Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sermon -- The Festival of St. John, Evangelist (December 27, 2015)

1 JOHN 1:1 – 2:2

In the name + of Jesus.

     When St. John wrote his gospel, he stated his aim very clearly: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)  In St. John's first epistle, his aim is very similar.  John wants you to believe in this reality: Jesus is God in the flesh.  God from eternity entered our time in order to save us and deliver us into eternity with him.
     St. John writes: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)  Jesus is no legend or myth.  If he were, then your forgiveness is make-believe and your salvation is mythical.  If Jesus were not a real flesh-and-blood Savior, then your hope of the resurrection is in a fairy tale.  We would not only be pitied more than all men, but we should also be the butt of many well-deserved jokes.  Who sets aside time on Sundays and holidays to gather around to listen to fairy tales?  Who supports a myth with offerings?  St. John assures you that he has seen and heard and touched this Savior.  Jesus has come to deliver you from real guilt by his real death and real resurrection so that you will have a real, eternal life with God the Father and his Son.  Your joy is not based on fantasy, but on fact.
     We gather together because we have fellowship with one another in this Christian faith, but more importantly because our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We gather together so that our Lord will bless us, sustain us, and strengthen us in faith and in this fellowship.  If we are united with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, then we receive all the good things they have to give.
     The Father himself established that fellowship through his Son, Jesus Christ.  The Father sent his Son into the world to cleanse us from all wickedness so that we would not be rejected and condemned by him.  God is light, in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)  God will not and cannot accept even a hint of sin.  To do so would to cease being holy.  If he ceases being holy, he ceases being God.  Therefore, the Lord enlightens us so that we will see our sins and make confession of them.  To confess means to say the same thing.  God has enlightened us so that we say the same thing about ourselves that God does—as St. John notes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)
     We do not deny that we have sinned; neither does God.  We say the same thing as God.  We are guilty.  We have not loved God above all and our neighbor as ourselves.  Quite the opposite, we have rebelled against God by believing that our ways are better than his ways.  And we have despised our neighbor by believing that we are better people, that our problems are priorities, and that our needs are more important.  You and I have sinned.  Repent.  God does not pretend that we have not sinned.  Rather, God does not treat us as our sins deserve.
     God established fellowship between us and him through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  The propitiation is the sacrifice that takes away God's righteous anger.  God is right to be angry with us for our sins.  But Jesus has given himself as the sacrifice which appeases God's anger.  The man, Jesus, endured the cursed death that all people deserve for their sins.  But since Jesus is also true God, his death was died on behalf of all people.  There is no reason anyone should have to be damned for their sins.  Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  God so loved the world, and Jesus Christ has revealed that love to us.
     Our fellowship is now with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus cleanses us of every stain and spot of sin.  His blood purifies us from all unrighteousness.  That is why God the Father is pleased with us.  That is why God does not treat us as our sins deserve.  Because Jesus has been the sacrifice which has removed God's wrath from us, we are able to make confession of our sins without fear.  If you are haunted by some sin that will not let you go, you do not need to live under that guilt or with that shame.  Come and make confession of your sins and hold God to his word: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  We make confession of our sins because we have this confession of faith: “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)  This is God's pledge, and we confess it.  We say the same thing as God.  This is also why our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
     Just as we have been taught to confess God's word with our mouths, so we confess it with our lives.  The kingdom of God is not all talk; it is deeds as well.  Therefore, St. John says, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:6)  It is impossible to say the same thing as God and do the exact opposite as God commands.  That is hypocrisy.  It is impossible to have fellowship with the Lord and to dance with the devil.  Light and darkness cannot mix, and so a Christian confession and a life of sin cannot mix either.  We have been set free from sin.  Why would we return to it?  We have been delivered from death.  Why would we long for it again?  Our confession is not merely spoken, it is also lived.  We have been set free to honor and glorify God with godly lives, for he has cleansed us and treats us better than we deserve.
     Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  And our desire is to live in thanks for him.  Sadly, our lives never reflect our desire.  We still sin.  But your fellowship with God has not been without effect.  Yes, you sin, but you still confess.  Yes, you still need to be cleansed, but the blood of Jesus, his Son, still purifies you of all sin.  St. John also knew that you would struggle for the rest of your life.  And in your struggles, he reminds you that you are not banished from the fellowship with God.  He writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)  Jesus Christ is your constant Savior, and he is your constant consolation that you are still God's dear children, that you are beloved, and that you are the Lord's.  Your fellowship remains with the Father, with his Son, Jesus Christ, and with his Holy Spirit.  He has marked you with his full, divine name.  He has been pleased to call you children of God, and he is not careless with his words.
     As surely as Jesus Christ was a real man—seen and heard and touched by John, just as surely you are a child of God, holy and blameless in his sight.  Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  Our forgiveness is certain.  Our salvation is real.  And that makes our joy complete.

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

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Pastoral Concern -- Good, Lutheran Hymns

Okay, I am letting Rev. Hans Fiene of Lutheran Satire do the work here for me.  But his work is very good.  He sums up succinctly what makes for a good Christmas hymn.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Sermon -- Christmas Day (December 25, 2015)

