Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sermon -- 11th Sunday after Trinity (August 31, 2014)

GENESIS 4:1-15

In the name + of Jesus.

     Two men went up to the temple to pray.  Both knew what they were doing.  Both knew how to pray and to whom they were praying.  Yet, only one of them went home justified before God.  And who was it?  It was the wretched sinner, the thief, the tax collector.  He did not hide his sin or make excuses.  He confessed his sinfulness and pleaded for mercy.  He wanted nothing more.  He got everything he prayed for, and more!  He went home justified, forgiven, saved.
     From outward appearances, the Pharisee was the better man—by a long shot.  You heard him recite his credentials.  The man had performed his religious duties diligently, even above and beyond the call of duty.  And I don’t think anyone would have argued with him that he was better than most.  He prayed boldly, and his worship looked more devout, more sincere, and more authentic than the tax collector’s.  Yet, he was not justified, forgiven, or saved.  That is because the Pharisee trusted in his own goodness.  God is not pleased with people who take pride in how good they are, no matter how good everyone else thinks they are.  True worship comes by faith alone.
     Now, consider two other men who went to worship.  Both knew what they were doing.  Both knew how to make a sacrifice and to whom they were sacrificing.  Yet only one of them went home justified before God.  The Lord had made it clear that Abel’s offering was pleasing and that Cain’s was not.  The letter to the Hebrews explains precisely why.  “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous…” (Hebrews 11:4)  Cain was able to go through the motions of worship, but his heart was set upon something else.  Cain did not long for forgiveness.  He did not repent of his sinfulness.  And he was irate that the Lord did not honor him as Cain was convinced he deserved to be honored.
     True worship comes by faith alone.  Without faith it is impossible to please [God] (Hebrews 11:6); for, without faith, you are still in your sins no matter how noble you appear and no matter how praiseworthy people think your life is.  Without faith, you are not pleasing to God.  And if you are not pleasing to him, then nothing you do will please him either—not your generous charity, not your patience with overbearing co-workers, not your winsome personality, and not even your prayers.  You can’t earn God’s praise.  Therefore, true worship comes not by acts of love and kindness, but by faith alone.
     The Lord admonished Cain, “Why are you angry…?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:6,7)  Nevertheless, Cain would not do well.  He would not repent.  He was convinced that going through the motions was all that mattered, and God should reward it.  Cain would fit in well with many Americans today, for we see his attitude prevalent in many people, including ourselves.  We are all impressed with good works and believe that they are worthy of praise and divine reward.  Consider the case of Robin Williams.  There is no doubt that Mr. Williams had been involved in numerous charities.  He was a kind and genuine friend to many.  And he was beloved by many more because he entertained them.  Now, all that is wonderful, but none of that could save him.  If that sounds cruel to say, it is because you believe God should reward him for his kindness and his talent.  Now, I don’t have any idea of Robin Williams’ eternal fate.  But his fate and the fate of everyone hang on this truth: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16) 
     True worship comes by faith alone, but we all trust in our good works to some extent.  We know that we have done good things, and we believe that we deserve a reward for them.  Therefore, your good works are a snare to you.  You trust in them, and you exalt yourself because of them.  This is worship of self, and it is idolatry.  He who exalts himself will never go home justified, forgiven, or saved.  Repent.
     True worship comes by faith alone.  The Pharisee boasted in his works when he prayed.  He trusted that his works would save him.  He was self-deceived.  Cain did not offer true worship, for the Lord found a heart that was not repentant or humble.  And while you can make every impression that your worship is sincere by belting out the hymns and saying your prayers, the Lord looks at the heart.  The Lord knows what you truly believe in.  True worship comes by faith alone.
     The focus of faith, of course, is Jesus Christ.  Faith does not talk about how good you are or about how much you do.  Faith clings only to Jesus.  He is the source of everything that saves you.  You do not have to go about trying to win God’s favor or to make claims that you are doing enough to please him.  Good heavens!  When would you ever do enough?  When could you ever have the confidence that you have done the works with which God is pleased?  And could you every really convince yourself that you have fulfilled all of God’s Commandments?  Dear Christian, you have a Savior who fulfills all of this for you.  He has wrapped his holy, obedient life around you like a garment in your baptism.  Therefore, God is pleased with you.  God the Father delights in calling you his beloved child.  And since you are pleasing to God, your worship is pleasing to him, your works are pleasing to him, and your life is pleasing to him.  True worship comes by faith alone.
     Faith clings to Jesus Christ, knowing that Jesus takes away every sin you have done and every good you have left undone.  The tax collector did not hide his sin.  He knew he was guilty and confessed it.  Though we do not hear any bad reports about Abel, he knew he was a sinner.  His blood sacrifice acknowledged that he looked for the perfect blood sacrifice which would pay for his sin, overcome his death, and appease God’s wrath.  Jesus Christ is the blood sacrifice which atones for every fault you have. 
     True worship comes by faith alone.  Faith does not try to plea bargain with the Lord to suggest that you are not that bad.  Faith rejoices that Jesus takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus pays for your sins, and he atones for your sinfulness.  Your condition before God now is not sinner, but saint.  Your attitude is no longer to do what is evil, but to flee from it.  Your desire is no longer to do what is right so that you will be rewarded for it; you desire to do what is right because you are a child of God who delights in what is good.
     True worship comes by faith alone.  By faith in Jesus Christ, you are a child of God, covered in the righteousness of Christ.  Therefore, God is pleased with your works and your worship as if they were holy.  It is like a little girl who draws a picture for her parents.  You know that it is not going to be a Rembrandt, but you love it more than anything Rembrandt could paint.  Your daughter did it because she loves you, and you cherish it because she did it for you.  So now, you are children of God.  As you serve, your works will not be flawless.  Nevertheless, God looks upon them as holy.  Your works are dear to him not because they are better than the works of others, but because by faith you are his dear children.  By faith in Jesus, you are holy in his sight.  And that is what pleases God.
     This is your true worship, whether it is done in church, at work, or at home.  Such worship clings to Jesus Christ by faith.  And when you depart from God’s house, you will go home justified, forgiven, and saved.  Jesus has secured it, and faith rejoices in it.

