Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 30, 2014)

EXODUS 16:11-17

In the name + of Jesus.

     The nation of Israel was in the wilderness.  They were free from Egypt and free from slavery.  Their enemies were dead, and they were never going to see them again.  What’s more, they had received the words and promises of God from Mt. Sinai.  The Lord’s presence was with them, even being visible to them.  They had the Lord’s appointed prophet to lead them and to preach to them, and they had the Lord’s anointed priest to make sacrifices of atonement for them.  It sounded like everything was going their way.
     But the Israelites were in the wilderness.  There were no markets.  There were no crops to harvest.  There was no planting season, because you don’t plant in the wilderness.  There may have been some tufts of grass for the sheep and the cattle to find some grazing, but there was nothing to feed a nation of some two million people.  And so the people began to grumble. 
     Did I mention that they were in the wilderness?  Yes, it was good to be free, but it was also good to eat and to remain alive.  Now, the Lord had not led the Israelites into the wilderness to kill them off.  He who redeemed them from their enemies would also sustain them on their way to the Promised Land.  So the Lord promised them food.  Enough food to feed their young and old.  Enough food to feed their wives and children.  Enough food to supply their flocks and herds. 
     Did I mention that they were in the wilderness?  Two million of them.  In the wilderness.  And the Lord told Moses that he would feed them all.  The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel.  Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” (Exodus 16:11-12)  
     The Lord would reveal his goodness yet again.  He revealed himself as their Redeemer when he led them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.  He would reveal himself as their Redeemer again when he sustained them with bread from heaven.  And not just once, but daily.  Daily bread for forty years!  Every day, the Lord brought forth manna on the desert floor.  Every day, Israel gathered up the flakes of manna for their food.  Every day, the Israelites ate as much as they wanted.  The Lord who had redeemed them from their enemies also sustained them in the wilderness.
     When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”  For they did not know what it was.  And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. (Exodus 16:15)  The Israelites could not explain it.  They did not even know what it was.  But it was bread that came from God and to which God had attached a command: Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat.” (Exodus 16:16)  It was by this bread that the Lord sustained his people.
     Jesus came some 14 centuries after this and mimicked this miracle.  The multitudes were in the grassy wilderness and in need of food.  Jesus took the loaves and fishes, barely enough for a family, and multiplied them so that the people all had their fill.  The people saw the sign that he had done. (John 6:14)  They marveled at Jesus’ work. 
     The sign that they saw pointed them to this: Jesus is God.  Jesus had repeated what God had done once before, and what only God could do.  The Lord provided for the multitudes in the wilderness.  The Lord sustained his people when they needed food.  But the people did not recognize where the sign was pointing them.  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:15)  They did not declare that Jesus is God.  They did not fall down and worship.  They wanted more food.  They wanted to feed their bellies.  They wanted to be fat and happy.  So, they craved what would only satisfy for a moment and did not care that he would give them what endures for eternity.
     Dear Christians, do not think that you are better than any of them.  Think about what consumes your attention.  Think about what you crave.  Do you crave one more mobile device?  Do you long for a larger paycheck or one more stat for your resume?  Is your ambition to have the latest wardrobe, the shinier car, or the fastest computer?  By themselves, these things are not evil.  After all, the Israelites in the wilderness did need food to survive.  They were not evil for wanting to eat.  But like them, you and I find ourselves craving the created things rather than the Creator.  The Lord sent bread to sustain them on their way to the Promised Land, but the bread did not bring them to the Promised Land. 
     Repent, for if you crave what perishes, then you will perish with it.  Why, then, do you crave the momentary things?  Because they give momentary pleasure.  You want life to be easier and happier, as if that delivers you from evil.  But it does not.  All people live in a sinful world.  All experience the hardship and sorrows.  All long to be free from the evils that hurt them.  All people want everything fixed and every day perfect.  So we try to fix our lives with medicine, therapy, e-gadgets and I-gizmos, water parks, movies, and other pleasures—both good and bad.  But these do not fix anything.  The world is still broken.  The problems are not fixed.  The burdens are still heavy.  These do not deliver anyone from evil, much less to a Promised Land.
     Even in a broken world, in a wilderness, the Lord is with you.  Jesus has revealed himself as your Redeemer.  Jesus has delivered you from your enemies of sin, death, and the devil.  He has taken away your sins by taking them upon himself.  He has taken away the curse of death by dying your death for you.  He has put an end to the devil’s tyranny by slaying the devil for you.  Jesus overcame them all by his death and resurrection.  His death was the payment for sin.  His resurrection has put an end to the power of the grave.  And after rising from the dead, Jesus descended into hell to tell the devil to his face, on his own home turf, that he is defeated, that his kingdom has collapsed, and that Jesus reigns forever and ever.  You were baptized into that kingdom.  Your enemies were swept away in those baptismal waters.  Now you are free.  You are victors.  You are saved.
     The Israelites survived because the Lord sustained them in the wilderness.  Likewise, the 5,000 were fed because the Lord sustained them in the wilderness.  And so it is with you.  Though you have passed through your baptismal waters and are saved, you are not in your Promised Land yet.  You may wander for decades in this corrupt world, waiting for the day when the Lord will bring you into Paradise.  But you are not alone.  He who has redeemed you is also pleased to sustain you in the wilderness.
     Jesus gives you the bread from heaven to comfort you, to encourage you, and to strengthen you.  To this bread he has attached his word, “Take and eat; this is my body given for you.”  To this feast, he attaches a blessing; it is for the forgiveness of sins.  For you, he continues to pour out his mercy and assure you of your place in a kingdom that endures forever.  While you are in the Lord’s kingdom already, you have not received it in all its fruition.  You are still in the wilderness.  The Promised Land waits.  But your Lord is with you every step of the way.  The Lord sustains you in the wilderness with bread from heaven so that you will not grow weary, get desperate, or despair.  Here, your Savior takes away your sins.  Here, your Savior keeps you in his care.  Your Promised Land awaits where Jesus will have all things fixed.  Until that day, he tends to your needs and sustains your faith.

