsh because he wants you to understand how serious this all is.  The First Commandment is first for a reason.  You shall have no other gods.  You shall not place anything above your God.  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) 
     Now to be sure, father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister are all great blessings.  You receive much joy through them.  But you do not receive forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation through them.  And the fact of the matter is, one day you will bid farewell to all these things.  You have already lost possessions.  Chances are you no longer have your first car or your first baseball mitt.  Those things were easy to part with.  Other blessings are much harder.  Perhaps you have bid tearful good-byes to parents, siblings, or even children.  And if you do not bid farewell to them, they will one day bid farewell to you.  Therefore, do not cling so tightly to them.  Entrust all of these things to your Lord.  The First Commandment remains first.  Everything else is secondary or even lower than that.  Jesus urges you to count the cost.
     Jesus’ words are purposely harsh, and if Jesus shows you anything, he shows you for the sinner you are.  Who of us can do what Jesus says?  Who of us is able to call himself a faithful disciple?  We have not ranked Jesus above our families, our friends, and ourselves.  We would rather hurt our faith than our feelings.  We would rather lose forgiveness than friendships.  We have no interest in suffering any kind of loss for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus said, So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)  Who of us readily renounces all that we have?  Who truly prays, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.” (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, TLH 262:4)?  We don’t, because we don’t want to.  We do not keep the First Commandment first.  If you rank something above Jesus, then how can you call Jesus your Lord?  If you put anything above the Lord, then how can you be the Lord’s disciple?  Repent.
     Jesus urges you to count the cost.  There is a cost to being a disciple.  It is that you put your sinful cravings to death.  It is that you despise yourself for the wickedness in you.  It is that you recognize your only hope for salvation is not how faithfully you serve the Lord, but how faithfully he has served you.  Your hope is never going to be how much you give up for Jesus; it is how much he gave up for you so that you would be redeemed.  Your hope for salvation and your hope for peace come through Jesus Christ alone.
     Jesus delivers you from your sinful condition.  He did not count the cost, nor did he hesitate to pay the price.  Forsaking everything except his loving obedience to his Father in heaven, Jesus went to the cross which is what the Father sent him for.  Jesus was, then, forsaken by everyone including his Father.  He hung from the cross alone.  Alone he bore the guilt of the world. Alone he bore the shame of your selfishness.  Alone he shed his blood to atone for you.  Alone he paid the price and covered the cost.  Therefore, your guilt has been covered by the blood of Jesus.  Your shame is replaced by the verdict of forgiveness.  Jesus urges you to consider the cost.  The cost for your redemption was the life of God’s Son, and it is a cost gladly and fully paid by him. 
     Jesus would also have you ponder this: “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30)  Jesus Chris the foundation of your faith and your life.  There can be no other.  But beware lest you think that merely thinking about Jesus saves you.  Even the devil can do that.  And beware lest you use Jesus’ forgiveness as an excuse for your sins.  His forgiveness is not license to go and sin more.  And his mercy is no reason to neglect him.    Her mercy is the reason you need him.
     Jesus urges you to count the cost.  Every day, you will struggle with your own sinful flesh which still would rather forsake Jesus for momentary pleasures and peace.  Every day, you will battle your own selfishness.  You will fight against your weaknesses.  And you will often fail.  Some days, you will simply wonder if it is worth it.  You will want to give up the battle and you will want to give way to temptations and passions.  You ought to know that this is not unusual at all.  This is life in the Church Militant.  Jesus wants you to consider the struggle and to count the cost.
     But do not think that you are hopeless.  You are not alone.  Jesus upholds you and sustains you.  Jesus does not forsake you in your struggles.  And Jesus does not hate you because you are weak.  Remember, he took on flesh and blood and so he knows what it is to live in weakness and to be subject to temptations.  Therefore, he is not a harsh master, but a compassionate Savior.  When you sin and confess, “Lord, I’ve failed,” he assures you, “But I have overcome the enemy for you, and I forgive you.”  When you sigh, “I am so weak,” Jesus says, “But I am your strength.”  When you are feeling beaten down by life’s struggles and problems, Jesus summons you, “I am your refuge.  Find peace in my forgiveness, comfort in my wounds, and rest in my promises.  In my kingdom, no one can harm you.” 
     Dear Christians, the Lord may not allow anyone to take away your life, goods, fame, child, and wife.  You may pass from this world in peace.  But even if you pass away in peace, you will still bid farewell to all of these things.  And though they are great blessings to you, they still cannot save you.  Your hope and salvation are found in Jesus alone.  You do not have to wonder if his patience with you can hold up or if his mercy upon you will run out.  He continues to cover the cost.  His body and blood continue to deliver God’s mercy.  This has more value than everything on earth.  Jesus alone redeems, and that is priceless.

