Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sermon -- Christmas Day (December 25, 2014)

The Greek words o logos are
translated "The Word."  It is the
name ascribed to the second person
of the Trinity, God the Son.
JOHN 1:1-14

In the name + of Jesus.

     Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets…. (Hebrews 1:1)  When the Lord revealed his will and his word throughout the Old Testament, he spoke through flesh and blood prophets.  Only at Sinai did God appear and speak personally to all Israel, but when he did the Israelites begged Moses to speak to God on their behalf.  They were deathly afraid of the glory of the Lord.  They wanted someone to stand in between him and them.  The Lord was also pleased with this plan.  He spoke through Moses, and later through Samuel, and Elijah, and David, and Isaiah, and so on.
     At the end of the Old Testament era, one prophet remained.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  (John 1:6-9)  St. John the Baptist did not merely point people forward to the Lord.  When John pointed, there was a man at the end of his finger.  John was not the Word, but spoke about the Word.  John was not the Light, but pointed to the Light.  John was not Life, but testified to the Life.  John testified about Jesus and declared: That man is God. 
     St. John the Evangelist testifies of Jesus as well.  He says, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  The word “seen” does not mean that we merely caught a glimpse of God.  Some people say we get a glimpse of God at the birth of a baby or by gazing through the Hubble telescope into deep space.  St. John says that we have received much more than a glimpse.  St. John says that we have observed God’s glory.  We have given our attention to it.  We have gazed upon it.  When you behold Jesus, you see God.
     The Word was God. (John 1:1)  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (John 1:10)  One of the reasons the world did not know him is that the world expects something different when God appears.  We have beheld his glory.  But it is a strange sight to behold.  When Jesus calmed the storm or multiplied the loaves, that is what we expect God to look like.  That is glorious and majestic and awesome.  But that is not how God entered our world. 
     We have beheld his glory.  Just as he did throughout the Old Testament, so he does at Christmas.  When God reveals his glory, he hides himself.  God hid his glory under the cloud at Sinai and in the temple.  God hid his glory in the mouths of fleshly prophets.  And when God comes into the world to be our Immanuel, to be “God with us,” God hides himself again.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  More specifically, he “tabernacled” among us.  God hid his glory in frail flesh and blood.  The Omnipotent became impotent.  He who created heaven and earth submitted himself to its pains and frustrations and tragedies.  The fingers which fashioned the stars and scrawled out the Ten Commandments on stone tablets now reached up to wrap his tiny little fingers around the Virgin Mary’s pinky.  It is not meant to be cute.  God’s glory is that he becomes weak and helpless in order to save you.  He becomes flesh and blood so that he will bleed and die for you.  His tabernacle will be ripped by scourge and nails and spear.  The glory of God will be further revealed by bruising and welts and death.  But this is precisely why he comes.  God becomes man to save fallen mankind.
     We have beheld his glory.  Although his glory is veiled in flesh, we behold his glory nonetheless.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)  Jesus Christ is the Light and the Life of the world.  That is not merely to say that he lives.  It means that anything and everything that lives is because of him.  It means that true life is found in him.  Through him, it has all been brought into being.  By him, it is all held together.  Apart from Jesus, there is only darkness and death. 
     The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)  The darkness is sin and unbelief.  Sinful mankind does know God.  Sinners do not believe that God is good or fair.  Therefore, sinners invent their own gods—gods which can be manipulated, gods which can be fooled, gods which can be defeated, or gods which are just like the people who create them.  Sinners believe in the gods they invent, but not in the God who is.  Unless God reveals himself, you remain in the dark. 
     But the light shines in the darkness.  God reveals himself in Jesus.  That does not mean sinners like it.  St. John notes, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)  When the Light of Christ shines in the world, it shows us all for the sinners we are.  We would rather have that god who can be fooled so that we can get away with our sins under the cover of darkness and still be rewarded for being good people.  If God exposes you as a sinner, he is not being cruel, but honest.  It is good for us to be honest as well, and to confess our sin.  Then Jesus’ birth will give you reason to rejoice.
     If you would rejoice in Jesus’ birth, it is because you confess that he is your Savior.  If you would delight in a Savior, it is because you recognize that you need to be saved.  The Light now shines in the darkness—not to blast you for your sins, but to show you God’s love and salvation.  We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
     Jesus demonstrates the love of God in that he wants you to be his children and heirs of heaven.  God wanted it, so Jesus came to do the work to make it happen.  The Word became flesh in order to shed his blood as the payment for your sins.  The Word became flesh in order to give his body into death, only to rise from the grave three days later.  By doing these things, Jesus has taken away all of your sins and even delivers you from death.  And to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12)  Your rights as God’s children mean that you get to receive the life that Jesus truly wants you to have.  In him is life, and it is a life without fear or shame or guilt.  It is a life with peace and joy, confident that not even death can separate you from the love of God.  It is a life that does not fear the grave, for you know that your body will rise from the dead since you have a flesh and blood Savior who has conquered death for you.  And it is a life that has the hope of everlasting life in God’s presence without sadness or loneliness, without disaster or dissensions, and without end.  We have beheld God’s glory—that he loves and saves sinners.
     And now you get to behold God’s glory again this morning.  For, the Savior who came as flesh and blood for you now comes in body and blood for you.  The flesh and blood Savior who paid for your sins gives you his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  The flesh and blood Savior who conquered death for you now gives you his body and blood for your everlasting salvation.  This is your true Christmas feast.  Here, he presents his gifts to us.  Here, the grace of God is administered to you.  Here, we behold his glory again. 