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Movie Review -- Noah

I have occasionally been asked about various Biblically-themed movies, and generally, I don't go to see them.  I don't have much hope for Hollywood being faithful to the Bible.

But they had been plugging the movie "Noah" for a while and I figured it would be popular, so I thought I had better see it.   So last night, Laura and I went to see Noah.

Short review:  It is bad.  Do not see it.  Do not waste your money.  Do not waste your time.  Read Genesis 6-9.  That will be accurate and you will be done in 10-15 minutes.  The movie will take away a good 2 hours that you will not get back.

Longer review:  Laura and I were trying to find the right adjective for this movie.  Wretched came to mind.  So did putrid, rancid, and awful.  We finally decided on abominable. 

A tag line on the trailer for this movie states: "The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis." (from 

Let's see, what did they get right?
There was a man named Noah.  He had sons--Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  There was a flood.  There was an ark.  There were animals.  Beyond, that, not much was right.

What was wrong?  Hmmmmm.....  A sampling:
1)  The angels failed Adam and Eve when they were tempted.  So they came to earth and tried to fix everything.  But they crashed into the earth, the earth clung to them, and they walked around as giant rock creatures called "The Watchers."  This scored very high on the bizarro meter.
2)  The earth was a burnt-over charred ruin.  Man had destroyed everything.  That's why "the Creator" was going to send a flood.  Man had been bad environmentalists.
3)  Noah was kind of guessing at what "the Creator's" message was.  He had dreams, and he was trying to piece things together.  God was, at best, a vague participant in this whole movie.
4)  The ark was built by "the Watchers."
5)  Ham and Japheth had no wives on the ark.  Their wives were, apparently, going to be the twin girls born to Shem and his wife.
6)  Noah turned into a psychotic killer, determined to save the animals (who were pure) and to kill off all people (because they destroy the creation).
7)  The ark had a stow away who remained undetected for 9 months.

The list could go on.  Do not see this movie.  It is bad.
The book is better.  It is true.  And it is God's Word.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Luthean Satire -- Reaching the youth

Lutheran Satire has addressed the Church's challenge of reaching the youth. 
Two options are proposed.  One is traditional, the other is trendy.
You can skip the final 20 seconds of the video (unless you really like Axl Rose). 
I find it annoying.  The rest of the video is priceless.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 23, 2014)

LUKE 11:14-28

In the name + of Jesus.

