Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sermon - Holy Trinity (May 31, 2015)

NUMBERS 6:22-27
In the name + of Jesus. 
     Whenever you put your name on something, you claim ownership of it.  Whenever I got a new baseball glove, I put my name and phone number on it so that everyone could know it was mine.  Parents give their last name to their children.  This lets the world know who is responsible for their behavior and well-being.  It is also why parents are horrified when their children misbehave.  If you share that name, the child’s behavior reflects on you.  While you may be appalled by the shameful actions of another person’s child, you don’t take it personally.  You do with your own children.
     The Lord was pleased to bless the children of Israel and to put his name on them.  Of all the nations on the earth, the Lord claimed ownership of Israel.  It was not because they were a larger or more powerful nation than others.  And it certainly was not because they were better behaved than others.  Israel was a slave nation.  They were held captive by the Egyptians, but the Lord graciously delivered them from their captors.  At the foot of Mt. Sinai, after they had sworn their allegiance and obedience to the Lord, they rebelled against him by worshiping a golden calf.  Then on their way to the Promised Land, they complained against the Lord again and again.  They did not deserve God’s favor.  Instead, they incurred his wrath.  And yet, the Lord chose to put his name on these people.  How gracious our God is!
     God is just as gracious to you.  He has been pleased to put his name on you.  You were baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  We invoke that name when worship, even making the sign of the cross on ourselves, to note that the Lord has marked us as his own.  It is not because we are smarter or better behaved than anyone else.  To this day, we dishonor God's name by our sins.  We confess the Lord as our Savior, but we still disobey his word so that others look at us and say, “That's how Christians act?!  They are no better than the godless.”  God's name is blasphemed because of the people who confess him as their Lord.  Repent!
     Even though we have dishonored God's name, he has not revoked his name from us.  He still summons us to call upon his name in every trouble.  Every service begins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  We hold him to his word and recall his covenant that he has made us his.  And every service ends with the Lord putting his name on us to bless us.  The Lord has put his name on you.  He is pleased to call you his own.
     In the New Testament, we have the clearest revelation of the God who claims you as his own.  He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament, it is the same God, though he usually only referred to himself as the Lord.  In the blessing he gave to Aaron and the priests to pronounce onto the Israelites, however, he alludes to the Triune nature: “The Lord  …, the Lord , …the Lord .”
     The Lord bless you and keep you. (Numbers 6:24)  The Lord is the one who has created you and given you everything you are and have.  He has given you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your mind and all your abilities.  What's more, the Lord still has great concern for you.  He daily provides for all your needs, though he has proven himself much more generous than limiting you to daily bread.  And though the world is filled with many dangers and disasters, both natural and man-made, the Lord has protected you from most of them.  He is daily invested in your well-being.  He is daily interested in your welfare.  All this he does because he is your good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because you have earned or deserved it.
     The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. (Numbers 6:25)  Though we are sinners and will remain sinners until we draw our final breath, the Lord still causes his face to shine upon us.  In other words, he is committed to being gracious to us.  The Lord revealed himself most clearly when he became flesh to deliver us from our sins and their consequential curses.  It is the Lord who has borne your sins and the curses for you.  His love is so great for you that he endured damnation which he did not deserve so that you could have the heavenly glory you do not deserve.  And though you still do not serve him as perfectly as you wish you could, the Lord does not withdraw his favor from you.  You may be disgusted with yourself—and for good reasons!—but you are not an embarrassment or a disappointment to him.  On the contrary, the blood of Jesus always purifies you of all sin.  The Lord delights in calling you his own.  He puts his name on you and says you are his.
     The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:26)  The best way to get to really know someone is when you see his or her face.  E-mails and text messages just do not cut it.  You need to see one's face and one's expression to know them and appreciate them.  The Holy Spirit is the one who turns God's face toward you.  In other words, the Holy Spirit reveals God to you.  Through the word which he gave by means of prophets and apostles, the Holy Spirit enlightens you to know who God is, what he thinks, what he wants, and what he does.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, it is all guess work.  But the Holy Spirit has us know for certain what our Lord has done for our benefit.  The Father so loved the world that he sent his Son to secure our forgiveness and salvation.  The Son sent the Holy Spirit to reveal this peace to us.  Therefore, Spirit points us to the Son who redeemed us, and he points us to the Father who so loves us.
     The Lord [gives] you peace. (Numbers 6:26)  This peace which he gives is not iffy. It is God's doing, based on Jesus' redeeming work.  It does not depend upon your work, your sincerity, or your feelings.  Therefore, these things are sure: Your sins are forgiven.  Death is conquered.  Heaven is open.  You are God's children.  He claims you as his own by putting his name on you.
     When the Lord gave this blessing, it was to be proclaimed by Aaron and his sons, the priests.  Through his ministers, the Lord administered his blessing.  It is what God gives his ministers to do.  The people were not blessed because they felt blessed.  God's love for them was not based on their own opinion of themselves.  Just as God has to reveal himself to us so that we know who he is, so also God is the one who gives or withholds his love, his peace, and his salvation.  When you hear people insist that God does not judge and that God only loves, you do well to ask, “Based on what?  How do I know that God loves anyone and everyone?  How do I know that God does not judge me for my selfish and petty thoughts and deeds?”  Lofty opinions do not help you here.  Especially if you are lying on your death bed, you need more than pious platitudes.  You need rock-solid assurance.
     Dear Christian, you have it!  The Lord has put his name on you.  You have been cleansed of your sins and baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  God has cloaked you in the righteousness you need to enter heaven.  He has purified you of all unrighteousness.  These are God's promises.  His blessing is not “May the Lord bless you....”  God has not commissioned his ministers to dispense wishes, but to administer his blessings.  He declares, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27)  
     It is no accident that the service ends with this blessing.  Some sermons will be duds, and you may not get much out of them.  Some days, parents are distracted by their children.  Some days, people are lost in their own guilt or sorrows or concerns and you don't even hear the promises of God proclaimed in the sermon.  But the final word is always the Lord's.  He does not let you forget who you are.  He puts his name on you.  He sends you home with his blessing upon you.  You are his.  He is yours.  Both now and forever.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Holy Trinity and bad analogies

