Monday, March 30, 2015

Holy Week -- The Triduum


                 The enormous significance of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection has always been the central focus of Christian worship.  Prior to the fourth century, Easter Day itself included all three emphases, but thereafter they were distributed over three days of special observance, which Augustine called “the most holy Triduum of the crucified, buried, and risen Lord.”  These days have long been understood as the climax of the Church’s year.

                Since the last half of the 20th century, Lutherans have been rediscovering the richness of the ancient Triduum (pronounced TRIH-doo-um) and adapting the traditional services associated with it for use in Evangelical-Lutheran worship.  In keeping with their origins, the Triduum services are closely connected with one another.   We observe the Triduum as a single service that extends over the “three holy days.”

The theme of Maundy Thursday, best expressed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. John, is the novum mandatum or “new command” of Jesus that his disciples “love one another.”  The institution of the Lord’s Supper sets forth the depth of Jesus’ love and gives power to the Church to live out his command.  For the Triduum, Maundy Thursday marks the end of Lent proper.  The service begins with the sermon and an exhortation regarding the end of Lent.  This unusual arrangement allows the minister to explain the meaning of the Sacrament and the liturgical actions that are to take place so that they may proceed uninterruptedly and vividly from this evening through Good Friday to the Easter Vigil.  The action of ceremonially stripping the altar prepares the chancel and the congregation for Good Friday.

                As the middle service of the Triduum, Good Friday is prepared for by Maundy Thursday.  In turn, it leads into the Easter Vigil.  The absence of a benediction the previous evening and again on Good Friday underscores the connectedness of the Triduum service.  Good Friday is not a “funeral” for Jesus, but an austere celebration of the Lamb and his sacrifice.  The bare altar, symbolic of Christ, is the focus along with a large, rough finished wood cross.  The Service of the Cross consists of two parts: I. The Word and II. The Meditation on the Cross.  The service is highly meditative in nature and is celebrated simply and not hurried.  The Service of the Cross is intended as the primary Good Friday service and his historically been observed sometime during the “hours of the cross,” between noon and three o’clock.  It may also be used in place of the Service of Darkness (Tenebrae) as an evening service, as is the case at Good Shepherd.

                The climax of the Triduum comes in the Vigil of Easter, a service of watching and waiting which utilizes prayer, Scripture, and hymns.  The Vigil is composed of four parts.

The Greek word "NIKA" means victory.
I.                     The Service of Light focuses on the Paschal Candle, the representation of the unconquered life of Christ.
II.                   The Service of Lessons uses Old Testament texts that foreshadowed our deliverance and rescue by Jesus.
III.                 The Service of Holy Baptism emphasizes our baptismal connection to the crucified and risen Christ.
IV.                The Service of Holy Communion proclaims the risen Savior and our blessed reconciliation to God.

                In the ancient Church, the Vigil began on Saturday and continued through to Easter Dawn.  It was at dawn that the cry rang out: “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”  We honor the spirit of the Vigil, beginning our Easter Vigil at an early hour on Easter Sunday.  With the service of Easter Dawn, we conclude the Triduum.  Our Festival celebration is held at our regular hour of Divine Service, at 10:00 AM.

May the Lord bless us as we observe these “three holy days,” the Triduum.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sermon -- Palm Sunday (March 29, 2015)