JOHN 1:1-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     For whatever reason, people have been enamored with angels.  Especially at Christmas, we pay a lot of attention to the angels.  In one respect, that is understandable.  The angels were exceptionally busy in the Christmas narrative.  Angels made announcements to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and Magi.  A myriad of angels appeared and sang of God's glory to shepherds who were tending their flocks in the field.  The best we can do is imagine that scene because we have not seen such a choir before.  We will one day, and we will be in the choir with them.  But for now, the best we can do is imagine.
     Whenever the angels did appear to people, their appearance always produced fear.  We think of Zechariah at the altar in the temple, Mary at her home in Nazareth, or the shepherds in the fields.  In each case, the angel had to begin with the words, “Fear not!”  We might imagine what the angel Gabriel looked like, but the Bible does not describe him.  That's because we are not to focus on how he looks; we are to listen to what he says.  The word angel means “messenger,” and so we listen to his message.  The angel came with a word from God, and that message was about the one who IS the Word of God.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  God is one of us.
     If we are intrigued by angels more than Jesus at Christmas, it is because we know what babies look like.  We have not seen angels.  Apparently, the people to whom the letter of Hebrews was written were also enamored by angels.  So the writer reminds them that Jesus has become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.  For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”?  Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?  And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God's angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1:4-6)  The angels proclaimed that a Savior has been born to you, but Jesus IS that Savior.  The angels proclaimed the word of God, but Jesus IS the Word of God made flesh.  And though angels may take on the form of men, they never become men.  Angles remain angels, and people do not earn wings and become angels.  You were created to be you, and you will remain you forever.  But God has now become flesh.  God has become man.  God is one of us.
     St. John did not spend time retelling the Christmas story.  St. Matthew and St. Luke had already done that.  St. John has you marvel at the way God has revealed his love and his glory to you by becoming man.  The very first words of St. John's gospel take us all the way back to Creation.  “In the beginning,” John writes.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)  The Word, the Logos, is the second person of the Trinity, whom we refer to as God the Son.  He was not only with God at the creation of the world, he was not only there at the beginning when there was nothing else but God, he is in his very essence true God.  We probably miss the depth of the angel's announcement to the shepherds at Bethlehem, “Unto is born this day … a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  He is Yahweh.  He is the one who created the heavens and the earth.  He is the Word which commanded that there be light.  He is the one who gave the word of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and he is the one whose word renders your final and eternal judgment.
     If the shepherds shook at the sight of the angel, the idea of God setting foot on earth should have petrified them.  In the movies, when a villain told someone to get ready to meet his Maker, that meant he was about to die.  To see God face to face was to stand before him in judgment.  That is the real terror of death—to have to give God an answer for what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths.
     St. John described Jesus as “the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  We cannot boast that about ourselves.  We are not full of grace, but of selfishness.  If we give, we put a strict limit on it.  We give precious little time and effort to strangers.  We are even stingy to our loved ones with our time and effort.  Nor are we full of truth.  We are full of self-serving stories.  We warp the truth so that we always come out looking like the innocent victim.  When we get to tell what happened, all our faults are magically edited out of the story, so that our friends will always side with us.  We want to be sure that we always come out looking good.  Sadly, we need lies to do that.  But God sees every detail and knows every motive.  God shines the light of truth on us so that we cannot hide what we are.  The truth is that we are wretched sinners in need of divine mercy.
     The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)  Yet, the angel at Bethlehem did not tell the shepherds to run for cover.  While it was true that God had come to earth, the angel told them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)  Yes, the true light was coming into the world (John 1:9), but not to judge and destroy.  He who is full of grace and truth has come to save.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:4)  The light which Jesus shows you is not only that you need a Savior, but that he himself has come to save you from your sin, guilt, shame, lies, and from thinking you have to trust in those lies.  Your salvation never comes from how good you can make yourself look—and that often at the expense off others.  It comes alone through Jesus.
     The Lord has come to earth to save.  And to save man, God became man.  To demonstrate his love for us, God is now one of us.   The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)  God is now one of us so that he will be gracious to all of us and save us.  This is God's glory, that he loves and saves sinners.
     God is now one of us.  Jesus united himself to us and took up our cause.  This man who is full of truth and grace took upon himself all the lies and biases and and self-serving ways of men, and he gave his perfect life in exchange for them.  The Word became flesh gave his flesh into death to pay for our sins.  God became one of us in order to suffer and die for all of us.  He is full of grace, giving us the forgiveness we cannot earn and opening up the kingdom of heaven that we do not deserve.
     God is now one of us.  Therefore, all that he has earned by his perfectly obedient life and innocent sufferings and death is ours.  Jesus has conquered death by his bodily resurrection from the dead, and so you too will bodily rise from your grave to live forever.  Jesus has ascended into heaven to dwell with God, and so you too will ascend to Paradise.  Jesus has won God's favor by his willing obedience, and so God's favor rests upon you.  Jesus is the Son of God, and now you are also sons of God; and if you are sons, then you are heirs of the everlasting kingdom.  He is full of grace, and he pours out his fullness on you and gives you all that is his.
     The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  And your body and blood Savior continues to come to you through the Lord's Supper to pour out his grace and truth into you.  In this Supper, God again distributes his gifts to you.  Here, Jesus unites himself to you again for your salvation.  Here is the one who pulls you out of death and darkness into life and light.  Therefore, we continue to join in the song of the angels and archangels, proclaiming the glory and the goodness of God.  It is still good news.  It still brings great joy.  And it alleviates all fear.  For behold!  The Word has become flesh.  God is now one of us, and he has, therefore, made us his.

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

Sermon -- Christmas Eve (December 24, 2015)

         On Christmas Eve, we employed the Service of Lessons and Carols which includes nine lessons from the Fall into sin through the birth of Jesus.  We pondered our need for the Savior, God's gracious promise of that Savior, and the fulfillment of the Savior's birth.  There were brief devotions following each lesson.  Here is the devotion from the 7th lesson, Luke 2:8-20.

Glory to God in the highest!

Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)
He is the Lord.  He is Yahweh, or Jehovah if you prefer.  He is the one who made heaven and earth, Adam and Eve.  He is the one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush in order to deliver Israel from slavery.  He is the one who parted at the Red Sea to save Israel and destroy their enemies.  He is the one who gave the Law at Mt. Sinai and chose to dwell in the temple.  He is the one who has been born and lay in a manger.

Glory to God in the highest!
He is the Christ.  He is the Lord’s Anointed, sent and set apart as prophet for proclaiming good news to sinners; sent and set apart as High Priest for making the atoning sacrifice for sinners—for being the atoning sacrifice for sinners; sent and set apart as King for conquering our enemies—sin, death, and Satan.  He is the Lord's anointed, sent and set apart for redeeming us.

Glory to God in the highest!
He is the Savior.  In a trough where the lambs fed, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was found.  The shepherds saw their Savior, their Christ, their Lord.  He had come as a commoner to save common sinners.
The shepherds came and saw.  The shepherds went and told what they had seen and heard.  God has been good on his word.  God has been merciful.  God has come for sinners.  God in the manger.  God with us.  God for us.

Glory to God in the highest!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Pastoral Concern -- The Origins of Christmas

If you want to know the true origins of Christmas, it starts at Genesis 1.  Keep reading until you get to the end.  If you want the short version, it is recorded in Luke 2.  Luke demonstrates the Christmas account as a real event at a real place in in real history,  This is neither legend nor myth.  It is the word of God.  Whoever would reduce this to legend or myth has only mythical salvation or make-believe forgiveness.

But in case you read an article about the pagan origins of Christmas or that the Church ripped off other myths to perpetuate its own myth, Lutheran Satire does a nice job of debunking those who argue for a pagan origin for Jesus.

Merry Christmas.  It is only merry if it is real.  And it is.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Advent (December 20, 2015)

Mary Visits Elizabeth, by Rembrandt van Rijn.  This painting hangs at the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

LUKE 1:39-55

In the name + of Jesus. 

