Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Reformation Day -- A synopsis of Luther's 95 Theses

Today marks the 497th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses, often regarded as the birthday of the Lutheran Reformation.  While many people are familiar with the words "95 Theses," the theses themselves remain somewhat unknown to most people even in Lutheran circles.  For a complete reading of Martin Luther's 95 Theses--at least one version of it-- you can click here.

For a little background about these theses, Luther recognized that people were being taught that the purchase of indulgences from Roman Catholic priests/salesmen was running rampant.  (For a definition of indulgences, you can visit this Roman Catholic source here.)  People were being led to believe (if they were not flat out being told so) that peace with God was something that could be purchased for florins and pfennings, that is, cash.  There was no talk of faith.  There was no encouragement to pursue good works.  The purchase of indulgences, rather, encouraged impious living.  After all, if you can buy your way out of punishments, why not sin all the more?  A few more florins means more forgiveness.  (For what it is worth, you will not find salesmen trafficking indulgences today, but that does not mean they are gone.  Click here for a recent article on it.)

Luther, at first, did not declare the sale of indulgences unscriptural.  The 95 Theses addressed mainly the abuse of the sale of indulgences.  And Luther's attack was not done to stir up dissension.  It was written in Latin for scholars to read.  It was an invitation for scholars to debate.

But it was quickly translated into German.  Pamphlets of Luther's 95 Theses were copied and sold.  It was a best seller in no time at all.  Luther's theses were appreciated and applauded by many people around Germany--both for noble (comfort for people's consciences) and misguided (keep Saxon florins in Saxony) reasons.

The debate Luther sought never really happened.  (His debate with Dr. Eck in Leipzig, 1519, was as close as he got to honest discussion about it.  But Eck was not interested in discussion.  Eck sought entrapment and condemnation.)  The 95 Theses, however, did get people questioning the practice of selling indulgences.  Luther went on not just to question the practice, but to condemn it.  He also began to question many practices in the Roman Catholic Church.  He compared everything to the Holy Scriptures.  Whatever was opposed to the Bible, he vehemently condemned--sometimes so vehemently that it would make modern readers blush.

Luther never intended to split the church, but he finally recognized that it had to be that way.  Rome had no interested in reforming itself, even though Rome acknowledge that it had problems.  Luther's only desire was that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, divine mercy and grace, justification by faith alone, and comfort for grief-stricken consciences by fully and freely proclaimed.  For preaching, promoting, and defending that doctrine, Luther was condemned and excommunicated.  So let it be known: Luther did not rebel and start something new; he preached Jesus and was ousted for doing so.  The Lord, however, saw fit to preserve Luther's life.  The Gospel was heard in clear tones for the first time in centuries.  It was cherished by some and despised by others.  The church today still stands divided, and for the same reasons.

In the interest of highlighting a few portions of Luther's 95 Theses, some of them are printed below.  Happy Reformation Day!

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther
on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther (1517)
Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, (Repent! or literally, "Do repentance!") willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter's church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.
52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.
62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.
81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.

82. To wit: -- "Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sermon -- 19th Sunday after Trinity (October 26, 2014)


In the name + of Jesus.