In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul testifies that Jesus Christ is God.  He is in his very nature, his very essence, true God.  And though he is God from God, Light from Light, very God of very God, Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. (Philippians 2:6) 
     The many miraculous signs that Jesus did proclaim that this man is God.  Jesus did what only God can do.  Nevertheless, Jesus never did miracles for the sake of showing off.  Jesus did not gather crowds around him so that he could flaunt his divinity with his miracles.  Jesus’ divinity was not a prize to show off.  Whenever Jesus did a miracle, it was always an act of mercy.  The blind needed to see.  The lame needed to walk.  The demon-possessed man needed to be cleansed of the demon.  Because there was a need, Jesus had mercy and aided them in their need.
     Christ Jesus, …though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant… (Philippians 2:6-7)  Though he is the King of the Universe, Jesus humbled himself to be a servant.  He came to serve you.  He emptied himself of power, glory, and honor in order to serve sinners in their warped and wicked condition.  He even subjected himself to their charges, their fists, their scourging, and their courts in order to deliver man from his sins.
     Most of you have heard these things over and over again, year after year.  Perhaps you are so familiar with it that you believe Jesus did all this because you are worthy of it.  But the fact is, we still have our minds warped and depraved by our sins.  Thinking we are worthy of Jesus’ humbling himself is evidence of that.
     St. Paul began this section of the lesson saying, “Have this mind among yourselves….” (Philippians 2:5)  In order to see what mindset or attitude St. Paul is speaking about, we have to refer to the previous verses.  There, St. Paul wrote, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3,4)  Now we may feel this way about our family, but not about coworkers or neighbors or strangers.  We live as if most people are not worth our time, effort, and attention.  When we figure there is nothing to be gained from them, we view them as nothing but a drain on our resources.  How many times have we muttered under our breath, “Don’t bother me,” and “I hate people”?  Far from thinking that others are more significant than we are, we consider them a nuisance.  Far from humbly serving them, we work hard to shun them or to shoo them away.  We do not love our neighbor as ourselves.  We do not love our neighbor much at all.  Repent. 
     The mind and heart of our Lord is remarkably different from ours.  Jesus Christ did not consider it inconvenient to come and save us from our sins.  Nor did Jesus consider it beneath him to empty himself, to lower himself to the form of a slave, and to take on the form of man.  This is what love demanded.  This is what Jesus had to do to save us.  And so Jesus did it.  Jesus is your servant-King.
     Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to establish the kingdom of God.  But he did not come with a sword drawn and mighty armies marching in behind him.  Legions of angels would have been available to him, but he did not call on them.  He did not need them.  He mounted a donkey—and a borrowed one at that!  He entered Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Prophets.  He came in answer to the Psalms which cried out, “Hosanna!  Save us, Lord!”  To establish his kingdom, he did not march on the palace of Herod or Pilate, kick in the doors, and stage a coup.  Jesus entered Jerusalem to establish his kingdom not by slaughtering, but by being slain.  He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)
     Jesus is your servant-King.  He serves you in love because you have not served in love.  He serves you in all humility because you are lacking in proper humility.  He serves you by submitting to a cursed death so that your death will not be cursed.  Jesus submitted even to death on a cross.  It is not that he simply goes into Jerusalem to be struck down by one brutal blow of the sword.  No, he goes to a cross—a time-consuming, shameful, cursed death in which he was on public display for all to see.  God saw to it that these things were not done in secret.  Rather, Jesus was crucified for all to see so that all people can look to him, call upon him, and be saved by faith in him.
     Jesus is your servant-King.  He is most certainly a king, but he is no tyrant.  He is above all your servant and your Savior.  Jesus established his kingdom by dying.  He died for you.  His kingdom is for you.  All things are for you.  Jesus, who is in very nature God, humbled himself to serve for the salvation of sinful mankind.  He made himself nothing in order to give you everything.  Jesus is your servant-King.
     St. Paul continues our reading with a “Therefore.”  Whenever you see a “therefore” in Scripture, it is good to ask, “What is it there for?”  In this case, St. Paul’s “Therefore” highlights what Jesus Christ has won for his perfect obedience and for his obedient sacrifice.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11) 
     God has exalted Jesus to the highest place.  Jesus Christ has the most exalted name, boundless power, and unlimited authority.  Now, it is not shocking to us that God reigns.  We expect that.  But now it is man who has the highest place.  It is man who possesses all authority.  Jesus Christ, who became flesh to redeem us, has been exalted in his flesh so that he is no longer a lowly servant, but an almighty King.
     God was pleased to exalt Jesus to the highest place because Jesus has fulfilled the work of salvation God gave him to do.  God was pleased to exalt Jesus because Jesus had gone into death for you, but then conquered death for you.  God was pleased with Jesus’ payment for your sins, and therefore, you are forgiven.  So, even though Jesus has been exalted to the highest place, has boundless power, and possesses unlimited authority, he is still your servant-King.  Everything Jesus does with his almighty authority is done for you—for your forgiveness, for your salvation, for your eternal security.  Jesus Christ is above all your servant and your Savior.  Jesus is your servant-King who lives and reigns and intercedes for you so that your place in his kingdom is not iffy.  He still serves you so that you are saved and that you are safe.
     So, at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)  To be sure, everyone will one day acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord—whether in heaven, or on earth, or even in hell.  The damned will find no joy in bending their knees or confessing this truth, but they will have no choice.  Jesus Christ IS Lord. 
     Every knee will bend, and every tongue will confess.  This is to the Father’s glory, for he so loved the world that he sent Jesus to redeem us, and Jesus has done that.  Jesus is our servant-King.  And we find it to be our greatest joy to bow before him, to bend our knees in humble obedience, and to confess his name.  For, we know that he has come in answer to our Hosannas.  He has saved his people.  We bend before him because we are eager to receive good things from him.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  For, he has come to save—to the glory of his Father and for the good of his Church.

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

Local Tourist -- Weird things in Michigan

So the Local Tourist went back to Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in West Bloomfield again, as one of the Local Tourist's children did not make the previous trip there.  As was mentioned in a previous post, Marvin's is an arcade which also is home to some very bizarre games and memorabilia.  This trip, the Swat-the-Fly game became a favorite, although it's only good the first time.

Anyway, on the way back home, as we were driving down Orchard Lake Road, I noticed the car in front of us.  It had a goose hanging on the side of it.  Really.  A Canadian goose had its head and neck slammed in the rear, driver-side door.  Its body just hung off the side with its feet and tail-feathers dangling about six inches off the road.  We followed it onto I-696 where we lost track of him.  The goose was still firmly lodged in place at 70+ mph.

The Local Tourist and family espoused all kinds of theories on exactly what happened and how a goose gets its head slammed into a car door.  Here is the theory I've decided on.

1)  A buddy found a dead goose and decided to play a prank on his friend.  He slammed the already-dead goose into his friend's car door.
2)  The friend came back to his car and saw the goose.  He thought this was hysterical.  He decided to drive home with the goose still lodged in place for the shock factor on other drivers.
3)  He thought it was so funny that he drove home that way to show it to his wife.
4)  She did not think it was funny.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers - Week 6 (March 25, 2015)

