Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (February 22, 2015)

LUKE 4:1-13

In the name + of Jesus.

     Temptations are always attractive.  Even though temptations are directly opposed to the word of God, you still believe the reasons you give for giving into them.  Even though Satan lures you into death and hell by the sins you commit, you are still seduced by them.  Even though you know that Satan lies to you, you find his arguments persuasive.  Even though you know that God has only your best interests at heart and the devil not only would just assume you go to hell but actually strives to get you there, when the devil tempts you, you still find his temptations attractive.
     Now, on the one hand, you are not different from anyone else in these matters.  Though some specific temptations are more appealing to you than others, you and I are easily seduced.  It has nothing to do with ignorance, either.  You know that your sins are wicked.  You know that you should be devoted only to that which is good and that you should fight against and flee from everything that is wicked.  And yet, you still had good reason to confess your sins this morning.  Temptations are always attractive.  We are all still attracted by them.  And we all have earned God’s divine wrath for turning from him and for giving into them.  So, on the one hand, your situation is common with all mankind.  On the other hand, that does not excuse you.  All have sinned.  All deserve wrath.  All are lost.
     Satan is called the prince of this world, and it is because he has claim on all people in this world.  He laid that claim when he seduced Adam and Eve to forsake the word of God for his lies.  It has been this way ever since.  All mankind fell in Adam’s fall.  One common sin infects us all.  But Christ, the second Adam came, (All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall, CW 378:1,4) who for us men and for our salvation became man. (Nicene Creed)  Jesus has come to do what no man has done.  He has come to render to God the obedience he demands, to do the good God wants and to turn from the evil that God forbids.  Man must keep the Law, and Jesus has become man to do just that.
     Just as Satan did not leave the first Adam alone, so he did not leave Jesus alone.  Nor was Jesus looking to avoid the battle.  Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit took him into the wilderness for the purpose of being tempted.  For forty days, Jesus fasted and prayed.  Satan came to Jesus when he was weak and hungry.  Satan does not play nice, not even with Jesus.
     When the Israelites were in the wilderness, the Lord had provided them with bread, miraculously producing manna every day.  Satan would have reasoned: “If the Father calls you his Son, why wouldn’t God provide bread for you as he did for Israel?  What kind of Father drives his Son out into the wilderness to starve him?  Does he not really love you?  Or, if you truly are the Son of God, why not miraculously provide your own bread?”  Jesus was not seduced by Satan’s arguments.  The word of the Lord stands.  He is the Son of God, and he clings to the word of the Lord.  Life does not come from bread, but from the Father.  Jesus overcame temptation and conquered the Old Evil Foe.
     Jesus was not merely doing battle with Satan just to overcome him.  He was doing battle over you.  He came to win you, snatching you from sin, from death, and from the devil so that you would be forgiven for your sins, raised from the grave, and have eternal life.  To redeem you, Jesus not only had to overcome temptation and render perfect obedience, he also had to suffer and die for your disobedience.  Yes, he would crush the serpent’s head, but he would be struck in the heel as well.  He would suffer and die.  He would absorb all the divine wrath.  Jesus knew how difficult this would be.  He knew the sufferings and anguish that were waiting for him.  The devil knew it too.  Therefore, the prince of this world offered Jesus a way out.  He offered him the world that he so loved and had come to save.
     You and I also prefer the easy way out.  Rather than feel the weight of the cross, rather than suffer for the sake of doing good, rather than face ridicule or lose friends for refusing to give in to sins, we find it easier to give in.  How easy it is to give in to our friends, to give in to what is popular, and to accept what our society has decided is okay.  It is easy because, when we give in, our friends and this world will applaud.  How easy it is to give our sinful nature whatever it desires.  We even reason that if we give in to our sinful desires, our flesh will be content and we can do better next time.  It sounds easy, but it is wrong.  The flesh will not be content.  It will demand more.  The easy way out is no way out at all.  The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction. (Matthew 7:13)  Repent.
     Satan offered Jesus the way out.  “All you have to do to have this world, to claim these people, and to avoid suffering for them is to bow down and worship me.  Understand, Jesus, if you do not fall to your knees in a rather painless gesture now, you will be on your knees later in pain and sorrow and anguish.  You will be begging not to drink the cup of God’s wrath.  Your Father’s word means that you go to your knees in torment.  My word offers you to fall to your knees quick and easy.  Don’t be a fool Jesus.  Take the easy road.”  But Jesus conquered the Old Evil Foe.  Jesus did not buy the lie.  He held true to the true word: “It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve.’” (Luke 4:8)  Jesus conquered the Old Evil Foe.
   Finally, Satan attacked Jesus with his own weapon—the word of God.  Satan knows the Scriptures better than you do, and he will twist them to deceive you.  The Lord Jesus, however, was not deceived.  Jesus was not swayed by the devil’s misapplication of Scripture.  Jesus conquered the Old Evil Foe. 
     Now certainly one of the lessons we learn from this is to take our stand against our own temptations by fleeing to the word of God.  Adam and Eve gave into their temptation because they did not honor the word of the Lord.  If they had stood firm on God’s word, they would not have fallen into sin.  Likewise, God’s word is the weapon that we use to fight off temptation.  This word shows us what God has deemed good or evil, and this word encourages us to remain strong in faithful and godly living so that we are not ensnared by our sins again.
     Yet, for all of our good intentions, we still find ourselves needing to confess our sins.  We are frustrated, and even ashamed, that we have fallen into temptation again.  They are still attractive, and Satan still does not play nice.
     Your victory does not come from trying harder.  Victory comes from the Valiant One whom God himself elected.  Jesus Christ has conquered the Old Evil Foe.  Jesus has supplied the holy and godly obedience that God demands of you.  And Jesus has supplied to you that righteousness through your baptism.  Daily, you flee back to your baptism by repenting of your sins.  You put your sin to death, and God raises you up as a new creation.  He works in you to love and to do what is good and to despise what is evil so that you do not return to it.
     While temptations may seem attractive, you know that they lead to death and damnation.  Your Savior, Jesus Christ, however, has conquered the Old Evil Foe.  His word promises a greater blessing and an everlasting life.  Just as any person would flee into a safe place when disaster is striking his city, so you also flee to Jesus when temptations come.  He is your refuge from sin, death, and the devil.  For, he supplies victory over sin by his work for you, victory over temptations by his work in you, and victory forever by the resurrection to eternal life.  He has conquered the Old Evil Foe, and he gives his victory to you.