     Two women with extraordinary news met in the hill country of Judea, just outside of Jerusalem.  One was the wife of a priest, an elderly woman who had never had children.  The other was a Galilean, peasant teen who was betrothed, but not yet married.  Both had received incredible news from an angel, and both deemed the news not only credible, but wonderful.  God had informed each of these women that they had miraculously conceived and would give birth to boys.  One would be a prophet; one would be the Lord.
     Both Elizabeth and Mary could have talked about how much their lives were going to change—both for better and for worse.  Both could have talked about how bizarre their pregnancies were—one in old age and the other a virgin conception.  Both could have magnified themselves, talking about how they were doing great things for the Lord.  Instead, they talked about one thing—Jesus.   Mary proclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:46-47)  It was not about Elizabeth’s aged motherhood.  It was not about Mary’s virgin motherhood.  It was about Jesus, the Son of God, and the Savior.
     My soul magnifies the Lord.  (Luke 1:46)  For, he has remembered to be merciful. (Luke 1:54, paraphrase)  When Scripture says that God remembers something, it means that he is going to act, to deliver, and to work for the good of people.  God has remembered to be merciful, meaning that God is acting to prove his mercy to the world by sending a Savior.
     We, on the other hand, forget ourselves.  We do not humble ourselves because of our lowly, sinful condition.  You and I magnify ourselves.  In our daily labors we strive to serve other people, and our labors may benefit them tremendously.  That is as it should be.  As God's people, we glorify our God by serving for the benefit of our neighbor.  For, God’s people want to seek the good of other people.  If we came together and talked about all the good we did, that all may be true.  But it does not save us.
     Besides that, we still forget ourselves.  We are not as good as we like to believe.  If you magnify yourself, you are lying to yourself.  It means you don’t believe your selfish attitude is bad, even though you sin against your spouse by it.  It means that you believe people deserve your sarcastic remarks because you think they are stupid.  It means that you believe you are better than other people, so that your rudeness and arrogance are understandable and acceptable.  To be rude, selfish, sarcastic, and arrogant and to still insist you are a good person is lying to yourself.  The Virgin Mary expresses the warning to you: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts...  He has brought down the mighty from their thrones...  And the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)  Repent.
     Though we magnify ourselves, the Lord reduces us to nothing, and that is good.  For, the Lord has nothing for people who full of themselves.  But Mary declares, “His mercy is for those who fear him.  He (exalts) those of humble estate; and he (fills) the hungry with good things.” (Luke 1:50,52,53)  When you recognize that you are not good and empty yourself of all pride, then you will crave God's mercy.  Only then will you rejoice that God remembers to be merciful so that God has sent a Savior for you.
     My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47)  He has sent Jesus into the world to pay for sins and to forgive sinners.  Jesus has answered for our sarcastic words which have left pain and scars by his gracious words of healing.  He has answered for our selfish hearts which have used people by his own pure heart which has only sought the good of others.  He has atoned for our lack of patience with other people by his incredible patience with us.  Jesus' righteousness atones for our guilt.  Jesus fills us with his good things—his righteousness, his mercy, and his salvation.
     Jesus magnifies God's love for you.  He is not sarcastic with you because of your weaknesses or foolish choices.  On the contrary, Jesus loves you.  He speaks tenderly to you.  He remembers to be merciful to you.  His innocent blood continues to atone for your sins and purifies you of all unrighteousness. Jesus does not begrudgingly put up with you because he has to—like you may have to put up with that guy in your office because you work together.  No, Jesus does not put up with you begrudgingly or because he has to.  Jesus genuinely loves you.  Jesus wants to dwell with you and have you dwell with him for eternity.  He has remembered to be merciful, and he has saved you for that purpose.
     All that we do is designed to magnify the Lord and his mercy.  We glorify our God by serving for the benefit of our neighbor.  For, God’s people want to seek the good of other people.  We love them.  We serve them.  We even demonstrate patience with them and forgive them—just  as our Lord Jesus Christ loves us, serves us, is merciful to us, and forgives us.  But we do not do this to magnify ourselves.  It is not our works that save us; Jesus does.
     That is why the Church gathers together and continues to talk about what Elizabeth and Mary talked about so long ago—Jesus.  My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47)  Our songs magnify God’s love for us.  Our praises highlight his mercy upon sinners.  Our confession repeats how God saves us.  We magnify the Lord Jesus; for he has remembered to be merciful, and he saves us.

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sermon -- Advent Vespers, Week 3 (December 16, 2015)

MATTHEW 1:12-17

Through Returned Exiles.

In the name + of Jesus. 

     The Lord Jesus Christ has come to redeem his people from their sins.  Though they are all precious to the Lord, most of them are anonymous to you.  Even when their names are recorded in Scripture, you probably treat them as an intrusion and skim past them until you get to the important stuff in St. Matthew's Gospel.  Though these people are unknown and unimportant to you, they are certainly important and known to Christ.
     One of the reasons they are unfamiliar is because of the era in which they lived.  These are the ancestors of Christ from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ. (Matthew 1:17)  The last prophet of the Old Testament preached shortly after Israel's return to the Promised Land, so we do not have stories in the canon about most of these men.  And yet, though unfamiliar, these men are the returned exiles through whom the Lord begets the Christ.
     The first man in these verses was among the captives had been deported to Babylon.  Jechoniah had been king in Jerusalem.  He ruled over a people who became less and less interested in the word of the Lord.  The Lord sent prophets again and again to call his people to repent, but Israel reviled the prophets and rejected God's word.  The Lord may be slow to anger, but he does indeed get angry.  In judgment, the Lord summoned the nation of Babylon to destroy the city of Jerusalem, to burn the temple, and to carry unfaithful Israel into exile.  But even that the Lord did in love for his people and in faithfulness to his promise.
     The Lord had declared through Ezekiel, “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; ... they are dross of silver....  As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so … I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it.  As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have poured out my wrath upon you.” (Ezekiel 22:18,20-22)  Of course, you do not melt silver to destroy it, but to refine it.  So, the Lord sent Israel into exile for seventy years to refine them and to purify a remnant who would serve him faithfully.  Through that faithful remnant of returned exiles, the Lord begat the Christ.
     But life for the returned exiles was not much easier.  They were continually threatened by enemy nations.  Israel was the parade route for armies from Syria and Egypt going back and forth to battle one another.  The Promised Land was one of the the spoils for the victorious army.  The faithful among God's people also endured intense persecution from the likes of a Greek leader named Antiochus Epiphanes.  Antiochus Epiphanes rewarded the Jews who abandoned the Lord's covenant, and he put to death many who were determined to remain faithful.  In all of this, the Lord was refining and purifying his people like silver.  The faithful were all the more committed in their faithfulness.  And the Lord was still faithful to them, still preserving his people in order to preserve his promise: The Savior would come through Israel, a son of Abraham and a son of David.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through returned exiles.
     You and I have not known the level of persecution these Israelites did.  The Lord, however, does chastise us for the very same purpose that he chastised the Israelites.  If you should suffer loss or face oppression, God has not abandoned you.  He is working on you.  Suffering, loss, and oppression are hard and they hurt, but they do not undermine God's promises or undercut God's love.  The Lord has us endure these hardships to get us to recognize what we thought was reliable is only temporary and, therefore, not entirely reliable.  Even if our blessings are precious, like our reputation or our relatives—no matter how great a blessing they are—they cannot save us.  Do not put your trust in them.
     If the Lord removes his blessings or if he makes his cross on you weigh especially hard, he is purifying you to remove from you anything that clouds a pure faith.  Some things, like your sin, you forsake because sin produces death.  But other things the Lord takes away because they are not the source of your life.
     The Lord's ultimate goal in sending Israel into exile or submitting them to persecution was to preserve them so that he could preserve his promise of bringing the Savior into the world through them.  Likewise, the Lord's motive for letting you suffer hardships is to make you flee to your Savior so that he will preserve you in the faith.  He does not want you to merely say that Jesus is your only hope, strength, and consolation; sometimes he wants to prove to you that he is all that matters.  But when he does this, he is still your loving Savior.  Whether you are enduring your sufferings publicly or anonymously, they are not hidden to the Lord.  The Lord knows you, your struggles, and your crosses.  You are not anonymous to the Lord.  You are as important to him as people like Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim, Eliud, Eleazar, and so on.
     See how the Lord begets the Christ through returned exiles.  When those exiles returned to the Promised Land, they resumed the worship that the Lord had given them.  That meant rebuilding the temple of the Lord.  Zerubbabel was the leader who was in charge of its construction.  The day of its dedication was met with mixed reviews.  Many rejoiced that the Lord's temple had been rebuilt.  Some, who remembered Solomon's magnificent structure, mourned because the new temple was not nearly as grand as the old one was.  But this is what the Lord said to them through the prophet Haggai: “‘Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory?  How do you see it now?  Is it not as nothing in your eyes?  Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord.   …Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. ...The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts.  And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” (Haggai 2:3-4,9)
     Though the temple was a humble structure, the Lord Christ would one day come to it.  God in the flesh would walk there and teach there.  Through these frail men who saw far more sufffering than glory, the Lord begat the Christ, and the Lord Jesus Christ would come to the temple they built and he would bring peace, forgiveness, and salvation.  Just as Zerubbabel's temple was humble and even seemed to be nothing compared to Solomon's temple, Zerubbabel's temple became more glorious because the Christ came into it.
     Likewise, you are Christ's temple; for, Christ dwells in you.  Your appearance is humble, and your glory will remain hidden until Jesus comes again.  Until then, you, like most of God's people, live anonymous lives.  They quietly serve God by serving their neighbors—and often do not get recognized for it.  They struggle against temptation and endure frustration, pain, and loss—and no one sees the cross they bear.  To most people, you are as memorable and meaningful as the list of names Matthew records.  But to Jesus Christ, you are as memorable and meaningful as the list of names Matthew records.  Just as you confess Jesus' name now, so he will remember and confess your name before his Father and before all the world on the Last Day.  To Christ, you are neither unknown nor unimportant.  To Christ, your name is not just some faceless person or some anonymous name; you are his redeemed, and your name is one he has written into the Book of Life.