JOHN 8:34-36
The Son Sets You Free.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Americans are big on freedom.  We are accustomed to going where we want to go and doing what we want to do.  We enter stores without passports.  We buy appliances without requisition orders.  We drive through Michigan without checkpoints, and we can enter any state without having to face border patrols.  We are so accustomed to it that we have a hard time conceiving of lives and schedules which are much more restrictive.  
     We also tend to believe that this freedom carries over into the kingdom of God.  We like to believe that our will is completely free to do good or to do evil.  To some extent it’s true.  You have control over whether or not you will become an axe murderer or a drug addict.  God has impressed on you a sense of right and wrong, as well as a sense of shame when you go against what is right and do what is wrong.  Yet, for all of this, there is no one who always does what good. 
     All have sinned, and all are sinners.  We all have hearts and minds that are turned in on ourselves.  We seek our own good above all.  We may not always be good, but we will turn our world over to make sure we always look good.  If it means preserving a good appearance before others, we will lie and call it good.  If it means getting a larger commission, we will defraud our neighbor.  We will argue that it benefits our family, and we will call it good.  We welcome obscenities and filth into our living rooms.  As long as we are entertained by it, we will call it good.  Our standard for what is good becomes what makes us feel good.  And if anyone makes us feel ashamed because we have made ourselves at home with wickedness, we will go on attack and try to shame that person.
     Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)  This is our persistent practice because it is our persistent condition.  You might think the solution is simply to quit sinning.  Of course, you can try.  And you should try.  But what you will notice is that you can’t stop sinning.  If even your will power cannot stop you from sinning, then your will is not as free as you like to think.  Your will is corrupt.  It is turned in on yourself, and desires ultimately and only to serve yourself.
     Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)  A slave has no will of his own.  He is bound to do what his master commands him.  It is your sin which owns you.  That is why you do what is sinful.  Sin is your master, and it will always command you to do what is evil and to turn from what is good.  But your sin hides itself behind selfish motives, and you will always like the motives which cater to your own benefit.  Remember: Satan did not tell Adam and Eve to defy God.  That would have been too obvious.  Instead, Satan told Adam and Eve that by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, they and their lives would be vastly improved.  That was their motive.  It sounded reasonable and beneficial.  But this sinful motive led to sinful defiance.  Ever since then, sin has held mankind in forced servitude, and we cannot escape.
     Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)  The Son of God has come from the household of God.  He possesses all the rights and privileges of the estate because he is God the Son.  But more than that, Jesus became man.  As man, Jesus also earned the rights by obedience.  Jesus submitted himself to the commandments that God has decreed and to the temptations that are common to man.
     But the Son has come to set you free from your heartless master, your sin.  By his sufferings and death, Jesus has set you free from all the charges that had stood against you.  You are pardoned for every offense.  By his perfect and willing obedience, Jesus has set you free from every smear and smudge of guilt and shame.  Your sins are covered by his righteous blood.  Truly, truly, I say to you: The Son sets you free.
     But just as it was more than that with Jesus, so it is more than that for you.  You are free not merely from charges, but you liberated from sin itself.  Sin no longer owns you.  Satan can no longer torment you.  The grave can no longer haunt you.  You have been adopted as children of the Most High God.  And he is no tyrannical master; he is your loving and merciful heavenly Father.  He gives you the rights and privileges of the household.  He makes you heirs of the kingdom.
     Truly, truly I say to you: The Son sets you free.  And your freedom means that you recognize that God’s will is always good and right.  Your sinful flesh will still hate it and will still argue that it is inconvenient and painful and does nothing to benefit you.  But you have also learned to hate your own sinful nature, knowing that it only leads you to death and hell.  God’s will is always right and always shows you what is praiseworthy before God and what is good for your neighbor.  And you know that what God wills always leads to life and blessing.
     Truly, truly, I say to you: The Son sets you free.  You are free to serve God with joy and confidence, knowing that God is pleased with your service, no matter how weak or feeble it looks to you.  When your own child draws you a picture, you know that it is not a Rembrandt or a Michelangelo.  Yet you tape it to the refrigerator and cherish it because it is the loving work of your child.  Are you not children of the heavenly Father?  While your work is not to the level of angelic perfection, the Father sees no flaws.  For, you and your service are covered in the blood of Christ.  Therefore, your Father loves you and your service dearly. 
     Truly, truly, I say to you: The Son sets you free.  So you never have to go to bed at night and wonder if you or your works are good enough for God.  You are free to live and to serve without fear.  You are free to live life with joy.  The Son sets you free so that God is your Father, so that his kingdom is your inheritance, and so that everlasting peace and rest are your future.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2015)

ISAIAH 43:16-21

In the name + of Jesus.