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sermon -- Funeral of Walter Gordon Trapp (July 26, 1932 – February 16, 2015)

NOTE:  This sermon was preached at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, Plymouth, MI where Walter Trapp was a long time member.  St. Peter's pastor, Rev. Paul Schaefer, was on vacation and was regrettably unable to be present.


Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

In the name + of Jesus.

     I was told that this verse was Walter Trapp’s confirmation verse.  My personal contact with Walt was pretty limited, but the people I have spoken to over the past week or so have been unanimous in their praise for Walt’s faithfulness to the Lord.  His credentials include such things as Sunday School teacher, choir member, church council member, and founder of Huron Valley Lutheran High School.  Those are just his church activities.  He was also a loving husband, devoted father, loyal soldier, baseball coach, and diligent worker.  Such a resume would make anyone confident about his faithfulness.
     When I had a chance to visit with Walt about a week ago, I asked him if anything was on his mind.  He said, “Yeah.  Death!”  I suppose anyone would have been thinking about death in those final moments—especially when you know that those are your final moments.  In those final moments, the devil can be hard at work to make you doubt your own place in the kingdom of God.  The Accuser accuses to the very end.  He does not have to make anything up, either.  He simply reminds you of the things you should have done which you didn’t, or the things you shouldn’t have done but you did.  When Walt was thinking of death, such plagues of guilt could easily have come to mind.
     Now, we have our verse to consider in the light of these things.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)  If Walt had focused on his own faithfulness, he would have been petrified.  Sure, he could have listed the good things he had done, but Satan would have reminded him of any bad things.  He does not need to make up sins against us.  He just accuses us of what we know to be true.
     Therefore, our hope and comfort are not in how good or noble or faithful we have been.  As fond as you are of Walt, as many accomplishments of his you can recite, and as many blessings as God gave you through him, we are saved neither by our own fondness or faithfulness.  Walter Trapp strove to be faithful, but he did not rest his faith on the part of the verse that commanded, “Be faithful.”  Rather, Walter Trapp trusted in the part of the verse which was Jesus’ promise to him: “I will give you the crown of life.”
     The reason Jesus can make such a promise is because the crown of life is his to give.  Jesus does not make empty promises.  Jesus had come to deliver Walt Trapp from all his sin.  Jesus did not come to earth flaunting a glorious crown.  Jesus assumed a crown of thorns for sinners.  Even though Jesus was without sin, he was vehemently accused and humbly accepted every charge of guilt that was laid upon him.  Even though he is the immortal God, Jesus laid down his life for us who deserve to die.  Even though the wages of sin is death and it is we who have earned our place in the grave, our righteous and innocent Lord died and was buried in a tomb.  But Jesus’ burial did not end in decay.  It ended in a resurrection to glorious and everlasting life.  Jesus has paid for sin, overthrown Satan, and conquered death.  Jesus has won the victory, and nothing and no one can take that away from him.  That is why he has the crown of life.  It is his, and so it is his to give.
     When Walter Trapp was baptized, Jesus personally marked Walt as his own.  He gave Walt all of these promises.  In other words, he gave Walter Trapp the crown of life.  Sins cannot condemn him; they are forgiven.  Satan cannot accuse him; Jesus’ words overrule anything Satan tries to say.  Not even death can truly harm Walter Trapp.  It may hold him for a moment, but Jesus has conquered death.  Jesus has not lost Walter at all—not to sin, not to Satan, and not to the grave.  Remember: Jesus is the victor.  Jesus possesses the crown of life.  He promised it to Walter when he was baptized, and Jesus does not make empty promises.
     Now, that crown does not appear just yet.  That victory does not even seem real.  Walt’s life and health and body got worse and weaker as these last few years passed.  And finally, Walt died.  But you must understand that the Lord Jesus has better plans for Walt.  You see, this body was mortal.  It was marked by sin.  It was susceptible to pain and disease and weakness and finally death. 
     But the Father who created us to be living body and soul people desires that we always be living body and soul people.  And the Son who became our flesh and blood Savior has redeemed our flesh and blood so that we do not belong to hell but to him.  And the Holy Spirit who has dwelt in Walt from the day of his baptism has not failed him now.  Not even death separates him from the love of God.  This Triune God into whom Walt was baptized will raise him up from his grave.  St. Paul reminds us in his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.  …  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power…  And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 42-43, 49)
    Walter Trapp is no ghost.  He is a body and soul man who was pleased to serve his Lord for his 82 years.  He will be raised from the dead and will be a body and soul man who will be pleased to serve the Lord—without pain, without fear, without problems, without tears, and without end. 
    The Lord will give Walter Trapp the crown of life.  It is the victorious crown of one who has conquered even death to live forever.  In the meantime, Walt’s soul already enjoys the peace of heaven.  Oh, and guess what!  Walt is in choir again.  He gets to sing with the choirs of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  Oh, and guess what!  Walt is taking holy communion again.  He gets to celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb, not for a moment but forever.  Oh, and guess what!  Walt no longer will have to depart in peace.  He is already at everlasting peace; for the Lord has given him the crown of life.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sermon -- Ash Wednesday (February 18, 2015)