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sermon -- Wedding of Patrick Lawrie and Mary Jo Weindorf (December 24, 2014)


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)  Even the Lord God did not desire to be alone; for he created mankind whom he desired to bless and on whom he could shower his love.  As the Lord created the world, he assessed his creation at each step of the way.  With each step, we read: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25)  It was good that people would have these created things which they could enjoy and use. 
     But after God had created Adam, God declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)  Two are better than one. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)  It would be good for the man to have a wife to whom he could be united, whom he could love and bless and protect and serve.  So God created a woman for the man.  And two are better than one. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)  It would be good for the woman to be united to the man whom she could love and bless and serve.
     God joins the two of you together because marriage is good.  And marriage is good because two are better than one. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)  God gives you to each other to love each other.  That love means that you are always seeking the good of the other.  Patrick, you are made the head of the household.  Therefore, all you do is to be for the good of your house and for the benefit of your bride.  Mary Jo, you are submitting yourself to Patrick so that you can receive good things from him.  You get to support and encourage him as he loves and serves you.  If one hurts, the other is there to comfort.  If one falls, the other is there to help him or her up.  Two are better than one. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)  Our Lord tells you to love your neighbor as yourself, and there is no closer neighbor you will ever have than the one to whom you are united in marriage.  God sees this, and he says that it is good.  Two are better than one. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
     Patrick and Mary Jo, even though the Lord joins you together today, you will from time to time find yourself at odds rather than feeling united.  You will try to maintain your independence, exert your will, and have your way.  We all have a sinful nature, and it is recognized best in our selfish desires.  It rears its ugly head when you see your spouse as the one who keeps you from getting what you want.  It turns your spouse into someone you use instead of someone you serve.  You can dig in your heels, and you may even win your share of arguments, but it is at the cost of your unity.  Your own sinful desires would have you engage in a tug-of-war and rip things apart.
     We are on the threshold of Christmas this morning, keeping us mindful that our Lord was also pleased to establish one other union.  It is not good for mankind to be alone, cut off from God because of his sin and selfishness.  It is not good for people to devote themselves to themselves at the expense of others and in defiance of God’s commandments.  It is not good for people to fail to love even of their loved ones.  It is not good.  It results in angry and bitter people.  It results in strained relationships and broken homes.  And finally, it results in God’s eternal punishment.