     When the Lord reveals himself, he gives us more than just a name to consider.  He is not Lloyd or Frank or Ralph.  Nor is he honored by euphemisms such as the Big Man Upstairs.  We might call him that to make him sound like less of a threat.  But if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then it is foolish to make God into someone who is not really to be feared. 
     Isaiah reveals not just the source of his prophecy—the Lord, he also reminds us who the Lord is and what the Lord has done.  Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick… (Isaiah 43:16-17)  The Lord has revealed himself to Israel as a gracious Redeemer.
     The Lord is the one who delivered Israel from the hands of their captives.  When the Israelites were pinched between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, the Lord parted the Red Sea so that the entire Israelite nation could pass through on dry ground.  Pharaoh, unwilling to let his slave laborers escape, pursued Israel.  The Lord enticed their chariots and horses, their army and warriors, into the sea.  Then the Lord brought the waters back, killing off Israel’s enemies.  Israel won a great victory that day by doing nothing.  The Lord fought for them.  The Lord gave them the victory.  He is Israel’s Redeemer, Deliverer, and Savior.
     That day was for Israel New Year’s Day, the 4th of July, and Easter all rolled into one.  If you read through the Psalms, you will see that this great deliverance is what Israel often sang about.  But now, this is what the Lord says: Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing…” (Isaiah 43:18-19)  Imagine the Israelite ears trying to absorb those words!  Remember not the Red Sea?  Do not consider the victory over Pharaoh?!  Yes.  But not because they were meaningless.  Rather, because they were mere shadows of a greater deliverance, a better redemption, and a permanent salvation.  Behold!  God is doing a new thing.
     The new thing Isaiah foretold would be much more remarkable than the deliverance from the days of old.  In the old days, the Lord provided for the people of Israel in the wilderness.  He gave them manna and water.  But the wilderness remained wilderness.  The Israelites did not settle there.  They did not construct cities, build barns, and grow crops.  They did not because they could not.  The land was desolate.  It was waterless.  It was barren.  And to this day, it still is.
     It is a far cry from what God had first created.  Back in Eden, we hear that out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. (Genesis 2:9)  This garden was well watered by a river that divided into four other rivers.  It was lush, green, and vibrant.  It was full of life and was designed to sustain the life of mankind.
     But when sin entered the world, even the world fell under God’s curse.  As a result, much of the world is uninhabitable with vast stretches of desert, wasteland, and wilderness.  Some say the problem is that the world is over-populated.  But that regards people—other people, that is—as a disease upon the earth rather than gifts of God to their parents.  The state of Texas has enough land in it for every man, woman, and child in the world to own at least one acre of it.  Yet, most would find their acre to be unproductive.  The world no longer produces as it was designed.  It is not because God has gotten stingy; it is because man has sinned.  Sin has corrupted this world, too.  It is dying, and it will finally perish by fire on the Last Day.
     The problem is not merely that the world is broken and dying.  Adam and Eve had to worry about far more than weeds and wasteland when they were banished from Eden.  Their sin had separated them from God.  They no longer loved God, but found his commands to be burdensome.  It has gotten no better for Adam and Eve’s children.  We get defensive and assume that God is the one with the problem when he has the nerve to call our attitudes and actions evil.  God not only has the nerve, he has the authority. 
     Although this is not good, neither is it new.  From ancient days, man has not trusted that God is good or wise.  Man has always done his own thing.  We do not do what God commands; we do what we like.  It feels good to cheat or defame our fellow man.  It feels good to seduce or manipulate other people.  It does not feel good to confess our sins or repent of them, and so we feel that God is the enemy.  It is the same old story that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve who preferred to hide from God rather than deal with him and to blame others rather than confess their own faults.  But apart from God there is no life, no joy, no mercy, and no peace.  If you think that overstates it, it is because we have not been entirely cut off from God.  Even the most hardened and heinous inmate still has some blessings.  Even the wastelands have some life left in them.  But our sin separates us from God, and whoever dies in his sin will be forever separated from God, from love, from blessing, and from life itself.  Your greatest problem is not that there are too many weeds or too much wasteland.  Your curse is your sin.  Repent.
     But behold! God is doing a new thing!  “Behold, I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:19-21)  The Lord will restore Eden to his people.  The Lord will pour out life that is ever-abundant and forever productive. 
     But how can Eden be restored when sin has ruined it?  And how can we gain Paradise if we are soiled with sin?  Behold! God is doing a new thing!  The LORD who delivered Israel brings about a greater deliverance.  The Lord reveals once again who he is and what he does.  The LORD is our Immanuel, God with us, in order to deliver us from sin and death, to give us life and peace, and to bring us to dwell with God forever.
     The Lord Jesus Christ delivers you from your sin by taking your sin from you.  He makes the great exchange—your sin for his righteousness, his death for your life, your guilt for his innocence.  And so Jesus goes on to be slain on your behalf.  The atoning sacrifice was made at the cross for you.  At Jesus’ death, a spear pierced his side bringing forth the sudden gush of water and blood.  By these God gives you life and sustains that life in this dying world.  It is the waters of Holy Baptism that have cleansed you of all sin.  It is the body and blood of our Lord which nourishes you until you receive your place in Paradise.  By these, Jesus sets you apart for a new life of godliness now and an eternal life of holiness in heaven.
     Behold! God is doing a new thing!  He reveals himself as your Redeemer, Deliverer, and Savior.  Just as he has redeemed you from your sins, so also he will deliver you from this sinful world with all of his heartaches.  He will once again deliver man into an everlasting Paradise where all things are right—where the Living Water makes everything lush and green, where life abounds, where mankind lacks nothing, where the weeds and the wastelands are gone, and where even the wild animals rejoice over him.  This is what the Lord Jesus Christ has told you: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:3-5)  Behold!  God has done a new thing.  Behold!  Jesus Christ renews all things!  Behold!  The Lord has renewed you to be his holy saints.  He gives you the holy things, and he will bring you to his holy dwellings.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sermon -- Funeral of Catherine Reising (March 21, 2015)

 + Catherine Marie Reising + 
(July 19, 1960 – March 16, 2015)
JOB 19:25-27

In the name + of Jesus.

