Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Advent (November 30, 2014)

JEREMIAH 33:14-16

In the name + of Jesus.

     Several times in these brief verses from Jeremiah, we hear the word “righteous,” or “righteousness.”  We often equate the term “righteous” with “holy,” and to be sure, they are related.  If something is righteous, that means that it rightly does exactly what God has created or designed it to do.  To better grasp what God means with the word righteous, perhaps we can consider what it means that something is not righteous.
     Everything that is not righteous falls into the category of evil.  When we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” many things come to mind.  It was not God’s design for genes to mutate so that people get cancer.  It was not God’s design for winds and storms to destroy homes and property.  It was not God’s design for ears to be deaf or to need hearing aids, for eyes to be blind or to need corrective lenses, or for limbs to fail so that we need walkers or wheelchairs.  These do not make you evil, but you are affected by such evils in this world.  Furthermore, it was not God’s design for people to bicker, complain, argue, or fight with each other.  It was not God’s design for people to covet and scheme to get what other people have.  It was not God’s design for anyone to post nasty or slanderous comments in social media or even to whisper them to one’s spouse.  Such things do mark you as evil, for God has not designed you to do them.  There is no one righteous in this world, and the whole world is no longer a home for righteousness.  Everyone and everything in this world have fallen under the category and the curse of what is evil. 
     There is nothing new under the sun.  The Israelites to whom Jeremiah preached were evil people living in an evil world, too.  Those Israelites demonstrated their evil hearts by their evil deeds.  Some had given up even trying to fight against their evil inclinations.  They took advantage of the poor.  They oppressed their fellowman.  They lied.  They cheated.  They were guilty of adultery and fornication.  And they chalked it all up to being just the way life is.
     The prophet Jeremiah was sent to call the people to repent, and to warn that judgment was coming upon them for their sins.  They were to be God’s people, but they were far from godly.  Though the Lord is long-suffering, he does not suffer our sins forever.  Destruction would come upon Jerusalem.  The temple would be razed.  The throne of David would be cut off and the line of David would be cut down to a stump.  And either death or exile would overtake the people. 
     The Lord would not revoke his judgment.  He does not delight in what is evil, but only in what is righteous.  He only delights when what he has created rightly does what it is designed to do.  In the midst of the evil that our Lord sees in our world, in our lives, and in our hearts, he makes a promise.  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.’” (Jeremiah 33:14-15)
     A righteous Branch would sprout.  From the throne and the line of David, which had been mowed down, the Lord would bring forth a new branch.  This Branch would be righteous, which means that he would do exactly what God had designed people to do.  He would execute justice and righteousness in the land.
     Now, is that good news or bad news—to know that this Branch which will sprout is going to execute justice and righteousness?  It is a comfort to know that he will not be crooked or shady in what he does.  But his righteousness also highlights our lack of righteousness.  We can see that what he does is good, right, and perfect, but it also demonstrates how far we fall short of being good, right, and perfect.  His very appearing proves that we are rightly condemned for the evil that dwells in our hearts and seeps out of our minds, our mouths, and our manner.  This would be fair and righteous justice.
     A righteous Branch will sprout, but he does not only do what is righteous.  He especially does what is merciful.  While the slaughtering of all sinners would be the faithful execution of the Law, that does not fulfill the Law.  Therefore, the righteous Branch, the Son of David, comes to fulfill all of God’s commands.  He is righteous in that he does everything man was designed to do.  He satisfies God’s commandments. 
     A righteous Branch will sprout, and “in those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 33:16)  Jeremiah does not call him the Righteous Lord, which he most certainly is.  Instead, Jeremiah declares that he is “The LORD is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:16)  The righteous Branch, whom we know is Jesus, springs forth not just to do the Commandments, but to do them for us. 
     A righteous Branch will sprout, and he will produce salvation for you.  He does not use God’s Law to convict and condemn you.  He fulfills God’s Law to supply your righteousness for you.  In his name, you were baptized so that Jesus’ righteousness has become your righteousness.  For, this is what the Lord says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)  The very holiness that God demands of you Jesus has supplied to you.  When the Lord sees you, he sees the righteousness of Christ, and he is now pleased with you.
     As for the evil that has stained you and marked you, Jesus has purified you by his own holy and precious blood.  He has taken up your sin and iniquity.  Just as Jesus had satisfied God’s demands by fulfilling the Law, so Jesus has also satisfied God’s wrath by paying for the sins of the world.  And so Jesus fulfills the Law twice.  Jesus has fulfilled the Law with his righteous life—doing all that the Commandments have ordered, and Jesus has fulfilled the Law with his sacrificial death—suffering the curse condemnation that the Law proclaims against those who are evil.  Now the words of Jeremiah stand fulfilled.  “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely.” (Jeremiah 33:16)  Jesus Christ has saved you.  He has won the Lord’s favor and turned away his wrath.  Jesus Christ causes you to dwell securely.  Your place in God’s kingdom is not in doubt because it is in Jesus’ hands. 
     After the nation of Israel went into exile for their sins, the Lord returned and restored a remnant of Israel who would rebuild Judah and Jerusalem.  They would rebuild the Temple and restore right worship of their Lord—worship which looked forward to the righteous Branch which would sprout up for their salvation.  Their worship would also be reflected in lives that did what they were designed to do as God’s people—love and serve their neighbors as themselves.  The Lord God would be with them.  Judah would be saved, and Jerusalem would dwell in safety.
     It is the same for you.  For you, through Christ, are God’s chosen people—chosen for salvation and set apart for service to God and to your fellow man.  Each day, you strive to be righteous, doing precisely what God has designed you to do in love for each other and for all others.  You still dwell in a world of evils where things do not go as God has designed and intended.  You still pray, “Deliver us from evil.”   But you also get to live in the confidence that the Lord is your righteousness, that God is always with you, and that he will come again to deliver you from this world to the New Jerusalem, the home of righteousness.  Until then, the Lord will keep you secure in your salvation as he feeds you from this altar and consoles you with his word.  A Righteous Branch has sprouted, and you dwell securely in its shade.