     Have you heard about Brittany Maynard?  She had recently been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and was given no more than six months to live.  She knows her end is soon, and she was told that it would be painful.  Her solution?  On November 1, she intends to end her life by physician assisted suicide.  She has taken it upon herself to choose the date of her death, a right that belongs to God alone.  Just as God determines where and when we enter the world, so it is God’s prerogative to determine when and where we depart.  Sadly, it appears that Brittany Maynard will die outside of God’s promises and mercy.
     Many people are calling Brittany Maynard a hero.  Her parents and husband are saying how proud they are and how brave she is.  The right-to-die groups are using Brittany’s case, with Brittany herself endorsing it, to promote death with dignity.  It is a sad testimony that our society views suicide as compassionate, and even as medical treatment!  More people are buying into the idea that it is good to tell others: You are better off dead.  It will be cheaper and easier.  It will be less stressful, less painful for you to endure and for us to watch; so, we encourage you to die more quickly. 
     Now, you could argue that Brittany’s quality of life is not what it should be.  Granted.  It isn’t.  No one wants terminal cancer.  Nor does anyone want to be blind, deaf, or bed-ridden.  Soldiers who come back from Afghanistan don’t like living without legs or eyes.  Burn victims do not like having people turn away from them in horror.  It is not the quality of life anyone wants.  Even people with allergies or colds do not have quality of life they want.  They want to be free from such things.  The paralytic that was brought to Jesus wanted a better quality of life, too.  His friends brought him to Jesus to restore his strength so that he could walk again, so that he could be a productive member of society and a provider for his family.  That is the quality of life he sought.  He was brought to Jesus so that Jesus would supply it.  He was not disappointed.
     Behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)  I suspect that no one was ready to hear that.  The paralytic wanted to hear Jesus give the word so that his legs would be strong again.  But Jesus understood what we do not.  You can enter heaven if you suffer from paralysis, psoriasis, or even cirrhosis.  But you cannot enter heaven if your sins are clinging to you.  Sin is what makes us unclean and corrupt.  Sin is what brings death and damnation.  Therefore, in true compassion, Jesus told the lame man, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)  He would not perish or face eternal punishment.  Jesus would deliver him from that.  Jesus has the authority to deliver the highest quality of life.
     The Pharisees were not ready to hear Jesus’ words either.  Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” (Matthew 9:3)  They knew that the right to pardon sinners belongs to God alone, for all the sins that we commit are committed against God.  Every sin is rebellion against God’s Law.  Every sin proves that we have hearts that are bent on evil, that are corrupt, and that are unclean.  The most any man can do is try to convince you that your sins are excusable.  “Oh, it’s okay,” we say.  Our consciences know better.  Sins are never okay.  Neither are they excusable.  God’s Law convicts and condemns us.  We are guilty, and that is not excusable.  Sin marks us for divine punishment, both now and eternity.  That is not okay.  Repent.
     The scribes were right about one thing: Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Mark 2:7)  Since every sin is rebellion against God and his word, then only God can pardon the guilty.  But God does not merely wave a magic wand and say sins are gone and no longer count.  The guilty are guilty as charged.  And this guilt is deserving of punishment—both now and in eternity.  Therefore God himself became man so that the eternal God could take the punishment of all sin here and now.  Jesus Christ did not simply dismiss the sins of the paralytic.  They were not okay, and they were not excused.  They were paid for by Jesus who suffered and died for them.  Jesus has suffered and died for every one of your sins, too.  Jesus gave his body into death for these corrupt, unclean, broken, frail, and mortal bodies of ours.  After he gave himself into death to be the payment for our sins, Jesus rose from the dead.  He lives, victorious over death.  He reigns, and declares: “Take heart; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2)  He has authority to do that because he has paid the price for your sins.  He has absorbed death and damnation for you.  He has conquered death and declares you to be victors with him.  Jesus has authority to give you the highest quality of life.
     Of course, you still live in a corrupt and broken world.  Veterans don’t automatically get their limbs back.  Burn victims have to live with skin grafts.  People who suffer from allergies or colds either take Sudafed or pack extra Kleenex.  But Jesus assures you that it will not always be this way.  He who delivers you from the curse of sin also will deliver you from every last consequence of sin.  And Jesus demonstrated that he has authority to do both.
     Jesus knew the thoughts of the scribes and said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”  And he rose and went home. (Matthew 9:4-7)  It is easier to say that a person’s sins are forgiven.  Who could prove that they are not?  The promise of forgiveness is only worth as much as the authority of the person who declares it.  And Jesus has risen from the dead to prove his authority to say it.  What’s more, Jesus has promised to his ministers, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:23)  The absolution given through your pastor is not just happy words.  If it were, it is as useless as saying your sins are okay when you know full well that they are not.  It is as worthless as telling an invalid, “Walking is good for you,” when he can’t walk at all.  But this absolution in Jesus’ name has the authority of Jesus behind it.  Therefore, you can be sure that your sins are forgiven.  Jesus has declared it to be so, and he has given authority to men to say so.  Jesus has the authority to deliver the highest quality of life—a life that is free from guilt.
     If you should have to suffer weakness or illness in this world, it is only because your Lord wants to you crave what will come.  Unlike Brittany Maynard, you do not have to resort a lethal dosage of drugs to enter eternity—and most likely not on good terms.  Your Lord Jesus supplies you with a regular dosage of his body and blood to supply you with forgiveness, life, and salvation.  That is true mercy that delivers eternal life.  And there is no better quality life than what Jesus gives you.

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

MLS Football vs. Birch Run

This past Thursday, the Michigan Lutheran Seminary JV traveled to Birch Run for their final game of the year.  Going in, it was suggested that MLS was going to be handed a devastating, crushing defeat by a big and talented team.  Now, unless there was a flu epidemic wiping out the larger members of the Birch Run JV squad, they were not nearly as big as I thought they would be.  In fact, it is probably one of the smallest offensive lines we had faced all year.

I also think that the MLS freshmen have really learned quite a bit this year, and they have gotten more polished as the year has gone on.  That seemed to show itself this game, especially with the blocking.  MLS ended up winning the game 40-30.

Here are some photos below.

 Caleb's diving attempt at the tackle came a little too late in a long Birch Run TD run.

On Friday night, the MLS varsity hosted the Birch Run Panthers.  We had heard that Birch Run was big and talented and were destined to give us way more than we could handle.  As it turned out, we were barely able to handle ourselves with four turnovers and a blocked punt returned against us for a TD.  Nevertheless, MLS' defense was swarming around the ball again.  Though we gave up 171 total yards on the night, 71 came on one long play for a TD.  Otherwise, the defense was solid and hit hard.