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Advent (December 13, 2015)



In the name + of Jesus. 

     Have you ever engaged in people watching?  It usually happens when you are stuck waiting for a while in a crowd.  You watch people come and go.  You watch couples interact.  Perhaps there is some character than you can't take your eyes off of—either he is dressed strangely or is acting in a way that amuses you.  Perhaps you watch the guy who is struggling to carry packages or to corral children and you find all of his troubles entertaining.  You can't help but watch, because you can't wait to see what will go wrong for him next.
     Television has tapped into our obsession of watching other people.  Survivor and Big Brother have you watch strangers who are forced to live together in a tight, little community.  The Amazing Race has friends or relatives deal with each other in stressful contests.  If you watch programs like these, you are probably not watching out of concern for anyone's well being.  In fact, you are most entertained when people break down in tears or break out in a fight.  When we watch other people, we are usually hoping to see them fail or embarrass themselves.  It makes us feel better about ourselves—either because we feel superior to them or because their sins validate our own.
     God is a people watcher too.  He sees all that you do, whether you are at work or at home, whether you are in your car or at the store, whether you are in the noise of a crowd or in the quite of a private room.  God is a people watcher, and there are no secrets from him.  If he knows the very number of hairs on your head, he also knows how you spend your day and what you think of other people.
     The Psalmist recognized God's omnipresence and his omniscience.  No matter how highly his friends may have thought of him, the Psalmist did not find comfort in the praise of his friends.  They may have been able to put together one whale of a eulogy for him, but he knew that God remains the judge of him.  That terrified him.  And so he begins his prayer, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” (Psalm 130:1-2)  The Psalmist knew the depth of his guilt.  A happy face might have hid his shame from others; but his heart was open before God.  God is a people watcher, and the Psalmist knew that God had been watching over him.  Therefore, he cries out in terror and from the depths of despair.  He longs for mercy.
     I don't know if there is anyone in the world who finds comfort in the knowledge that the Lord watches and sees everything.  If we were to invent our own god—and many people have—we would never have a god who sees and knows everything.  We would rather have a god who doesn't know the ugliest thoughts in our minds or the seedy, filthy desires of our hearts.  We don't want a God who has heard every nasty word we have uttered under our breath or behind someone's back.  We don't want a god who knows what goes on behind closed doors or drawn shades.  We want our dirty secrets to remain secrets.  The people who arranged their adulterous affairs through the Ashley Madison web site were horrified—not that they committed adultery, but that their names were revealed.  And so it is for this world—it's never the crime that puts people to shame, it is only the part where you get caught.  But God always sees the crime.  It all lies open before God, because God is a people watcher.
     “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3)  God is a people watcher.  He sees.  He knows.  And since God is holy, he cannot simply let actions and attitudes which defy his perfect Commandments slide.  If he did, he would not be holy, and he could not be taken seriously.  On the other hand, if God keeps tally marks against us for every sin—whether done on purpose or done in weakness or even done in ignorance—if God tracks every sin, who could stand?  Who could live without fear?  Who could approach death without sheer terror?  This is why the Psalmist cries out from the depths with pleas for mercy.
     But why would you cry out to the very God who watches and who sees sins?  The Psalmist gives the answer that calms terrified hearts, soothes anxious minds, and heals wounded souls: “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4)  With the Lord there is forgiveness.  It is not permission.  It is not license.  And it is not oversight.  It is forgiveness.  How?  The Psalmist answers: “O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130:7-8)
     With the Lord there is forgiveness because with the Lord there is redemption—in fact, “plentiful redemption.”  The Lord does not overlook our sins.  Rather, he has paid for them.  And not just some of them, or only the little ones.  With the Lord is plentiful redemption and full forgiveness for our sins.  For, the death of Jesus Christ is the full payment for your sins.  If he knows all your sins, then he did not miss any when he suffered and died for them.  With the Lord is steadfast love, and so that payment is steadfast too.  The blood of Jesus always acquits you of your guilt and covers you with Jesus' righteousness.
     God still watches you, but since you are covered with Jesus' righteousness, God now watches you as a parent watches a child playing in the backyard.  He is enamored with you.  He is protective of you.  He seeks only what is good for your eternal well-being.  He does not watch you to catch you doing something wrong so that he can punish you.  With the Lord there is forgiveness.  No, your Father in heaven watches you because you are his blood-bought child and because he loves you.
     Since God watches over us for our good, we watch for the Lord and flee to God's word so that we can grow in our faith and continue to receive Jesus' forgiveness.  That is where the Psalmist directs us: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning." (Psalm 130:5-6)
     The watchmen had to stand on the city walls at night, peering into the darkness and trying to detect any threat that was approaching.  Of course, you couldn't really see what lurked in the darkness to attack or destroy you.  That was the fear.  But when the rays of daylight began to arise, the watchmen were relieved of their duty.  And they were relieved that no harm came during their watch.  The morning was, indeed, most welcome.
     How much more is the word of the Lord welcome!  For with the Lord there is forgiveness.  Therefore, put our hope in Jesus and his word which continues to assure us, “You are forgiven.”  And therefore, we watch for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.  For, we know that are struggle against sin and temptation are not going to stop in this world.  We know that the devil still prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)  We know that our own sinful flesh craves what God forbids and condemns.  And we know that we are weak.  We long to be free from the crosses we bear, from the temptations which we find so attractive, and from the sins we fall into even though we know they are deadly.  And we know that we will be free from these once and for all when our Lord Jesus Christ returns to deliver his redeemed people from this world of sin to the glories of heaven.  Oh, yes, our souls wait for the Lord and long for his return, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
          God is a people watcher.  And he watches over you to strengthen and keep you in the one true faith to life everlasting.   Despite all of our struggles, this remains constant: With the Lord there is forgiveness.  With the Lord, there is steadfast love.  With the Lord, there is hope.  With the Lord, there is plentiful redemption.  And therefore, we flee to the Lord, and we watch for the Lord to come and deliver us from our momentary struggles to eternal glory.  For with the Lord is forgiveness, and therefore we never lose hope.