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

MLS Football vs. Bath

Football is back!!!

Sadly, there are no photos to this edition, as my laptop is infected by multiple pop-ups promising to clean up my computer.  I consider that highly-ironic, and highly-annoying.  My computer at church has no place to upload photos, and our home computer needs either to be scrubbed clean or to be replaced.  Isn't technology wonderful?

JV -- Bath 22 at MLS 8
Anyway, Michigan Lutheran Seminary had their first games of the year this previous week.  On Wednesday, August 27, the MLS JV took to the field against visiting Bath High School. (Bath is just northeast of Lansing.  Yeah, I had to look it up, too.)  This was Caleb's first game, and he did pretty well.  The last time Caleb put on pads and played football was in 3rd grade.  It is hard to say if that experience carried over to this game or not.  Anyway, Caleb started at safety and played only on defense.  He got in on some tackles, and he will improve as the season goes on, as well the many other freshmen who played.

Though Bath had only 3 people on their bench, their linemen outweighed ours by about 20 pounds a piece.  We had hoped that they would run out of gas in the 4th quarter and that we could make a comeback, but no such luck.  MLS fell to Bath 22-8.  The MLS players looked a bit timid in the first half, but seemed to warm up to the idea of hitting a little better in the second half.  They threatened to make it closer in the 4th quarter, but on 4th and goal, the refs blew an obvious pass interference call (that's not a hometown opinion; it was obvious) and the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs.  Then Bath ran out the clock.

Varsity -- MLS 47 at Bath 7
We drove to Bath for the varsity season opener.  It is safe to say that have high hopes for the MLS varsity this year, and we were not disappointed in their first game.  MLS scored 7 touchdowns, with 6 different players getting into the end zone.  For a recap from M-Live, you can click here.  For my own recap which tends to focus on my own kid, keep reading.

Andrew started at safety on defense and wide receiver on offense.  They threw to him a number of times.  M-Live said 5 receptions for 92 yards and one TD.  That sounds about right.  On defense, he had a decent game, but did give up a long pass when he got caught looking at the QB for too long.  Oh well, that gives him something to work on for future games.  And, as the final score testifies, it did not really hurt the outcome of the game.

MLS was holding an insurmountable lead in the 4th quarter, so the coaches decided to give the back up QB some reps.  As it turns out, that was Andrew.  I can't recall him throwing any passes, but who needed that?  Run the ball and run out the clock!  Andrew did have a decent run on one particular play where he was surprised by the shut-gun snap.  With the ball suddenly in his possession, he just looked for a hole up the middle and ran for close to 20 yards.  That's not how they drew that one up, but it worked out okay.

Next week is against Merrill.  JV will be on the road on Thursday; varsity will host on Friday.
Go, Cardinals!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sermon -- Festival of St. Bartholomew

JOHN 1:43-51

In the name + of Jesus.