Offense put up four TD's, with some big plays called back due to yellow flags (and we were pretty sure that some of them were actual penalties).  With MLS up 27-20 and about 1:50 to go in the game, MLS got the ball back after Birch Run turned it over on downs deep in their own territory.  This was time to run out the clock.  Instead, we fumbled on our very first play--never wanting to make anything easy on this night--and gave it right back to Birch Run.  Right after that, Birch Run was throwing a pass down field and Andrew jumped the route, leaped over their receiver, and made the interception to seal the game.  That may have been his favorite catch all season.

The final was MLS 27, Birch Run 20.  That makes MLS 8-1 on the season, and we will be hosting a playoff game next Friday.  The opponent will be announced on Sunday.  Here are some photos from Friday night.

 Lining up for Parents' Night.

 Here's a Jr. Cardinal ready to storm the field at half time.

 This catch was called out of bounds.  Andrew firmly disagreed, even walking to the 
out of bounds line and pointing to his foot print for the referee.  They did not change the call.

 I missed the best part of Andrew's interception.  Sometimes you just watch the game.  
Anyway, here he is cradling the ball after he had leaped over the receiver to make the grab.

 Post-interception euphoria!

Play-offs, here we come!!!!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Floor Hockey Tournament

On Saturday, October 18, St. Peter's went to the annual floor hockey tournament at St. John's Lutheran School in Westland.  It is a pretty long day with eight teams playing in two divisions.  The top two in each division advance to the final four.  St. Peter's was not expecting to do that well, but we advanced to the finals.

We ended up losing to the host team 3-2.  The last games were all very tight.  In fact, St. John's had to win in a shoot out to get to the final game.

I am always impressed by how hard the kids play and how careful they still are.  I don't recall any high-sticking penalties being called--at least not in the games I watched.  They even made me ref in the championship game.  I had to dubious honor of calling all three goals against St. Peter's.

Philip had a pretty good tournament.  I know he notched a number of goals, and he probably remembers exactly how many, but he's not here right now to clue me in.

Anyway, here are some pics.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Something from the Apocrypha

The Christian Church has always seen its share of persecution.  In America, it is pretty mild, though it appears to be on the verge of changing.  Time will tell how quickly and how intently that will change.  May God preserve us and make us stand firm in the faith!

But in other parts of the world, the persecution is much more intense.  China, North Korea, northern Africa (e.g, Nigeria, Sudan), Syria, and Iraq have seen particularly intense persecution in recent years--exponentially worse than the subpoenaed pastors in Houston.  They are worthy of our prayers.

But we need not think that God has forgotten them.  God still knows and loves his people.  And even the persecution which Christians face comes because God loves his people.

The following words are from the Apocrypha.  They are a sort of interlude in between sections speaking of the persecution and butchery that God's faithful people were subject to in Jerusalem and Judea.  This was occurring sometime around 180 BC, give or take.  The Greek forces--the Ptolemy's in Egypt and the Seleucid's in Syria--were taking turns trying to control the land of Palestine.  So the faithful Jews were getting attacked and slaughtered by both forces.  Many were killed.  Others were forced into hiding.  While God's love appeared to be hidden, it was not withdrawn.  The following words from the Apocrypha help us understand what God does through persecution and that he still loves his Church regardless of what it looks and feels like.  We do well to take these words to heart--as God is still God and we are still his Church.

Now I urge those who read this book not to be depressed by such calamities, but to recognize that these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people.  In fact, to punish the ungodly quickly rather than leave them alone for very long is a sign of great kindness.  For in the case of the other nations the Lord waits patiently to punish them until they have reached the full measure of their sins; but he does not deal in this way with us, in order that he may not take vengeance on us afterward when our sins have reached their height.  Therefore he never withdraws his mercy from us.  Though he disciplines us with calamities, he does not forsake his own people.  Let what we have said serve as a reminder; we must go on briefly with the story. (2 Maccabees 6:12-17)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon -- 18th Sunday after Trinity (October 19, 2014)

MATTHEW 22:34-46

In the name + of Jesus.