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sermon -- Advent Vespers, Week 2 (December 9, 2015)

MATTHEW 1:6b-11
Through Kings.

In the name + of Jesus. 

     When the Virgin Mary was told that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus, the angel Gabriel told her, “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” (Luke 1:32)  Mary pondered in her heart many events and comments about Jesus, and I am sure that this was one of the points she pondered.  After all, the Davidic kingdom had met its end almost 600 years before Mary heard the angel's words.  Herod was ruling in Jerusalem, and he was an Edomite.  Caesar was ruling in Rome, and he was not interested in the Lord or the Lord's covenant at all.  But now one would come who would be given the throne of his father, David?  That was remarkable, even unbelievable!  But Mary believed the word of the Lord.  The Lord would establish a kingdom through Jesus, the Son of David.
     St. Matthew gives the names of Jesus' ancestors to show that Jesus is indeed from the house and lineage of David.  Matthew traces Jesus' line from King David down through his royal household, right up until the day that kingdom was cut off.  Though David's throne was destroyed and though the line of kings met its demise, the promise was not destroyed.  Great David's greater Son had come.  The Virgin was with child.  His name would be Jesus, and “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” (Luke 1:32)  See how the Lord begets the Christ through kings.
     When the Israelites first asked for a king to rule them, they did do so with the purest of motives.  They wanted to be like the nations which the Lord had set them apart from.  Nevertheless, the Lord gave them a king.  The first king, Saul, proved himself to be unfaithful.  He did not listen to the word of the Lord.  So the Lord had David anointed to the king after Saul.  Immediately after David was anointed king, Israel was being mocked and threatened by the Philistines.  One Philistine soldier in particular, a formidable warrior named Goliath, defied the Lord and his people.  David volunteered to fight the giant, Goliath.  The Lord's anointed single-handedly went out to battle the enemy of God's people, and he won the battle single-handedly for God's people.
     Great David foreshadowed the work of his greater Son.  Jesus Christ came into the world to do battle against our enemies—sin, death, and the devil.  Though we like to think that we live our lives in complete freedom, that is not true.  There is a throne in the heart of every person.  The only question is who is ruling there.  Again, you think that you call all of the shots in your world.  But you do not.  You are ruled either by sin or by righteousness.  There is no in between.  Either you are on the side of the Lord and do his will, or you are ruled by the devil and do his will.  And this is what the Lord says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 John 3:8)  Therefore, if we sin, it is the devil who reigns in our hearts.  And since you and I cannot stop sinning, we are claimed by the devil for his kingdom of sin, death, and hell.
     If you would be free from this, then you need one who will defeat your enemies and deliver you from them.  Great David went out single-handedly and defeated the giant, Goliath.  Great David's greater Son went forth and single-handedly defeated sin, death, and the devil.  Just as David cut off Goliath's head with his own sword, so Jesus crushed the devil's head with his own weapon.  It is sin which produces death and damnation.  Therefore, Jesus took up our sin and gave himself into death for us.  Even though Satan knew that Jesus' death meant the payment for our sins, when he had the chance to put Jesus to death, he could not help himself.  He desired the death of God's Son.  But by his death, Jesus made the payment for our sins.  They no longer condemn us.  Then Jesus rose from the grave and conquered death itself.  Therefore, the grave no longer has its power.  Then Jesus descended into hell to tell the devil to his face that he had conquered, that he lives and reigns, and that he has rescued us from the devil, from death, and from damnation.  Jesus has released you from their grasp so that you have forgiveness, life, and a glorious future in his kingdom.  Your king is no longer a tyrant who wants you damned; he is a merciful God who died to have you saved.  And now the Lord Jesus reigns.  He is King of kings forever and ever.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through kings.
     Of course, King David was a mere shadow of Jesus, and the sons of David were mere shadows of the true Son of David.  The son of David who inherited David's throne was Solomon.  He was begotten through the wife of another man, Uriah.  This adulterous incident is a terrible mark on David's record.  It was not only an illicit affair, it also resulted in the murder of Uriah.  Through this sinful man who acted so shamefully, the Lord begat the Christ.  The son which was born to David and Bathsheba became King.  God granted him astounding wisdom.  Unfortunately, Solomon also turned his heart to the gods of his foreign wives.  Through this idolatrous king, the Lord begat the Christ.  Jesus Christ came into this world through sinful, shameful men not to reward their sins, but to atone for them—to pay the price for people who have chased other women and even chased other gods.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through kings.
     The lives of these kings are recorded in Scripture both to admonish and to encourage us.  These kings—Rehoboam, Abijah, Jehoshaphat, Asa, Joram, and so on—were given the assignment of ruling over Judah and defending God's covenant for his people.  Some were better than others in regards to the economy, politics, or foreign relations, but the Lord judged everyone by the same criterion: Either he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord or he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord.  Of course, no one ever did everything right in the eyes of the Lord.  All were sinners, and all proved it.  Some proved it better than others, and some even died in their sinful rebellion.  It was from men such as these that the Savior came into the world.  And it is because the world is filled with people like these that the world needs that Savior.
     See how the Lord begets the Christ through kings.  All of these kings were flawed.  None were faultless.  Their reigns were neither permanent nor perfect.  But Jesus Christ has the fulfilled the kingly office by doing everything he was anointed to do.  Jesus was anointed king to lead the battle against our foes, and Jesus won the battle single-handedly over sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus was anointed king to rule for the good of his people, and by his sufferings and death for you, Jesus has achieved your highest good—the forgiveness of your sins.  Jesus was anointed to defend the covenant of God's people.  Through your baptism, Jesus has made in unbreakable covenant with you which means that you are members of his kingdom forever.  Now Jesus dwells on that throne in your heart so that your lives are directed by righteousness and ruled by God's grace.
     See how the Lord begets the Christ through kings.  Jesus has received the throne of his father David.The Son of David now possesses all authority in heaven and on earth, and he employs that authority for your benefit, for your forgiveness, and for your salvation.  Jesus lives and reigns above all.  There is no greater name.  There is no higher power.  Great David's greater Son rules uncontested and in an unending reign.  He is your King, and he lives and reigns for you.

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

MLS Basketball season

Photo from last season.
The Michigan Lutheran Seminary Cardinals basketball season began on Monday (with a thud for the varsity, and a particularly loud thud for the JV).  There is an M-Live article about the MLS-Unionville-Sebawaing-Area game here.  With so many players from last year's varsity team having graduated, it might take a while for this year's team to gel and to find their stride.

I don't know how many games we will get to this year with competing schedules.  We may have to watch more online or in person.  In any case, M-Live seems to think that one player on MLS is going to be worth watching this season.  You can scroll through the whole article and find out about it here.  If you don't have the patience to look through the whole article, then look here.

Go Cardinals!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 6, 2015)



In the name + of Jesus. 