     You know that it is not good to be under this curse.  The Lord also thinks that it is not good.  Therefore, the Lord was pleased to unite himself with you by becoming man.  Jesus did this because he was seeking your highest good; for, that is what love does.  Jesus was born to unite himself to you not only by becoming flesh, but especially by becoming sin for you.  Jesus was pleased to take up the guilt of your selfishness and self-indulgence.  For this, he was cut off, banished, and forsaken by his Father.  He endured a cursed death; that is the wages of sin.  Jesus does not bear a grudge against you for your sins.  Rather, he bore your punishment in order to release you from all your guilt. 
     Just as Jesus has united himself to you by becoming flesh, so he unites you to himself through your baptism.  He has drowned your sinful nature and has raised you up a new creation.  The love Jesus has for you, you now get to show to one another.  You get to seek each other’s good as Jesus has done for you.  You get to forgive one another as Jesus has forgiven you.  In this way, the Lord does not send you in your marriage on your own.  The Lord is the one who ties all things together.  The Lord is the binding agent of your life in his kingdom and in your life together.  So, as the Lord joins the two of you together, he is the third strand in your marriage, and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12) 
    On this Christmas Eve day, the Lord was pleased to unite himself to mankind, to be our Immanuel, and to dwell with us so that we will dwell in his kingdom forever.  Today, the Lord unites you as husband and wife.  Today, the Lord is pleased to dwell in your home and to bless you through his gift of marriage.  The Lord will be pleased to continue to bless you throughout your life as you serve one another as husband and wife.  And you will please one another by growing in your unity and by serving and supporting each other at all times.  Two are better than one, and today the two become one.  God sees it, and it is good.
All Scripture references are NKJV.

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lutheran Satire and the Origins of Christmas

As is typical around the holiest seasons of the Church Year (i.e., Christmas and Easter), someone will trot out the usual claims that Christianity ripped off some other religion, myth, or whatever and is, therefore, totally untrue and unfounded.

Here is a nice, brief summary about some of the common claims against the incarnation and birth of our Lord and a faithful response.

Thanks to Rev. Hans Fiene of Lutheran Satire for his work in giving a brief, enlightening, and entertaining summary of all these things.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Advent / Children's Christmas Service (December 21, 2014)

1 JOHN 3:1

In the name + of Jesus.

     If you are familiar with the King James translation of the angel appearing to the shepherds, you will remember the word, “Lo!”  And lo! The angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. (Luke 2:9)  The “Lo” is repeated in this verse from St. John’s first epistle, except it is a plural form.  Lo! and Behold! are supposed to get your attention.  Lo!  Behold!  Look at this, all of you! 
     Then St. John spells out what you are supposed to be paying attention to: See what kind of love the Father has given to us…. (1 John 3:1)  St. John does not merely say that God loves you.  That can mean anything.  We often use it to excuse ourselves for our sins.  “God loves us” could mean that God simply wants us to be happy.  Well, if cheating people so that I get a bigger commission makes me happy, then God must like it when I cheat people.  Or we reason that God really isn’t bothered about our sins because God is love, and love is love, and love doesn’t judge.  We confuse love with ignorance or permission or senility, somehow thinking that it is a comfort to have such a God who is careless or clueless—or both.
     It is not love to let people get away with anything or doing whatever they want.  Children who have parents who don’t care what they do realize that their parents don’t really love them.  Parents who permit everything don’t even care about their children.  They don’t care what consequences their children suffer.  Parents who truly love their children lay down the rules and enforce them fairly.  Love seeks their good, and that means having to discipline them.  While the children probably don’t like being disciplined, they do recognize that their parents care enough to watch out for their well-being.
     In the same way, God lays down the Law.  It may seem like you are getting away with whatever you want, but God does enforce his commandments.  You may not believe that until Judgment Day, but on that day even the determined atheist will know it.  Daily, your conscience testifies that God enforces his Law.  If you have to work that hard to make excuses for your sins, you know that you have no excuse.  And if your only hope is that God’s love means he will look the other way when you sin, you are fooling yourself and praying that hellfire will not burn.  Repent so that you will not perish in your sins.
     But lo!  See what kind of love the Father has given to us... (1 John 3:1)  That love is revealed in Jesus Christ.  Jesus came into the world to deliver us from the curse our sins have earned us and to soothe burdened consciences.  He became a child so that he could bear in his body the curse of sin, the wrath of God, and the death of the guilty.  Jesus does not buy your excuses; instead, he takes up all your sins.  He was duly punished in your stead.  He endured the wrath of God and died the death for all sinners. 
     See what kind of love the Father has given to us... (1 John 3:1)  God the Father did not send his Son into the world to pay the price for some foolish or wicked thing he had done.  Jesus paid the price for every foolish and wicked thing we have done.  Jesus takes the punishment you had coming.  And if your sins are taken away, then there is no more wrath and no more punishment that stands against you.
     It is even more than that!  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1)  Through baptism into Jesus, you have been adopted into God’s family.  The Son of God has made you all children of God.  And if you are children of God, you bear the status of God’s children—holy and blameless.  If you are children of God, you are heirs of his everlasting kingdom.  If you are children of God, then you will rise from your graves to live forever, just as the Son of God did.  If you are children of God, then nothing can snatch you out of his hand; for the Lord knows his children and is surely capable of guarding and keeping you from sin and Satan.
     That is the kind of love the Father has given you.  He sent his Son, Jesus.  Jesus became a child so that you would be children of God.  These things are worth looking at again and again.  Lo!  Behold!  Look at this, all of you!  For it is your salvation.