     Rabbis who have studied the Torah, that is, the books of Moses, have claimed that there are 613 specific commandments that God has given.  There are 365 negative commandments declaring what God forbids, and there are 248 positive commandments declaring what God desires.  So there is one “Thou shalt not” for each day of the year, and one “Thou shat” for each bone and major organ in the human body.  I would imagine that it is next to impossible to keep track of them all, and yet scribes and rabbis would debate about which of these commandments was the most important one.
     A group of Pharisees surrounded Jesus to ask him his opinion.  One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:35-36)  This was far from genuine curiosity.  The Pharisees were ready to pounce on Jesus for choosing any one commandment over another.  Jesus did not flinch, but answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
     Before we consider the order of the commandments Jesus gave, we must consider a proper definition of love.  Just as sinful mankind perverts the gifts God has given us, so also sinful mankind perverts the definition of love.  Sinful mankind seems to think that a permissive attitude is the very spirit of love.  But a permissive attitude is the very path to destruction.  Permissive parents don’t care what their children eat, where their children go, or what their children do when they are out too late.  Such children are often told by their friends how lucky they are that their parents don’t care what they do.  They assume that such parents must really love their children to let them do anything.  Children often recognize that it is a curse: Their parents don’t care.  Such children who are given neither guidance nor discipline are destined for a hard life and probably a jail term.  Likewise, love is not a permissive attitude which celebrates every perversion or defends them as rights.  Americans might call these rights; God still calls them evil.  While no one should have to lose his job or housing for perverting God’s good gifts—for, everyone does that—everyone should repent for his sins.  It is not love to let people become hardened or persistent in their sins.  God has given his commandments so that we will recognize sins and flee from them.  So, just as it is love to rescue someone from a burning house or to prevent them from eating poison, so it is love to stand firm on God’s word, to expose evil for what it is, and to call sinners to repent.
     Love is properly defined as seeking the good of the other person.  That is what God seeks in the commandments he gives.  God gives his “Thou shalt’s” to bless us and guide us and give us what is good.  The marriage of one man and one woman is good because through it, God acts through a man and woman to conceive, raise, and discipline children.  Obedience to authority is good because godly citizens make for a peaceful society.  God gives his “Thou shalt not’s” for our good too, to protect us and to keep good order.  Lying is evil because it destroys reputations.  Vandalism is evil because it steals money from someone who has to pay for repairs he should have never had to make.  Selfishness is evil because it causes us to look at our fellowman as a rival or worse, as an enemy.  God sets these standards so that we can know what is truly good and what is truly evil.  God gives us these commandments so that we can know how we truly love and serve him as well as truly loving and serving our neighbor. 
     How can you pick which of God’s commandments is the most beneficial or important?  The Son of David answers the great commandment.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)  In this way, all of God’s word is honored, observed, and obeyed.  In this way, God is honored as the highest good and the source of all that is good. 
     Now, I can’t see if you truly love the Lord your God above all, and you cannot see it in me either.  Only God can see who truly loves him, for only God can see the heart.  Yet, love is not mere theory.  Love demands an object to love.  So, what does this love look like in our lives?  How do we love God above all?  By loving and serving our fellowman as ourselves.  Jesus said, “On these two commandments [hang (literal)] all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
     But not everyone does them.  In fact, not anyone does them.  That is why everything falls apart.  We incur the wrath of our fellowman because we do not love him as ourselves and seek his good as God defines what is the good to be done and what is the evil to be shunned.  We incur the wrath of God because we do not honor, observe, or obey what he commands or what he prohibits.  This is not God’s fault that you are guilty.  It is not your neighbor’s fault that you have sinned.  These are not your enemy.  Your enemy is the devil who tempts and accuses you.  Your enemy is your own sinful flesh which clings to you and condemns you.  Your enemy is death which desires to have you forever.
     Jesus Christ came to deliver you from your enemy.  The Son of David came to take your enemies and crush them as dust under his feet.  Jesus does this not by destroying the great commandment.  God’s commands are good, and Jesus does not destroy what is good.  Instead, the Son of David answers the great commandment by doing it.  How did Jesus love the Lord God with all his heart, soul, and mind?  By doing exactly what his Father had given him to do.  After a life of perfect obedience, Jesus suffered and died for our disobedience.  Jesus loved his fellowman—whether friend or foe—as himself.  Jesus loved you, not by granting you permission to engage in perversion, but by seeking your good.  And what is good for you is to be pardoned for any and every way you have perverted, corrupted, or abandoned God’s commandments for your own selfish gain. 
     The Son of David answers the great commandment by fulfilling it.  Jesus has done the will of the Father, which is to save you from your enemies.  Jesus has taken your sins and let them inflict their deadly wounds on his body.  Jesus has let death deliver its lethal blow on him as he laid down his life for you.  Jesus has endured the assault of the devil and let him pin every infraction of God’s commands upon him.  So your enemies have turned away from you to take Jesus in your place.  But Jesus, since he was obedient to his Father, has destroyed your enemies.  Sin can no longer condemn you; it has been paid for.  Satan can no longer assault you; for Jesus is your refuge against every assault.  Death has no claim; for Jesus has claimed you from death.  The Son of David who laid down his life to deliver you has risen from death to assure you that you have truly been delivered.  He has conquered.  Your enemies are defeated.  Jesus has ascended into heaven where he lives and reigns forever, and where your enemies are a footstool, lying crushed and powerless under Jesus’ feet.
     The Son of David answers the great commandment.  He has loved his Father above all.  He has loved you as he loves himself.  And by these, he has fulfilled the commandments and saved you.  What is more, he has made you followers who recognize that his commandments are good.  Therefore, you love the Lord your God.  You cherish his words.  You conform your heart, soul, mind, and life to them.  For, the God who gave his life for your salvation also lives in you to will and to act so that you love your fellowman and seek his good, just as Jesus Christ has sought yours.