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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

MLS Football, vs. Carrollton

MLS battled Carrollton this past week.  The JV played at MLS on Thursday and won handily, 53-14.  It was a fun game to watch, at least from the home team's sidelines.

Andrew consults with Coach Koehler.

Good tackle.  Nice form.  Head in front, legs wrapped up.

Friday night's varsity game was at Carrollton.  They had some BIG linemen who managed to move the defense a bit, but not enough.  The defense bent but often did not break (except once).  MLS managed to self-inflict themselves with too many penalties, but the defense managed to stave off disaster.  The final score with MLS adding a late-game TD was 21-7.

Apparently, Nathanael ran the wrong route, but you can't argue with the results.
MLS touchdown!

For the first (and only) time in Nathanael's high school career,
he celebrates the experience of defeating Carrollton in football.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Parsonage Bathroom

A great big THANK YOU goes out to Bob Wozniak and the properties crew (as well as to our contractor, Lee) for the improvements on our upstairs bathroom.  Some water damage had forced the issue, but the repairs have made a remarkable improvement on what we had. 

We left for vacation with the bathroom looking like this (a few repairs had already been begun):

And we came back to the bathroom looking like this!

Again, big thanks!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sermon -- 15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 1, 2013)

LUKE 14:1,7-14

 In the name + of Jesus.