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Local Tourist -- Good news for Detroit!

Detroit is on the rebound!

Here is a really great interview with Detroit author, columnist, and radio talk show host, Mitch Albom and Detroit business investor Dan Gilbert (Rock Financial Investments).

Detroit has a reputation for being the place to get murdered, to go bankrupt, and to watch police cars get flipped over and set on fire if their team ever wins a championship.  That last one happened after the Tigers won the World Series in 1984.  It has been over 30 years, and the joke still goes on as if it happens every year.  [Note: Since 1984, Detroit has celebrated 4 Stanley Cups and 1 NBA championship, as well as more than half a dozen championship appearances.  No riots.]

While there is still much to clean up in Detroit, things are looking better.  Detroit will bid farewell to Joe Louis Arena soon.  It is home to the Red Wings and many hockey memories, but the building itself is an eyesore.  It sits right on the Detroit River, but you'd never know it from the inside.  Detroit will make better use of the riverfront, and the new stadium will go up near Ford Field and Comerica Park.  It is already slated to host a round of the 2018 NCAA tournament.  Artist renderings of it suggest that the new arena and the surrounding area will be fantastic.  Besides one drawing below, you can view a less-than-three minute news report on it here.

If someone could fix up the old train station and some of the classic old office buildings and hotels, Detroit would be a great destination.  The Detroit Riverfront is already looking good.

When we first moved here, there just seemed to be no reason to go into Detroit for anything.  That is changing.  The Local Tourist has gone to Detroit several times, and I am hoping to get there even more.  The city is rebounding, and I am looking forward to its continued improvements.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sermon -- Advent Vespers, Week 3 (December 17, 2014)

LUKE 1:46-49,53
He Fills The Hungry With Good Things.

In the name + of Jesus.