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

MLS Football vs. Breckenridge

It was a good week of football for Michigan Lutheran Seminary.  Caleb and the JV team traveled to Breckridge in the midst of a sea of windmills.  As the day went dark, we were surrounded by a sea of blinking red lights.  The wind turbines might do something for energy, but it will take me a long time to be convinced that they do anything positive for the scenery.

Anyway, the MLS JV put together their best game of the year.  They looked their best in all facets of the game.  The result was a 42-22 win.

Caleb almost had an interception, too.  On 4th and about 8, the pass bounced off of a few hands before Caleb saw it bouncing in front of him.  But it continued to bounce--off his hands and to the ground.  My theory is that in a split second, Caleb thought "Hey, if I catch this, it might look good in my personal stats as an interception.  But if I drop it, we will almost certainly have better field position as Breckenridge will turn the ball over on downs.  So the better option is to drop this pass.  Yes.  That is what I will do.  I will drop it on purpose."  Anyway, that is my theory.  Caleb has yet to confirm or deny this.

Photos here.
 Granted, it doesn't look like it here, but this was the pass that almost was intercepted by Caleb. 

On Friday night, Breckenridge traveled to MLS.  MLS had everything working very well again.  Things are coming together very nicely as we are heading into the playoffs in two weeks.  There were a total of 8 TD's scored, 2 each by four different players (Note: M-Live reports disagree with my memory, giving 3 TD's to Kyler Lehr and 1 TD to Owen Heyn).  Andrew had two TD catches and also played QB through the 4th quarter.  The final was an MLS win, 55-0.

It pays to be the game of the week.  M-Live posted serevral articles about the MLS team and game.  You can take a look here, and here, and here.

Photos here.

 Andrew blocks down field to help Owen Heyn get closer to the end zone.

 After the 2 point conversion, you can change that scoreboard to 21-0!  TOUCHDOWN!!!

 Andrew is drooling for an opportunity to get an interception.  
Two passes were in his neighborhood, but not really catchable.

Andrew got to play QB in the 4th quarter.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Something from Luther: On Faith and Good Works

          Here is a statement from Martin Luther concerning faith, good works, and how they are related.  Though Lutherans believe that good works do not save us, that does not mean we are opposed to good works.  They flow from faith, and a living faith will produce them.  Good works are done because they are God's will.  And good works are done because they benefit our neighbor who needs them.

          Luther's quote:

          “Each one must believe for himself, just as I must believe all the Gospels for myself.  I cannot hear or believe or keep for any one else so much as a single letter of the gospel, even as I cannot be baptized for any one else.  But a good work I can always to do another person and for another person.  Indeed, I have to do them for somebody else or they are not good works.  For example, I can pray for you, serve you, work for you, suffer for you, and so forth.  There is a great difference between faith and good works, just as vast as the difference in value between the tree and the fruit.  Fruits disappear and return each year, but the tree remains always.  Faith also remains always, but works disappear.”
-- The Adoration of Sacrament, April, 1523
(Luther’s Works, AE, Vol. 36, p 289)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sermon -- Committal of Hank Mamajek (October 13, 2014)

MARK 16:16

In the name + of Jesus.

