Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Advent Season -- 2013

We are entering a new church year and the season of Advent.  Advent means "coming," and we consider two "comings" of Jesus.  Naturally, we think of his coming at Christmas.  The deadline is on the calendar already -- just a few short weeks away!  But we especially think of Jesus' second coming when he will deliver us from all evil and bring us into his glorious, perfect, peaceful, everlasting kingdom.  The joy Jesus brought at his first coming makes us yearn for his second coming.  He has taken away our sins and has, therefore, prepared us for his kingdom.

As we await the coming of our Lord, we prepare.  We keep watch.  We wait with prayer and humility. 

We will also use this Advent season to slow down for a moment on Wednesday evenings for vespers.  December is hectic enough.  Vespers lets us meditate, pray, and focus on Christ. 

This year's Advent Vespers has the theme: "CHRIST'S OFFICES FORETOLD."  These offices are foretold in the Old Testament.  They were foreshadowed by some, but they are ultimately fulfilled by Jesus.  The offices of Christ are ...
          ... Foretold As Prophet. (December 4)
          ... Foretold As High Priest. (December 11)
          ... Foretold As King. (December 18)

A supper will be served at 6:00 PM.
Vespers begins at 7:00 PM.

Football News

This past weekend had a few football items to highlight.

First of all, Nathanael had his football banquet.  I knew that he had a good season, but I guess I was not aware of just how good it really was.  He received awards of First Team All Conference at wide receiver, and we just learned that he was named to the Saginaw News' Dream Team.  You can read about that accomplishment here:

Great season, Nathanael!

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend Nathanael's banquet.  That's because Caleb, Peter, and I went to Wisconsin for the weekend.  We ended up celebrating Thanksgiving early with my parents, my brother and his family, and my sister.  Then on Sunday, Caleb got his birthday present a few months early.  We went to the Viking-Packer game at Lambeau Field.

Caleb had a great time.  He expected the field to look bigger than it is.  But he also expected us to be much farther away from the field than we were.  Row 50, and you can still see everything as plain as day.

We endured 3 quarters of mediocre football (okay, bad football), only to see Matt Flynn come off the bench and rally the Packers to a 4th quarter comeback.  Then we went to overtime (23-23) where we got our hopes up.  The Packers at 1st and goal at the 8 yard line, but were unable to punch it in.  The field goal enabled Minnesota to get the ball and match the Packers.  So after each team scored a field goal in OT, we watched the clock run out.  A tie.  And fans from both sides left the stadium rather subdued.  So, Caleb got to see 75 minutes of football concluding in a 26-26 tie.

As for me, in taking my kids to see a game at Lambeau Field, the Packers are now 1-1-1. 

Here are some pics.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in End Times -- Saints Triumphant (November 17, 2013)

ISAIAH 65:17-25

In the name + of Jesus.