     A rich, young man came to Jesus and asked him this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)  The rich, young man knew that he were going to set foot in heaven, he had to be good.  He also recognized this much about himself: He was lacking that good thing.  He was hoping that Jesus would enlighten him what that one good thing was.  Jesus answered his question, although the rich man missed it.  Jesus replied to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only one who is good.  If you would enter eternal life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)  
     There is only one who is good.  The specific word Jesus used for good (agaqoV) means “morally pure, excellent, and perfect.”  There is only one who is good.  All that God is, all that God does, and all that God says is morally pure, excellent, and perfect.  If you want to dwell with God, then you must also be morally pure, excellent, and perfect.  The rich, young man did not pick up on Jesus’ answer.  The ruler was only thinking about the good he could do, not about him who IS good.  There is only one who is good (Matthew 19:17).  God alone is holy.  He alone is pure and excellent.  But among mankind, there is no one who is good.  We all must confess with the Apostle Paul, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. …  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18,19)  Even if we want to do what is good, we cannot; for we ourselves are not good.
     Many people, like the rich, young ruler, are convinced that they can do the good God desires as long as they know what that good is.  The rich, young ruler was convinced that he was good, or at least good enough.  He did not think God needed to be gracious to him; that was for sinners.  He did not think that he needed to be saved; that was for people with problems.  We, too, have an inflated view of ourselves.  We follow the news or Facebook and snicker at the foolishness of others.  We listen to the office gossip and roll our eyes at the smut and the shame.  We compare the best in us to the worst in others, and we conclude that we are good, or at least good enough. 
     A haughty spirit dwells within us all.  We love flattery, because deep down we believe that it is true.  We are that gifted, that interesting, that nice, and that good.  Our pride is so ingrained that we feel disrespected when others are complimented, as if we are slighted by someone else’s talent or generosity.  We do not love our neighbor as ourselves because we love no one as much as we love ourselves. 
     The Lord has nothing for those who are haughty in their spirit.  The Virgin Mary reminds us, “The rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53)  If you are full of yourself, you have no room for anything from God.  It was not Jesus’ intention to send the rich, young ruler away without any blessing upon him, but the rich, young ruler did not want his grace.  He was convinced that he did not need it.  He believed he was that he was good enough.  He was rich in his spirit, even confessing to Jesus that he needed precious little to get eternal life.  In his case, he was sure that he was just one good deed short.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  But the rich are sent away empty. 
     Jesus also teaches, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)  You hunger for food when your stomach is empty.  You thirst when you are getting dehydrated.  You are starved for attention when you are getting ignored.  In the same way, you hunger and thirst for righteousness because you recognize that you do not have it.  You are poor in spirit because you have nothing to impress or please God with.  The good that you need for eternal life must be supplied to you.  Blessed are you when you see this, for he fills the hungry with good things.
     Blessed are you when you confess with St. Paul, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Romans 7:18)  For then you recognize yourself as you truly are—sinful.  Do not take pride in righteousness that you do not have.  This is not a confession that is fun to make, but it is an honest one.  We are beggars who have nothing.  We are not good, that is, morally pure, excellent, and perfect.  The good news is this: There is one who is good.  And Mary burst into song because he would come into the world through her.   “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior  He has filled the hungry with good things.…” (Luke 1:46-47,53) 
     There is one who is good. (Matthew 19:17) 
The Holy Spirit filled Mary’s womb with this good one—in fact, the only good, morally perfect, excellent, and perfect human being who has ever been born.  Far from being a rich, young ruler, Jesus was a humble, poor peasant.  And far from seeking the one good deed that needed to be done to have eternal life, Jesus always and only did what was good to win eternal life.  And all the good he did, he did for us.  You and I confess with St. Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19)  Jesus not only wanted to do what was good; he did.  Jesus not only wanted to avoid all evil; he did.  There is only one who is good, and the greatest good Jesus did is to fill you with his good things.
     Jesus has the righteousness you hunger and thirst for, and he fills the hungry with good things.  In your baptism, he cast out the unclean spirit in your heart and filled you with his Holy Spirit.  He puts to death your lust for more sins and brings to life a wholesome hatred for all that is wicked.  He makes your heart clean and your spirit right so that you delight in what is good and godly.  He fills the hungry with good things.  He not only gave you birth into a new life through your baptism, he also nourishes you in that new life.  He prepares a banquet for you and feeds you with the feast of heaven.  He gives you his body and blood and fills you with good things.  For by his body and blood, he gives you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
     “My soul magnifies the Lord  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:46,53)  The Lord does not send you away empty—without peace and hope, without comfort and joy.  Instead he satisfies and satiates you with good things.  He delivers you from the haughty spirit which lives on flattery and despises your fellowman.  He fills you with a humble spirit which recognizes that all the good which is in you has come from him.  He forgives all your sins.  He delivers his salvation to you.  This is the good you need if you will have eternal life.  “Blessed are (you) who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for (you) shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)  Jesus fills you with God’s riches so that you shall have eternal life with your Lord.  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; and it is his goodness which saves you.

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


Eighty.  That is how old my mother is today.

You'd never guess it based on how she looks and gets around.  Okay, now I think she sleeps in until perhaps 6:30 AM instead of all those 5:30 AM mornings from my younger days.  (Was it that early?  Who knows?  She was the only one up.)

I could not possibly sum up all the things she has done for me and my family over the years--laundry, meals, driving me to and from practices and games, clean up around the house, tending the garden, eventually getting a job as secretary for the water utility, parents' groups, etc....  Rarely do I recall a time when she said that something was going to be inconvenient for her.  It would probably make her tired to recall everything.  No wonder she always fell asleep when we put in a movie for the whole family to watch.

I teach my catechism class that they will never truly appreciate how much their parents have done for them until they are doing it for their own children.  After 20+ years of being a parent myself, I think I am starting to get some idea on how much both my parents have done for us.  It was usually taken for granted.  It isn't anymore.

For what it is worth, I think I can say I truly appreciate what they have done for me for all of those years.

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Advent (December 14, 2014)

LUKE 3:7-18

In the name + of Jesus.