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

     The Roman Catholic Church has a practice of appointing certain people to the status of sainthood.  A man or woman is credited with doing more than God has asked, which is impossible.  And while people usually laud and honor these people as being exemplary, there is an interesting twist to this.  One man is appointed to cite reasons why this person should not be a saint.  His job is to detail all the faults and failings of the person, stating reasons why that man or woman should not be heralded a saint.  That person is known as the devil’s advocate.
     The devil’s advocate has an easy job.  For, all people are sinners.  Some prove it better than others.  There is no one who deserves a place as a saint in God’s kingdom.  And from what I’ve been told, Hank Mamajek could have all of his faults and shortcomings and sins spelled out, too.  And the fact is this: When the devil reminds us of our sins, he does not need to make anything up.  He can simply remind us of every harsh word, every heartless act, and every dirty thought.  And he has us dead to rights.  There is no one who is good.  There is no one who is worthy of sainthood or salvation.
     Of course, the Lord does not need Satan to remind him of this fact.  That is why he sent a Savior.  Jesus Christ did not come for the good people, but for sinners.  People who don’t believe they need Jesus won’t care about anything he did.  But for those who know they are sinners, for those who have fears and doubts and guilt, Jesus is a most precious Savior.  For, he gives us everything we need to silence every accusation the devil and our consciences can throw against us.
     Jesus lived a perfectly obedient and holy life.  Even God the Father from heaven said so … twice.  God declared that he was well pleased with Jesus, and he could only say that if Jesus were holy.  But instead of boasting of his holiness, Jesus took up our sin.  Jesus offered up his holy, precious blood as a sacrifice to pay for all sins.  Jesus had every charge, every accusation, and every sin put on his shoulders.  Then Jesus paid the price for them all.  God the Son willingly died for all the sons of men so that you would be delivered from every sin and relieved of all guilt.  He did not do this because you are worthy, but because you are guilty.  But he has covered your guilt with his blood.  And therefore, you are forgiven.  The charges have been dropped.  Sins have been paid for.
     All of this was applied to you through Holy Baptism.  This is what the Lord says: As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)  In other words, your baptism has clothed you in Christ’s righteousness.  Therefore, God no longer sees the sinner; he sees a saint.  And this is what the Lord says: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)  The only thing that damns is unbelief; for that is the rejection of all that Jesus has done.  But whoever believes in Jesus Christ receives the benefits of all that Jesus Christ has done.  Whoever believes and is baptized is counted as a saint in God’s sight.  Whoever believes and is baptized has had all his sins washed away.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be raised from the dead to be given eternal life in God’s presence forever.
     Now, we have had discussions about Hank Mamajek and his behavior and his attitude.  The devil’s advocate will always have plenty of evidence to share about our sins.  And to be sure, some people’s sinful condition is more obvious than others’.  But we know that Hank Mamajek was baptized.  And if he believed in the promises that our Lord Jesus Christ gave him, then we can marvel at God’s grace all the more.  That means that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has covered even the worst in us.  That means the grace of God is greater than all our sins.  And that is our greatest comfort.  For, the devil and our consciences will always afflict and accuse us.  And we cannot deny that they are right.  But Jesus speaks a greater word than the devil and our consciences.  He who paid for our sins by his sacrificial death declares that our sins are covered.  He who crushed Satan underfoot by his resurrection overrules every accusation he would still make.  He who owns death and the grave because he has conquered them assures us that we will rise from our graves with glorified, incorruptible bodies at the resurrection on the Last Day.  Jesus has won the authority to give all these gifts, and not even sin and death can destroy that.
     Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)  Did Hank Mamajek believe these things?  He gave me the impression that he did.  Some might think he did not.  Finally, God is the only one who can read hearts.  God is the judge, and we leave that in his hands. 
     But we all enter eternity one at a time.  I cannot believe for you, and you cannot believe for me.  I cannot vouch for you, and you cannot vouch for me.  And that is why it is good, right, and salutary to flee to Jesus Christ and the salvation he gives.  Jesus is our only comfort throughout life, and Jesus is our only hope staring in the face of death.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. (Mark 16:16)  That is God’s promise.  It is the only one that saves, and it saves even the worst of sinners.

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sermon -- 17th Sunday after Trinity (October 12, 2014)

PROVERBS 25:6-13

In the name + of Jesus.