    I first heard of it starting in London, but now it has come to America—atheist churches.  Yes, you heard that right: Atheist churches.  Apparently, some atheists are feeling a little left out.  While they deny God’s existence and authority, they still like the idea of gathering with others united in their unbelief.  And their gatherings (not sure what they call them) are even designed to mimic what Christians have.  They join in songs, listen to readings of poetry and other literature, and have some leader offer an engaging talk about being better people.
     If you went to one of these atheist churches, you probably would not find much there that you would disagree with.  Most atheists don’t attack the Christian faith.  Those are just the ones who make the news.  Most atheists are nice people who are eager to see the world become a better place.  They want to see people be more loving.  They want pain, hardship, and heartache to go away.  In other words, they want pretty much what you want.
     There is one great problem with the prayers of the atheists: No one hears them.  And there is a greater problem with the goals of the atheists: They will never be fulfilled for them.  We would all love to dwell in a disease-free, disaster-free, death-free world.  But that will not happen.  The world has been corrupted with sin.  You will never see heaven on earth.  Heaven is in heaven.  Earth remains a place of happiness interrupted by grief, of blessings marred by bitterness, and of death in the midst of life.  For, the world and everything in it are dying.  That may not be a rosy picture, but it is an honest, accurate picture.  And no poem or pep talk is going to change that.
     But there is a God in heaven who has made a promise about a better life.  And to make that promise a fact, the God who is in heaven came to our sin-riddled world.  Jesus became flesh and blood to redeem us who are flesh and blood.  He came to save the dying so that you would have eternal life.  To do that, Jesus bore your sins in his body when he hung from the cross.  He shed his blood to make atonement for all guilt and to appease the wrath of God.  God became flesh and blood to give his flesh and blood for you.  And to assure you that your life will not end in death, Jesus conquered the grave.  Jesus rose, flesh and blood, from his grave.  He is the firstfruits of those who have risen from the dead.  Jesus is the first; and those who believe in him shall follow.  Only Jesus makes you a partaker in the resurrection.  Only Jesus gives you a better life.
     Now, the prophet Isaiah foretold what this better life will be like.  Isaiah declared God’s promise: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:17-19)
      Only Jesus gives you a better life.  It is a life where all things are new.  You will not remember the hard days, the anguish that your soul endures, the stress on your mind, the aches in your body, or the bitterness in your heart.  There will be no reports of typhoons or wildfires.  There will be no need for prescriptions or sessions of therapy.  You won’t even need Kleenex to wipe your nose because of hay fever or your eyes because of a funeral.  Those things will be done, and gone, and forgotten. 
     Only Jesus gives you a better life.  It is a life in which the Lord delights in you and rejoices over you.  The God who became flesh and dwelt in this world has covered your flesh with his own righteousness.  Jesus cleansed you in your baptism so that God sees you as holy and blameless.  Your judgment is certain.  Your future is set.  God rejoices over you who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.  God delights in knowing that you will dwell with him in heaven forever.  And just as God does not tire of showing you mercy and in daily forgiving you, neither will he grow tired of having you in his presence forever.  Only Jesus gives you a better life. 
     The Lord does not reserve his blessings for heaven, of course.  He gives you blessings now already.  Even when the atheists recognize that this life has good things in it—though they will not acknowledge the one who gives those good things.  But amidst your good things are bad things.  The roses have thorns.  The fruit and vegetables rot.  The body grows frail.  Your grandfather dies.  And your plans and your efforts sometimes end up coming to nothing or, worse, to a disastrous end.  These are the former things.  They will pass away.
     Instead, listen to the Lord’s promise about a better life: They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” (Isaiah 65:21-22) 
     Only Jesus gives you a better life.  While blessings in this world can be quickly swept away, Jesus delivers blessings that will not be stolen or lose value.  You will never be evicted from the rooms in your heavenly Father’s house.  You will always have a seat at the wedding banquet.  You will always be covered by the wedding garments.  You will always have a God who loves you, serves you, and delights that you are his.
     Only Jesus gives you a better life.  To a limited extent, you have these blessings already.  You are one of God’s household.  You have a seat at the banquet—the holy things given to the holy ones.  You have a heavenly Father who hears your prayers and answers.  God’s love for you is not limited, but your blessings are often interrupted by frustration and devastation. 
     Atheists may get together and sing songs about imagining a better life, a better world, and a better tomorrow.  And to be fair, they may even achieve some of their goals.  They plant more flowers.  They donate blood.  They give to the needy.  They pick up the check for a military family’s lunch.  And the world may praise them; for, such random acts of kindness are much needed and most welcome in our world.  These may win the praise of men, but they do not take away sins.  They do not eliminate death.  And they do not open the gates of heaven.  Only Jesus can do that.  And he has done that for you—and only for those who believe in him. 
     Only Jesus gives you a better and eternal life.  The atheists may dream about it, but that is the best they can do as they join together to sing John Lennon’s Imagine.  But you have a much better promise and a much brighter future.  You do not have dream about a better life; you simply have to wait for it.  Our confession, week after week is this: We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. (Nicene Creed)  Jesus gives you a better life, and only Jesus can.  Only Jesus can take away your sins.  Only Jesus gives you the garments of salvation which you will wear to the heavenly wedding banquet.  Only Jesus guarantees that you will walk away from your grave and into the gates of heaven.  Rejoice in the Lord’s goodness, mercy, and salvation.  And know that the Lord rejoices over you; for you are one of his redeemed.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in End Times; Last Judgment (November 10, 2013)

LUKE 19:11-27

In the name + of Jesus.