LUKE 18:9-14

In the name + of Jesus.

     Two men went up to the temple to pray.  Both of these men were religious.  Both recognized where to go if they wanted to stand in God’s presence.  Both knew who the true God was.  Both made their prayers heard by him.  And both held God to his word in one way or another.
     The Pharisee prayed first.  He was a noble man.  Morally, he was a role model for the Jews whom he taught and who were under his spiritual care.  He devoted himself to the spiritual discipline of fasting.  He was faithful in tithing, not only from his regular income, but careful to tithe on everything that came into his possession.  This Pharisee was above reproach in the way he dealt with other people.  He did not steal.  He did not take advantage of the poor or despise the needy.  He did not seduce other women.  He knew what was in line with God’s will, and he was pleased with how well he was living up to God’s will.  And he held God to his word that God blesses those who keep his commandments.
     To be sure, there are blessings in this life for those who know how to behave.  If you do not steal or cheat, you will not be in trouble with the law.  If you act honorably, you will not be despised by others.  If you remain chaste, you will not have to fret unwanted pregnancy.  If you remain faithful to your spouse, you will not jeopardize your marriage because of infidelity.  Godly living can make much of life easy.  By avoiding wickedness, you can avoid bad choices and the painful and costly consequences that follow. 
     Nevertheless, Jesus said that this Pharisee did not go home from the temple justified.  He was convinced he had done what God commands, and he called on God to reward him accordingly.  As far as anyone could see, the Pharisee had been faultless.  He did not have any shameful sins to smudge his appearance.  But God does not judge by appearances.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)  And the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. (Jeremiah 17:9) 
     You are equally in danger of deceiving yourself, if you have not done so already.  As the Pharisee noted, some people’s sins are obvious—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like (the crooked) tax collector. (Luke 18:11)  There are people who gorge themselves on evil and celebrate it so that, as Isaiah noted, even the one who departs from evil makes himself a prey (Isaiah 59:15) or a target.  Many have made a royal mess of their lives because of bad choices.  Some will have to live with the consequences of these choices for the rest of their lives.  Do we not feel that we are superior to them?  We were smarter than that.  We knew how to behave.  We thank God that we are not like these other people.  And we are waiting for God to reward us accordingly.  Beware: If you look down on others because their sins are obvious, you will go home without God’s favor.  You, too, are a sinner.
     The tax collector also went to the temple to pray.  He could not make the same boasts as the Pharisee.  He did not get into any kind of a contest with the Pharisee about who had done more for his fellowman.  He would have lost anyway.  The Pharisee knew it, and the tax collector too.  So, when the tax collector prayed, he did not waste any time on his credentials.  Nor did he make excuses.  No, “I have mouths to feed.”  No, “In my line of work, you gotta do what you gotta do.”  His prayer was a confession, and his confession was also his prayer: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
     The tax collector made a simple confession.  He did not weigh out his deeds on a scale to see how his good and bad deeds balanced out.  He was good at making tally marks in his tax ledger.  Before God, there was no such thing.  He was a sinner, plain and simple.  He was a sinner, through and through.  He simply prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)  He was a sinner, not just in words and deeds, but in his mind, his heart, and in his very nature.  He did not approach God with tally marks to be addressed, but he confessed guilt for all things.  Therefore, he sought mercy for all things.  “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
    You have been taught to pray the same confession for the same reason.  Kyrie, eleison.  Lord, have mercy.  God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  The tax collector’s words sound just like our penitential hymn.  But there is a nuance in the tax collector’s prayer that begs for more than mercy.  The word “mercy” is more accurately translated: “be propitiated to me.”  You can understand why the editors opted for mercy.  But the expression tells us that the tax collector knew God’s promises.  And it tells us why the tax collector went to the temple rather than simply to pray from his own home which would have been much easier.
     The temple is where the Lord’s atonement was procured and pronounced.  Day after day, the priests made sin offerings for the sake of the people.  Especially on the Day of Atonement, the high priest made propitiation for the people at the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies.  In fact, the mercy seat on the ark is the same word for propitiation.  It is the sacrifice which takes God’s wrath away.  Death is demanded for the sinner, but with the sin offering the victim is slain in place of the sinner.  The tax collector knew this was the purpose for the sacrifices in the temple.  He knew God’s promise that one great, perfect, and final sin offering would be made for sinners, even for him.  His prayer was that God would fulfill his word: “God, be propitiated to me.  Complete the sin offering.  Send the Savior who will be that sacrifice, and whose holy blood will make atonement for every sinner—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, and even this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11)  
     “Kyrie, eleison!  Lord, have mercy.  God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  God has been merciful.  The Lamb of God has been slain for you.  God made him who knew no sin to be sin for you.  The sin offering has been completed.  The Lord does not weigh in the scales which are worse sinners or better sinners.  He makes payment for all.  The Lord does not waste time assessing which sins are serious and which are minor offenses.  Nor does he have you waste your time trying to figure out which sins should bother you.  They all damn.  That is why our confession is simply “sinner.”  But Jesus is the propitiation for you.  He does not ask how much blood he must shed for you or how much of his life he must lay down for you.  Jesus has given himself up completely to pay for your sins.  He has consumed all of God’s wrath.  He sends you home forgiven, justified, and saved. 
     Today, ashes mark you as one who is going to die.  Repentance is expressed in words and ceremonies.  This church of sinners continues to pray, “Kyrie, eleison.  God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  And God continues to pour out his mercy.  The blood of Jesus purifies you of all sin.  The life and death of Jesus have delivered you from sin and death.  And even though your flesh will return to dust, you will be raised up glorious to eternal life.  You will go to your heavenly home justified.  For, God is faithful to his word.  He has been merciful.  And sinners are forgiven.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon -- Transfiguration (February 15, 2015)