     It is my understanding that Catherine Reising and Job had a few things in common.  Both had a lot going for them.  Both were very gifted.  Both had many reasons to thank God for their blessings.  But then things changed—without warning and without explanation.  In the case of Job, we have God’s revelation which explains how Satan challenged Job’s faithfulness.  Satan claimed that if God had not pampered and privileged Job, Job would disown God.  So, the Lord sent Satan to afflict Job. Satan took away his possessions, his family, and even his health.  Job was a shadow of his former self, languishing in poverty and anguishing in grief. 
     Despite her promising youth, Catherine ended up suffering from mental health issues and other health issues.  Only with Catherine, God has not given us any divine revelation why he sent these struggles.  We know that this is a sinful world and, as a result, bad things happen in it.  It is hard enough to watch bad things happen to others.  It is particularly difficult to watch bad things happen to loved ones—especially when those bad things come without warning and without explanation.
     The only explanation we have for anything bad that occurs is that we are sinful people living in a sinful world.  It is why computers and cars and planes crash.  It is why homes are destroyed by floods or fire.  It is why possessions are lost or stolen or wear out.  It is why we suffer stress and strife, even in our own families.  It is why bodies get sick or weak or diseased.  It is, finally, why we all die.  The Bible states is bluntly: The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  No one escapes that, because no one is without sin.  The patriarch Job understood all this—both by faith and by experience.  He confessed, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.  He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” (Job 14:1-2) 
     We confess in church each week that we are by nature sinful, that we have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.  We also confess the consequences of that: I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.  Sin is not just the reason that things are broken in this world.  It is also the reason that we suffer guilt and grief and shame.  It is also the reason that we have incurred God’s wrath upon ourselves.  God did not create a broken world, nor did God create people who were soiled with sin.  But sin brought this world under God’s curse.  Sin has soiled us, filling us with wicked actions and attitudes.  Therefore, sin brings forth death.  Sin has earned us God’s condemnation.
     Despite all of his sufferings and sorrows, Job still believed that God is good.  God is not the reason we are sinners; we did that.  But God has been merciful to sinners.  God reveals himself to us as a gracious Redeemer.  He sent his only begotten Son, Jesus, to deliver us from our sinful condition, to rescue us from the grave, and to spare us of God’s wrath.  To redeem us from all of this, however, a price had to be paid.  Jesus paid that ransom price for us.  In fact, Jesus Christ is the ransom price for us.
     Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, has made himself sin for us.  Now, if Jesus has borne all our sin, that also means that he has borne all the punishment for sin.  Jesus has borne  the curse that sin brings.  Jesus has endured all of God’s wrath that sin incurs.  Jesus has given himself into death which sin has wrought—the Son of God paying the price for all the children of men.  And if the payment for your sins has been made, then you are delivered from your guilt.  You are pardoned for all your offenses.  You have been redeemed.
     Job knew this and believed it.  So did Catherine.  Some may have wondered if God really loved them based on the hardships they had to endure.  But God’s love is not measured in how we feel or in what we experience.  God does not love people more when they prosper; and God does not love people less when they suffer.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9)  The Redeemer’s ransom stands no matter what.  God’s love remains no matter what hardships you face, even the loss of a loved one.
     The patriarch Job did not merely confess his sin, even more, in the midst of his sin and his sorrows, Job confessed his salvation.  He declared, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)  The Redeemer who went into death to deliver us from sin and its curse is the same Redeemer who is risen from death and lives and rules eternally.  I know that my Redeemer lives!  Jesus has conquered death; for he is risen.  Death now must answer to him.
     I know that my Redeemer lives, and I shall see him.  That is the comfort Catherine had throughout her life, and now especially at her death.  Not even death separates her from her Savior and his love.  Jesus is still her Redeemer.  She is still his baptized child.  Jesus has not forgotten that.  Nor is Jesus powerless to do anything about it.  Jesus will raise her from the dead when he comes again at the Last Day.  It will be as Job confessed: “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:26-27)  Catherine Reising will be raised from her grave with a glorified body that will never be subject to any frailties or faults.  Jesus has redeemed her not for another broken body in a broken world, but he has redeemed her to receive an incorruptible body in a glorious Paradise.
     Whether it was said by Job or by Catherine Reising or anyone else, this is the Christian hope:  I know that my Redeemer lives!  And I shall see him.  I shall see him who became flesh to redeem my flesh.  I shall see him who went into death in order to conquer it.  I shall see him who lives and reigns, and he will bring me to live and reign with him.  I myself will see him in the flesh.  I myself will see him in my own resurrected flesh.  He is in his glory, and me transformed into glory.  I know that my Redeemer lives.  And because he lives, so shall Catherine Reising; and so shall we.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

MLS basketball -- playoffs vs. Millington

If this had been the NCAA tournament, we would have been at the Sweet Sixteen.  But in the state playoffs, it is the Regional Championship, held at Reese High School in Reese, MI.

MLS was hoping to avenge their loss to Millington earlier in the year, but eleven 3-pointers by Millington were too much to overcome.  MLS ended their season with a 70-61 loss to Millington.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get to the game because we had Lenten Vespers at Good Shepherd.  We are left with a recap by M-Live which can be found here.  TV coverage can also be found here.  The MLS-Millington contest is the 1st feature, though it features Millington more than MLS.

And of course, even if I wanted to defy the MHSAA's instructions to not post photos from the game online, I couldn't.  We weren't there.  But I imagine the game may have looked like this:

Great season, MLS Cardinals!  I hope you are proud.  We are.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

MLS basketball -- playoffs vs. Ithaca

Last night (March 16), Michigan Lutheran Seminary traveled to Reese High School for the first round of regional playoffs.  We played a familiar foe, Ithaca.  We had split the season with them in conference, each team winning on the road.  So, both teams knew what to expect this game--although it is my understanding that Ithaca lost one of their better scorers when he broke his collar bone in a football drill.

Anyway, the game started with Ithaca hitting pretty much every shot they put up.  MLS was down 19-10 at one point.  But they clawed back, and a strong 2nd quarter put MLS ahead to stay.

If you want to read more about the game, an M-Live article can be found here.  News coverage can be seen here.   MLS is the 4th game featured.

And since the MHSAA has said that it is forbidden to post photos of the game, here is are photos of Andrew before and after the game.

Nate Lindloff, Andrew Schroeder, and Casey Williams, shown here, combined for 52 points against Ithaca.

Monday, March 16, 2015

MLS Basketball -- District Champs

The Michigan Lutheran Seminary Cardinals faced off against the cross-town rivals, Valley Lutheran High School Chargers, on Friday night with the district championship on the line.  MLS had beaten Valley twice this season, but I don't think anyone was anticipating a blow out.  Nor did we get one.

Valley Lutheran played a tough game, exchanging baskets with MLS and keeping the game tight throughout.  MLS had  41-35 lead with about 6 minutes left.  All of a sudden, there was about 0:47 left, and the score was reading 43-42, MLS holding on desperately to a one point lead.  Some good defense, a breakaway lay-up, and (FINALLY!) making a couple of free throws helped seal the game at 47-42.  The MLS Cardinals are district champs!!!