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sermon -- Thanksgiving (November 26, 2014)

MATTHEW 6:25-34

In the name + of Jesus.

     Thanksgiving is an easy holiday because we have been blessed with so much.  God’s generosity has given us blessings that excel in both abundance and variety.  Our grocery stores do not know seasons.  You can buy any kind of fruit or vegetable at any time of the year.  The only thing our wardrobes seem to be lacking is space.  If we are sick of whatever season we are in, we can take a flight to visit a different climate and find better weather.  If we want to escape reality altogether, there is a whole cyber-world out there to visit.  The times in which we live are amazing.  We often surpass the science fiction of just a century ago.
     We depend on technology to do things more efficiently, but we don’t live on technology.  The staples of life remain the same since the days of the Garden of Eden.  Our needs are the basics—food, clothing, and shelter.  If the bulk of the world’s history could exist without wi-fi and electricity, you could too.  But no one survives without food, clothing, and shelter.  These are what your heavenly Father has promised to give you, and your heavenly Father has been faithful in doing so for another year.  The Lord is faithful—so be thankful, not anxious.
     We live in the most luxurious time and place in the history of the world, yet we still stress and fret.  Why?  Because we don’t trust God to supply our needs.  We wish we could be God—convinced that, if we had almighty power, we would never lack anything.  But we aren’t God.  We have to rely on our Father in heaven to supply our needs.  We are wholly dependent upon God, and we hate it.  We do not trust God.  We do not believe that our Father really loves us.  Repent; for your whole life is totally dependent upon the Lord.    
     Jesus urges you to consider the birds of the air and the wildflowers in the fields.  They do not stress.  They are not anxious.  They are wholly dependent upon the Lord, and it causes them no concern at all.  The birds busy themselves, making nests and finding food for their young.  Then they sit on power lines or in branches and chirp or sing away.  They do what God has given them to do and do not worry about how their Father in heaven will provide for them—because he always does.  Even the cardinals and the blue jays stay throughout the winter months, knowing that the Father will care for them.
     The wildflowers do not care either.  They do not care if you pay attention to them or if you despise them as weeds.  The wildflowers bloom and grow, because that is what God has given them to do.  They beautify the meadows and even the strips of grass on the side of the freeway.  No matter how much King Solomon tried to dress himself up, it was nothing compared to the pedals on the daisies or the vibrant color of dandelions. 
     God has been faithful in providing for the birds of the air and the wildflowers in the field year after year.  Jesus asks you: Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26)  And Jesus assures you: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:31-32)”  And then Jesus promises you: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)  You are much more valuable to God than birds and flowers.  If your Father cares for them, he cares for you more.  Your Father in heaven knows what your needs are.  He is not ignorant of your life.  And your Father in heaven is not incapable of giving you what you need to live.  On the contrary, he has promised he will.  Again this year, he did.  The Lord does not utter empty words.  These are divine promises.  The Lord is faithful—so be thankful, not anxious.
     At Thanksgiving, we tend to focus on God’s First Article gifts.  That is, we remember what Martin Luther detailed in his explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed: He gave me “my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my mind, and all my abilities.  [And he daily and richly provides] clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, cattle, and all that I own, and all that I need to keep my body and life.”  All these things our Father in heaven faithfully gives us.  He varies how much he gives to each person, but each person has what he needs.  The Lord has always been faithful about that—so be thankful, not anxious.
     Even the most adamant atheist or vile felon can celebrate Thanksgiving because these people receive God’s gifts too.  Though they may not acknowledge the Lord, they still benefit from the Lord’s kindness.  The Lord still does not show favoritism when he hands out his First Article blessings.  “Your Father who is in heaven … makes his sun shine on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)  Your Father in heaven even loves those who despise him and fight against him.  The Lord is faithful even in loving his enemies—so be thankful, not anxious.
     Though God shows love by giving enough goods to fill Wal-Mart, Target, and Kroger, or your wardrobe, pantry, and garage, his greatest love was shown to you by the Savior he sent to you.  God’s love is not seen in his First Article gifts, but in his Second Article gifts.  In other words, God demonstrates his love by what Martin Luther detailed in his explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death.  All this he did that I should be his own and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
     Even while you were his enemy, the Lord loved you.  God has been merciful to you by sending Jesus Christ to suffer the punishment for your ingratitude, your worry, and every other evil.  The Lord has rained down his grace on the unjust by acquitting you from all your guilt.  Jesus has done the greatest good for you in making you righteous, innocent, and blessed in the sight of his Father.  And the Lord is faithful with this gracious love.  Even though you and I grumble about God’s blessings and complain about how God reigns over all things, God does not cut us off.  We confess that we deserve his punishment, both now and in eternity.  Yet, God continues to bless us both now and will for eternity.  He continues to pour out his gifts.  He supplies what we need for this life, and he has secured our place in the life to come.  The Lord is faithful—so be thankful, not anxious.
     Therefore, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)  For, his kingdom will never be destroyed and his righteousness will never be devalued.  Jesus’ righteousness makes you an heir of heaven.  Jesus’ kingdom is where you are set apart as the Lord’s beloved now and forever.  The Lord’s faithfulness means that you will always have what you need—enough to eat and drink and keep warm and dry, and enough to find peace for your conscience, comfort in times of stress and sorrow, and hope for the life to come.  You do not have to be anxious, as if you have to wrestle with God for his blessings.  And you do not have to fear that God is ignorant of your needs or impotent to supply them.  The Lord is faithful; so give thanks to the Lord.  He is good, and his faithful love endures forever. 