LUKE 9:28-36

In the name + of Jesus.

     The apostle Peter saw something good, and he wanted to keep it going.  He saw Jesus when the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. (Luke 9:29)  It was the first time the Son of God actually looked like the Son of God.  It was awesome, and it was glorious.  On top of that, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory…. (Luke 9:30-31)  Moses and Elijah also appeared in splendor, as those who had departed from this world and now live in the glory and the bliss of heaven.
     Though Peter, James, and John had fallen asleep, this was no dream.  They had become fully awake and fully alert.  Peter did not want the glorious scene to end.  So, as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. (Luke 9:33)  Certainly, it was good for Peter, James, and John to be there.  The Lord had brought them up to this mountain so that they could see him with the glory that is rightly his—glory he had always kept hidden.  But Jesus did not go up the mountain to establish a shrine.  Nor was Jesus interested in granting merely a moment of glory to people.  Jesus gave these three disciples this special revelation so that they could remember that Jesus truly is the glorious Son of God.  Later, when these three again slept while Jesus prayed, and when they awoke to see Jesus sorrowful, then betrayed and arrested, then tried and condemned, then bleeding and dying, they could recall the vision.  If they would only believe what they saw, they would not consider Jesus divine, but defeated, a disappointment, and possibly even a deceiver.
     It is so easy for us to get swept away by what we see and feel, just as Peter did.  We think that God’s love for us is measured by how much we are blessed or have success.  Super Bowl winners, Olympic gold medalists, and others who find the limelight boast about this.  They tie their success to God’s love for them.  But this begs the question, “If you had failed, does that mean God loves you less?”  When life is good, we assume that God is smiling upon us.  But when tragedies strike, when a battery of medical tests concludes that there is no cure, when you have to pump a foot of water out of your basement, when you get demoted or downsized, or when plans you were excited about get torn to shreds, what about God’s love now?  What you experience will suggest that God’s love is fickle.  What’s worse, if you measure glory by what you see and feel, you are no longer trusting what God actually tells you.  Trusting in what you see and feel is deceptive, and it is idolatry.  That’s why the Lord urges you, “Listen to him.  Keep on listening to him.  He will never deceive you.”
     Peter saw the glory of the Lord, and he wanted to keep that glory.  “Master, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. (Luke 9:33)  Peter thought it would be fantastic to have this glorious scene available to the disciples.  People could make pilgrimages to see this glory.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could have a moment where they could see Jesus’ glory and feel that everything is alright?  Jesus loves you more than that.  He has not come to give you a moment of glory.  Jesus has come to deliver you from a troubled and tragic world to everlasting glory.  He could only do that by leaving this mountain to go to another hill called Calvary.   There, he would not shine in splendor, but die in darkness and shame.  There, he would not hear his Father declare his love and approval, but he would be forsaken.  There, he would not have his garments gleam like lightning, but he would be stripped of his garments.  And there, the appearance of his face would change—not radiating glory, but oozing blood and grimacing with pain.  Now, if you would believe your eyes and your feelings, you might pity this man, but you would not worship him.  But if you would see everlasting glory, and the glory that he wins you for by his sufferings and death, listen to him.
    If Peter had been listening, he would never have opened his mouth to begin with. Behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30-31)  Moses and Elijah were discussing with Jesus the prophecies foretold about him, how he would deliver sinners from the curse of their sins.  They spoke of Jesus’ departure.  Jesus had come to depart from this life by a sacrificial death.  That bloody death is the payment for all sins.  By his sufferings and death, Jesus had endured the curse which was hanging over us all.  To see everlasting glory, listen to him.
     But Jesus’ departure did not end with his death.  He also departed from his grave, conquering death and claiming back from death all who believe in him.  By his death and resurrection, Jesus has delivered you from all your sins.  It may not always feel like it.  You still experience guilt.  You still get frustrated because you have not overcome those temptations that get you again and again.  And you wonder if you are truly a devout Christian.  You may even wonder if God loves you.  This is what happens when you trust in your experiences. 
     To be sure of your salvation, to be confident that you are truly forgiven, to find strength to battle against your flesh all the more, and to know that God’s love is not fickle, listen to him.  Jesus has taken away all of your sin.  Jesus has lifted up God’s curse upon you.  Jesus even demonstrated his victory over the grave so that he can raise you up from yours.  These things are not true because you feel like they are.  Your salvation does not stand because you surely hope so.  To see everlasting glory, listen to him.  Jesus said that his mission was to suffer and die for sinners and then rise from the dead.  That mission is accomplished; therefore, Jesus assures you that he has paid for your sins and delivers you from your grave.  You have eternal life not because you want it, but because Jesus earned it and promises you have it.  To see everlasting glory, listen to him.
     The apostle Peter saw something good, and he wanted to keep it going.  He saw Jesus in his glory, and he wanted to preserve that.  Peter did get to see that glorious Savior again.  It was after Jesus’ resurrection that Peter, James, and John once again saw Jesus’ in his glorified body.  Only this time, the glory would not be momentary.  It is everlasting.  They saw their glorious Savior depart from this earth to ascend to heaven where he has gone to prepare a place for us.  You and I will see him in his glory, too, when he returns to judge the living and the dead.  Then, at the resurrection, we will also have our bodies transformed so that they will be like Jesus’ glorious body.  Then we will no longer see our frailties or experience guilt or shame.  Rather, we will be taken to everlasting glory, amidst the prophets and apostles, amidst the angels and archangels, and in the presence of our Lord. 
     Until that day, if you long to be kept in his kingdom and to find comfort in this world, listen to him.  Jesus’ voice is what will protect and preserve you while you struggle and strive in this world of troubles and tragedies.  Jesus’ words will remind you that God’s mercy rests upon you.  Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection assure you that God’s love for you is everlasting.  And that everlasting glory will be yours when he comes again.  If you want to see that glory, listen to him.  He will never deceive you or disappoint you.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sake's alive! She's 45!