The next game is against conference co-champs, Ithaca.  MLS split their games with Ithaca this year, so we expect it to be a pretty tight game.  It is tonight (March 16, 5:50 PM) at Reese High School in Reese, MI.  If MLS should win tonight, they will likely go on to play Millington, the only other team MLS lost to this season.  So, this week promises to be exciting and, I hope, quite joyful.  Regardless, I think that we have several quality teams vying for the Regional Championship.  Go Cardinals (not you, Millington)!

A couple of recaps from Friday night's game vs. Valley Lutheran can be found at M-Live here and here.  You should even be able to find new coverage from Flint, Channel 5 here.  MLS is the second game in the broadcast.

Now, some photos from the mezzanine at MLS (not a bad view, except the barrier across the mezzanine made some photos challenging to get).

UPDATE:  I learned that I am not supposed to have photos from the game posted on the internet, so I have dutifully removed the game photos.  If you want to see them, come by the house.

MLS Cardinals -- District Champs!

Family photo after the game.  It was nice to have the whole crew there
before Faith, Nathanael, and Charli headed back to college!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 15, 2015)

LUKE 15:1-3,11-32

In the name + of Jesus.

     Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)  What is not conveyed so well by English translations is that the sinners were regularly coming to Jesus, and that Jesus was in the habit of receiving them and feasting with them.  This was Jesus’ on-going practice, and the Pharisees saw it as an on-going problem.  If Jesus had just spent one lunch with the tax collectors and sinners, throwing them a bone as it were, the Pharisees would have had no problem with that.  They would have credited Jesus for demonstrating at least some degree of sympathy for them, but then wisely staying away from them after that.  Instead, Jesus regularly expressed fellowship with the wicked.  Though the Pharisees grumbled, they were correct in their assessment of Jesus: He feasts with sinners.
     For this reason, Jesus told the parable of the two sons.  We usually refer to this as the parable of the prodigal son.  I find it interesting that title of the parable has remained the same for centuries even though few people actually know what the word “prodigal” means, and even fewer use it correctly.  “Prodigal” does not mean that the son was gone for a long time.  It means he was wasteful.  The younger son had asked his father to cash out his share of the inheritance even before his father had died.  After he received wealth that he did not work for, the younger son decided that life would be better if he were not living in his father’s house.  He went off to a far off country to engage in wild living.  He squandered his money on wine, women, and song.  When the money ran out, so did his luck.  His friends were no friends at all.  They did not take him in.  Though he had picked up the bill for them, no one returned the favor when he was in need.  A famine made it worse.  The younger son hired himself out as a pig farmer, even coveting the slop that was fed to the pigs.
     But then the prodigal son came to himself.  In other words, he repented.  He knew that life as a slave under his father was better than freedom apart from the father.  So he rehearsed his homecoming speech. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’  And he arose and came to his father. (Luke 15:18-20)  The prodigal son did not make any excuses.  His confession was plain, simple, and honest: “I sinned.”  He did not ask for leniency or privilege.  “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  He was not scheming to get away with anything.  He did not ask for a loan, or even for his room back.  He had sinned.  He sullied the family name.  He squandered the family's goods.  He had forsaken his father rather than serve him.  He deserved nothing good and his confession acknowledged exactly that.  His repentance was sincere.
     Now, if the young son was prodigal with his father’s wealth, the father was even more prodigal with his mercy.  He did not wait for his son to complete any walk of shame so that he could bawl him out or rub it in.  Forsaking all dignity, the father ran to his son, hugged him, and smothered him with kisses.  He did not even let his son finish his rehearsed speech.  Without any kind of probation or conditions, the father cloaked him with a new robe, put the signet ring on his finger, and new shoes on his feet.  He restored him with the full rights of a son.  Then he ordered that the fattened calf be slaughtered and prepared for a feast.  This father was going to feast with a sinner. 
     The older son had never left home.  He had served his father and did what he was told.  When he got word that little brother was home again and that a feast was prepared in his honor, the older son was furious.  He who dishonored the family was now to be honored?  He who sullied the family name was back in the family?  The father was spending more on the one who had wasted the family’s fortune?  The father wants to feast with this sinner?!  We are supposed to rejoice over this?! 
     The father pleaded with his older son to join the feast.  But the son vented his frustrations.  “When this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:30)  The older son was right about one thing: The prodigal did not deserve the treatment he was getting—mercy, restoration, and a celebration, no less!  
     Unfortunately, the older son actually believed his statement, "I never disobeyed your command.” (Luke 15:29)  He believed that he has earned his place in the father's house, even though he had not earned his inheritance.  He was born into his good fortune; that was grace.  He felt ripped off that he had not been celebrated, even though his father was always glad to bestow on this sin his love, provision, and protection.  In the older son's view, the kingdom was only for the worthy.  He was wrong.  All good things, whether to sons or to slaves, came by the father’s good grace.  The older son was incensed that the father would feast with a sinner.  The older son was adamant: He would not.
     Now recall that Jesus told this parable because the Pharisees had grumbled that Jesus demonstrated such fellowship with the wretched and the wicked.  He feasted with sinners.  It is not that he excused their sins.  On the contrary, Jesus had come to pay for them.  When Jesus was feasting with sinners, it was not that he overlooked their shame and guilt.  It is that he had come to pardon them so that they could be restored to God’s family.  Jesus had come to take up their sin and guilt, and to suffer and die for them.  It was not because they were better.  It is not because they were worthy.  It is because Jesus is prodigal with his mercy.  He even feasts with sinners.
     We are not nearly so merciful.  Like the older son, we commend ourselves, thinking that we have cleaned ourselves up, that we got it straight, and that we are better behaved.  There are people we secretly pray would not become part of this congregation because they are crude or crooked or criminal.  They disgust us.  We are like the older son who would boast, “I have never disobeyed your command,” and what is worse, we actually believe that.  But you, too, have abused your Father’s gifts.  You have taken advantage of his mercy, going back to your pet sins because you think your pets are harmless.  Or perhaps you even envy those who booze it up and sleep around, thinking that that is the good life; avoiding it not so much because it is evil but because getting caught has consequences.  You are more prodigal than you think.  The prodigal son was honest enough to call himself the sinner he was.  There were no excuses.  “I have sinned,” he said.  Do not try to bargain that your sins are less serious or less frequent.  Let your confession be equally honest.  Repent. 
     But the heavenly Father is even more prodigal than you are.  He squanders his grace and mercy more than you sin.  The Father sent his only begotten Son into the world to pay for your sins.  The holy, innocent blood which was spilt covers your guilt and shame.  Through baptism, your Father has wrapped the robe of salvation around you.  He has put his signet ring on your finger and gives you the rights to the kingdom.  He does not assign you to probation or purgatory.  You are children of the Most High God and, therefore, rightful heirs of heaven.  And what is heaven but the wedding feast of the Lamb?  It is the place where Jesus Christ will feast with sinners—sinners who have been cleansed in his blood and purified of all unrighteousness.  This is not because you are better or more worthy, but because your Father is prodigal with his mercy.
     When you see the wicked rescued from the fires of hell, there is no need to feel any resentment.  It only means they are receiving the same mercy and grace that you have been shown.  You lose nothing, but you gain a brother or sister.  Therefore, rejoice.  Summon the other prodigals from their filth.  Bring them to the feast where Jesus is pleased—even rejoices!—to feast with sinners.  After all, this is Jesus’ regular custom.
     Once again this morning, this man will receive sinners and feast with them.  Jesus will have you as partakers of the marriage feast.  He will give you his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  You will again celebrate in your Father’s house; for all that is his is yours.  He covered all the expenses; you receive all the good things for free.  Do not hoard it, but gather others to it.  The Father is reckless, prodigal, and generous with his grace--as if he could never run out.  Thank God he never does!