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

MLS football vs. Ishpeming

Michigan Lutheran Seminary played against Ishpeming in the state semi-finals on Friday, November 22.  We traveled to the neutral site (6 hours for MLS, 15 minutes for Ishpeming) of the Superior Dome in Marquette, MI.  MLS came up short, 22-18, against the two-time reigning state champ Hematites of Ishpeming.

It has been a few days since the game, so I can be a bit more detached while I write about it--though to be honest, I still can't help but pick things apart and play the "what if" game as well as anyone else.  But I will try to highlight a few reflective thoughts about the game.

1)  Each team scored three TD's.  Ishpeming scored on 2 of 3 PAT attempts; MLS missed all of their PAT attempts.

2)  Ishpeming executed their offense exceptionally well.  They did little that surprised MLS, but MLS was still unable to stop them.

3)  It is not as fun to say "Ishpeming" as it once was.

4)  The Superior Dome was hot and loud.

5)  Andrew and Casey Williams combined for over 250 yards receiving and 3 TD's.

6)  It is very hard to take photos of a game and to watch it at the same time.  I took some wonderful shots of the roof of the Superior Dome.  There was fascinating action going on below those photos.

7)  Rethinking the game, replaying some of the plays, and second guessing what happened has still not produced a single additional point to the final score.

8)  Players who worked so hard and had such lofty (and in my opinion, reasonably so) goals need not feel any shame when they cry after the game.  It hurts because it matters that much; and they got this far because it matters this much.  At this point in the season, only one team is going to end their season happy.  The other teams may leave the field sad or dejected, but they should also leave the field proud.  The MLS team accomplished great things this year.  We are all proud of them, and we wish they could have gotten to Ford Field this weekend.

9)  My own high school football career was pretty sad, experiencing victory only 4 times in three years on varsity (and three of those in just one season!).  Even if I had experienced success, I still think I would have enjoyed watching my own children's success more than having success myself.

10)  Dang, I wish we had punched in one more score after Ishpeming's failed punt attempt.  What if.........

 The Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI.

Laura and Nathanael enjoy a moment of optimism before the game begins. 

 Andrew hauls in the catch and runs for a long gain.  Andrew later caught MLS' first TD.

This was a 2 point conversion attempt.  
#12 from Ishpeming put on a good hit as soon as the ball got there and jarred it loose. 

Andrew caught another late in the game on MLS' last drive.  
Casey later got the TD, but the on-side kick attempt failed and time ran out.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sermon -- Last Sunday of the Church Year (November 23, 2014)

MATTHEW 25:1-13

In the name + of Jesus.