     Satan is known as the prince of this world.  That is because everything in this world has been corrupted by him.  Everything that is wrong in this world is because the devil convinced Adam and Eve to rebel against God.  Through them, sin entered the world.  Through sin, every evil has entered into the world—from wars to epidemics to missing planes to hay fever.  That is not to say that we can blame the devil for murders, for lying mouths, for broken families, and for a splintered Church.  Those things are all done by sinful men who have listened to the devil’s lies and acted on them.  But we can certainly smell the devil’s breath in all of it.  They all stem from his lies.
     The devil is the prince of this world.  And I am sure that there are many days where you feel like the devil is reigning more than Jesus.  You have to endure all of the sufferings and stress and the sickness and sorrows in this corrupt world.  You have learned to pray more fervently with each passing year, “Deliver us from evil,” but you still live in the midst of the evils.  What’s worse, you are your own worst enemy.  You have been made a child of God and you have been set apart for holy living.  Your experience, however, is that your life is far from holy. 
     St. Paul wrote: Be imitators of God, as beloved children.  …You may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not become partners with them… (Ephesians 5:1,5-7)  St. Paul tells you that Christians are to be different from the world, and markedly so.  But that makes life awkward and hard.  You find it easier to give into to fleshly desires and worldly attitudes than to persist in holy living and to fight against your flesh and your friends. 
     This is life in the Church Militant.  You will always be fighting and straining to put off the Old Adam and to put on the New Man so that you do not lose your place in the kingdom of God.  Jesus warns you: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.  And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)  If you are not afraid of your sins, you should be.  They bring a curse.  They lead to death.  If you think, “Well, I was confirmed.  I cleaned up my life.  I know how to behave,” that does not keep Satan away.  He does not care if your house is swept and put in order.  If your life is not one of daily repentance, if you are content with your sins because they seem small to you, the prince of this world can claim you back, and your eternity will be far worse than if you had never heard of Jesus at all. 
     The devil is the strong one Jesus speaks of.  He has taken down the entire world through the sin of Adam and Eve.  He has claim on sinners, and he wants you back.  If you don’t think so now, just wait until you get to your death bed.  The devil will be there to review your whole life.  He will remind you of every evil and wicked thing you have thought or said or done.  And he will not need to make anything up!  On that day, you will surely know that you cannot overcome Satan with any kind of bargaining, with any rationalizing of your sins, or with any excuses.  Satan and his accusations will prove far too strong for you.  And if your sins do not bring terror to you now, they surely will then.
     Repentance is not merely feeling badly about your sins.  Repentance especially means fleeing to Jesus for comfort and hope.  Jesus is your Savior who puts an end to all of your fears and to your foe.  Jesus came preaching and teaching and healing every disease.  We often focus on his preaching and teaching, but we ought to take note that he healed diseases.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus not only demonstrated control over diseases, but even demons.  By driving out demons, Jesus demonstrated that he is the Stronger One who drives out Satan.  He rectifies everything that had been corrupted by the sin of Adam and Eve.  The finger of God drives out the devil.
     Jesus instructed the Pharisees, saying, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.  When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” (Luke 11:20-22)    
     Jesus is the Stronger One who has come and has plundered the devil’s goods from him.  You are the spoils!  You are the ones whom Jesus has snatched from Satan’s grasp and delivered to a kingdom of grace.  The devil thought that he had you well under guard.  But the Stronger One has come and has disarmed Satan from all that he had trusted in.  The devil had you shackled to your sins.  If you die in your sins, you are condemned.  So Jesus has taken your sins away from you.  Jesus has taken up all sin, all guilt, all shame, and all regret.  He has freed you from these by making himself accountable in your place.  And since Jesus has made himself accountable for your sins, he paid the price for you.  Jesus’ sufferings, Jesus’ condemnation, Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary, and Jesus being forsaken by his Father are the cost to redeem you.  But the price has been paid for you.  And Jesus, who died for you, has risen from the grave.  Therefore, he has authority to pardon you of all guilt.  He has authority to rescue you from death.  He has authority to bring you into the heavenly kingdom.  He has stripped Satan of his armor.  He overrules Satan’s accusations.  He has crushed Satan underfoot.  The Prince of Peace has thrown down the prince of this world, and he brings you into a better kingdom. 
     The finger of God drives out the devil.  Therefore, you will want to be where your God comes to touch you with his gracious gifts.  The Lord’s finger touched you when you were baptized.  He drove out from you the unclean spirit and filled you with his Holy Spirit.  He put an end to your status as sinner so that you are no longer condemned.  He raised you up a saint who has been set apart for holy living in a corrupt world.  And when you fall short, which we all do, you get to return to your baptism in Holy Absolution. 
     There, the finger of God touches you again.  There, you confess your sins and renounce them, and God, through his minister, declares, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  This strips the devil of his armor.  For, where sins are forgiven, there is no curse.  There is no hell.  There is no fear.  The devil can no longer torment you about your sins; for, Jesus speaks a stronger word.  The finger of God drives out the devil.
     What’s more, your Good Shepherd even prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies.  The devil will rage.  The world will fall apart.  Sinners will rebel.  And here you are, ready to feast.  Here, you receive the body and blood of Christ.  Here, the finger of God touches you again and grants forgiveness of your sins, drives out the devil, delivers you from evil, and keeps you in God’s kingdom.
     Jesus is the Stronger One who casts out Satan.  And Jesus is the Stronger One who keeps you in his kingdom.  The prince of this world has been cast down.  The Prince of Peace reigns.  The finger of God drives out the devil, and it has written your name in the Book of Life.