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Death and Taxes

It is said that there are only two sure things in life: Death and Taxes.

Except that death does not happen annually.   ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Local Tourist -- Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum

Yesterday, the family (as many as were home and awake, and Nathanael's MLS classmate, Sam Bumhoffer) went to Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in West Bloomfield.  It is a combination of an arcade and of absolutely bizarre, old, and sometimes freaky arcade or carnival games.  There are all kinds of memorabilia from carnival or circus advertisements hanging on the walls or from the ceiling.

Want to play tic-tac-toe against a chicken?  This is the place for you.

Want to watch a diorama of the Spanish Inquisition?  They've got that too.

They even have the electric chair from Sing Sing Prison.  How they got that, I have no idea.  By the way, it is only a display, not a ride.

Or you can settle for the nostalgic, but normal, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Dance Dance Revolution, skeeball, or about ten pinball machines.  Whatever the case, bring a LOT of quarters.  And take time to look at all the stuff.  There's a lot packed into a little space.  A few photos:

Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum is located at a strip mall, tucked away behind most stores.
If you go, drive under this sign to the parking lot.  Marvin's Museum is at the awning in the distance.

Basketball -- HVL Tournament

This past weekend, Huron Valley Lutheran High School (HVL) hosted its annual grade school tournament for the various WELS grade schools in the southeast Michigan area, including one school from Jenera, Ohio.  (Try and find it on a map.  It's southwest of Findlay.)

Philip's St. Peter's team entered the tournament ranked the #3 seed.  The first game was a win against Peace Lutheran School of Livonia, 34-21.  Coach Theurer managed to give all the kids a good deal of playing time in this one, which was good because they did not get much playing time in the remaining two games.

Saturday's game had us facing the #2 seed (and eventual tournament champs) Divine Grace Lutheran School of Lake Orion.  I figured we would have our hands full against this team, but we did not help ourselves at all.  Many shots just wouldn't fall.  That happens.  You can't do much about that.  But bad passing and unforced turnovers led to a LOT of break away layups and gimme points for Divine Grace.  The final was a St. Peter's loss, 24-40.

Sunday was the 3rd place game against Trinity Lutheran School of Jenera, Ohio.  This was a hard-fought game and stayed very close throughout.  Philip was on fire in the first half.  If memory serves, he hit three 3-pointers.  Down 32-31 with about 10 seconds left, St. Peter's had the ball and was passing it around to chew up clock and take the last shot.  But Trinity's defense stepped up and never gave St. Peter's a good look at the hoop.  The last second shot attempt was not a very good look and it did not go in.  So, St. Peter's ended up with a 4th place finish after the 32-31 loss.

While the St. Peter's Eagles certainly wanted a trophy, it is nice to see the bitterness of defeat does not stick to these kids very long.  Many of them stayed to watch the remaining games and cheer on other kids with whom they have made some nice friendships.