     When you read through the book of Proverbs, you may get the impression that Solomon’s words are nothing more than pithy advice.  The whole book appears to be one verse of homespun wisdom after another.  But if that is all the book of Proverbs is, then we can put it on par with Aesop’s Fables or the Farmer’s Almanac.  The big difference is that whenever we conclude a reading from the book of Proverbs, we say: “The Word of the Lord.”  Therefore, the book of Proverbs is more than handy advice.  It is divine revelation.  And though we may not always grasp why the Lord gave us individual proverbs, we can be sure that these are God’s words.  These are sayings our Lord wants us to know and to ponder.
     Solomon wrote: Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” (Proverbs 25:6-7)  We live in a society where people demand respect from other people but do not place a very high priority on showing respect.  It is bullying disguised as self-esteem. 
     While some may cower to demands of respect, such demands will not work before a king.  The king reigns supreme.  He does not propose laws that can be debated or vetoed.  The king makes the laws because he is the law.  And when the king makes a judgment, there is no court of appeals.  The king is the judge.  His word is the authority.  His word is final.  So, to prop yourself up before a king or to demand respect and honor from him is foolish.  You do not exalt yourself before a king.  Only the king can truly exalt you.  If you exalt yourself, the king will humiliate you by letting you know what your place really is.  Then he will subject you to it.
     The Lord God Almighty is the king before whom you and I stand.  We often forget our place before him.  We are always inclined to tell the Lord how good and godly we are.  Perhaps we compare ourselves to others and expect God to rank us accordingly.  Perhaps we think of some good works that we are especially proud of and want God to reward us for them.  Or perhaps we think that God thinks of us as highly as we think of ourselves. 
     Again, Solomon warns, “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?” (Proverbs 25:7-8)  We like to think that we are good judges of people.  We grade them both on their actions and on their attitudes.  The standard by which we grade is ourselves.  We compare others with us.  Often, we take the worst that we see in others and compare it with the best that we see in ourselves.  Then we look down on others while we exalt ourselves, assuming that God shares our judgment.  Do not bring hastily to God’s court what your eyes see and what you assume to be true.  You will be put to shame by people whose stories you do not know and whose hearts you cannot read.  It is just as likely that their good deeds and kind words will put you to shame because they are better than yours. 
     “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court…” (Proverbs 25:7)  Your case, based on what you think, will be thrown out of God’s court.  You will be humiliated because your judgments are flawed.  Your judgments are flawed because your heart and mind are flawed.  Sinners always dream and scheme how they can exalt themselves.  We write and recite our own eulogies long before we die.  Some may humor you and let you exalt yourself.  But before your God and King, you cannot exalt yourself anymore than you can make yourself weigh less by pulling up on your shoes.  The King knows your heart, and his judgment is always right and just.  This news does not inspire confidence.  It instills fear, and for good reason.  Repent.
     Solomon wrote, A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.  Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.” (Proverbs 25:11-12)  The Lord speaks a fitting word to you, and to the one craving hope, it is a most beautiful, lovely, and priceless word.  This word fitly spoken is a word of correction, because it points you away from yourself and your own judgment.  It is a word that graciously delivers you from trying to make a case for yourself.  It is a merciful word which spares you from trying to exalt yourself in God’s presence.  After all, God is only pleased with that which is holy.  And no matter how fond you are of how well you behave, you cannot possibly believe you are holy. 
     Do not humble yourself before the King because that is how you play the game or that is how you get noticed.  Be humble because that is your rightful place.  There is no reason for you to exalt yourself.  Nonetheless, the Lord has taken notice of you in your lowly place.  Kings usually do not waste their time considering the outcasts, but your King, Jesus Christ, has take up your case and has united himself with your cause. 
     The King of heaven and earth descended from his throne on high to have compassion on the lowly.  He took your place in the court, and his neighbors filed all kinds of shameful charges against him.  Even though Jesus is the God that Caiaphas made Israel’s sacrifices to, Jesus did not exalt himself or demand respect in Caiaphas’ court.  Jesus did not even refute the charges; he simply accepted the guilt.  Then Jesus was led to Pilate’s court.  Even though Jesus is the God who worked out world history to bring the Romans to power and Pilate to his position of authority, Jesus did not demand his due from Pilate.  He did not protest that his sentence was unjust or that the charges were untrue.  Jesus took the lowest place; for he was standing in the stead of sinners.  He submitted himself to suffer and die for you.
     As Jesus endured scorn and shame at the cross, he continued to speak fitting words.  He prayed for mercy on his executioners.  He absolved a criminal who confessed that he deserved the death sentence, but more importantly confessed that Jesus was his King.  And Jesus finally spoke before he died, “It is finished.”  Any effort you feel you need to make to prove yourself better than your neighbor is finished.  Any argument you dream up to console yourself that you are good enough is finished.  Any scheme that you devise to convince God that you are good enough is finished.  These are finished and unnecessary and useless.  Jesus has taken your shame so that he can exalt you.  The righteousness you need to stand before God Jesus has been rendered.  The sins you need to be cleansed of Jesus has taken away.  Jesus rose from the dead to claim complete authority over all things.  And your King has uttered the final word: You are acquitted, forgiven, and saved.
     Only the King can truly exalt you.  And he does!  It is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” (Proverbs 25:7)  Jesus has summoned you to status that is higher than any this world knows.  Jesus has given you a name greater than any this world can give: You are a Christian.  You have been cleansed by the blood of Christ.  You have been branded by the name of Christ.  And you will inherit a place at the heavenly feast with Jesus Christ.  To assure you of that, Jesus summons you already to his feast now.  Here, the holy things are given to the holy ones.  The holy things are the body and blood of Christ, and the holy ones are you; for you are Christ’s.  This is how Jesus highly exalts you.  It is Jesus who makes you children of the Most High God and heirs of his everlasting kingdom.  And since Jesus is the King of heaven and earth, his word has authority.  His word is the law.  He is the judge.  And his word is final.  Only the king can truly exalt you.  He does, and he will for all eternity.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

MLS football vs. Carrollton

On Thursday, Michigan Lutheran Seminary traveled across town to Carrollton.  Carrollton had some big guys on their line, but we've been out-sized all year.  That was nothing new.  MLS is getting better, and these guys are starting to get the hang of some things, but the final score never shows that.  MLS lost 24-0.  Three times we had the ball inside the red zone.  One drive stalled at the 1 yard line.  On another trip, we fumbled at the 17.  And late in the game, penalties took us away from the end zone.  So, we had our chances.  Some photos from Thursday's game.

Caleb jumps on the pile to ensure the tackle.

On Friday, we also saw a HUGE line from Carrollton, but our speed managed to run around their size.  MLS's defense was swarming around the ball all night.  Carrollton tried to throw some passes, but their QB was constantly running for his life.