     A man from Nazareth had betrothed himself to a young virgin from Nazareth named Mary.  They had not yet come together as husband and wife when Mary heard from the angel that she had conceived and would give birth to Jesus.  Joseph had not heard about the angel, but he had learned about Mary’s pregnancy.  Betrothal was a binding arrangement, but Joseph no longer wanted to be bound to Mary, presuming that she had been unfaithful.  Instead, an angel appeared to Joseph urging him not to divorce Mary, but to take her home as his bride.
     Back in those days, a man would be betrothed to a woman for as much as a year.  When the time for the wedding came, the bride would adorn herself and have her attendants wait with her for her groom to come for her.  The groom would have his attending groomsmen join with him in a procession from his house to get his bride.  He would arrive at her house sometime during the week of the wedding festivities.  He would collect his bride, and all would go to celebrate and to partake in the wedding banquet.
     In the parable Jesus told, the bride and her attending bridesmaids, the ten virgins, were waiting for the groom to come for his betrothed.  For whatever reason, the groom was detained, and so they waited.  And waited.  And waited.  The groom took so long to come that the ten virgins all fell asleep.  The groom’s arrival did not come at a time that was expected or convenient.  But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him.’  Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. (Matthew 25:6-7)  The ten virgins were awakened from their slumber.  The five wise were prepared for the bridegroom.  They trimmed their lamps and put in fresh oil.  The foolish ones did not realize that they were foolish or unprepared until it was too late.  They failed in their duties to keep watch for the bridegroom.
     The foolish five begged for help from the five wise virgins.  They wanted oil for their lamps, but there was not enough for both.  The foolish ones were told to go and buy oil from those who sold it.  But would they really find any at the midnight hour?  Whether they did or didn’t is irrelevant.  The five foolish virgins came late to the banquet hall, and they begged to be let in.  But they had not been prepared, so they were not allowed.  They heard the master of the banquet utter the cruel words of judgment: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:12) 
     Now, we might conclude that the five wise virgins were heartless because they did not share.  We might think that the master was heartless because, although the bride’s attendants were late, they eventually did come to the feast.  Sinful hearts always want to find fault with the master or others.  The parable is not about sharing or hospitality.  Jesus makes the point with the word, “Therefore.”  “Watch therefore,” (Jesus said), “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13) 
     Keep watch: The Bridegroom is coming.  Jesus Christ has ascended to heaven to prepare a place for you at the wedding feast of the Lamb.  He will come again to gather his Bride, the Church.  As part of the wedding party, it is your joy, your responsibility, and your duty to keep watch.  The virgins in the parable were not clueless about the groom’s arrival.  They were special guests and desired by the groom to be a part of the celebration.  So it is with you.  The Lord has done everything to prepare a place for you and to prepare you for that place.
St. Paul
     So it was also for the five foolish virgins.  But they were foolish because they did not have any oil for their lamps when the groom came.  Their lights were extinguished.  Their faith was dead.  When the Groom came, only then did they realize that this was important and that they were foolish.  No begging from the wise virgins could help.  They could not share their oil.  One person cannot believe for another.  One person cannot vouch for another.  Even if all ten virgins had been tight friends, not even friendship or kinship will help when the Groom comes. 
     Keep watch: The Bridegroom is coming!  When the bridegroom arrived, the five foolish virgins went off to find oil.  But when the Groom comes, it is too late.  The gospel is preached here and now.  When Jesus returns, there will be no more preaching, no more oil, no more mercy, and no more time.  Now is the day of salvation; then it will be too late.  Therefore, keep watch; for the Bridegroom is coming.
      While this parable serves as a warning, it need not condemn you.  You can find many things which can distract you from your Savior’s voice.  These distractions are not necessarily evil things.  You are not condemned for taking your kids to soccer games.  You are not condemned for seeing the late movie on Saturday night.  You are not denounced for having a job which forces you to work on Sunday mornings.  These things are not evil in and of themselves.  But you can easily let them distract you from Christ’s word and sacraments.  That is when they become evil.
     It is easy to mistake a life of pleasure with God’s blessing upon you.  Your sinful flesh does not even have to work hard to make excuses why Jesus has to wait for you—until you have time, until you are rested, until this season is done, until you get past this stage of life, until, until, until…..  Keep watch: The Bridegroom is coming!  He will not give a two-week notice or a two-minute warning so that you can get serious about him at the last moment.  The five virgins were not foolish because they were floozies, but because they were faithless.  Their lamps had run out.  They had no oil.  They did not keep watch or care.  And they were shut out. 
     Keep watch; for the Bridegroom is coming!  Jesus is coming to give you much better than you have now—greater blessing, endless peace, immeasurable joy, and a bounteous feast that will never get old or stale or ruined.  He already lets you sample the feast now—the heavenly banquet in which he takes away sins and keeps your faith fed.  He repeats the summons week after week as his word is read and preached.  Here is the oil which keeps the light lit in your lamp.  Here is where you come to ready yourself, to pray for strength against temptations, to confess your sins, to confess his name, to receive his mercy, and to keep watch for his return. 
     Soon, the cry will go out.  Soon, the Bridegroom will come.  Soon, the Church will be gathered into the heavenly banquet hall.  Soon, the party will really begin.  Until then, keep listening.  Keep praying.  Keep watch; for the Bridegroom is coming!

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

MLS football vs. Laker (Pigeon-Elkton-Bay Port) High School

Last Friday, Michigan Lutheran Seminary went on the road again, to face an undefeated opponent ... again.  This time it was against Laker High School who had high hopes for advancing.  With an undefeated season, who could blame them.

On the other hand, MLS has been relishing the place of underdog.  In MLS' first playoff contest, they probably did not respect their opponent as much as they should have.  You can blame the windy weather for changing the game plan, but Manton gave MLS all they could handle until last minute TD's made everyone breath a little easier.  But the breathing did not come easy until there were 2 minutes left in that game.  In contrast, MLS fans have been able to breathe easy by the end of the 1st quarter in each of the last 2 games.  MLS grabbed a 21-0 lead against Laker by the end of the 1st quarter.

Laker posted a TD toward the end of the half, shaving the lead to 21-8.  But the momentum swung right back to MLS on the next drive, which began near mid-field.  A hook-and-ladder (or lateral, for you purists) play resulted in a long TD.  The pass was to Andrew who pitched it to Casey Williams, who ran about 100 yards across the field and to the end zone for the TD.  Officially, I think it was a 44 yard TD.  On the ensuing kickoff, Laker had trouble handling the ball.  MLS got it at about the 15 yard line.  In just moments, Andrew had a diving catch for a TD.  So MLS went into halftime with a comfortable 34-8 lead.

The second half saw the defense refuse any points to Laker, while the offense tacked on 10 more, making it a 44-8 final and a regional championship.

To say that we are giddy about all this success is an understatement.  MLS will go on the road again to a -- ahem -- neutral site.  We will play 2 time defending state champs Ishpeming at the Superior Dome in Marquette, MI.  From Novi, we are budgeting about 8 hours of travel time.  Ishpeming should only need a gallon of gas to travel their 15 miles to the Superior Dome and back.  I hope our trip home is happier than theirs.  I know it will be longer.  (By the way, I have to admit that I find it fun to say the word "Ishpeming.")

Having this much success can't help but garner some attention from the local (that is, Saginaw-local) media.  You can check out a TV spot here.  And M-Live has a few articles -- here, here. and a preview article for the game against Ishpeming here.

Otherwise, here are a few of my photos from the game against Laker.

One of many first quarter catches. 


Here, Andrew consults with our two              This is the catch that began the hook-and-ladder.
defensive linemen, Dan Gensmer (68)
and Keith Brassow (54), both of whom
are undersized for defensive tackles,
but both of whom play HUGE.

Another catch in the second half.

I did not get the TD catch, as it was on the far side of the field and there were Laker players blocking my view.
 After every game, the coach leads the team in prayer.

The euphoria of being regional champs!!! 