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Pastoral Concern -- Private Confession and Absolution

When Lutherans (at least in my corner of Christendom) hear someone speak of Private Confession and Absolution, the response is usually a knee-jerk, "That's Roman Catholic!"  Though that may be a common perception, the perception is because either it was taught wrongly or understood wrongly.  Consider what the Lutheran Confessions teach about Private Confession and Absolution.

Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession.  For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible.  "Who can discern his errors?" (Psalm 19:12) -- Augsburg Confession, Article XI

What is Confession?
     Answer: Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven by this.
What sins should we confess?
     Answer: Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those that we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer.  But before the confessor we should confess only those sins that we know and feel in our hearts. -- Luther's Small Catechism, Part V

These are basic confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  They are catholic, insofar as they are Christian.  But they are not Roman, insofar as the penitent is not obligated to orally confess every sin in order to be forgiven of it and insofar as one's forgiveness is not dependent upon some action on the part of the penitent.  The forgiveness is based on Jesus' sufferings and death for the penitent who has been baptized into his name.

Since the practice of Private Confession and Absolution is a Lutheran practice, it would be good for Lutherans to practice it.  It is good for the penitent who is grieved by a particular sin to confess it so that he can hear Christ say through the mouth of his minister: "I forgive you."  It would be good for the one who is burdened to be relieved of his burden by Holy Absolution.  It would be good for this practice, though foreign to many in my corner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to be restored.  And so it will be.

To date, Prviate Confession and Absolution has been available to all members by appointment.  (I am guessing that has been a pretty good secret.)  In order for this practice to be restored and perhaps put to better use, there will be dates on the calendar set aside for anyone who would like to drop in and make use of this means of grace.  These will be set up about 4 times per year.  Private Confession and Absolution will still be available by appointment in addition to these scheduled times.

The first scheduled date and time for Private Confession and Absolution will be Saturday, April 5, 9:00-11:00 AM.  Appointments are not necessaary.  You need only drop in.  All participation is voluntary, as Absolution cannot be forced upon anyone.

Of course, this will be new to pretty much any member who decides to make use of it.  If you happen to come in, the pastor will walk through the rite with you and explain the various parts of it, especially including the "private" part, namely, that this confession is to Christ and, therefore, remains his business alone.  The pastor will not report any confession or even the names of those who come for confession.  Finally, the point of this is not for a pastor to learn everyone's dirty, little secrets.  (His life is easier if he remains ignorant.  But God's people do not call a pastor to be ignorant; they call him to absolve in the name of Jesus.)  The point is for the guilty and the grieved to find relief and receive forgiveness, or absolution.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Here's some Lutheran theology, Patrick

Here's a bit from my favorite Irish Lutherans, Donall and Conall from Lutheran Satire.  The first video is about St. Patrick converting Donall and Conall to the Christian faith by confessing the Trinity to them.

The following video is Donall and Conall having a conversation with Mormon missionaries about their particular faith.  Happy St. Patrick's Day, Patrick!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Lent (March 16, 2014)

MATTHEW 15:21-28

In the name + of Jesus.