          On February 13, my beloved wife, Laura, turned 45 years old.  That's 16 years we've been celebrating her 29th birthday.
          Actually, Laura does not get hung up on her age.  The kids tease her about being so old.  Of course, they also tease her about being so happy.  I only get teased about my hair line.  (Careful boys, that's your future, too!)
          I am so grateful to have the beautiful wife I have.  She is generally very happy, and I don't tease her for it.  I am thankful for it.  It is wonderful to have a wife who is genuinely pleased that I walk in the door each night.  She is incredibly supportive, though she is also wise enough to see when I need to be talked back in off the ledge.  We have spent our life laughing together, crying together, and just being together.  In fact, our dates these days have been more about being together, because sane people don't say that running errands is a date.  But I will take an evening of doing nothing together with Laura than doing just about anything with anyone else.
           This birthday marks for Laura the milestone that she has spent the majority of her life married to me.  I have to wait until 49 to hit the milestone of having more than half my life being married to her.
          Anyway, Laura, I hope that you are blessed with many more years, and that I am blessed with many more years with you.
          Happy birthday, Laura!  Love you!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ash Wednesday and the Imposotion of Ashes

Divine Service with the Imposition of Ashes is at 7:00 PM.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

            These words paraphrase Genesis 3:19 where the Lord proclaimed a curse upon man when he had first sinned.  St. Paul repeated that thought in his letter to the Romans: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

            Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  This is the harsh reality of sin.  The use of ashes long pre-dates the New Testament Church.  In the era of the Patriarchs, Job confessed his sin and declared, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)  The Imposition of Ashes teaches a dual lesson. 

   1)  It is a mark of penitence.  We demonstrate outwardly the sorrow for sin that we have inwardly. 

   2)  It is a mark of death.  It is a reminder that we are all dust, and to dust we will return.  The ashes remind us that we are helpless in our sinful condition.  Our only hope is a Savior.  We repent of our works.  We cling to Jesus for his.

            No one should feel obligated to receive the ashes on the forehead.  If you do not want to do it, the ushers will simply pass you by and go to the next row.  Children may participate at the discretion of their parents.

            We will begin the service with the rite.  Where the bulletin indicates, the ushers will begin to invite people by row to come to the communion railing to receive the ashes.  The penitent will kneel at the railing (like Lord’s Supper), and wait as the pastor applies the ashes to the forehead in the shape of a cross.  Please resist all temptations to scratch or smear the ashes.  (The ashes will easily be washed off with soapy water.)

            This ceremony truly sets the tone for Lenten season.  We are marked as sinners.  We are marked for death.  We are marked as the penitent whose only hope is Jesus Christ. 

            Our comfort comes from Jesus who takes our sin.  He dies our death.  He marks us as his own who have been baptized into his name.  That is where the penitent find comfort.  That is where the dying find life.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Basketball weekend -- St. Peter's and MLS

This past weekend, we got our share of basketball games.  St. Peter's went to Michigan Lutheran Seminary for a co-ed team basketball tournament.  St. Peter's played well and won all of their games in their round robin tournament, playing teams from Warren (Crown of Life), Burton (Good Shepherd) and even Falls Church, VA (Grace).  Really, they came from Virginia!