     When the Christian Church celebrates a minor festival, it is our tradition to change the paraments on the altar to reflect it.  Sometimes the paraments are white indicating that the saint we commemorate died a peaceful death.  Today, as you can see, the paraments are red.  This indicates that the saint was martyred for the Christian faith which he preached and confessed. 
     The Festival of St. Bartholomew falls on a Sunday this year, and it is timely for us to celebrate it.  Though Scripture tells us precious little about St. Bartholomew, tradition tells us that he was a missionary to India and Armenia.  Tradition also says that Bartholomew was flayed alive for being a preacher of Jesus Christ.  While that is grotesque, it is no less disturbing to hear about the Christians in Syria and Iraq who are being crucified these days for the Christian faith.  They have had their homes marked by Muslims.  And though it puts them in great danger, these Christians have not denied Christ or pretended to be anything other than Jesus’ disciples.  In his wisdom, the Lord Jesus is allowing these Middle Eastern Christians to glorify him in their death.  We pray that the Lord would sustain these people in their faith so that they would remain faithful even to the point of death—either their own death or watching the death of their family members.  Let your prayers for these people be fervent and frequent.
     But long before Bartholomew honored Jesus by his gory death, Jesus honored him with a high compliment.  Bartholomew is also known to us as Nathanael.  He was somewhat of a skeptic.  He was not willing to buy into any rumor about a Messiah, no matter how much he had been longing for him.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus NazarethNathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46) 
     As you know, Nathanael did come and see.  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)  We do not often hear Jesus give such high words of praise to anyone.  So what was it about Nathanael that Jesus commended him for?
     The answer comes from Philip’s invitation to him.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus Nazareth(John 1:45)  Nathanael believed Moses and the Prophets.  More than that, Nathanael believed that Moses and the Prophets foretold that a Messiah would come to deliver him from his enemies, specifically, from sin, death, and the devil.  Nathanael had heard the promises read in the synagogue.  He had studied them when he was confirmed as a son of the covenant.  And he continued to long for and pray for the Lord’s Christ to come.  He was a true Israelite. 
     When Nathanael came to Jesus, he was amazed at Jesus’ omniscience.  Jesus assured him, “You will see greater things than these.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51)  In other words, Nathanael would see Jesus as the path to heaven.  It is through Jesus that heaven is opened.  And it is at Jesus’ word that the angels will carry us there.  A true Israelite will see great things.
     Nathanael was praised as a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.  If such words of praise sound wrong to you, it is because you know that all men are liars.  We lie to cover up our sins and hide our shame.  We lie to make ourselves look good before others.  We lie to ourselves, convinced that we are good and that God should be pleased with us.  In all this, we end up calling God a liar.  For, when we insist that we are good, we deny what God has said, “All have sinned.” (Romans 3:23)  This is what the Lord says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  Even our best motives are tainted, because we think we should be rewarded and praised for what we do and who we are.  We may defy God with self-centered words and actions, but we still expect God to reward us for ice bucket challenges and for being nice to people who like us.  Such things are nice, even helpful, but they do not take away sins.
     The Lord Jesus Christ does not want you to put your trust in self-deception.  He has exposed you for the sinner that you are.  He has done this so that you will no longer buy the lie that you must earn praise from God, or worse, that you have earned it.  All have sinned.  There is no praise in that.  Therefore, you do not have to pretend to be what you are not.  You do not have to hide your guilt or cover your shame.  You come before God boasting of nothing.  Instead, you confess your sin.  You repent of any pride in yourself.  You throw yourself on God’s mercy.
     The Lord Jesus Christ does not fail you or disappoint you.  Jesus rescues you from every false hope.  He does not let your salvation rest on wishful thinking.  And he does pretend that your sins are no big deal.  That is Satan’s line.  They are a big deal.  That is why Jesus suffered for your guilt and died for your sins.  Jesus is the guilt offering which was made for you.  He has paid for all your sins in blood.  Therefore, you are pardoned for every offense.  You are forgiven of all sins.  Jesus has applied his bloody sacrifice to you in your baptism.  There, he has covered your shame with his righteousness.  There, he created in you a clean heart and has breathed in you his Holy Spirit.  That is how you can stand before God as one who is holy and blameless.  Your life is hidden in Christ.  That is what God sees.  Therefore, God is pleased with you.  Therefore, God is pleased with your works—whether you pour ice water over your head to support a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or you pour over figures for work, or you pour over a novel in bed.  God is pleased with you not by what you do or by what you pretend to be.  God is pleased with you because Jesus makes you a true Israelite.
     As you assess yourself, you might recognize that you do not look a true Israelite.  And that is true.  You don’t look like it—yet.  But the day will come when God will transform your lowly body into the likeness of Jesus’ glorious, risen body.  On that day, at the resurrection, you will actually appear as God has declared to you be.  You will not merely be called a saint, you will look like one.  Heaven will be opened to you.  And the angels who have watched over you throughout your life will also escort you into the very presence of God.  There, all true Israelites will see the glories of heaven and have everlasting, unbroken peace.  A true Israelite will see great things.
     The apostle Nathanael came from the fig tree to see Jesus preach and heal, to suffer and die, to rise from the grave and to ascend to heaven.  Then he went out and proclaimed to many the truth of Jesus Christ.  No longer does man have to lie to himself, to pretend before others, or to try to earn God’s praise.  Jesus Christ has cleansed us from all sin and rescued us from false hope.  Nathanael boldly confessed this truth even when a gruesome and painful death was pronounced against him.  Even then, Jesus did not disown Nathanael.  He was still a true Israelite.  He would see greater things and be given a greater glory.
      A true Israelite will see great things.  It is impossible to know if you will face anything close to what St. Bartholomew endured.  There is no way of knowing if you will ever face persecution as intense as the Christians in Syria and Iraq.  Whether you do or not, you are marked as Jesus' disciple.  You do not have to pretend to be who you are not.  You confess that you are a sinner, but more importantly, you confess that your hope, your peace, your righteousness, and your salvation all come from Jesus and rest in him.  There is no deception in Jesus' promises, and there is no disappointment in clinging to him.  This faith is what makes you a true Israelite, and you will see the greater things of heavenly glory.