     Although Advent is an ancient season in the Christian Church, there has been a shift in emphasis in recent years.  Understand that in the Church, recent could mean as much as 100 years, or only 5% of the time of the New Testament.  For centuries, Advent was a penitential season.  We heard about John the Baptist in our Gospel who was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)  Next week's Gospel has John issuing a stern warning for all who will not repent; for whoever does not repent of his sins will perish in them when the Lord comes again.  It is good to keep a penitential spirit in the Advent season.  If we are kept mindful of our sins, we will long all the more for the Savior who will come and deliver us from our sins.
     Nevertheless, Advent has recently undergone a shift in emphasis away from penitence to hope.  Though we are sorry for our sins, we also know the rest of the story: God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son. (John 3:16)  So, we also approach Advent with a degree of anticipation.  For, we know that when this season ends, our Savior has come.
     These two emphases can be seen in our own congregation.  The paraments and our Advent candles are blue, the color of the sky, from which our Lord will return to deliver us from this world of sorrow to the glories of heaven.  But the banners are violet, which is the color of mourning and repentance.  If we seem to be somewhat schizophrenic about this, like we can't make up our minds which emphasis to have, maybe it is just as well.  It is good that we remember our sins and repent of them, and it is also good that we remember the Savior comes to us to deliver us from sin, death, and the devil.  The King of Glory comes, and that news gives us reason both to repent and to watch in expectation.
     Psalm 24 reminds us why the Lord would come to this earth: It is his.  He created it, and he continues to sustain it.  The Lord is not like some frustrated cartoonist who crumples up and discards a sketch which was ruined.  The Lord loves the creation he has made even though it has been corrupted.  He does not discard it even though its inhabitants are sinful.  Even in its corrupted state, “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” (Psalm 24:1-2)
      Behold!  The King of Glory comes!  But the prophet Malachi asks a worthy question: “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:2)  King David asks a similar question in Psalm 24: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.  He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” (Psalm 24:3-5)  While we all want blessing from our Lord, we are not people with clean hands and pure hearts.  We have not earned blessing from God, but wrath.  We cannot stand in God's presence.  We cannot dwell in his holy place.  For, we have lifted up our souls to what is false.  We prefer to alter God's word so that we are not condemned by it, or so that we do not have to purge our lives of our sins.  When we warp or twist or reject God's word to do this, we lift up our souls to what is false and trust what is deceitful.  It has become increasingly common for people who profess to be Christians to confess a Jesus who does not enforce God's Law, but rather gives people license to do whatever makes them happy.  That is deceitful, for such a Jesus does not exist.
     You and I are no different.  When we gossip, we do it to vindicate ourselves.  When we lie, we do it to cover our sins.  When we fail to pray, we blame our busy schedules.  We wish our enemies were dead which, we say, is noble because our enemies wish we were dead which, we say, is evil.  Though we sin against God's Law just as others do, we somehow have believed that our sins do not grieve or dishonor or provoke Jesus to anger..  But be warned.  For, people with clean hands and pure hearts do not need to make excuses, nor do they need to fear the King of Glory when he comes on his holy throne with the hosts of heaven to judge the living and the dead.  Repent!
     The King of Glory comes.  Do not seek excuses before him; for Jesus does not buy them.  Indeed, he can't and he won't.  Rather than seeking excuses, seek him; for Jesus comes to make atonement for your sins.  Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?  And who shall stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart...  He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3-5)  Jesus Christ has clean hands which never did evil against even his enemies.  Jesus Christ has a pure heart which gladly obeyed all of God's commands, even when it meant suffering for the sins of those with wicked hearts.  With his clean hands and pure heart, Jesus earned blessings from God.  He has proven himself righteous.  But he has not come to condemn you in righteousness; he has come to bestow his righteousness upon you.  This is his glory.
     The King of Glory comes!  The earth is his and all who dwell in it, for he has founded it.  He has created it, and he still sustains it.  The Lord loves what he has created, and so rather than discard this world or the people in it, the King of Glory has come to redeem it, to restore it, to cleanse the people in it, and to purify your hearts.  To do this, he who has clean hands and a pure heart ascended the hill called Calvary, where his clean hands were stretched out and nailed to the cross, and where his pure heart was pierced to bring forth blood and water which atones for your sins.  This is where you find blessing and righteousness from God.  In holy baptism, Jesus has cleansed you of all your sin and has purified you of all unrighteousness.  In holy communion, Jesus' holy blood strengthens and keeps you holy and blameless in the sight of God.  Instead of having you rely on excuses that even you don't usually believe, Jesus bestows upon you his innocence and righteousness.  The King of Glory has come to bring you into his kingdom and to promise you a glorious, everlasting life.
     This is why King David leads a song of joyful anticipation about the coming of the King of Glory.  Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!  Lift up your heads, O gates!  And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! (Psalm 24:7-10)  He repeats himself at the excitement.  Jerusalem will fling open her gates so that he may come in.  The King of Glory comes!  Who?  Yes, the King of Glory!  And if he comes, he brings salvation with him.
     The King of Glory comes!  Jesus Christ—strong and mighty, a warrior mighty in battle—has single-handedly faced our foes of sin and death, and he has overcome.  Therefore, we remove every impediment which would prevent him coming to us with his blessings.  With penitent hearts we welcome him, knowing that he is merciful, that he loves his creation, that he redeems us, and that we are his.  With joyful hearts we forsake our sins and rejoice that our victorious and glorious King is coming.  Who is he, this King of Glory?  The Lord Jesus Christ.  He comes with blessings.  He is the God of our salvation.  He is the King of Glory.

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

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Pastoral Concern -- Christians, they are challenging your faith.

BuzzFeed videos are supposed to be entertaining snippets about one topic or another, and not all are moral.  Buzzfeed also has offered some vignettes which challenge people's thinking.  They have produced several videos which challenge Christians and their faith.  The most recently one is here.  (Note: If you want to skip the video, most of it is referred to in the article and in the Issues, Etc. interview linked below.)

I fear that the mindset expressed in these BuzzFeed videos is becoming more and more common-- especially by people who claim to be Christians!  In other words, a palpable split is being promoted within the Christian Church.

That is no surprise.  Scripture has warned us that this would happen.  It is grieving, but not surprising.  The pastoral concern comes for the humble Christian who is beseiged by these challenging questions.  At first, we are often dumbfounded by these challenges, because we have never heard them (and their thinly veiled accusations) before.  And since we have no immediate response, we assume that their questions/challenges are valid and that we need to change our beliefs.

Another pastoral concern comes when we strive so hard to be liked and accepted by people who dismiss, reject, and mock parts of the Bible.  All people like to be liked.  Guess what?  Jesus said that the world will hate us because it hates him.  Though this is a minor form of persecution, it is just that.  Those who hate Jesus will not like us unless we abandon Jesus.  We should remember that, and then turn to the Lord all the more when we have to endure such hatred by people who claim their allegedly better and more enlightened Chrisitan faith.  The sad fact is that many of these so-called Christians confess a heavily-edited-for-the-culture faith, which is an abandonment of much of God's word.  We should recognize this, expose it for what it is, and be prepared for the hatred of those who boast of a greater love than we have.

Rev. Hans Fiene, (LC-MS) has written an excellent article in the Federalist to respond to the BuzzFeed video.  You can read it here.  It is at least one way Christians can respond to the challenging questions which are being lobbed against them.  You can also listen to an interview here with Rev. Fiene on Issues, Etc.  (Note: Listen to Issues, Etc. often.  They offer outstanding programing, and it is all archived for your listening convenience.)