Nathanael has logged a good number of hours on the road from New Ulm, MN to see a few of MLS' games this year.  He has plans to get to Marquette on Saturday, too.  I know he would have loved to have been a part of this playoff run, but life moves on to other things when you graduate.  In any case, it is really cool to see how much he is enjoying this ride--as much as if it were his, too.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of End Times (Saints Triumphant)

MATTHEW 25:31-46

In the name + of Jesus.

     It was never God’s intention that man would be cut off from him or be banished to hell.  Consider Jesus’ words: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)  God’s intention from the creation of the world was that he would live in communion with humanity and for eternity would continue to pour out blessings upon people in his heavenly kingdom.  Even the curse Jesus will issue says as much: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)  Hell was invented for the devil and his demons, not for people.  That does not mean people will not be sent there, but that was never God’s intent.  It still isn’t. 
     Heaven is reserved for saints.  The word “saint” means “holy one.”  Heaven is a place where only that which is holy can dwell, so it is not a surprise to hear that those who are in heaven are holy, or saints.  These are the righteous who are mentioned in our gospel.  These are the ones who were separated from the unrighteous by Jesus.  They are his.  He knows them, and so he knows precisely who should be set apart to receive a place in the heavenly kingdom.  No matter how well the wicked seem to be righteous and no matter how many good works the wicked could take credit for, Jesus knows better.  He is not deceived by outward acts.  Just as a shepherd can distinguish between a sheep and a goat, so Jesus can distinguish between who is a saint and who is not.
     Jesus identified the saints for us as he foretold of the judgment.  He explains why the righteous will receive the kingdom.  “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)  The wicked, by contrast, did not do those things.  They will be condemned because they did not do the good that God demands.
     Now, when you heard Jesus’ description of the righteous and what they do, did you do a mental check list?  If you did, are you pleased with how well you’ve done, or are you alarmed because some things are missing?  And if you were doing a check list, do you really think that is what makes you a saint and gets you into heaven?  Beware, because this is how the wicked think.  When Jesus cursed them for their lack of works, the wicked responded: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (Matthew 25:44)  These people had been keeping track.  They had tallied up their good works and presented them to Jesus.  They wanted their reward.
     The wicked are always surprised that Jesus calls them wicked.  The wicked always believe they are good people and do good things.  In doing so, they reject God’s judgment.  God teaches everyone to confess, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6)  Our righteous deeds are filth.  Though we may praise each other for our deeds, before God we are all corrupt.  Therefore, even our best works are filth to him.  If our best is filth because it is stained with sin, what reward should God give it?  God is only pleased with that which is holy.  Just as you have no desire to see filth tracked through your home, so God will not let filth be dragged into heaven.  If you are sinful, then all you do is sinful.  If sins remain, the curse remains.  And the curse means you will be banished to eternal punishment.
     It was never God’s intention that man would be cut off from his kingdom or be banished to hell.  It still isn’t.  At the judgment, Jesus will speak to the saints: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)  Then he will cite evidence of their godly lives.  The saints, however, do not remember having done these works.  They did not keep track.  They have no tally marks to show Jesus.  They are stunned that they are even being credited for doing them.  That is because the saints don’t trust in themselves or their works to be saved.  So what makes you a saint?  Why should you be counted among the righteous?
     Jesus answers that when he says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father….” (Matthew 25:34)  This sentiment was expressed once before by Jesus.  It was after Peter had confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16)  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you Simon…  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18)  Simon Peter was blessed by the Father because the Father had revealed to him his Savior, Jesus.  It is Jesus who has prepared the kingdom for you.
     Jesus is the Christ, the Righteous One.  As the Son of the Living God, Jesus is righteous by nature.  As the Son of Man, Jesus is righteous for having kept all of God’s Commandments.  In Jesus, we have one man who has performed the holy obedience God demands.  In Jesus, we have one man who has opened the way into God’s kingdom.  God has prepared a kingdom for you, and Jesus is the way in.   
    Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, took his innocent life and gave it up for you.  He gave up credit for his perfect obedience and credited it to you.  He gave up credit for his perfect obedience so that he would take credit for all of the obedience you failed to give and for all the good that you never did, never wanted to do, or never got around to doing.  By taking credit for your sins, Jesus also takes the consequences of your judgment.  The Righteous one dies for the unrighteous.  The only one who is truly good dies for all who are bad.  He has taken all of your bad and credits you with all of his good.  Rather than banishing you as one who is cursed, it is the curse which has been banished from you.  Your sins are covered.  Your curse has been lifted.  Through Jesus, the kingdom has been prepared for you.
     Behold!  You are blessed by the Father who has revealed to you your Savior, Jesus Christ.  You are blessed by the Father who was pleased to send his Son to cover over all your filth and clothe you in garments of salvation.  Through Jesus’ holy and precious blood, you have been cleansed of every stain, every spot, and every impurity.  You stand before God as people who are now righteous and blameless, that is, as saints.  Therefore, the kingdom which the Father had prepared for you from the creation of the world is yours. 
     Jesus Christ will come again and deliver his saints into the heavenly kingdom.  Jesus has prepared it for you, and Jesus Christ has prepared you for it.  You are his saints.  This is no mere status symbol—though it is the status for which you will be judged.  It is also your new nature.  As God’s holy ones, you also desire to do holy things.  Among those holy things is to love your neighbor in his need—whether his need is food or drink, clothing or shelter, or sitting by his side or taking his side.  God regards these as holy works whether they are done in a mission field, in your little corner of Michigan, or in your house.  God regards these as holy because he regards you as holy.  You don’t do these things because they are items that need to be checked off the list, but because they are needs your neighbor has.  You do them because faith puts itself to work in showing mercy.  And no matter how insignificant it seems to you, Jesus puts his blessing upon it.
     Jesus has prepared the kingdom for you.  Jesus will soon take you into the Paradise of God.  There, the saints will receive all good things, and only good things.  This is always what your Lord has intended for you.  Jesus has seen to it that the kingdom is yours; for, you are his saints.