     There are times when Jesus told parables that his disciples came to him and said, “Explain the parable to us.”  I feel a close kinship to these disciples.  There are many times I would also like to ask Jesus questions about his teachings and his parables.  Parables can often be misunderstood and misinterpreted.  The parable that we have today is certainly a victim of such wrong interpretations.
     On the one hand, part of the parable is easy.  Jesus said, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return…  But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’  (But) he returned, having received the kingdom….” (Luke 19:12,14-15)  Jesus is the nobleman.  After his sufferings, death, and resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven where he lives and reigns over all despite the hatred and the protests of many.  From there he will come again to judge the living and the dead.  And as Jesus declared in St. John’s gospel, “Those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:29)  Jesus is the great king, and he will come with a great reward.
     But this is where Jesus’ parable can get misinterpreted.  “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.  Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’” (Luke 19:12-13)  When the king returned, he began to reward his servants who reported an increase in their minas. 
     It is easy to conclude that your heavenly reward will be based on your production of good works now.  And, to be fair, preaching that message over and over again will probably goad you into behaving better and seeking ways to do more good things.  But it will not get you closer to heaven; for the Lord does not demand effort, but perfect obedience.  And no matter how devout, how sincere, or how ambitious you are, there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)  
     The endless pursuit of compiling more and more good works will only drive you to despair.  No matter how hard you work and no matter how many your works, you are not done.  The Law always demands more.  The Law demands good, but it will not make you feel good; for the Law always accuses.  That is why you feel more guilt than good from your works.  And you will end up being afraid of Jesus, viewing him as a severe man who takes what he did not deposit and reaps what he has not sown.  Jesus is not preaching this parable to show you that your heavenly reward will be based on your production of good works now.  He gives his reward as a gift, not a wage.
     Nevertheless, when the king gave the minas, he expected a return.  And when he returned…, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. (Luke 19:15) 
     Before we unravel the parable, we ought to recognize some important information that Jesus has given us in this parable.  All who were called were the king’s servants, and all received a mina.  The servants had nothing of their own.  Everything they had received, they received from the king.  A mina was a wage for about three months.  So, each servant was entrusted with a good treasure, and they were expected to be faithful with it.  Being faithful with the king’s gifts meant putting them to work, not burying them.  And finally, it was not the servants who produced the increase.  The very first servant confessed, “Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.” (Luke 19:16)  The king had given the mina, and the king’s mina was productive. 
     So, what is it that your Lord gives you to make you his servant?  What does the king give you to make you a member of his kingdom?  He has granted you a treasure greater than any wage.  He has given you faith, which receives the benefit of all of Jesus’ works, Jesus’ promises, and Jesus’ mercies.  By faith, you are partakers of Jesus’ blessings, forgiveness, and salvation.  By faith, you received the benefits of Jesus’ obedience in his holy life and his obedience in his death on a cross.  By faith, you have been granted a righteousness won by Jesus’ life and a pardon won by Jesus’ death.  The Son of God has made you sons of God, not mere servants.  You are children of the kingdom and heirs of eternal glory.  These gifts are the mina, the treasure, and the reward you have received from Jesus.  They are yours not because you have worked for them, but by faith in Jesus who has done the works for you.  Jesus is a great king with a great reward.
     The first servant came to the king and reported, “‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’  And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’  …Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief…’” (Luke 19:16,18,20)  Each servant was given a mina, that is, each was granted faith.  And while faith produces more fruit in some than in others, the Lord clearly does not want you to bury your faith so that it does nothing and remains hidden throughout your life. 
     Dear Christians, do not let your faith be mere theory.  St. James wrote, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17)  You are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone.  Faith is a living, active, busy thing which works in this world, which loves its fellow man, and which bestows kindness, compassion, and charity.  Faith is the mina which the Lord gives you, and the Lord expects that it will be put to work and produce fruit.
     The king’s mina is to be busy, not buried.  While faith cannot be seen in your heart, it is made evident in words that evoke kindness and patience, in actions that continue to seek the good of friends and strangers, and even in attitudes which refuse to be self-glorifying and self-absorbed.  Therefore, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)  It is his light that shines, and it is his goodness that people see.  In this way, the great King gives his great rewards even through you.
     But your greatest reward is given to you by your king week after week.  Your king continues to increase your mina.  Jesus grounds your faith and grows your faith as you gather to receive sustenance and strength through him.  Everything you receive, you receive from him.  And your Lord and King gives generously. 
     Your King has marked you for salvation.  Jesus has marked you with the blood he shed for you.  He was wrapped in a cloth and buried for you so that your death and burial will not mean that you lose your place in his kingdom.  Rather, Jesus rose from the dead and went to a distant country.  He ascended to heaven and was made king.  He has deposited his mina within you, and he will come and collect you with it.  His treasure is yours.  His royal decree of forgiveness and salvation are yours.  Jesus is a great king with a great reward.  And he is pleased to give you the kingdom.