     As pilgrims traveling to and from the festivals in Jerusalem, they would have heard a fiery preacher.  John the Baptist was in the wilderness by the Jordan, calling everyone to repentance in stern and even violent terms.  “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  … Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7,9) 
     Remember that John was not preaching to unabashed heathen.  John preached to Israelites, sons of the covenant who were attending the Lord’s prescribed festivals.  John called these people a brood of vipers, offspring of Satan.  John warned these church-going people that the ax was ready to swing on them and that the fires were being stoked for them unless they would repent. 
     St. Peter preaches a similar message to you and me.  He declares: For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17-18)  Just as being children of Abraham did not save the Israelites, neither will a confirmation certificate save you.  Do not get comfortable, thinking that we can mindlessly coast on our way into Paradise.  The Lord judges his own first.  The Lord still seeks fruits of repentance from us.  Even the wicked expect as much.  If you bear the name “Christian,” the wicked expect your lives to reflect that.  And they are right.  You are expected to be righteous, and you should expect it of yourself as well.  Therefore, we do well to examine ourselves and prune from our lives whatever is sinful.  Prepare the way of the Lord with fruits of repentance.
     Rather than write John the Baptist off as a nut-job, the people were cut to the heart by John’s preaching.  They felt God’s fiery judgment.  Though they may have been religious, they were still sinners and they knew it.  One by one, groups of people begged to know: “What should we do?” 
     Each group was more surprising than the last.  After the general crowds came the tax collectors.  You could imagine the crowds thinking, “You thieves?  You think there is hope for you?!”  John did not tell the tax collectors to quit their jobs; he told them to quit being thieves.  Then Roman soldiers asked, “And we, what shall we do?”  At least the tax collectors were fellow Jews.  They may have been slimy, but they were at least sons of the covenant.  But Roman soldiers?  Surely there was no hope and no place for them!  John the Baptist did not tell them to quit being Roman or soldiers; he told them to quit being thugs.  Never look upon someone else and think that there is no place or no hope for them.  Nor look upon your own sins and think that you are too wicked for the kingdom of God.  As despicable as anyone might seem, to the Lord Jesus all are people for whom he came to suffer and die.  All are called to repent.  Prepare the way of the Lord with fruits of repentance.
     The crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”  And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”  And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”  Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?”  And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:10-14)
     When John told the people to repent, he did not tell them to quit their jobs and move into the desert.  They were not commanded to abandon their families or their communities.  They were told to go home.  They were called to quit their sins and to love their neighbors.  If you will be a tax collector, be an honest tax collector.  If you will be a soldier, be a noble soldier.  If you will be a father or mother, then serve your children with love and nurture them with discipline.  If you will be an employee, then show up on time and put in an honest day’s work.  If you will open your mouth, then be sure what comes out of it is kind and true.  The Lord does not ask you to leave the world, but to serve faithfully, diligently, and honestly in it.  The fruits of your repentance are borne in whatever task God has given you to do.  Put away sins and all excuses for them.  Devote yourself to what God declares to be good and right.  Prepare the way of the Lord with fruits of repentance.
     So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. (Luke 3:18)  John’s message does not sound like much good news.  We know that we should repent of our sins and not return to them.  Yet, we have never stopped sinning—not even when the threat of hellfire is presented.  Such is the sinful nature.  There is no good news in this.
     John’s job was to prepare the way for the Lord.  John’s preaching makes it clear that you need this Savior.  If you do not care about your sin and guilt, you will not care to be saved from them.  All your efforts to root out sin only show you how bad your condition is.  This is why John warns that the blade of the ax is sharp and that the fires of judgment are burning.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and it is wise to take the Lord seriously and to fear his wrath.
       But fearing God’s wrath does not take away your sins.  It only shows that you need to be saved from them.  John prepares the way for salvation; but Jesus IS the way for salvation.  Jesus comes to deliver you from your sins and to work true repentance in you.  Jesus first delivers you from the curse so that the ax will not come down upon you.  Jesus has taken the blow in your place, suffering and dying for you.  Jesus has spared you from the wrath of God because God’s wrath was poured upon Jesus in your place.  He is the Lamb of God who was roasted in the fires of hell in your place.  He let death consume him before he consumed death by his resurrection. 
     Jesus has saved you from sin so that sin no longer owns or damns you.  Jesus also has worked repentance in you so that you will never be owned by sin again.  He baptizes you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Jesus has driven out the unclean spirit in you and grants you his Holy Spirit in its place.  He creates in you a clean heart and gives you a right spirit.  He has converted you so that you are in agreement with God.  You acknowledge that your sins are evil because God has assessed them to be so.  The Lord also baptizes you with fire, refining you like gold.  He continues to purge your sins from you.  He has you bear a cross so that you put your sins to death.  Even though you still commit sins, you are frustrated and disgusted with yourself for them.  This is good, for then you stop taking pride in how good you have been, and you are compelled to rely on Jesus alone to save you.  This is good; for salvation comes only through Jesus. 
     Prepare the way of the Lord with fruits of repentance.  What should we do?  John the Baptist tells you.  Serve the Lord and your neighbor with lives and words and thoughts which are both wholesome and helpful.  But be sure you notice where John is pointing—to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus is the one who works in you to will and to do the works of God.  Jesus promises, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” (John 15:5)  Jesus cleanses you from all wickedness, and Jesus works all good within you.  Jesus is your salvation. 