     A Canaanite woman came to Jesus and pleaded for mercy.  Perhaps this does not sound strange to you.  But if the Israelites had been faithful in obeying the word of the Lord, this meeting would never have happened.
     The Canaanites refer to seven nations who had lived in the Promised Land.  They were all descendants of Noah’s son, Ham, and they had already fallen under a curse in the days of Noah.  The Lord, however, was patient with the Canaanites.  The Lord does not judge rashly or impulsively.  He is patient, wanting everyone to come to repentance.  But the Canaanite nations sank deeper and deeper into vile and immoral ways, both in their lives and in their worship practices.  After centuries, the Lord’s patience with the Canaanites finally ran out.
     The Lord brought Israel to the Promised Land so that it would be their possession, as God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Through Israel, the Lord would carry out his judgment against the Canaanites.  That judgment was severe and final.  This is what the Lord had said: When the Lord your God gives (the Canaanites) over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction.  You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.  ...For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” (Deuteronomy 7:2,4)  So, if Israel had obeyed the word of the Lord, there would have been no Canaanites around in the days of Jesus.
     Obviously, the Israelites were not obedient.  They did not destroy every Canaanite, but let them live as forced laborers.  These Canaanites did entice the Israelites to stray and worship their false gods.  So, any Israelite who knew his history would also know that a Canaanite was bad news.  Perhaps, then, you might understand why an Israelite would shun or despise a Canaanite.
     Behold, a Canaanite woman … came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”  But he did not answer her a word. (Matthew 15:22-23)  Jesus’ disciples did not question or rebuke Jesus for his harsh treatment of this woman.  They seemed to understand.  What they could not understand is why Jesus was putting up with her crying and pleading.  She was a Canaanite!  She did not deserve Jesus’ attention, much less his mercy.
     You know people like that—people who do not deserve any favors or attention to you.  And it’s not just murders, pedophiles, and muggers.  Chances are, you don’t know any of those anyway.  But what about the one who was cruel to you?  Or who abused your friendship?  What about those who are mean or thoughtless or full of themselves?  Shouldn’t they be avoided?  And if not avoided, then quickly dispatched.  You owe them nothing, and there is a strange kind of pleasure in letting them know that.  You may pride yourself on slamming the door on someone, but it is a sinful pride that does it.  It is because you believe you are better than someone.  Now, you may try to defend yourself by insisting, “But they don’t deserve mercy from me.”  And that is true, because no one deserves mercy.  By its very definition, mercy cannot be deserved.  But it should be given.  When you are in a position to be kind and merciful, does it make you happy when you refuse give it?  Repent; for you do not deserve mercy either.
     The Canaanite woman persisted in her crying out.  It was not because she felt she deserved a favor.  It was because she craved mercy.  Her plea was not based on who she was, but on who Jesus was.  The Canaanite woman knew who she was crying out to, and she knew what she should expect from him.  “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”  But he did not answer her a word. (Matthew 15:22)  When he did answer, Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)  But the Canaanite woman would not be dissuaded when it seemed like Jesus did not care.  She believed the word she had heard about him.  She confessed that he is the Son of David.  And though she knew that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, she believed that his mercy would be extended even to her.  Even the Lord’s crumbs would be enough.
     [Jesus] answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:27)  The Canaanite woman truly displayed a great faith.  She did not debate with Jesus about whether she was worthy or not.  She did not tell Jesus what he owed her.  She was a Canaanite.  She was outside of Israel, and she accepted that.  She did not demand her rightful place because it was not hers.  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” (Matthew 15:27)  She believed that the Messiah had enough mercy for her, too.  She would accept her place as a lap dog, but even lap dogs are fed by their master.  She would be pleased with crumbs from her master’s table.  Even the Lord’s crumbs would be enough.
     Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:28)  The Canaanite woman would have been pleased with crumbs, but Jesus gave her everything.  For, Jesus is not kind of your Savior.  Jesus doesn’t sort of have mercy.  And Jesus doesn’t sort of defeat the devil.  Jesus takes up all of your sins.  He does not debate within himself if you are worth it.  After all, mercy is never deserved.  But Jesus gives it freely and fully.  Jesus has taken up all of your sins, whatever they have been.  Jesus has consumed the full cup of God’s wrath.  Jesus has trampled the devil underfoot, taking away the curse of sin and unlocking the chains of death.  He does not leave you tormented or oppressed by guilt or accusations.  Satan is left silent.  Your guilt is pardoned.  Your place at God’s feast is granted.
     We often get the idea that we are saved because we are worthy.  But that is not true.  No one is worthy of forgiveness.  Rather, we are worthy of death because of our sins.  Yet, the Lord was pleased to take our place.  He who had no sin became sin for us.  He who was innocent bore our curse so that we would, in exchange, receive blessing.  And it is not just for you that Jesus has suffered and died.  Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord had foretold, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) 
     Jesus has come for you and for all, whether Israelite or Canaanite.  Never ask yourself, “Is that the right kind of person?” or “Am I the right kind of person?”  Do not think about anyone being ineligible for the grace of God.  Jesus did not come for the people who are worthy; for none are.  Jesus did not come for those who are better; for all are sinners.  Jesus came for all; for, God so loved the world.  God so loved you, no matter where you came from, no matter what you have done, and no matter how often you have sinned against him.  Jesus suffered and died for all of it so that you would have a place at the wedding feast of the Lamb. 
     Even though the Lord’s crumbs would be enough for anyone who craves mercy, the Lord is more generous than that.  He prepares a feast for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  Here is a banquet which does not sort of grant salvation, but here is full salvation; for this is the body and blood of Christ.  Do not regard these as mere crumbs.  This is the bread from heaven.  This is the blood of the Lamb.  This is the heavenly banquet.  It comes from your master’s table, and it is here for your salvation.