Actually, St. Peter's did come home with one trophy -- the Sportsmanship Award for exemplary behavior on the basketball court.  I am proud of them for winning that.  But to be fair to all other teams, all the kids (from what I witnessed) were very well behaved and respectful.  They all had that to be proud of.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 8, 2015)

LUKE 13:1-9

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus’ parable about a fig tree in a vineyard would have struck a chord with the Jews.  They knew well Isaiah’s song about the Lord’s vineyard.  It was the Lord’s work.  He prepared the soil.  He planted the vines and tended them.  He put a wall around the vineyard to protect it from any who would trample on it or steal from it.  He even built a watchtower so that the trumpet could signal against anything that might threaten the vineyard.  Finally, he even had built a wine press, anticipating good results from all his faithful work.
     Then the master came to look for fruit.  Isaiah’s vineyard produced bad fruit.  Jesus’ fig tree brought forth no fruit at all.  The Lord had done everything he could have done.  Everything came from his hand.  Everything was cared for rightly.  It was grace upon grace.  When the Lord sought fruit, he found nothing.  The Lord is slow to anger, but he does indeed get angry.  The master of the vineyard told his vinedresser to wield his ax and to cut down the fig tree.  It was a waste, and it should not waste the land any longer.
     The Lord looks for fruit from his vineyard.  He seeks it from you, too.  He has grafted you as branches into his sacred vine, which is Jesus.  You receive your life, your ambitions, and all that is good through Jesus.  He is the one who protects you from enemies which would trample upon you or snatch you from the kingdom of God.  He places his ministers on the watchtower to sound the trumpet and to warn you of dangers which would threaten your salvation.  He pours love and grace upon you so that you can have true life and will produce fruits of faith.  Those fruits are the good works which love God and serve your neighbor.  The Lord looks to see if we flee exalting our opinions and interests above his word.  The Lord looks to see if we flee from sexual immorality and strive for chastity and purity.  The Lord looks to see if we humbly serve him, or if we grumble against him, especially when has us bear a cross.  The Israelites did not produce the fruit God desired to see.  The Lord’s patience ran out, and the ax fell upon the tree.  They were destroyed.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
     The Lord looks for fruit from his vineyard.  The master said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none.  Cut it down.  Why should it use up the ground?’  And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.  Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” (Luke 13:7-9)  This parable foretold imminent judgment upon Israel.  For three years, the Son of God preached to the Israelites.  By and large, they did not turn to him and repent.  They continued in their unbelief.  That does not mean they were all murderous thugs or rapists.  It doesn’t even mean they stopped being religious.  It does mean that they turned a deaf ear to God’s word.  They did not care about Jesus, but were devoted to their self-interests.  Nevertheless, Jesus pleaded for mercy for just a while longer yet.  God’s word would be preached.  God’s mercy would be revealed.  Perhaps another year would produce fruit.
     History has told us that it did not end well for Israel.  They did not heed God’s word.  Though God is patient, he is not patient forever.  40 years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Jews saw their temple destroyed never to be rebuilt again.  Judgment finally did come.  The ax has swung.
     The Lord still looks for fruit from his vineyard.  The Lord wants to see that the good he has poured upon you also comes forth from you.  But this is where we often deceive ourselves.  We think that it is a matter of being better than others.  And if that is the case, we end up comparing ourselves with others so that we can boast that we are better.
     The Jews came to Jesus to speak about some Galileans who were slain when they had come to the temple to sacrifice.  They seemed to expect Jesus to draw some conclusion about God’s justice, as if these Galileans got what they deserved.  Jesus would have none of it.  Instead, he redirected their attention.  “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-3)  Then Jesus brought up the death of 18 men who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell upon them.  This was not death by the sword, but by tragedy.  Still, Jesus’ response was the same.  Were these men worse?  Did they have it coming to them?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)
     In fact, no one is better or worse.  All are the same.  All are sinners, and no one is righteous.  Do not make it more complicated than it is by trying to figure out who deserves to die or who is better than someone else.  Accidents happen.  Tragedies occur.  Violent acts claim their victims.  These prove nothing except that the world is sinful.  How and when people die may comes as a shock, but that all people die should surprise no one.  And all are going to die.  That is the reality of life.  That is the wages of sin.  
     But Jesus did not warn you, “Be careful or you will die.”  He said, No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5)  That has to do with judgment.  Whether you die peaceably for violently, you will face judgment.  The manner of your death is not your judgment either.  No sword can send anyone to hell.  No collapsing building can damn.  Only sin does that.
     Jesus, however, delivers you from the judgment to come.  He does not leave you guessing what your fate might be.  Jesus has taken your iniquity from you.  And if your iniquity is removed from you, then it can no longer condemn you.  In your place, Jesus was condemned.  Jesus was nailed to a dead tree, a cross.  There were no leaves, no signs of life.  Yet, Jesus was the fruit which hung from the cross.  From that fruit came the juices which give you life and which sustain your life.  When Jesus’ body was pierced with a spear, a sudden flow of water and blood came forth.  It is that water which cleanses you of all your sin and guilt.  Through your baptism, Jesus’ sufferings and death were applied to you to deliver you from sin and death.  And Jesus’ blood is given to you in the holy supper to strengthen and preserve you in the true Christian faith unto to live everlasting. 
     Apart from Jesus, you are no better than anyone else.  But by faith in Jesus, it can’t get any better.  You are saints, marked for eternal life.  Therefore, Jesus has already rendered your verdict to you.  You are acquitted of your guilt and pardoned for your sins.  Since your sins are taken away, there is no condemnation for you.  You certainly don’t have to fear death.  Whether it comes peacefully or tragically, your place in God’s kingdom is secure.  Death cannot steal you away from Jesus.  You shall not perish; you have a resurrection to everlasting life. 
     You have not only been given eternal life, you have new life now!  You have been planted in the Lord’s vineyard now, and the Lord looks for fruit in his vineyard.  This fruit is not some grand scheme or newsworthy act of charity that you need to perform.  It is merely a faithful heart gladly serving where God has put you.  It is being honest, being helpful, being generous, being merciful, and being content.  It is shunning everything God calls impure and striving for everything God calls good.  And it is serving God faithfully whether other people commend you or condemn you for doing God’s will.
     The Lord looks for fruit in his vineyard, and you need not fear his inspection.  For the Lord also gives you this promise:    Just as Jesus worked for you to give you the righteousness God demands, so also Jesus works in you to produce the good God seeks.  It is not that you are superior, it is that you are saved. 

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