Anyway, Philip had three good games.  And we also got to bring home some hardware.  Photos here:

We had hoped to watch Caleb's MLS Freshmen squad play at Millington, but Millington did not have a Freshmen team of their own, so we did not get to see Caleb play.  Our schedule has prohibited us from seeing most of his games, so this was a bummer.

On Friday night, the MLS varsity Cardinals took their undefeated schedule to take on #1 seeded Millington at the Millington gym.  To say it simply, it was not MLS' night.  Too many missed layups and short baskets; too many missed free throws, and rebounds which ended up in Millington's hands all night long ended up taking their toll.  Still, MLS lost only 72-67.  Millington would be quick to note that their leading scorer did not play, so both teams claimed that they could have done better.  Chances are, there will be a rematch come the playoffs, and that will be an interesting match up.

Photos here:
Andrew has had his share of blocks this year.  Here is another.
This was almost certainly called a foul that night.  [All ball]


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Epiphany (February 8, 2015)

ISAIAH 6:1-8

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord does not appear to people in bare glory.  Whenever the Lord reveals himself, he hides himself under created things.  Moses saw a burning bush.  The Israelites saw a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  When the Lord was pleased to dwell among us for 33 years, he veiled himself in flesh.  Even today, when the Lord comes to bestow mercy upon you, he hides himself in created things such as water, bread and wine, and words from his minister’s mouth.
     Isaiah, however, saw the Lord in his bare glory.  Isaiah had been given a vision in which he saw the holy, holy, holy Lord of hosts in his very throne room.  Isaiah saw the seraphim, the holy, six-winged angels, flying around the exalted throne.  Even they covered their eyes in the presence of the Lord.  Isaiah heard them both confess and praise the Lord with their hymn: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)  At the sound of their voices, the threshold of the temple shook and the place was filled with smoke. 
     Perhaps you envy Isaiah.  After all, we live by faith, not by sight.  We have not seen God.  Even when we gather in God’s house we do not see God in his radiant glory.  We would like to catch a glimpse or see a vision, because we would rather live by sight and not by faith.  Isaiah did have such a vision.  Rather than being thrilled that he saw the Lord with his own eyes, Isaiah was petrified. 
     This was Isaiah’s confession: Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) Standing in the presence of the holy God put a spotlight on Isaiah and made him acutely aware that he was not holy.  The Lord is pure; Isaiah was unclean.  Like most people, Isaiah could coast through life and not give a second thought about his wickedness—the filth that dwelt in his heart and in his mind, and then came out of his lips.  By simply standing in the presence of God, he knew it and felt it all.  There were no excuses, and there was no hope.  Isaiah was convinced he was a goner.
     You and I made confession of our sins today.  Sometimes those sins weigh on our minds.  Other times, we can probably coast through life and mindlessly coast through even a confession of sins without thinking too much of our guilt.  Yet, we are all a people of unclean lips, and we dwell in the midst of people who have unclean lips.  Our ears take in the filth that spews out of the mouths of singers, actors, co-workers, and relatives.  We have come to accept such speech and normal, and we laugh along with the world and take on its vocabulary.  Our own lips have spilled out gossip and lies, obscenities and vulgarities, bitterness and sarcasm.  God gave us these mouths to use for praise, for instruction, for blessing, and for kindness, but destructive words have bubbled up from depraved hearts.  Woe to each one of us!  We are lost!  What excuses can we give for our sinful mouths and lips?  Repent.
     Though Isaiah was convinced he would be destroyed in God’s wrath, Isaiah instead found himself on the receiving end of God’s mercy.  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)  The altar is where sacrifices were made for atonement.  By taking the burning coal from the altar, the seraph was applying the atoning sacrifice personally to Isaiah.  His unclean lips were cleansed.  His guilt was covered.  His sins were atoned for.  The sacrifice which was made for him had been applied to him.  The victim had been slain on the altar in place of Isaiah.  Through the atoning sacrifice, Isaiah was made pure and blameless in the sight of God.  No longer did he need to fear God’s wrath; for he had received God’s mercy.
     It is the same for you.  The sacrifice which was made to atone for your sins is Jesus Christ.  He not only made the sacrifice, he IS the sacrifice.  Jesus offered up his holy, innocent, and obedient life on behalf of you.  Jesus had uttered no evil words.  He stood silently as his accusers charged him with all kinds of wickedness and crimes.  When he finally did utter a word, it was a confession that he is the Christ, the Son of God.  For this good and true confession, Jesus was condemned as a blasphemer.  Finally, Jesus was led silently to the slaughter by people of unclean lips and for people of unclean lips. 
     Just as the coal from the altar was touched to Isaiah’s lips, so the Lord has applied to you personally the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.  When you were baptized, the waters were poured over you in the name of our Triune God.  Behold!  This has washed away your sins.  This has covered over your guilt with the righteousness of Jesus.  God’s wrath is lifted and God’s mercy is yours.  Likewise, especially from this altar God’s mercy is given to you.  We will sing with the angels and the saints in heaven, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of heavenly host; heaven and earth are full of your glory.”  And they will sing with us, “Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  For, Jesus comes to us again, veiled in bread and wine, to save us.  The body and blood which were given into death for your sins are here given to you for your forgiveness.  Take; eat and drink.  Behold!  This has touched your lips.  Your sins are taken away.  Your guilt is atoned for.  God has been merciful to you and is pleased to strengthen and keep you in the true faith until life every lasting.  You can now depart from this church and even from this world in peace.
     Behold!  You now have a better confession to make.  The confession of sins becomes a joyful confession of faith.  God has been merciful to you.  He has sent his Son to redeem you and to cleanse you from all sin and purify you from all unrighteousness. 
     Though all of God’s people make this joyful confession of faith, God chooses some men from those in his church to go and proclaim this mercy to his people.  Isaiah would be the first to testify what a terrifying thing it is to stand in the presence of God in his bare glory.  Therefore, God was pleased to send someone who would speak on his behalf.  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)  So the Lord had his word proclaimed by his prophet.  He who had been shown mercy by the Lord would go and proclaim the Lord’s mercy to the world.
     It is still the same.  God’s church gathers together Sunday after Sunday to hear the word of the Lord proclaimed.  And God does not appear to us here or else we would be diving under our chairs in terror because that which is sinful cannot dwell with him who is holy.  Therefore, the Lord is pleased to call men from his church to be his mouthpiece—both calling sinners to repent and consoling penitent sinners with God’s mercy.  The Lord calls ministers to be his hands—to pour the waters of baptism over people, and to feed God’s redeemed with the body and blood of the Lord.  And again today, you will feast and be reminded, “Behold!  This has touched your lips.  Your sin has been taken away and your guilt is atoned for.”
     Pray that the Lord would send more pastors to proclaim God’s mercy to people.  And while not everyone will be a pastor, but perhaps there are some young men who will prayerfully consider if they would be God’s mouthpiece and God’s hands.  Our God is pleased to be merciful to sinners, and our merciful God calls sinners to proclaim mercy to other sinners. 