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Pastoral Concern -- Exposing lies so that people will not be deceived

There is a YouTube video going around that is very popular (around 1 million views, as far as I can tell), entitled Who You Are -- A Message to All Women.  It is from something called The Anima Series.  I had never heard of either the video or the series until I saw the aforementioned video being reviewed by a Lutheran pastor, Rev. Jonathan Fisk, who hosts Worldview Everlasting.

Fisk rightly addresses everything that is right and wrong with this video.  You can see his review, which lasts about 20 minutes with the original video spliced into it, here:

In short, Who You Are -- A Message to All Women is supposed to make women feel special and loved, but it directs them so far away from Jesus that it is blasphemous.  But don't take my word for it.  Click on the link above.  Rev. Fisk will point you to Jesus.  The speaker in the original video might give the impression that he is talking about Jesus, but he does not mention Jesus' name even once.  In fact, he will not tell you that you are forgiven (much less that you need forgiveness); he will tell you that you are worthy of praise.

It is good, right, and salutary to expose such horrible lies.  These kinds of lies are so dangerous because they sound so close to the truth.  But if Satan will masquerade as an angel of light, that means he will try to sound like God.  Be warned.  Keep alert.  Do not be deceived by Satan's lies, but expose them for what they are.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in End Times--Reformation (November 3, 2013)

JOHN 8:31-36

In the name + of Jesus.