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

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers (March 12, 2014)

LUKE 23:39-43
The Malefactor

In the name + of Jesus.

     There was a criminal who hung on a cross next to Jesus.  He had no love for Jesus.  He really had no use for Jesus.  Though he was sentenced to death, he still found a common bond with the high priests and scribes who stood beneath his cross.  They all poured out their mockery upon Jesus.  They all assumed that Jesus was a pathetic excuse for a Savior, and that he was a miserable failure of a Messiah.
     The malefactor was dying, but he had no compassion for the others who were dying with him.  He mocked Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)  Even if he himself were a pathetic figure dying because he deserved it, there was still time to make himself look better than Jesus.  But by mocking Jesus, the malefactor unwitting confessed who Jesus was and what he had come to do. 
     In fact, much of the mockery aimed at Jesus merely repeated the claims Scripture made about Jesus and that Jesus had made about himself.  The Jewish leaders demanded Jesus’ death because he had confessed that he was the Son of God.  They charged Jesus before Pilate, declaring, “He calls himself a king.”  And at the cross, the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:35-38)  All of this was supposed to belittle a man who was already humbled, beaten, and condemned.  Unwittingly, it testified of his glory. 
     For this mockery to make any sense, it had to be based on claims which were made about Jesus.  And of course, it was.  He is the Son of God.  He is the Christ.  He is the King who would be given the throne of his father David and (would) reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32-33)  And he has come to save others.  They intended to mock Jesus.  Unwittingly, they testified of him.
     The malefactor was a man who had it so right, but he rejected and despised everything he said about Jesus.  He did not believe that Jesus is the Christ.  And even though he did not want to die by crucifixion, he did not believe that Jesus could save him in any way.  Not from his sins.  Not from the cross.  Not from the grave.  Not from anything.  Though he unwittingly confessed the Christ, he died without any of his blessings or benefits.
     But how often do you want the same kind of salvation the malefactor wanted?  As useless as he thought Jesus was, he would have been pleased to have Jesus pull him down from the cross.  He would have thanked Jesus for freeing him from pain and execution, and for letting him get away with his crimes.  We cannot say that the malefactor did not want a savior, but he wanted the savior of his choosing.
     And so it goes for sinful hearts.  We want the Savior of our own choosing.  We want the Savior who delivers us from debt, who removes the pain, who makes us the winner, who afflicts the guy who hurt us, who gets us the job, or who takes all of the bumps out of the road.  We wonder what kind of savior this is when we still suffer, hurt, or struggle. 
     But no one chooses a savior.  No one can choose to be saved.  A man who is stranded at sea does not choose to be saved by the US Coast Guard.  The Coast Guard chooses to sail, to search, and to pluck people from the water.  Likewise, your Savior must act.  He chooses to save you. 
     Sinners live in a world in which they suffer, struggle, and endure hardship, sorrow, and pain.  But these are not your problem.  These are not why you die.  Even if the malefactor did not die by crucifixion, he was going to die of something soon enough.  Your curse is death, and your problem is sin.  This is what you need to be saved from because you cannot escape from it or avoid it.  And so Jesus has chosen to save you.
     Jesus is and does exactly what the malefactor unwittingly confessed him to be: “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)  Jesus is the one anointed to save mankind.  He had to save you precisely because you cannot save yourself.  Whether your life is a delight or a disaster does not matter.  You are a sinner who is going to die—whether by execution, car accident, or peacefully in your bed.  You do not know when or how you are going to die, but THAT you are going to die is no surprise.  For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  Therefore, Jesus, the Christ, has acted to save you.  He hung from the cross as the perfect sacrifice to pay for your sin and guilt, to deliver you from death and its curse, and to free you from Satan and his taunting.  Jesus would not save himself from the cross.  He had to die the cursed death so that the curse would be lifted from you.  He went to the grave in order to save you from yours.  Jesus is the Christ, as the malefactor said.  He has come to save you, as the malefactor said.
     No doubt, Jesus’ patience and perseverance was put to the test from all of the mockery and taunting he had to endure.  But all that mocking was not a waste of breath.  There was someone who was listening.  There was someone who knew his sin, felt his sin, and was sacred to death of the death he was dying.  It was the other criminal who hung next to Jesus. 
     For this mockery to make sense, it has to be based on some truth.  Of course, it was.  And the criminal believed this unwitting confession to be divine truth.  “Are you not the Christ?” (Luke 23:39) bellowed the malefactor.  The other criminal heard.  But rather then mock Jesus, he believed in him.  “He saved others!” (Luke 23:35) the rulers scoffed.  “If you are the Christ of God, his Chosen One,” (Luke 23:35) they hissed.  The criminal recognized that this was true.  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:38)  And the criminal, now penitent, now hopeful, saw the Savior who could deliver him into his blessed kingdom.
     His confession was not unwitting, but faithful.  In his dying hours and final moments, he saw the one who could deliver him into a blessed eternity.  He confessed his sin, and he pleaded: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43) 
     Dear Christians, this is your Savior, too.  Your confession is not made unwittingly, for the Lord has been pleased to reveal your salvation to you.  Here is your Jesus, your Christ, your Savior.  He may not take away all of the troubles you have, but he has lived and bled and died to deliver you from the sin which damns.  He delivers you from death to life.  He brings you from the torment of hell to the peace of Paradise where, at last, you will be free from all troubles and from every curse and consequence of sin.  It is by grace that you confess Jesus rather than mock him.  It is by grace that you have been saved through him.  And God is gracious.  And you are saved.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Basketball season is officially over