Another way to respond is to refuse to accept the premise that comes with each challenge.  Most challenges may have a grain of truth in them, but do they truly represent the Christian faith?  Some Christians might be guilty of the charges, but does that reflect what the Bible actually teaches?  That should be considered before you make any response.

Christians, they are challenging your faith.  Do not give in to them.  Continue to stand on the one, firm foundation which is Jesus Christ and his word.  Though they may hate you for it, Christ will love you, strengthen you, protect you, and finally deliver you.  Meanwhile, love and pray for those who persecute you.  Their future is much more frightening than yours.

Sermon -- Advent Vespers, Week 1 (December 2, 2015)

MATTHEW 1:1-6a

Through Patriarchs.

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul wrote in his second epistle to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...” (2 Timothy 3:16)  It is obvious how some portions of Scripture are profitable for us.  We even have students in Catechism class memorize portions of Scripture which are profitable for them to learn and remember so that they will not be led astray by fine-sounding arguments.  But I suspect that very few Christians in the history of Christendom have committed the first seventeen verses of Matthew's Gospel to memory.  You may even wonder, “Why are these recorded at all?”  But if we believe that all Scripture is breathed out by God (and we do), and if we believe these verses are Scripture (and we do), then there must be something profitable in them for us to consider.
     St. Matthew begins his Gospel by introducing Jesus Christ.  For us, he needs no introduction.  But the audience who first received Matthew's Gospel was likely a Jewish audience.  They knew that they had been chosen to be the people through whom God would send the Messiah, or the Christ.  If it could not be proved that Jesus was of Israelite descent, he could not even be taken seriously.  So, while lists of ancestry might boring to us, it was essential, especially, to the Jews.  Therefore, Matthew begins by introducing Jesus Christ as the son of David, and more than that, the son of Abraham.  Matthew is proclaiming to his audience: See how the Lord begets the Christ.
     Matthew had no need to introduce Abraham to his audience.  The Jews all boasted that they were children of Abraham and heirs with him of the promised Christ.  Abraham holds a remarkable distinction in salvation history.  Prior to Abraham, the Lord's promise was that a Savior would come into the world.  People were left to wonder: Where will he come from?  From what nation?  From what family?  From what city?  From what hemisphrere?  The Lord narrowed down this promise by calling Abraham to be the one through whom the Savior would come.  Abraham, through you and through your offspring “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)  Therefore, the focus is put on Abraham, and his son Isaac, and his son Jacob, and so on down Matthew's list.  So, if Jesus is the son of Abraham, then he meets a key criterion as the Lord's Christ.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through the patriarchs.
     When we speak of the patriarchs, we often think of their great faith.  There is a good reason for that.  Abraham was called by God when he was 75 years old.  He and his wife, Sarah, were childless.  They remained that way for the next 24 years.  Yet, they still hoped against all hope, and they still believed that God would give them a son.  Isaac and his wife, Rebecca, likewise had to endure decades of infertility.  No son now meant no Savior later.  Still, they believed that God would send them a son; and he did.  Other patriarchs lived through years of brutal slavery in Egypt, through 40 years of God's judgment against them in the wilderness, and through successive periods of oppression in the days of the Judges.  In all of these times, they still waited for God to fulfill his word and to bring forth the Messiah.  They never saw that fulfillment, but they believed God would be faithful.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through patriarchs.
     Now, you may get the idea that the patriarchs were all but faultless.  That is far from true.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Just as we demonstrate our sinful condition today by regretable and shameful words and deeds, so did they.  We will consider just one.  St. Matthew writes, “Judah (was) the father of of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.” (Matthew 1:3)  As tame as this sounds, this was both immoral and shameful.  Judah had three sons.  The oldest was married to Tamar, but he was wicked and so the Lord put him to death.  Judah's second son was to assume responsibility for his older brother by producing offspring through Tamar for him.  He would not do it, and so the Lord put him to death, too.  Judah sent Tamar back to her father's house until the youngest son was grown up.  But even after his youngest son had grown up, Judah did not set up the marriage.  Some time later, Judah was traveling near Tamar's hometown.  She disguised herself as a prostitute, and Judah, shall we say, “hired” her for the might.  Through that act of adultery came forth twin boys.  One of those boys, Perez, became the ancestor of our Lord.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through the patriarchs.
     That sordid episode sounds beneath our Lord, that he should enter the world through the sinful acts of sinful people.  But it is for people like them that Jesus came into the world.  He did not come for the righteous, but for sinners—like Judah, and Tamar, and you and me.  Like Judah, we, too, have been ensnared by our own lusts—gazing at images that we should not look at, coveting another man's wife or woman's husband, or rejecting God's word which says that fornication and living together outside of marriage is sinful.  We also are affected and corrupted by this world's spirit so that we also cast aside God's commands and adopt the world's morals.  If Judah was not acting in good faith by his adultery, neither do we act in good faith by our sins.  Just as Judah and Tamar were wrong, so are we.  And so are we all worthy of death.  Repent, which is to say, turn away from your sins.
     But see how the Lord begets the Christ through the patriarchs.  The Lord Jesus Christ came through the immoral union of Judah and Tamar.  He did not come because he approved of their immoral union, but to atone for it.  It is just like the woman who gets pregnant and becomes an unwed mother.  Even though she may say how much joy she has because of her child, she and her lover are guilty of sin.  Judah and Tamar were indeed guilty of sin, but their offspring results in great joy, not because he is cute, but because he becomes a sacrifice to pay for the sins of Judah, Tamar, and anyone else who has given themselves over to carnal desires.  Jesus has come to atone for every illicit affair, every regretful word, and every impure thought.  Jesus' life of purity and innocence was given on behalf of our filth and impurity.  His innocence covers up our guilt.  His holy blood cleanses us so that we are reckoned as blameless before God.  No matter what filth has marked you, Jesus Christ has cleansed you of it.  No matter what shame you strive to keep hidden or try to forget, know that the Lord Jesus Christ has covered your shame with his righteousness.  He does not remember your sin, but rather his payment for your sins.  And therefore, he forgives you and calls you to flee from these sinful ways and to live godly lives to his glory.
     See how the Lord begets the Christ through the patriarchs.  The son of Abraham came into this world through sinners and through people who proved themselves to be sinners.  But that's because Jesus came into this world for sinners.  The son of Abraham has come for us, and he has made us all children of God. 

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Local Tourist -- Scenes from Maybury State Park

The Local Tourist likes going for walks in Maybury State Park.  There are both paved and unpaved trails to walk on.  The trees tend to muffle the noise of traffic, making for some quiet walks and time to ponder on the readings which produce Sundays' sermons.

Below is an assortment of photos taken from October and November.  Fall in Maybury is magnificent!

October 12, 2015
The photo below is from pretty much the same spot, only 2 weeks later.
October 27, 2015


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent Vespers -- 2015

We have entered a new church year and the season of Advent.  Advent means "to come to," and we consider the two "comings" of Jesus.  Naturally, we think of his coming at Christmas.  The deadline is on the calendar already -- just a few short weeks away!  But we especially think of Jesus' second coming when he will deliver us from all evil and bring us into his glorious, perfect, peaceful, everlasting kingdom.  The joy Jesus brought at his first coming makes us yearn for his second coming.  He has taken away our sins and has, therefore, prepared us for his kingdom.