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sermon -- Installation of Pastor David W. Schmidt (August 17, 2014)

For the Installation of Pastor David W. Schmidt 
at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burke, South Dakota

In the name + of Jesus.

     Dear saints of God at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burke,
     You have not had a chance to get to know your new pastor much yet.  I am sure that you are looking forward to getting to know him and his family better, just as he is eager to get to know you and to serve you.  Although I could tell you a story or two, I will pass along this bit of information about your new pastor: He likes to talk.  He is not shy about having conversations with anyone.  He will be happy to express his friendship and concerns for you.  He will be willing to offer to his opinions or a story or two. 
     But that is not what you called him to do.  If you take a close look at the official document which you sent him to call him to be your pastor, you will see that he is called to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.  His main purpose here is to proclaim the word of the Lord.  Good news: Your new pastor likes to talk.  He likes to proclaim the word of the Lord from the pulpit, in the classroom, at the side of the hospital bed or the death bed, or anywhere you might run into him. 
     A prophet is among you.  You will do well to listen to him.  He was called by you, but his charge is from the Lord.  He answers to the Lord Jesus Christ; for it is his gospel he preaches.  It is his sacraments he administers.  It is his yoke that he bears.  Any pastor who is worth his salt will remember that.  As a pastor, I can tell you that this makes our knees buckle a little bit.  So pray for him.  Listen to him.  And receive him as the prophet whom the Lord wants you to have.  A prophet is among you.
     Now, brother, you know full well what kind of prophet you are.  You are God’s prophet in this sense: You speak the words God has given you to say.  God loves these people so much that he wants to continue to speak to them—to comfort them, to encourage them, to admonish them, and to sustain them.  Of course, God could have done that himself.  But he doesn’t.  God chooses frail, flesh and blood men to speak in his stead and by his command.  You speak for God, and so your words must be God’s words.  This is how you serve as God’s prophet.
     The prophet Ezekiel was called into this same office.  The Lord gave Ezekiel this charge: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’  And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 2:4-5)  The Lord gave Ezekiel the words to proclaim.  That was the work of the prophet.  He was not in charge of converting anyone.  He was not even responsible if they covered their ears and screamed, “La-la-la-la-la…!”  He was to proclaim the word of the Lord.
     Now, perhaps it sounds cruel to link this text to the congregation you are about to serve.  You do not come here under the assumption that the people of Grace, Burke are goners or unchristian.  But here is what you do know: They are sinners, and they are dying.  If it were not true, they would not need a Savior, much less a pastor.  They all have sinful flesh which rebels against God’s word.  When their sinful cravings get the better of them, they will simply turn a deaf ear to God’s word.  They will to listen to what God wants, because they would rather do what they want.  They will either believe that God does not need to be obeyed or that God does not follow through on his threats.  Or they just don’t care.  That is typical of sinful hearts.  You should know that, for you have one too.
     But remember what Ezekiel’s role what and what your role is—a prophet.  You are here to say what God has to say.  And whether they hear or refuse to hear … they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 2:5)  A prophet is among you. 
     Brother, you are not here to be their therapist.  You are not here to fix them.  The sinful nature cannot be fixed.  It must be killed.  For that reason, you will not be preaching sermons about how to do this well or how to do that better.  Instead, you will unleash the sword of the Spirit.  You will put them to death so that God will raise them up anew.  You will proclaim repentance for sins and forgiveness of sins.  You will proclaim death and resurrection.  You will proclaim Jesus. 