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sermon -- Chapel at Huron Valley Lutheran High School (February 5, 2015)

Chapel at Huron Valley Lutheran High School, Westland, MI
DRAWN TO THE CROSS – The Prophet Reveals God To Us.
The Greater Prophet Is Coming.

In the name + of Jesus.

     When the Lord appeared to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, he did not appear in his bare glory.  Rather, his glory was hidden by the cloud that hung on Mt. Sinai.  The people of Israel, therefore, did not gaze upon the glory of God.  They did, however, hear his voice utter the commandments.  And they were terrified.  Each one pleaded,“Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.” (Deuteronomy 18:16)  Sinners were terrified in the presence of the holy God.  They prayed that the Lord would speak to them through a prophet so that they could bear it.  The Lord was pleased with their prayer, and he answered it by speaking through Moses.
     Of course, Moses did not prophesy forever.  He was mortal and eventually Moses died.  The Lord continued to reveal his word through other prophets.  They, too, were mortal and eventually died.  And though they preached forgiveness and salvation to people, they did not win forgiveness and salvation for people.  A Savior would have to do that.
     But it is this very reason that we despise him or think little of him.  God did not come in dazzling splendor to astound and amaze us.  He was a lowly peasant from a backwoods town.  Many were disappointed in him, for he is not what we expect a Messiah to be.
     To this day, Jesus may be a disappointment to you.  After all, you can go to church all your life and you will not see great miracles.  Grandma is not miraculously cured of her Alzheimers.  After surgery, chemo treatments, and endless doctors’ visits, your uncle still dies of cancer.  If our churches could boast that we regularly perform miraculous healings, there is no doubt that we would see lines out the door every Sunday—for people who are eager to be healed and for those who want to watch it.  Instead, what do we offer?  We preach a message of forgiveness of sins, of the mercy of God, and of the resurrection to eternal life.  We prepare a sacred meal for devout Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins.  And people shrug their shoulders and make other plans because that does not seem important or impressive.
     So, where is the glorious Jesus?  Listen again to what Moses said: “The Lord said to me, ‘…I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers.  And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:17-18)  Remember what the role of a prophet is.  It is not to dazzle you with miracles.  A prophet preaches.  God puts his words in the prophet’s mouth so that he can declare to you the word of the Lord.  This is how God still works today.  Your pastor may not be the world’s greatest speaker.  In fact, he isn’t.  By definition, there can only be one greatest speaker in the world.  Odds are, it’s not your pastor.  But he proclaims to you the forgiveness of your sins—even the sin of despising preaching and his word.  He assures you of the mercy of God—that God is merciful to people who crave something different than what God gives.  He points you to Jesus who delivers you from sin, death, and the devil.
     Your pastor points you to Jesus.  The prophets of old pointed ahead to Jesus.  Jesus is that great prophet whom the Lord promised through Moses.  Jesus does not merely speak for God.  Jesus is God who speaks for himself.  This is why you stand for the gospel reading.  Jesus is speaking to you.
     And though Jesus is a faithful prophet who proclaims the word of the Lord, Jesus is more than just talk.  Jesus has also acted for you.  Jesus proclaims the forgiveness of sins to you because he has paid the price for them.  Jesus has borne your guilt, and therefore, he has also borne your punishment.  Jesus has received your curse and died your death.  He is merciful—for he does not give you what your sins deserve.  And he is gracious—for he gives you the blessings you do not deserve. 
     And just as God hid himself in flesh to deliver you from your sins, so God continues to hide himself in humble, lowly things to deliver his forgiveness and salvation to you.  His word is still preached so that you do not need to fear God in his bare glory.  Instead, you hear it through frail flesh and blood pastors who need it just as badly as you do.  The Lord attaches his word to water where he cleanses you of all sin.  The Lord attaches his word to bread and wine so that you can feast on the heavenly meal for the forgiveness of your sins.  Granted, these things are flashy.  But the Lord is not interested in trying to impress you.  He is intently interested in saving you.  He has come to do the work for your salvation, and he sends pastors to proclaim salvation to you.