     When Jesus preached to the people who were in the temple, he was preaching to church-goers.  He was not calling heathen nations who had never heard of the Lord.  He was calling Abraham’s children who knew and participated in the rites and ceremonies of temple worship.  These people would not have considered themselves lost or cursed or slaves.  They would have considered themselves the blessed, the chosen, and the pure.  The Pharisees said as much when they adamantly defended themselves.  They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33) 
     Many Jews were living under the assumption that God’s favor was theirs by right of birth.  They were born into Israel.  They were God’s chosen nation.  Heaven was supposed to be a guarantee.  The Pharisees recognized that being an Israelite was no guarantee.  Israelites in the past were rejected and banished because they had not kept the Law.  So the Pharisees made the laws more strict.  They thought that their pious demands and better behavior won them a better future.  They were convinced they were children of God, if not by right of birth then by right of their holier behavior.
      So you can imagine their shock when Jesus pointed them in a different direction.  Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  Jesus told them to remain in his word.  In HIS word.  This claim meant that Jesus speaks a better word than God’s Law.  This claim meant that Jesus bestows God’s favor and imparts God’s salvation.  This claim meant that only Jesus could truly make someone a child of God.  And that is exactly what Jesus was saying.  Remain in Jesus’ word to remain children of God.
     There is nothing new under the sun.  People always think that a higher and holier life is what guarantees God’s favor and everlasting life.  In Luther’s day, the farmers and merchants were nothing compared to the monks and priests.  The monks and priests had a holier and higher life which, no doubt, put them closer to God.  So what were merchants and maids, farmers and frauleins to do?  Their holier and higher work was supposed to be found by making pilgrimages to various church and giving offerings to view sacred relics.  They were to contribute to the church coffers and purchase indulgences which were to grant them reprieve from the punishment of sins.  They were to pray to the saints who had done more good works than God had demanded, and by invoking the saints they could gain the benefit of their works.  It all sounded so pious and so sacred, and you can bet that the people sincerely devoted themselves to these things.  But they were all lies.  Jesus and his word were brushed aside for what were considered holier and higher things.  God’s favor is never found in relics, in indulgences, in pilgrimages, or in saints.  Martin Luther discovered and preached what Jesus plainly teaches: Remain in Jesus’ word to remain children of God.
     There is nothing new under the sun.  Still today, people don’t want to hear about Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection.  These are brushed aside as old news.  “We know all this, pastor.  We don’t need to hear about Jesus.  We want to hear about our lives so that we know how to live.  We want to be taught how to live a life that is more joyous, more victorious, and more meaningful.”  As it was in the past, so it is again.  We want to know what we must do to remain in God’s favor.  We want more encouragement to do better and more instruction on how to live higher and holier than before.  The lie is the same—we want to be convinced that we are children of God by right of our higher and holier behavior.
     Jesus answers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever….” (John 8:34-35)  Perhaps these words scare you into thinking that you had better improve yourself if you want to remain a child of God.  And you should do better.  But the more you try to do better, the more you recognize that you can’t do what is right and holy.  Even if your actions seem noble, your motives are corrupt.  You give to charity, but with a reluctant sigh.  You assist the man asking you for help, but as fast as possible because you want to get back to what you really care about.  Even stopping to answer your child’s question is met with a groan.  These are the high and holy works God gives you to do, and you find them annoying. 
     The reason your deeds and your motives are not pure is because your hearts are not pure.  You are trapped as slaves to sin.  You may be disgusted with yourself because you do what is impure, and yet you continue to do what is impure.  You may be frustrated because you have so little patience or ambition to do what is good, and yet you still must be coaxed into doing what is good.  The solution is never to tell you that you should do better.  You know what you ought to do.  The problem is that you don’t, and can’t.  The slave wants to be free.  But he doesn’t free himself because he can’t free himself.  You are trapped as slaves to sin.  Sin continues to dominate you.  Hearing God’s Law will only make the chains of slavery tighter.  The burden of your guilt becomes heavier and your frustration worse.  You cannot work yourself free.  You must be set free.
     That is why Jesus did not tell the Pharisees that they needed to be more strict.  It was not works that would save them, but faith.  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciple, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
      Remain in Jesus’ word to remain children of God.  It is the Son of God who brings you into the family of God.  He releases you from the slavery of sin by shackling himself to your sin.  Jesus releases you from all shame by shamefully hanging from the cross and enduring the shameful derision of his enemies.  Jesus frees you from all guilt by being condemned on your behalf.  Jesus frees you from all torment by suffering the rejection and the curse of God.  Jesus frees you from the fear of God’s judgment by granting you a new status.  You are forgiven.  You are beloved.  You are children of God.
     Remain in Jesus’ words to remain children of God.  And you will continue to enjoy the freedom which the Son of God brings to you.  You don’t have to figure out what higher and holier deeds to do so that the Lord will be happy with you.  The deeds you do each day are holy in God’s sight because you are holy in his sight.  You are children of God, and God is pleased with his children.  So whether you are married or single, whether you are driving to work or work is driving you nuts or you are looking for work, whether you are breaking a sweat or taking a break, the Lord is pleased with you.  For the Son has set you free.  You get to live without the fear of worrying about what works are holy enough or done well enough or often enough.
     Remain in Jesus’ words to remain children of God.  Do not go off seeking higher and holier things.  You already have that in Jesus.  You have that in the baptismal water which has brought you into God’s family.  You have that in the body and blood of Jesus which you eat for your forgiveness.  You have that in the word which imparts blessing and salvation..  You have the joy of coming to your heavenly Father with prayers and petitions.  You have the confidence that your Father in heaven hears and acts for you in your best interests.  And you have the comfort of knowing that you are children of the resurrection and heirs of the eternal kingdom.
     Remain in his word and you will remain children of God.  There is nothing for you that his higher and holier than that.

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

Saturday, November 2, 2013

MLS Football vs. New Lothrop (playoff edition)

The football season for Michigan Lutheran Seminary came to a close last night.  MLS played undefeated New Lothrop on a windy, rainy night.  MLS put together a few plays to move the chains a few times, but never enough to get it into the end zone.  New Lothrop, on the other hand, returned long punts and had a few long plays break loose for TD's.  Final score was 35-0.

This game also saw a few firsts and lasts for the Schroeder family.  Andrew got moved up to varsity and played a bit at wide receiver.  So, he had his first varsity game.  He also had his first catch which gained a first down for the Cardinals.

It was the first and last time Nathanael and Andrew got to line up next to each other at wide receiver for an MLS game.

And, of course, it was a host of lasts for Nathanael -- last high school football game, last catch (nice one, too, although blurry below; he almost caught another long beauty where he dove and stretched for all he was worth, but the cornerback was able to knock it out of his hands), last time walking off the field. 

It has been a fun four years watching him play.  And while we will have plenty more MLS football games to attend in the seasons to come, we will not have Nathanael to cheer for at those games.  That is a "last" that we feel the most.  And we will have many more of those this year.