     A prophet is among you who declares that God demonstrates his love through his Son who became flesh and blood for flesh and blood sinners.  You proclaim Jesus who willingly submitted himself to the commandments and kept them for those who cannot keep them.  You proclaim Jesus who, despite his innocence, submitted himself to the plot of sinful rebels in order to pay for sinful rebellion.  You proclaim Jesus who, despite his glory, endured the shame of beatings, false testimony, and condemnation.  You proclaim Jesus who, despite being the beloved Son of God, was God forsaken in his cursed death.  You proclaim a God who, despite being immortal, gave himself into death for all who are dying.  You proclaim a God who, even though he should put us to death, conquered death and makes us partakers of the resurrection.  You proclaim Jesus who, even though he should make us consume the cup of God’s wrath, gives us the cup of salvation from this altar and guarantees our place at the wedding banquet of heaven.
     A prophet is among you.  And the Lord has given him this charge: “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:7)  Brother, you are dealing with sinners.  Though they want to serve the Lord faithfully in all they do, they will prove themselves to be sinners.  You will witness them lying to you in the hopes of making themselves look good to you.  You will hear of them giving their mouths to gossip but not to prayer.  You will grieve when the Lord has prepared a feast to give his people for their salvation, but they tell you that they have better things to do.  And you, dear brother, will be tempted to despise them because they will not listen or behave.  For, you are a sinner too.  Brother, your charge is not to despise them or to grow weary.  You are a prophet among them.  You are to pray to God for them.  You are to speak God’s word to them.  You are to preach.
     First, preach to yourself.  For you need Jesus, too.  You need to know that the Lord has taken away your sins of bitterness, laziness, or harboring grudges.  He does not excuse you for these things.  Instead, he absolves you of them; for he has paid for your sins in blood.  The Lord is not stingy in the mercy he pours out upon you.  Therefore, do not be stingy about being merciful to these people either.  Commandments and threats do not get anyone into heaven.  Only the mercies of our Lord Jesus Christ bring forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  Therefore, be generous with God’s mercy.  Put no limits on his forgiveness.  Comfort them, and then comfort them again.
     Brothers and sisters of Grace, a prophet is among you.  Whether people listen or fail to listen, a prophet is among you.  Pastor Schmidt, as a prophet, you will do and say all that God has given you to do and say.  You will mark these people with the name of Jesus and cover them with the righteousness of Jesus at every baptism.  Every sign of the cross will remind them that they are Christ’s redeemed people.  You will put sinners to death by proclaiming repentance of their sins, and you will breathe new life into them when you absolve them in the name of Jesus.  You will console those who are dying and scared to death of death.  You will assure them that Jesus has overcome death.  He has crushed Satan underfoot.  He holds the keys to death and Hades.  And his love and salvation for his people can never be taken away, not even by death.  You will see people with broken and contrite hearts who hunger and thirst for righteousness, knowing that they have none of their own.  And your hands will give them the body of Christ and pour into their mouths the blood of Christ.  For, you are Christ’s prophet.  You speak and act in his stead and by his command.  In this way, Jesus will strengthen and sustain his people. 
     Dear Christians, a prophet is among you.  Good news: Your pastor likes to talk.  Whether you listen for your salvation or whether you fail to listen to you own detriment, the Lord has placed his prophet among you.  He is here because the Lord Jesus Christ wants him here.  He is here because God loves you.  He is here because God still wants to comfort, encourage, and save you.
     Pastor Schmidt, you have received your call.  You have been given your charge.  Preach the word.  Bathe them in gracious waters.  Admonish the sinners.  Absolve the penitent.  Feed Christ’s lambs.  You are God’s prophet at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burke, South Dakota.  The Lord Jesus Christ wants you here.  You are here because God loves you.  He will be with you to comfort, encourage, and save you too.