      This is what the Lord says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8)  No matter how much we hear that, we still like to believe that God thinks like we think, that God wants like we want, and that God does what we would do.  Or we think that God should.  But we are sinners and God is holy.  Therefore, God will not think, want, or act like we do.
     Jesus highlighted this when he was invited to a banquet by a leader of the Pharisees.  As he reclined at the table with the other guests, he noticed how the people were jockeying for prominence and prestige at the table.  They all wanted to be important.  They all wanted to be admired.  And they all firmly believed that they were worthy of the honors they were competing for. 
     We have been trained to sneer at the Pharisees when we hear about them.  That’s understandable, as Jesus blasted them and exposed them for the hypocrites they were.  But we are no different.  Like the Pharisees, we play the games that are so common among men.  Like the Pharisees we sneer at, we think that we are better, that we should be admired, and that we are worthy of honor.  We commend ourselves for our good works.  We are convinced that God must love us and smile upon us because we are better behaved, more moral, and spiritually sincere in all of our actions.  Our yearning for honor has a religious veneer on it, but that makes it all the more dangerous as we convince ourselves that we are worthy of a higher place in God’s kingdom.  If Jesus called them to repent, he calls us to repent too.
     Jesus told a parable.  “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor….” (Luke 14:8)  You heard the rest of the parable earlier, and you may have thought, “Well, that’s brilliant!  If you play the game right, someone will announce to the guests that you are much more important than you pretend to be.”  That does not reveal a devout heart, but a devious one. 
     Listen again to the beginning of the parable: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor….” (Luke 14:8)  Dear friends, you have been summoned to a wedding feast.  Jesus summons you to a higher place.  Your Lord, Jesus Christ, has called you to partake of the eternal banquet, to recline at the table of heaven, and to feast on the sacred meal.  He calls to give you good things even though you have not done good things.  What’s more, in order to gain your place at this blessed table, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord and Creator of the universe, humbled himself and took the lowest place for you.  Jesus submitted himself to the temptations and mockery and cruelty to redeem you. 
     Satan tempted Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)  Satan challenged Jesus to prove himself, to exalt himself, and to abuse his divine power.  Jesus’ enemies blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy!  Who is it who struck you?” (Luke 22:54)  Both rabbis and Roman soldiers beat the Lord and mocked his omniscience.  As he hung from the cross, his enemies mocked his claims, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35)  Finally, even his Father forsook him as darkness covered the whole land for three hours.  Jesus took the lowest place—forsaken by his Father, mocked by his enemies, and abandoned by his friends.  He lived in innocence, and yet suffered for your guilt.  He was crucified naked, and yet was covered with your shame.  The Son of God endured the lowest place in humility so that you would be reconciled to the Father, glorified by him, and received at the divine, heavenly banquet.
     “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor….” (Luke 14:8)  Dear Christians, do not claim the place of honor; for you did not earn it.  Nevertheless, you find a loving, crucified, and risen Savior who summons you, “Friend, move up higher.” (Luke 14:10)  The place that you cannot earn Jesus gives you.  If you exalt yourself, you will be humiliated by God.  But here, Jesus exalts you.  Jesus summons you to a higher place.  He honors you in the presence of his Father, before angels and archangels, before all the company of heaven, and before all who are here.  He takes away your guilt and declares you to be great and glorious.  He gives you the wedding garments to wear—a robe of righteousness washed in his blood.  He calls you to partake at his table in this world, and he calls you to partake at the wedding feast of the Lamb in Paradise.  And every place at his banquet is glorious.
     After addressing the guests of the banquet, Jesus addressed the man who hosted the banquet.  He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14) 
     Once again, we see that God does not act like we act.  It is natural for us to care for those who are our friends, relatives, or even well-to-do neighbors.  That’s because we deem them worthy of our time and attention and honor.  We feel that they are deserving because they have benefited us in the past or will benefit us in the future.
     However, the Lord’s ways are not our ways.  He is the one who has invited you to the feast.  It is not because you are worthy or because you will prove yourself beneficial to the Lord.  You and I are the poor, the lame, and the blind.  But Jesus summons you to a higher place.  Our Lord has poured out divine riches on you.  He carries you on his shoulders.  He enlightens you to see his salvation. 
     Jesus summons you to a higher place.  Your place in the banquet does not speak of your goodness, but of Jesus’ goodness.  He summons you because he is merciful and gracious.  He knows that you cannot pay him back, and that is the point.  The banquet is prepared for you by Jesus.  It is given to you for your benefit.  You eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for your salvation.  This is where the Lord gives you the most holy things, and you receive them because he has declared you to be his holy people.
     Likewise, you get to go and be merciful and gracious to others.  So what if they do not deserve it?  Mercy is never deserved.  So what if they cannot pay you back?  Grace is a gift.  It does not—cannot!—seek to be repaid.  Love does not look for getting something out of people.  Love only seeks their well-being.  Your flesh may feel ripped off.  And your flesh may continue to tell you that other people are just not worth it.  Put such selfish thoughts to death.  Do not exalt yourself, for you are no better than the people whom you think are worthless.  You are saints because of Jesus’ work, not yours.  The mercy that Jesus has poured upon you, you get to pour upon others.  It is not given because they are worthy.  You give it because it is needed. 
     Dear Christians, you have been invited to a wedding feast.  Here is your seat at the banquet.  Jesus summons you to a higher place.  You are partakers of the most holy things.  You are recipients of divine blessings.  You are beneficiaries of God’s mercy.  You are permanent guests at the wedding feast of the Lamb!  There are no higher blessings.  There are no greater joys.  And there is no better place.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.