The basketball season came to a screeching halt in the Schroeder household yesterday.  Caleb and Philip played their final game at the HVL tournament at 3:20 PM.  Meanwhile, Nathanael and Andrew had their basketball banquet for MLS up in Saginaw at 5:30 PM.  There was no way we could do both. 

Of course, with six children, you have to pick and choose what you are going to see and what you have to miss.  To aid us in our decisions, we have established a rule: The kid who is in his final year gets preference over the other kids.  Okay, so Nathanael is a senior at MLS, and Caleb is an 8th grader at St. Peter's.  Now what?  Split us up.  I went to Westland; Laura went to Saginaw.

Coach Lecker offered up some very nice words about Nathanael, highlighting how the second half of his season was really strong.  I had thought so, too.  Andrew, meanwhile, was recognized for honors in the conference, getting 2nd team all-conference.  Cool!

Earlier in the day, St. Peter's was facing St. Paul's, Livonia for the 3rd place game.  We had played a very solid game the day before against St. Stephen's, Adrian who had beat us convincingly earlier in the year.  We kept it close (a 1-point game into the 4th quarter), but it trickled away late, and we lost 28-21.  So, we had high hopes for the 3rd place game.  Well, the game was sadly similar to the game the day before.  St. Paul's made their shots at the end, and we could not get anything to fall.  Caleb was especially getting frustrated as the game went on.  The hoop simply would not accept the basketball for us.  Things that make me go ARRRGGHHH!  Caleb did manage to grab a ton of rebounds.  You don't get any points for those, but at least he was recognized for it: He was selected to the all-tournament team!

We came up short, but we sure enjoyed the season.  Another set of lasts has come and gone--last MLS sports banquet for Nathanael, last HVL tournament for Caleb (Philip was already thinking of next year's teams), and last grade school basketball game for Caleb.

Here are few photos from the HVL Tournament.

Against Divine Grace in a 32-23 win on Friday.

Another last: Caleb and Philip playing together.

For years, Caleb has been playing against his good friend, Micah Neumann (#22) from St. Stephen's, Adrian.  Next year, they will be playing together at Michigan Lutheran Seminary.  It will be much more fun to cheer FOR Micah next year.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (March 9, 2014)

MATTHEW 4:1-11

In the name + of Jesus.