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Pastoral Concern -- Private Confession and Absolution

NOTE:  This article originally appeared in April 2014.  It is repeated here, slightly edited, to inform and educate concerning Private Confession and Absolution being scheduled at Good Shepherd.
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.

Private Confession and Absolution has always 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.

It is anticipated that  Private Confession and Absolution will roughly follow this regular schedule.
          The Saturday before or on Epiphany (Epiphany is always January 6)
          The Saturday before Palm Sunday
          The Saturday after Labor Day weekend
          The Saturday after Thanksgiving weekend (should coincide with the 1st Saturday in Advent)

The next scheduled date and time for Private Confession and Absolution will be Saturday, September 13, 9:00-11:00 AM.  Appointments are not necessary.  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.

Sermon -- 8th Sunday after Trinity (August 10, 2014)

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet,
by Michelangelo,
from the Sistine Chapel.

JEREMIAH 23:16-29

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jeremiah is sometimes called the “weeping prophet.”  He preached a strong message of rebuke and repentance.  Jeremiah foretold of doom and gloom, of war, exile, destruction, and death.  For Jeremiah’s preaching, he was subjected to hatred and slander.  He was the target of a murder plot.  He was threatened with stoning.  He was dropped into a cistern where at least one source (Josephus? Apocrypha? can’t remember where) reports that Jeremiah sank into the mud up to his neck.  It is no wonder Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  He did not have much to rejoice over. 
     But you also ought to know this about Jeremiah: He was right.  Jeremiah’s message of rebuke was not heeded.  And his pleas for repentance were both ignored and shouted down.  Therefore, the doom and gloom he had warned about did come.  The war, the exile, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and the death of many of its inhabitants happened just as Jeremiah had foretold.
     Jeremiah was right for one simple reason: God had given him the message.  Jeremiah was the mouth through whom the Lord issued his warnings and calls to repentance.  When the calls to repentance were despised, the Lord carried out the punishment he had warned about.  Jeremiah may not have been a fun prophet, but he was a faithful prophet.  He had clung faithfully to God’s truth.
     Though Jeremiah’s message was unique, he was not the only prophet in Jerusalem.  The other prophets preached a message that was much happier, much less controversial, and much more appealing then anything Jeremiah was saying.  Jeremiah warned of judgment and doom; other prophets promised peace and prosperity.  One of them had to be wrong.  Guess who the people preferred.
     The Lord had warned, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LordThey say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17)
     There is nothing new under the sun.  There are still competing voices.  There are still false prophets.  Jesus had warned that they will come to you as wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They look and sound like God’s people, but they will devour and destroy you with their message.  Now, surely they will have to answer to God for their lies and deception, but if you are deceived, you will suffer too.  God does not excuse you for buying the lie or for going astray.  Sheep who go astray get devoured; and blaming the bad shepherd does not change anything for the sheep.
     The message remains the same: It shall be well with you” and “No disaster shall come upon you.” (Jeremiah 23:17)  It is a message from the prophet’s own imagination.  He wants everything to be fine.  You want everything to be fine.  He sells a message you are eager to buy.  But based on what?  If God did not say it or promise it, the prophet has no business saying it.  You will be both deceived and disappointed.  Cling faithfully to God’s truth. 
     False prophets will come.  Preachers will tell their dreams.  Satan still wants to deceive.  And so, many lies are peddled today as if they were the very word of God.  How many sins are defended and encouraged in the name of love?  Now, God is love.  But God does not defend, much less promote, sin.  So the word “love” is misused.  It is used as a cover for fornication, adultery, cohabitation, same-sex marriage, and any other form of perversion you can think of.  Even worse, “love” is used to defend false doctrine.  Americans are not allowed to find fault with any religious teaching.  We are to let all the gods line up next to each other and declare them all equally good options.  If you don’t think so, try telling someone that you believe Islam is evil or that imams teach a demonic doctrine.  We are afraid to call liars for what they are because, first, people will not think it is very nice, and second, because we do not want to suffer for doing so.  We are better Americans than we are Christians.  So we back off of our confession.  We let the lies go unchallenged.  And by failing to expose or refute the lies, we make the confession that we accept them.  And even if we don’t, we teach our children that they are acceptable.
     Even Christendom has its share of false teachers.  Satan likes to play God in order to deceive you with godly sounding words.  Preachers will say that Jesus is nice and that God is love.  You can’t argue that it is wrong, but then you can’t say that it is right either.  Any message that does not preach repentance and forgiveness is not a Christian message.  Where there is no crucified Jesus, there is no salvation.  There is no Christian Church.
     Cling faithfully to God’s truth.  Be on your guard so that you are not deceived.  How can you be sure that you are hearing God’s truth?  The Lord answers for you: “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.  But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.” (Jeremiah 23:21-22) 
     A prophet or preacher is to do nothing other than preach the word of the Lord.  And God does not leave that word a mystery to you.  He has revealed his council to you in the Bible.  Jeremiah called Jerusalem to repent so that they would not die in their sins.  The hammer of God’s word was to crush their stony hearts into repentance so that they would not be crushed in divine wrath. 
     Jeremiah had proclaimed, Behold, the storm of the Lord!  Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.  The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart.” (Jeremiah 23:19-20)  God’s wrath comes upon us because of our sins.  They cannot be excused; they must be paid for.  They are not forgiven just because you want them to be.  That comes from the imagination of your mind.  If you want to be sure that you are forgiven, then God must say so.  If you want to be sure you are saved, then God must act.  If you want true peace and not just wishful thinking, then cling faithfully to God’s truth. 
     The Lord has spoken and acted.  Jesus has stepped into the storm for you.  Bearing your sins, he took the brunt of God’s wrath.  He endured the fury of divine rage for your sins.  And so your sins were not excused, they were paid for.  Jesus demonstrated true love by suffering and dying for your sins.  You are saved by a God who became flesh and who was crucified so that God’s judgment would be executed on you.  God’s desire is not to accommodate you in your sins, but to redeem you from them.  He does not compromise his judgment or his commandments for you, but rather he fulfills those commandments and reconciles you so that you are not banished from his presence.  Cling faithfully to God’s truth for certainty of your salvation.
     The false prophets will always be out there, telling their stories, spelling out their visions, and making promises in God’s name.  God will let them go.  What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:28)  Those who are eager to believe the lies will be deceived by them.  But you are God’s harvest.  Therefore, cling faithfully to God’s truth so that you will not be deceived.  This is also how you remain confident of your own salvation.  For, by clinging to God’s truth, you cling to the only word that stands firm and the only word that saves.
     Jeremiah wept that his beloved city would be destroyed.  But you are not among those who are destroyed.  You are among those who have been saved.  God himself has told you.  His is the word that you must listen to.  Cling faithfully to it, and you will be saved.