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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of End Times - Last Judgment (November 9, 2014)

MATTHEW 24:15-28

The voice of the LORD cries to the city—
and it is sound wisdom [O LORD] to fear your name. (Micah 6:9)

In the name + of Jesus.

     He ascended into heaven.  From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.  We confess it every week.  Although end-of-the-world headlines might grab people’s attention, Judgment Day is probably taken as seriously as a haunted house.  We scare ourselves over it for a while, but, like a haunted house, we treat it as something that is not very real.  We will fret over Ebola and North Korea and hurricane season because CNN tells us to.  But for many, Judgment Day is lumped in with Mayan calendars and Y2K. 
     There is a reason the Church confesses that the Son of Man will come to judge the living and the dead.  It is real, and it is serious.  If you prefer not to think about it, that is probably because it scares the bejeebers out of you.  Jesus’ words in our gospel probably do not alleviate your fears.  But listen to Jesus’ words carefully.  He does not tell you that Judgment Day is something to fear.  On the contrary, Judgment Day is something to pray for—fervently.  Judgment Day is the day when you will finally be delivered from all of the horrifying violence and hatred that Jesus described in this lesson.  When Judgment Day comes, it will be the end of Ebola, wars and rumors of wars, hurricane seasons, allergy seasons, bitterness, bullying, persecution, and pet peeves.  And so, dear Christian, Judgment Day is nothing you should be scared of.  Judgment Day is something you should long for.  The Son of Man will come in judgment.  The sooner it comes, the sooner every one of your problems is done.  That is why the Church confesses with joyful confidence, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”  And it is why the Church continues to pray fervently, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
     Jesus’ words serve as a warning for what we can expect in this world until he comes.  Judgment Day is not scary; this world is!  On Judgment Day, you will be delivered from everything that would threaten or deceive you; in this world, you are inundated by things that would threaten or deceive you.  “Behold!” Jesus warns, “I have told you beforehand.” (Matthew 24:25)  
     The greatest threats that we face are not epidemics or economics.  The threats are against your faith.  Jesus warned, False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)  As he deceived at the beginning of time, so Satan will try to deceive until the Last Day.  He raises up preachers, but these preachers do not flat out call Jesus a liar.  You would see through that easily.  Instead, deceivers take God’s truth and warp it. 
     To be a false christ, you have to seem somewhat like Christ.  Such preachers refer to the Bible.  They are engaging and entertaining.  They tell heartfelt, tear-jerking stories.  It sounds pious.  It makes you feel good about yourself.  And finally that is the goal—to point you not to Jesus but to yourself, your feelings, your experiences, your efforts, and your desires.  Our egos love this.  We want our faith and our religion to be about us.  And if we are eager to believe such  preaching, anything will be enough of a sign to convince us that this is true religion—whether that sign is how many people the pastor gathers in, how much your emotions are stirred up, or even if there are visions or healings.  Satan does not care if you are fascinated by signs and wonders.  These will keep you entertained and amazed, but they will not forgive sins.  And your sin, finally, is what you will be judged for.
     The Son of Man will come in judgment.  Jesus compares the coming of Judgment Day to the days that led up to the destruction of the Temple.  The abomination in the temple was the godless, Roman legions surrounding it and invading it.  God had sent the Roman armies in judgment against the Jews.  Though the Jews looked very pious in their sacrifices and services, they had rejected Jesus.  They had the form of godly religion, but they had rejected God’s truth.  They had abandoned the only one whose sacrifice paid for their sins.  As a result, they were really worshiping a god of their own fabrication; for they were not worshiping the true God.  Because they rejected their Messiah, God responded with judgment.  Jesus warned his disciples that, when they saw the destruction coming, they should be focused on one goal—fleeing so that they would not perish in his judgment.  Jesus urged the people to forget their possessions and even their necessities; for, they would not save.  Anyone who hoped to save his possessions would die because of them.  
     So it is with you.  Focus on only one thing as the day approaches—to be saved from the coming judgment.  Flee where you find safety.  Your true enemies are sin, death, and the devil; these are what you flee from.  To find peace and salvation, even in a world that is hostile and horrible, you flee to Jesus.  The Son of Man will come in judgment, but Jesus saves you so that you need not fear it. 
     Jesus Christ has saved you from everything that would harm or condemn you at the Judgment Day.  You do not have to fear being exposed or damned for your sins.  You cannot be condemned for sins that are not counted against you.  The Son of Man came for judgment—yours.  Jesus endured the judgment for your sin when he hung from the cross.  He endured your damnation when he was forsaken by the Father.  The Son of Man came for judgment—to render a new judgment upon you.  That judgment was applied to you at your baptism.  There, you were washed in the holy blood of Jesus.  There, you were cleansed of all sin.  But if Satan should still haunt you and taunt you because of sins you are still committing, then confess your sins to the minister Jesus has provided for you.  Through him, Jesus silences the accuser.  Through him, Jesus reapplies his judgment to you.  There, Jesus absolves you and assures you that you have been acquitted of all your guilt.  Your judgment is in: You are pardoned.
     Still, you will hear seductive and deceptive voices trying to lead you away from Jesus.  As long as the world endures, Satan will still raise up false christs and false prophets.  But you need not fear being deceived as long as you are still paying attention to Jesus’ words.  Jesus warned, So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out.  If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.  For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:26-27)  The Son of Man will come in judgment.  He will come to bring you to his eternal kingdom.  His coming will be unmistakable.  So you need not be deceived that he has returned in some special way.  You will not miss it; for he is coming for you.
     Until then, you continue to seek for Jesus where he tells you that he will be.  He comes to you through faithful preaching—for that is where he proclaims his grace.  He comes to you through the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion—for that is where he applies his salvation to you personally.  Through these means of grace, Jesus issues his judgment: Forgiveness and salvation.  This is where you will find deliverance from sin, death, hell, and Satan.  This is where you find deliverance from a judgment that damns and receive a judgment that saves. 
     The Son of Man will come in judgment. At Judgment Day, you will be raised anew with a glorified body and will receive a glorified future.  This is nothing to fear, but something to pray for.  Jesus will come again from the heavens to take you from a hostile world to an eternal peace.