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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Epiphany (February 1, 2015)

LUKE 4:20-32

In the name + of Jesus.

     People who read the Bible are usually enamored with miracles.  That’s understandable.  We cannot help but be amazed as Jesus produced a multitude of wine out of water, or calmed the waters which were raging, or even walked on those waters in one instance.  But if you look through your Bible, you will notice that miracles are not the norm.  All the miracles of the Bible are done almost exclusively in the age of Jesus and the apostles, in the days of Moses, and in the days of Elijah and Elisha. 
     Jesus referred to Elijah and Elisha in our gospel, and he mentioned miracles that they had done.  But Elijah and Elisha were not called to do miracles.  Though prophets may have done miracles, that is not who the prophets were.  Prophets are preachers.  They prophesied, saying what God has given them to say.  In fact, Jesus noted that two miracles, one by Elijah and one by Elisha, were not done for God’s chosen people, Israel.  They were done for Gentiles.  That’s because Elijah and Elisha were not sent to Israel to perform, but to preach.  And the reason they were sent to Israel to preach is because divine grace comes through preaching.
     Likewise, when Jesus entered the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, it was not to perform miracles.  It seems that the people of Nazareth wanted Jesus to do them.  They had heard about miraculous healings at Capernaum.  They wanted Jesus to do them for the hometown folks, too.  But the people who went to the synagogue should not have expected miracles when they went to church.  They came to the synagogue for the same reason you come to church—to hear the promises of God, to hear of the atoning sacrifice, the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of the resurrection to eternal life.  Such divine grace comes through preaching.
     Today, we are considering our liturgical form of worship.  The rites and ceremonies of our worship have been handed down to us through centuries of use.  Some of you have recited and sung these things for decades yourselves.  But, sinful flesh being what it is, we get bored.  We want something entertaining, innovative, and exciting.  Some worship gurus even tell us that we are failing the church, specifically the young people, if we do not jettison this long-used liturgy for something new, something trendy.  That’s precisely what the people of Nazareth wanted from Jesus.  They were bored with lessons and sermons.  They wanted to be wowed by miracles.  They despised what God had given his Church.  They despised liturgy and preaching.  But that is how God reveals his divine grace. 
     The liturgy itself comes directly from Scripture.  The liturgy is not about us, and that, finally, is what we don’t like it.  We want church to cater to our tastes.  We want tunes which match Billboard’s Top 100.  We want stories which tug at our emotions or stir us up to do bigger and greater things.  The liturgy fails on all counts.  The liturgy is not about us, and that is one reason people we grow tired of it.  But your flesh always wants everything to be about you.  If your flesh craves what is sinful and wicked Monday through Saturday, what makes you think your flesh will suddenly crave what is pure on Sunday mornings and in worship? 
     Divine grace comes through preaching, and the liturgy preaches it every week.  The liturgy is not about you; it is about Jesus.  Thank God that it is so!  The liturgy is about Jesus, and in Jesus Christ, you find life and mercy and blessing and forgiveness.  In the liturgy, Jesus comes to dwell with us.  Here, you are standing on holy ground.  But through Jesus, you yourself are also cleansed of sin and declared holy so that you can stand here before your Lord.
     Divine grace comes through preaching, and the liturgy preaches it every week.  While it is true that our liturgy generally repeats itself over the weeks and years, that is a blessing too.  Such repetition teaches our children who learn God’s truths and who learn to participate even before they can read.  Such repetition is ingrained in you so that when you are in a nursing home one day, you will still be able to meditate on the liturgy that your Lord has given you.  If we should ever have to endure persecution and all our hymnals are confiscated or burned, such repetition will enable us to still recite the liturgy.  But mainly, the liturgy is repeated because you repeatedly need the blessings that come from it.  It continually repeats the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus because the love and mercy of God is constant.  It is how God has been pleased to dispense his gifts to his people for generations upon generations.  And today, once again, you join in with the voices of the Church of all time to confess and sing and pray and praise in response to God’s good things.
     The people of Nazareth did get to witness a miracle of Jesus that Sabbath day in Nazareth.  It came, ironically, when he passed right through the crowds to depart from them.  The Lord Jesus Christ has been pleased not to depart from us even though we have been bored with his liturgy and craved something better from him.  Instead, he has been pleased to give us the very mercy we always need.  Behold! The Lamb of God who has been slain for you comes again.  Blessed is he whom comes in the name of the Lord.  He answers your Hosannas and comes to save.  He has had mercy upon us.  He hears our prayers.  Glory to God in the highest!  God’s peace and good will are given to men.  Therefore, we shall depart in peace.  Jesus has blessed us again.

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