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

No one was ever saved because God is awesome

       Please understand that the above statement does not deny that God is awesome.  He most certainly is!  The Scriptures proclaim that in many ways.
       But what does it mean that God is awesome?  I suspect that most people would refer to the fact that God is almighty.  There is no denying the jaw-dropping displays that testify to the omnipotence of our Lord. 
       God created the universe in six 24-hour days.  All things, seen and unseen, came into being simply because God commanded it to be so.  God said, “Let there be,” and there was – in all its variety, brilliance, and abundance.  It is on display in the vast oceans, the towering mountains, the wind-swept canyons, the lush forests, and the arid deserts.  That is awesome.
       God’s omnipotence continues to be on display as he annually provides enough food for every creature on earth; as, season after season, he keeps the planets in their orbits; as he controls the thunderstorms, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc…  The Awesome Power behind the awesome power of nature is our Almighty God.
       God is awesome.  It is revealed throughout the beauty and violence of creation.  It causes scientists to marvel, artists to wonder, and poets to ponder.
       And yet, it has never saved anyone.
       No one was ever saved because God is awesome.  God’s omnipotence, revealed in creation, shows us that God is imaginative, wise, precise, orderly, generous, and strong, but it tells us nothing about mercy.
       When the Lord revealed himself to the Egyptians in Moses’ day, he afflicted them with plagues and death.  No doubt, it was an awesome display of God’s strength.  How many Egyptians do you suppose were saved by it?  Or think about the Judgment Day to come.  God’s wrath will be poured out in all its fury on the guilty.  Awesome?  Sure.  Those who are banished to hell will be impressed, but not saved.
       No one was ever saved because God is awesome.  It sounds strange, but it is true.  For this reason, we ought to take care that our hymns have something more to say than God is awesome – for the sake of our visitor who needs to know more about God than he is awesome, and for our own sake because we need more encouragement than that.
       St. John wrote, “No one has ever seen God, but God the Only Begotten, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” (John 1:18)  Jesus did not spend his time talking about how awesome God is.  Jesus revealed God’s mercy and forgiveness.
       God’s forgiveness is revealed in a weak, suffering Savior.  God’s justice is displayed in a Messiah who was falsely accused, brutally beaten, and maliciously executed.  God’s compassion is seen through a Savior who had nails driven through his wrists and feet and a spear thrust into his heart.  God’s forgiveness comes through his Son who was condemned.  Eternal life comes from the lifeless One who hung from a cross.
       Simply from a historic perspective, Jesus’ sufferings and death appear to be grotesque.  They are an image of a weak, helpless, and beaten man.
       Faith knows better and says that this is where God is truly awesome.  This is where God demonstrates a boundless love to sinners – that he would suffer and die to save them. 
       This salvation is given not through displays of power and grandeur, but through preaching, through water, and through bread and wine.  Though these appear to be simple things, they are how God grants to us the benefits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. 

       Rather than confess that God is awesome (which could mean anything), we rejoice that God is merciful, that God has become man to suffer and die for us, and that God purifies us of all sin.  No one is saved because God is “awesome”, but many have been saved because God has suffered, bled, and died for them.  No one receives salvation by taking in the grandeur of creation; but we are saved by partaking in the word and sacraments.  It is there that our Lord is at work to deliver his gives.  To some, it appears lowly and even boring.  But to God's people, these are where God delivers his gifts of forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  In these, God does not dazzle us with awe; by these he delivers us in his mercy.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sermon -- 7th Sunday after Trinity (August 3, 2014)