     It was all perfect.  The holy ones were where the Lord had put them—in a lush garden, filled with everything they could need.  God’s love and generosity were evident.  In that garden, God had also placed a tree to which he had attached specific instructions.  “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)  Every time Adam and Eve saw that tree, they were to remember the word of the Lord.  Every time Adam and Eve saw that tree, they had an opportunity to demonstrate loving and willing obedience to God and his word.
     But the tempter came.  He questioned God’s word.  He questioned God’s love.  He got Adam and Eve to disbelieve God’s word.  He got Adam and Eve to believe that what God had said was forbidden was desirable, and that what God called evil was good.  The tempter laid the trap, and Adam and Eve willingly walked right into it.  Immediately, their holy innocence was dead.  They were ashamed.  They were afraid.  They were accursed.  And they were on their way to a grave.
     So now as their children, you are sinners living in a sinful world.  God, however, remains good and merciful.  The world you live in, though it is broken and corrupt, is not barren.  God still pours out his blessings.  God’s goodness is still evident.  And rather than give you one command to observe and obey, the Lord has given you ten.  In all that you do, every day, the Lord grants you opportunity to demonstrate your loving and willing obedience to him. 
     But the tempter comes.  He still questions God’s word.  He still questions God’s love.  He still would lead us into disbelief so that we reject what God has declared to be good and right.  The devil convinces us that what God forbids is desirable, what God calls good is evil, and that life is truly a blessed experience when we run after what brings God’s curse and death.  Like Adam and Eve, we are ashamed; and we try to cover our shame with lies.  Like Adam and Eve, we are afraid of God; and we want to shut our ears to God’s word and flee from him.  Like Adam and Eve, we are accursed; and we think that God is the problem. 
     The tempter may set the traps.  He may make evil look very appealing.  But it is we who walk right into it and find our delight in it.  The devil truly warps everything and turns it upside down.  He even gets us to despise God, and to think that God is evil and that he is the good guy for encouraging us to give ourselves to whatever our sinful nature desires, calling it good—even though it brings death and shame.  We have bought the lie, and we are helpless as he toys with us and claims us.
     But the Lord had compassion on sinners in their wretched state.  The Lord did not wait for Adam and Eve to ask for mercy.  The Lord acted.  The Lord had mercy.  He promised a Savior—the Seed of the Woman who would come and crush the serpent and destroy him.  So the Seed of a Virgin Woman came.  Jesus, the second Adam, the second holy man, was sent to deliver you from your sin, your curse, and your death.  Jesus is the consolation of those who were hopeless.  And for those who are weak, Jesus is our strength in temptation.
     Just as Satan stalked Adam and Eve in their holy innocence, so he did with Jesus.  Immediately after he was baptized and marked as the Christ, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)  Satan tempted Jesus to disobey and to disbelieve the word of the Lord.  He prodded Jesus to satisfy his hunger by using his divine power for selfish purposes.  Stones can be turned to bread.  The Son of God can do that, right—I mean, if you are the Son of God.  See, Jesus?  It would be good for food, wouldn’t it?  Though tempted, Jesus did not sin.  The Father would care for his needs.  Jesus would trust in that.  He would not forsake the promises.  Jesus is our strength in temptation.
     Then Satan led Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple.  Satan questioned God’s word, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)  Come on, Jesus!  Aren’t the Psalms desirable for gaining wisdom?  Don’t you trust the promise?  The Father will preserve his Son, will he not?  Or are you not the Son of God?  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7); and certainly not when Satan distorts the Scripture he quotes.  Though you and I may be deceived by a mishandling of God’s word, Jesus was not.  He defended himself with that word.  Jesus is our strength in temptation.   
     Then Satan, the god of this age and the prince of this world, offered to spare Jesus of having to drink the cup of God’s wrath.  “All these (the kingdoms of the world and their glory) I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me,” (Matthew 4:9) he said.  To have the world and gain all its glory without suffering?  It is pleasing to the eye, isn’t it?  But Jesus would not forsake his mission.  Jesus would not take worldly glory over winning eternal glory for you.  And though the tempter attacked, he did not get his prey.  Jesus overcame him, and continued his holy and faithful obedience to his Father.
     Now, certainly Jesus sets an example that you should cling to the word of the Lord in order to overcome temptation.  The shield of faith and the sword of the spirit will never fail you.  But you are weak.  You are still drawn into your sins, again and again.  Though you may be resolved not to give into sin again, you still do.  You do not need Jesus to be your coach or your mentor, but your Savior.
     Jesus is not just your strength in temptation, he is your substitute.  You need a Savior who overcomes the tempter because you have not, even on your best days.  So, Jesus stands in for you.  He was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he was without sin.  He has overcome every attack.  He has prevailed against every lie.  He has been faithful in every way.  Satan could not and has not bested Jesus.  Your Savior still stands.  He is your Savior from sin and your strength in temptation.
     Jesus fulfills all that God had promised he would do.  God had declared to the tempter, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  Jesus has taken the worst the Satan could give.  In fact, he stood not only as your substitute when temptation came, he acted as your substitute when he was time to deliver punishment to the sinner.  Jesus gave himself into death for you and your sins, having taken all the venom Satan could unleash.  And our Savior conquered him by his death.  For, death is what sin demands, and Jesus has given it.  Perfect obedience is what God demands, and Jesus has given it.  God the Father sent Jesus to the cross for you.  The cross was driven into the Place of the Skull, and the serpent’s head was crushed by it.  Satan cannot harm you any longer.  Though he looks intimidating and still stalks and still hisses, Jesus is the victor.  He is risen, having conquered sin and Satan.  He forgives your sins.  He delivers you from death.  He takes away all shame, all fear, and every curse. 
     Jesus is your strength in temptation and in every aspect of life.  Flee to him for refuge and hope.  For, he has overcome the enemy.  He has rescued you from all evil.  And he will restore all things to perfection again.

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