As we await the coming of our Lord, we prepare.  We keep watch.  We wait with prayer and humility.  

We will also use this Advent season to slow down for a moment on Wednesday evenings for vespers.  December is hectic enough.  Vespers, an evening prayer service, lets us meditate, pray, and focus on Christ.  

This year's Advent Vespers has the theme: "SEE HOW THE LORD BEGETS THE CHRIST."  Our focus is on the first 17 verses of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.  Chances are, if you read these verses at all, you skim pretty quickly past all the names, most of them unfamiliar.  But if the Holy Spirit thought it important enough to include these 17 verses in Holy Scripture, then they are also worth meditating upon.  We wll do that during these Wednesday Vespers for Advent.

The schedule is as follows.  SEE HOW THE LORD BEGETS THE CHRIST:
          Through Patriarchs. (Matthew 1:1-6a)               December 2
          Through Kings. (Matthew 1:6b-11)                    December 9
          Through Returned Exiles. (Matthew 1:12-17)     December 16

A supper will be served at 6:00 PM.
Vespers begins at 7:00 PM.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sermon -- 1st Sunday of Advent (November 29, 2015)

JEREMIAH 33:14-16


In the name + of Jesus.

     You probably remember stories or movies from the past where a guard would be keeping his post at night.  Throughout the night, he would cry out, "Whatever o'clock and all's well!"  I suppose the news was met with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, you were thankful that all is secure.  On the other hand, you had to be awakened in the middle of the night to learn that. 
     When security becomes a big issue, it is because your security is either being threatened or has been disrupted.  France and Belgium are acutely interested in security right now because they have been the targets of ISIS attacks.  Simply surviving the day should not have to be a laudable goal, but when security is shattered, it is.  They welcome the cry, “All is secure!” now.  Entire industries have been built in order to guarantee your security in one fashion or another.  LifeLock exists to save you from identity theft.  Guardian Alarm helps to secure your home against intruders.  Investment companies are supposed to secure your retirement years.  The fact that we have to go to some lengths to get this security tells us that it is more fragile than we would like to believe.  We will often pay good money to hear the “All's secure!”
     In the days of Jeremiah the prophet, Jerusalem had lost its security.  The Babylonian army had marched against the nation of Judah and besieged Jerusalem.  The only security Jerusalem had was its walls, but those walls would be breeched soon enough.  Inside the city, life was brutal.  Food and water were scarce.  The threat of Jerusalem being overthrown was imminent.  Nebuchadnezzar's armies finally burned the temple, ended the Davidic kingdom, destroyed Jerusalem, and took its citizens into exile.  Jerusalem would not know security; they would only know death, destruction, and captivity.
     In the hardship of those bitter days, Jeremiah foretold a better day.  “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.  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 33:14-16)  Even before Jerusalem was destroyed and the kingdom was wiped out, in the midst of the siege against Jerusalem, Jeremiah promised: The days are coming when all will be secure.
     Now, as we had considered earlier, security means different things to different people.  In the midst of the siege, the residents of Jerusalem certainly were interested in security.  Many of them wanted only to go back to a life of buying and selling, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage with little thought at all of repentance and obedience to the Lord and his word.  Oh, they would have given the Lord a polite acknowledgement on their traditional holy days.  For the most part, though, the Lord was reduced to quaint nostalgia.  But it was for this very reason—this pathetic and apathetic faith—that the Lord sent his destructive judgment upon Jerusalem.  If they would give so little devotion to their Lord, the Lord would devote their city and temple to destruction.
     Now, did the life of the people of Jerusalem sound much different from our lives today?  It is so easy to relegate our devotion to Sunday mornings and our faith to personal, even secret, meditation.  The entire Christian Church in America appears to be quite apathetic about the faith—willingly and eagerly forfeiting Sunday mornings to pursue other activities.  I can't say that a threat will besiege us as Babylon besieged Jerusalem—for the Lord has not said so in such specific terms.  But the Lord does use threats and terror as a foreshadowing of the judgment and destruction that will come upon all mankind.  On that day, there will be no escape.  All will have to give an answer for their apathy.  Repent.
     The situation for the citizens of Jerusalem was hopeless in many ways.  The Babylonian army was not going to go away.  Jerusalem was not going to be spared.  The temple and the Davidic kingdom would not survive.  And yet, Jeremiah proclaimed a hope for these people.  It would come much later, after their captivity.  All was not lost.  God's anger was not permanent.  The days were coming when all would be secure.  God's promises would be fulfilled.  “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.  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 33:14-16)  The days were coming when all would be secure.
     If the Lord chooses to afflict you with terror or loss, either on a national level or a personal one, he does it for your good.  He is showing you that all the security you trust in is a fraud.  Even if it makes your life here easier, it will not save you from sin or death.  Your security is found in Jeremiah's prophecy as well.  Whenever we hear the phrase, “The days are coming, declares the Lord” in the Old Testament, they point to the Messiah.  He is the Branch which would spring up from the stump of Jesse, the kingdom of David.  Jesus would establish a new kingdom—one that would not be corrupted by greed, one that would not be twisted by favoritism, and one that would never be overthrown because of its wickedness—for there is no wickedness in it.  Jesus would “execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:15)  It is because of Jesus' justice and righteousness that all will be secure.
     We like the idea of justice being executed because we believe that we are innocent and will be spared.  Our vengeful spirit cheers the idea of the wicked getting their just deserts.  We cheer when we hear about ISIS leaders getting bombed.  We fist-pump at the reports of our least favorite candidate's alleged scandals or embarrassing comments.  We even smile at the misfortune of people we just don't like because they are not like us.  But Jesus does not come to do the kind of justice we would like done.  Rather, his justice is executed by his own execution.  In order to atone for our apathy, in order to put an end to our vengeance, Jesus was crucified.  It was at the cross that God handed out both the cruelest and the most gracious stroke of justice.  It was cruel because Jesus was condemned for sins he did not commit.  It was most gracious because Jesus willingly suffered God's wrath for us.  The guiltless one was convicted and condemned on behalf of us for all our guilt.  How can we be apathetic about that?  It is what secures for us God's favor.  By his death, Jesus has secured our forgiveness.  By his resurrection, the Son of David has secured his place on the heavenly throne and has secured our resurrection to eternal life.  The days are coming when all will be secure.
     Make no mistake about it: All is secure.  Even if someone would steal your identity, the Lord knows you and claims you as his own.  Even if your stuff is taken, your true treasures are in heaven.  Even if you should be slain, that does not undo your resurrection to eternal life.  Your place in God's kingdom is secure.  Your everlasting salvation is secure.  You might feel that the world is dangerous and poses many threats upon you and your family.  Perhaps.  But none of them can destroy God's favor.  None of them can negate Jesus' love and salvation.  If you seek security, then flee to Jesus.  For, the days are surely coming when all will be secure, when the threats will be over, when your troubles will cease, and when God's peace will reign forever.  Jesus will come again.  He will bring you to his heavenly kingdom, just as he has delivered you to his kingdom of grace.

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