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

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Football Mom and Beautiful wife

Laura had a successful splenectomy and is recovering in the hospital right now.  The surgery took a little longer than we had anticipated.  When we saw her in the recovery room, barely alert, she recognized that it was later than we had anticipated the surgery would take.  Among her first words when she saw us was a groggy, "It's late.  You need to get to Andrew's game."

I love my wife.

MLS Football vs. Whittemore-Prescott (playoffs game 2)

Michigan Lutheran Seminary traveled north (WAY north for us) to the woods between Whittemore and Prescott to face the undefeated Cardinals of Whittemore-Prescott High School (WP).  It sounded as if M-Live and the locals were pretty confident of a victory.  About 30 minutes before kickoff, I overheard some WP moms already making plans for the next week's game.  I had the urge to warn them of pride going before the fall, but that would have sounded prideful.

MLS managed to give WP all the reason to believe their confidence was well-placed when we fumbled the first play from scrimmage.  WP fumbled it right back two plays later.  Moments later, MLS had marched right down the field and scored on a 10 yard TD pass to Andrew (sorry, no photo).  If WP had been down much at all in the year, it was probably by a no more than a TD early in the game, so I don't know how much this bothered them.  But soon WP found themselves down 12-0 after a 91 yard punt return by Casey Williams in the 1st quarter, and I was thinking this was new territory for them.  It was certainly foreign territory for WP when MLS went up 18-0 in the 2nd quarter.

Long story short, the final was 46-0.  MLS had their best game as far as blocking and tackling were concerned.  The defense absolutely swarmed the WP running attack.  Gang tackling and tackles for loss shut them down, so that WP gained only 49 yards the whole game.

There are two articles on M-Live to summon up the game.  The first one can be found here.  The second one can be found here.

Next week MLS will travel to Pigeon in the Thumb (locals will understand) to face Pigeon-Elkton-Bay Port Laker High School.

Some photos.
 This was after Casey's 91 yard punt return.  
Andrew had just scored in this same corner on a previous drive.

 Hard tackling and tough D.  A LOT of gang tackling.

 The emotions of a decisive victory.

 Grandpa Schmidt made it to the game.

Andrew with the Division Championship trophy.

2014 Michigan Lutheran Seminary Cardinals.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sermon -- 1st Sunday of End Times-Reformation (November 2, 2014)

MATTHEW 11:12-15

In the name + of Jesus.

The voice of the LORD cries to the city—
and it is sound wisdom [O LORD] to fear your name. (Micah 6:9)