MARK 8:1-9

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Mark recorded, “In those days, …a great crowd had gathered….” (Mark 8:1)  What we do not learn until later in this account is that they had gathered together in a desolate place.  There were no fruit trees, no grain fields, and no markets.  It was grassland, and the grass was not something they could consume.  They were so eager to follow Jesus that no one had thought ahead to pack food for the journey.  After three days, Jesus called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.  And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.  And some of them have come from far away.” (Mark 8:1-3) 
     It was not God’s design that people should suffer from hunger or faint from lack of strength.  The world in which God had placed Adam was filled with all kinds of trees and plants that supplied food.  There were not large segments of the world which were uninhabitable or unproductive.   There was no wasteland.  But sin changed the world, bringing a curse not just on people, but also upon the earth.  The curse of sin causes the world to bring forth thorns and thistles.  It means that man’s food will have to come by the sweat of his brow.  The ground must be plowed.  Seeds must be sown.  Crops must be harvested.  Plants must be prepared and cooked and baked.  There is a good deal of toil that goes into each meal, whether you are doing the prep work for it or you are paying someone to do it for you.
     But the crowds were far removed from any kitchen or market.  The people had gone three days without food, and they were hungry.  The disciples seemed to find the predicament of the crowd annoying: “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”  They said, “Seven.” (Mark 8:4-5)   The disciples had food for themselves.  But what good would sharing it do among the thousands who were there? 
     The people had a need, and Jesus satisfied it.  Jesus took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.  And they had a few small fish.  And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them.  And they ate and were satisfied. (Mark 8:6-8)  Jesus satisfied all who hungered.
     We all hunger.  We all crave to find satisfaction or contentment or peace or joy.  But we are often like people who are starving and we will try to fill ourselves with anything.  Lonely people crave a friend.  Dejected girls crave a boyfriend, and lust-driven boys crave using those girls.  Sick people crave a cure.  People who crave prestige hunger for a promotion.  We crave what is newer and bigger and faster because we hunger for a better life..  And we expect all of our labors to provide some satisfaction and peace in our lives.  But our hunger is never satisfied.  The cravings are still there.
     The crowds in the wilderness went three days since their last meal.  Jesus wanted them to feel that hunger.  He wanted them to truly recognize their need before he met it.  In the same way, Jesus wants you to hunger for peace, for joy, and for rest.  He wants you to feel the guilt of your sin.  He wants you to know the fear of death and judgment.  He wants to you know that you are never really satisfied by your latest purchase, your latest accomplishment, or even your last family reunion.  All the world has to offer you will finally leave you empty.  It is like gorging yourself on Twinkies and cotton candy.  You enjoy the sugary sweetness for a moment.  But it is only air and sugar; it cannot sustain you, strengthen you, or satisfy you.  All the world has to offer you is air and sugar.  All its treasures are without substance.  Therefore, you still hunger for something more.  Your heart still longs to be satisfied.  You crave a lasting peace, an indestructible joy, and a permanent rest.   Jesus satisfies all who hunger.
     The Lord Jesus Christ sets out his grace before you.  He does not ask you to chip in and toil with him.  Rather, Jesus labors by himself to do all the work to supply everything that truly satisfies your hungry heart.  Jesus prayed and sweated over the sacrifice he would make for you.  He gave his back to the scourge.  He gave his hands and feet to the nails.  And he spent his very life on you.  Jesus’ life was enough to satisfy God’s demand for holy obedience.  Jesus’ death was enough to satisfy the Father’s wrath against sinful disobedience such as our discontent and misplaced cravings.  Jesus has made complete satisfaction for our sins.  Therefore, the Father raised Jesus from the dead to declare that your sins are, indeed, forgiven. 
     Jesus satisfies all who hunger.  But he does not magically fill you up out of think air.    In the wilderness, Jesus did not rain manna from heaven, and he did not magically think the people full.  Jesus used material things to do what they were created to do—to satisfy the hungry.  Jesus took what had already been grown, harvested, processed, and baked.  He blessed the seven loaves, multiplied them, and placed them before the people.  They did nothing for this meal.  They did not harvest or bake or even place their order.  Jesus had it placed before them, and they gladly received it.  They did not have to think about what to do with this blessed food.  Their hunger pangs told them that they needed to consume it so that they could live and gain strength and make their way home.  So they ate and were satisfied. (Mark 8:8)  Jesus satisfies all who hunger.
     Just as Jesus used natural things to satisfy the people in the wilderness, so also Jesus attaches his blessing to natural things to day.  He attaches his words to the bread and wine.  He blesses these elements, and in them he supplies his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and for the soothing of your conscience.  Jesus does not ask you to toil or sweat for his blessings in the Lord’s Supper.  He blesses it and spreads it out before you.  And he does not have to convince you to come and eat and drink.  If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will feast and you will be satisfied. 
     Jesus satisfies all who hunger.  Granted, you will need to come back and partake again of the feast Jesus supplies.  It is not because Jesus fails to satisfy you; it is that you are still sinners.  Your flesh will always crave air and sugar.  Your conscience will always prick your heart.  And nothing the world has to offer will ever satisfy you, sustain you, or strengthen you.  Only Jesus supplies what does that.  He provides all you need in the word and sacraments.  Through these, Jesus fills you with life-giving, faith-sustaining, soul-saving goods.  Through these, Jesus puts an end to every craving for peace, joy, and rest.  For, Jesus supplies peace with God.  Jesus points you to the joys of everlasting life.  And Jesus has toiled for all you need so that you can have rest for your souls.  If these are what you crave, Jesus supplies what you need.  He satisfies all who hunger.

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