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sermon -- Advent Vespers, Week 2 (December 10, 2014)

LUKE 1:46-49,54-55
He Remembers His Mercy.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Day 150.  Still on the ark.  The torrential rains ceased about three months ago, but we are still adrift.  There is no land anywhere.  We live with the continual sounds of the animals snoring or lowing or clucking.  And the waves.  The endless sound of the waters pounding every side of the ark, making it bounce in every direction, making all the timbers creek.  Does God know that we are still here?  Does God remember us at all?
     You could imagine Noah’s diary reading like this.  It was at just this time, Day 150, that we read these words in Genesis: But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark.  And God made a wind blow over the whole earth, and the waters subsided. (Genesis 8:1-2) 
     Surveying the Old Testament, we notice that there are a number of times that the Lord remembers his people—either individuals such as Sarah who was without child, or the entire nation of Israel as they languished in slavery under Pharaoh.  It is not as though the Lord had forgotten these people.  The Lord knew that Noah was on the ark, that Sarah was barren, and that the Israelites were being brutally treated by their oppressors.  The Lord also knew that he had made promises to these people—that he would deliver Noah from the Flood, that Sarah would have a son, and that Israel had a Promised Land awaiting them.  The Lord did not forget.  But to these people who were waiting…and waiting…for God to fulfill his promises, each must have wondered, “Has the Lord forgotten me?”
     But then the Lord remembered.  At that particular time, the Lord was pleased to act and to keep his promises.  When God remembers, he does not only have mercy for that moment.  The Lord acts especially to advance his promise of a Savior.  He remembers his mercy.  Therefore, God remembered Noah and delivered him from death so that, many centuries later, Noah’s offspring would deliver the world from death.  God remembered Sarah and gave her a son, the seed of Abraham, so that the true Seed of Abraham would come through whom all nations would be blessed.  And God remembered Israel and delivered them out of slavery and death by the blood of the Lamb so that through that nation the Lamb of God would finally come whose blood delivers us from the slavery to sin and from death.  He remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 105:8)
     These were not the only times God’s people had to wait for God’s mercy.  God had spoken to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring that salvation come.  Through this Savior, all nations would be blessed.  Through Him, the curse of sin would be removed.  Through Him, we would be delivered from fear and frustration, death and decay.  Abraham did not see the fulfillment of God’s promise; nor did Isaac, nor Jacob.  Nor David.  Nor Isaiah.  Nor Malachi.  For centuries, God’s people waited for his mercy.  For centuries, God’s people wondered, “Does God know that we are still here?  Does God remember us at all?”
     It is a hard thing to wait for the Lord.  God’s people still wonder, “Does God know that I am here?  Does God know that I struggle?  Is he aware that I am hurting?  Does God know how hard this is?  How wicked this world is?  How bitter this life can be?  Does he care?  Does God remember me at all?”  Even though we are the ones who are helpless, even though we struggle with temptations and fail, we still think that God is the one with the problem.  We are upset that God does not love us as much as WE love us.  We get sick of waiting for God.  Satan sends liars who promise us easy answers and quick solutions.  Those voices sound much more attractive than our Lord’s call to wait.  He even convinces us that drunkenness and debauchery are better solutions than patience, perseverance, and prayer.  Because we do not believe that God is faithful, we become unfaithful.  Because we do not like the way God is acting, we act out against him.  However, this never takes away our struggles, and it only adds to our sins.  Repent.
     [The Lord] remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 105:8)  You should too.  For God has never promised to deliver Paradise to this sin-corrupted world.  His promise is to deliver us out of this sin-corrupted world to his blessed Paradise.  The Lord promised Adam and Eve that he would save mankind from our deserved and damnable fate while the smell of the fruit was still on their breath.  He promised his mercy to Abraham, and David, and through Isaiah and Malachi.  If the Lord was pleased to repeat his promises, surely the Lord remembers that he made them.  And the Lord is faithful.  He remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 105:8) 
     Fast forward 2,000 years after Abraham—though the years hardly seemed fast.  The Lord remembered his mercy.  He sent the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to tell her that he was pleased at that time, in that place, and in her womb to fulfill all that he had foretold.  The Savior was now to come into the world.  Salvation would no longer be a prophecy.  Salvation was to be fulfilled.  He remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 105:8) 
     And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-47,54-55)  The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world because the Lord remembered his mercy and was faithful in delivering it.  Jesus has demonstrated God’s mercy to us.  He does not treat us as our sins deserve.  Rather, he chose to be treated as we deserved to be treated.  He is the son of Abraham who was sacrificed instead of Isaac.  He is the Lamb who was slain so that we would not be.  He has saved us through baptism so that, like Noah, we are lifted up above death and destruction.  Therefore, you are not condemned for your impatience with the Lord.  He, instead, has been patient with you.  He is merciful, daily forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  When you sin, remember that he is merciful.  Then confess your sins to him; for, he remembers his mercy.  And flee to his altar where the blood of the Lamb once again marks you so that death shall pass over you.  He remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 105:8) 
     My soul magnifies the Lord.  He remembers his mercy.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered, died, and is risen.  He ascended into heaven, leaving us with the promise that he will come again to take us to be with him in everlasting peace and joy and life.  Fast forward 2,000 years since then.  He still has not returned.  The world has not gotten better.  We still struggle and suffer.  We still endure fear and frustration.  Does the Lord know that we are still hurting?  That we are still waiting?  Does the Lord remember us at all?
     Dear Christian, do not grow weary or impatient.  He remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 105:8)  And he remembers that you have been marked as a child of his covenant.  The Lord who suffered and died for you will not forget you.  The one who came to redeem you will not forget to deliver you to the mansions he is preparing for you.  And yes, the one who loves you and cares for you and counts the hairs on your head also knows your problems and your pains.  His mercy is not made known by delivering you from your problems for a moment, but in delivering you from them forever.  He came in mercy to redeem you.  He will come again in mercy to receive you.  My soul magnifies the Lord: for he remembers his mercy, and his mercy endures forever. 