     Our Lord Jesus Christ said, From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)  That doesn’t sound right.  We would think that Jesus would state that the kingdom of heaven is coming to crush all that are in opposition to it.  We would think Jesus would tell us that kingdom is glorious, and that it will stand glorious even as the whole world falls apart.  Instead, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.  And when Jesus says this, he is not suggesting that anything will change.  The verb was translated the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, as if it would soon be a thing of the past.  But the verb is actually present tense.  The kingdom of heaven is suffering violence, and violent men are grabbing hold of it.
     This was the case in the days of Jesus and John the Baptist.  Each began their preaching with the exact same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17)  The kingdom of heaven is revealed and established in Jesus Christ.  He alone is the source of mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life.  Outside of Jesus Christ, there is no hope and no salvation.  So even if your neighbor or co-worker seems to be nicer than you are, does more good than you do, has achieved more honor, or has sacrificed more than you, that does not save him.  Outside of Christ there is no forgiveness, no matter how great someone seems.  Salvation does not come by your deeds of love, but by Jesus’ deeds of love for you.  In other words: by faith alone. 
     But your senses tell you that faith cannot be enough.  Your senses tell you that you must do something to be saved.  There must be something in you that makes you worthy.  We usually decide for ourselves what that thing is: I am more sincere.  I have put in more time.  I have refrained from cheating.  I am a good parent.  I get to church more than most.  We will even give ourselves credit because we intended to do better.  In other words, we believe we deserve a reward.  And while we recognize that Jesus’ death was important, we think that it is equally important that there was something in us which has merited God’s attention and affection.
     So the kingdom of heaven suffers violence—not just from King Herod who kills John the Baptist; not just from Caiaphas who plots to destroy Jesus; not just from Muslims who decapitate Christians; not just from post-modern Americans who are appalled that the Church still calls sins evil; but even from you who take pride in your good works and think that they have earned something for you, who think that your opinion is equal to God’s judgment, and who look down on others because they have not been as righteous or moral or honest as you.  The kingdom of heaven suffers violence at the hands and mouths of everyone.  For, everyone presumes to think and speak for God and to judge on God’s behalf.  This is nothing new.  Adam and Eve sought to become like God in the Garden.  To this day, we all grasp for that position.  We all strive and struggle and violently attempt to seize not just the kingdom but the kingship.  Repent.
     The very first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses states: Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said [Repent!], willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.  Those words began what we now call the Lutheran Reformation.  Now, if something is going to be reformed, there will be an act of violence involved.  Steel that is reformed into the frame of a truck will endure violent blows.  Marble that is reformed into a statue will be hammered and chiseled.  Likewise you, when the Lord works repentance in you, must destroy your sinful nature and reform you into a new nature. 
     The clash between heaven and hell was never going to be peaceful.  The Lord Jesus did not come to forge a treaty, but to destroy Satan and his kingdom.  The very first promise of the Savior foretells of the violence.  In speaking to the serpent, the Lord said that the Seed of the Woman would “bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  Each would deliver a violent blow.  Satan struck against Jesus who willing took all Satan had to give.  Jesus took your sins, your curse, your death, and your hell.  Jesus absorbed all the venom of Satan and endured a violent, shameful death. 
     But by going into death, Jesus delivered a violent, crushing blow upon sin, death, and Satan.  By dying for you, Jesus paid for all your sins.  So, by dying, Jesus delivered you from Satan’s domain.  Then Jesus destroyed death by rising from the grave.  Jesus delivered you from death by his resurrection.  Jesus did not leave sin, death, and Satan wounded; he crushed them all underfoot.  Likewise, Jesus does not leave you in doubt about your forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life.  Jesus lives; no one can kill him off.  Jesus reigns; nothing can overthrow his kingdom.  So, even though the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, not even the gates of hell can overcome it.  You have been delivered from death to life.  You have been brought from Satan’s domain into the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus is your refuge, your hope, your salvation, and your life.  You are secure in his kingdom.
     Nevertheless, what Jesus said is still true: “The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)  You still live in the Church Militant, and that means that the violence will continue.  Your greatest struggles are not against the forces of ISIS, but against your own sinful flesh.  Your sinful nature does not willingly surrender.  For, it does not want to die.  Temptations from your own flesh are ever-present and persistent.  If you surrender to them, you will perish.  So you must fight against and pray.  Put your sins to death by repentance, and Jesus will raise you up with his divine absolution.  You will confess your faith before a world which despises Jesus, and they will despise and ridicule you for it.  You will be mocked for doing what is good, and you will be despised for calling sins evil.  The kingdom of heaven will not appear glorious in this world.  The Christian life with not be easy, and it will not look pretty.  The kingdom of heaven will still suffer violence.
     But fear not!  Though Satan rage, though the world rebel, and though your own sinful flesh tell you to retreat or surrender, the Lord Jesus has fought the battle and he has won.  The Lord Jesus will still work his reformation in you.  Though you will feel battle weary in the Church Militant, the Lord uses those struggles to purge you of your sin, to drive you to your refuge, and to find comfort and hope in Jesus Christ alone.  Jesus is the only place you will find comfort, hope, and salvation.  That is why he lets the world go on in rebellion.  The world’s judgment is mounting up against it.  But you have your refuge in Jesus Christ.  There, you find forgiveness.  There, you are delivered from death.  There, your eternal life is certain.  Jesus has given you ears to hear this, hearts to believe it, and mouths to confess it.  So do not fear, though the whole world and all of hell break out in violence.  The kingdom of heaven cannot be overthrown, and you cannot be snatch out of Jesus’ hand.  You have an indestructible refuge.  Your God is a mighty fortress.  Though the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, in Christ, you are safe.  

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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

MLS football vs. Manton (playoffs, game 1)

On Friday night, Michigan Lutheran Seminary hosted Manton High School for the first round of playoffs.  MLS was 8-1 going into the game, and Manton was 7-2.  It was the first time since 1994 that Manton had made the playoffs, and though MLS has seen the playoffs over the years, they had not advanced beyond the first round since 1994.  So for either team, the night's game would represent a great milestone, two decades in the making.

We drove up through heavy snow from Flint until Bridgeport, but the snow/rain had stopped by the time we got to Saginaw.  It was still very windy (40 mph), and the forecast was for heavy winds all night long.

Manton proved to be a solid, disciplined football team.  They were also taught to tackle very well.  MLS jumped to an early lead, 7-0.  But Manton answered before halftime and got a two-point conversion.  Halftime score was 8-7, Manton.

Neither team scored in the 3rd quarter, but MLS did not look like it had any way to move the ball.  The drives all stalled, and with both teams relying heavily on the running game, the clock just kept ticking.

Manton scored what looked like the dagger with 7:52 left in the game.  MLS held them out of  the end zone on the two-point conversion attempt which was HUGE, keeping the game only one score away, 14-7.  Finally, MLS started to run between the tackles (as I wondered, WHERE WAS THAT IN THE PREVIOUS 3 QUARTERS?????)  MLS needed all four downs to convert a few times, but convert they did.  Some of them actually busted out into TD's.  MLS ended up putting up 20 points in the 4th quarter, resulting in a 27-14 win.  That final score belies how tight and how stressful the game was.

The next game will be Friday, November 7 at Whittemore-Prescott.  Laura will be recovering from surgery that same day.

You can read about M-Live's accounts of the game here and here.

Some photos here:
 Andrew had one catch all night.  This was it.

 Andrew (middle) leans in to make a tackle.

Victory and euphoria!!!