The MLS offense was moving the ball pretty well too.  Andrew ended up scoring two TD's, both fantastic catches.  I was poised to get a photo of the first one -- a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone.  An itchy trigger finger meant that I snapped it too early and missed everything (I was more watching the play than the view finder anyway).  The hardest part was trying to answer a number of people behind me, asking, "Did you get it?  Did you get it?"  No.  I missed the photo.  But Andrew got the TD, which was more important.  Later, I was poised again for his TD in the same corner.  This one was sort of a juggling catch, and this one I got.  Although, actual video would be more impressive than my still photo which does not capture the athleticism.

Andrew also got some time in as backup QB late in the 4th quarter.  MLS ended up winning 43-0.  Some photos from Friday's game.


A little post-game work for future Cardinal varsity players.

Local Tourist -- Fall in Michigan, another day

This past week, Laura had a Teachers' Conference at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bay City.  Philip, Peter, and I went along and spend a few days up in the area, doing the Local Tourist thing up in the Bay City area.

On Wednesday, we decided to check out the riverfront in downtown Bay City.  We saw the library, a large oval, the Saginaw River, a tall ship moored to the dock, and walked around Bay City State Park.
After picking up Laura we went to Bronner's in Frankenmuth.  Some photos from Wednesday.

On Thursday, Laura got a ride from the hotel to her conference, so we stayed at the hotel and went swimming.  Following that, we went to Tawas State Park to check out the lighthouse.  We enjoyed the ride up with the fall colors and three bathroom stops.  The way back to Bay City was very quiet as two out of three of us slept.  Guess which two.  At night, we all went to Caleb's football game at Carrollton, which they lost 24-0 (but that is another post).  Some photos from Thursday.

Friday was a short day for Laura, so we dropped her off and came back to the hotel for more swimming.  We checked out, picked up Laura, and went to the USS Edson docked on the Saginaw River.  We drove up to Pinconning for their cheese, expecting to see actual cheese being made.  Instead, we only walked through their shop ... and bought cheese.  Later that night, we went to MLS for Andrew's football game vs. Carrollton, which MLS won 43-0 (but again, that's another post).  Some photos from Friday.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Fall in Michigan

We haven't gotten out as much as we would like, but we did manage to get to an orchard a couple of weekends ago.  We went to Erwin Orchards in South Lyon, which is pretty standard for us.  We had even commented that we should really make an effort to get to some other orchards and check them out.

Well, Erwin's did what it could to encourage that attitude.  The lines were painfully long, and they only had one tractor pulling wagons to get people to the various apple stops.  It was an hour wait for the wagon.  We always figured that the wagon ride is part of what we were paying for, so we waited it out.  Peter got really whiny about how long the wait was.  So did I, but my whining was much more adult than Peter's -- though I think we felt about the same.  When it was close to closing time and they had to get all kinds of people out of the orchard, they managed to find two extra tractors.  I shared a few comments with Laura about that.

The day itself was beautiful.  After we got our 1/2 bushel of Cortland apples, we let Philip and Peter play around on the hay bales while Laura stood in the eternal line for doughnuts and cider.  It was actually getting dark by the time we left, but all that waiting was part of the reason.  Some photos.

 Peter looked cool in his Charlie Brown shirt!

MLS Football vs. St. Charles

We knew that St. Charles' JV team was good, and they were big.  The final score showed that, as the MLS Cardinals came up short, WAY short, 54-0.  I was not able to take any photos for this game as I was recruited for the chain gang.  I thought the conversation on the St. Charles side of the field might be entertaining and/or eye-opening, but there was not much controversial going on there.  I guess that happens when you are coasting to a lopsided victory.

The MLS Varsity traveled to St. Charles for their homecoming.  If you like defense, you would have liked the first half.  St. Charles' lone TD came after MLS was pinned deep in their own end and then fumbled the ball.  St. Charles only had to drive 2 yards to grab the early lead.  In the 2nd quarter, MLS got their "You-gotta-be-kidding-me" TD on a deep pass that had interception written all over it.  In fact, the St. Charles DB actually had caught it.  Then MLS' Owen Heyn literally ripped the ball right out of his hands and ran it in for the MLS TD.

Late in the 2nd quarter, Andrew grabbed an INT deep in MLS territory to end a St. Charles drive.  But then we rolled out for a pass from our own end zone and our QB got sacked.  So half time saw MLS down 8-7.

The second half saw MLS looking a lot sharper and finding some offensive plays that gained some yards.  St. Charles got their "You-gotta-be-kidding-me" TD on a deep pass that Andrew hoped to intercept.  His angle to the ball was just a bit off, so instead of the pick, he went for the knock away.  But the knock away sort of popped the ball a few feet up and the St. Charles receiver grabbed it and ran for the TD.

MLS, on the other hand, posted 3 more TD's in the second half, coming away with the 28-15 final score.  If you want to read the M-Live version of this, you can go here.  Otherwise, here are a few photos (mainly of Andrew).

 This catch was turned into about a 30 yard gain on a hard, tough run.