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

Feeling nostalgic

For whatever reason, I have been feeling somewhat nostalgic recently.  Perhaps it is the Christmas carols, some of which resonate from my childhood.  Maybe it was having all the kids home for Thanksgiving and soon again for Christmas, recognizing that these days of having everyone home at once will be harder and harder to pull off.

Anyway, a strange wave of nostalgia came over me on I-696 this morning.  I was noticing the license plate of a car next to me.  It was a Michigan plate, mainly blue, green, and white, which featured the Mackinac Bridge.  While the plates in Michigan, and there are numerous versions, are nice looking, somehow I was drawn back to the solid blue plates with the white lettering.

Hardly as pretty, but somehow still homey to me.  Those are the plates that every car in Michigan had for years and years.  If you played the road trip game of checking off plates from as many states as possible, that Michigan one was easy to pick out.  In fact, people who make pop art out of old license plates usually work with those blue plates.  It is a classic look.

For that matter, I was even reflecting on the Wisconsin plates the same way.  When I was young, for the most part, Wisconsin had what was not-so-affectionately called the bumble-bee plates, solid yellow with black lettering.  Certainly, there is nothing endearing about the look.  The police must have loved them since they were so easy to read.  If you were out of state, the locals could recognize you were from Wisconsin in a heartbeat.  Perhaps ugly, but still unmistakable.  I suppose hardly anyone would want to go back to those license plates, but today I kind of missed them.