Holy Trinity Sunday is upon us this weekend.  You will not hear any sermon at Good Shepherd which attempts to explain the Trinity.  You should not hear a sermon anywhere that attempts to explain the Trinity, though I would not be surprised if some will try.  The Trinity is a mystery which cannot be explained or compared to anything on earth.  There is nothing on earth like the Triune nature of God.  Every analogy falls short.  Every analogy ends up introducing some kind of heresy.

The Holy Trinity is a mystery that will always remain a mystery to us on earth.  I suspect it may even remain a mystery when we are in heaven--that is, we will always marvel at it but never grasp it.  But this truine nature is how God reveals himself to us.  He tells us who he is.  He does not ask us to understand it.  He does not submit it for our approval.  God is one; God is three -- trinity in unity and unity in trinity.  Don't get it?  Don't feel bad.  No one does.  But it is precisely how God reveals himself to us.

We worship one God (Deuteronomy 6:4); we worship three persons within that one God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).  We believe in one God (Nicene Creed); we believe he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (3 articles of Nicene Creed).

Whether you have already seen it or not, check out the Lutheran Satire video below.  St. Patrick, Donall, and Conall help to explain why analogies to grasp the Trinity just do not work.  Brilliant!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Athanasian Creed

          This article is in preparation for the Festival of the Holy Trinity, May 31, 2015.  On that day, we will be confessing the least known of the three ecumenical creeds, the Athanasian Creed.  Most people know the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.  The Athanasian Creed is least known because it is rarely confessed in public worship.  The reason, most likely, is because of its length.  Because of its length, we confess it at Good Shepherd only once a year, on Holy Trinity Sunday.  It is in the Athanasian Creed that the Church has its most explicit confession of what the Trinity is and what it is not.  The creed confesses what must be confessed, and yet leaves the Trinity a mystery since there is nothing on earth that the Triune nature of God can be compared to.

          Here, then, is the article, which will also be in the bulletin this Sunday:

The Athanasian Creed is one of the three catholic creeds.  The word catholic means universal, as in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  The word creed comes from the Latin word credo which means “I believe.”  Luther said of this creed, “I doubt whether the New Testament church has a more important document since the Apostolic age.”

Although named for Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria (ca. 296-373), it is almost certain that he did not write it.  Neither Athanasius nor his contemporaries ever refer to it.  But even if Athanasius did not write the creed, he certainly would have ascribed to it.  Athanasius was one of the bishops at the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) which opposed the heresy of Arius (ca. 250-336).  Arius denied the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, teaching that he is of a similar substance to God the Father, but not of the same substance.  In essence, Arius claimed that Jesus Christ is not the eternal God.  This belief has resurfaced in modern-day cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.  The Council of Nicaea adopted the Nicene Creed to affirm that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God” and “of one being with the Father.”

The Athanasian Creed first appeared in Gaul (France) late in the 5th century.  Early in that century, Europe was invaded from the east by barbarian tribes, notably the Vandals and Goths.  This event marked the beginning of the Dark Ages.  During this time, the people and the clergy lapsed into illiteracy and ignorance of the Scriptures.  In addition, some of the invaders were Arian in their beliefs.  Out of this confusion came the need for a clear statement of faith.  The result was the Athanasian Creed.

The Athanasian Creed quickly assumed an important role in the orthodox church.  (Much of the visible church was overrun with Arianism.)  Emperor Charlemagne (ca. 742-814), in order to preserve the true Christian faith, decreed that all churchmen had to learn this creed and to be able to teach it to the laity.

The second portion of the Athanasian Creed reaffirms the Nicene Creed regarding the person of Jesus Christ.  However, it begins with a most excellent presentation on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  It says no more and no less than Scriptures say, letting the paradox of God’s nature stand (i.e., God is one; God is three).

Confessors of the creed should not be put off by the second to last article which says: “Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire” (cp also John 5:28,29).  The article does not teach salvation attained by human works, but simply reflects that our good works (or lack thereof) are evidence of God-given faith (or unbelief).  When we remember that our good works are actually God’s work through us, then we will understand this article correctly (cf Ephesians 2:8-10).  In addition, we remember that are judged based on Jesus’ merits, not our own.  We have been given the credit for Christ’s righteousness.  Therefore, we are heirs of eternal life.

This creed ought to bring us great comfort, as it speaks clearly about our God and his plan for our salvation.  Its clearness and boldness are refreshing in this age of doctrinal confusion.  This is no wishy-washy confession.  It states what the Scriptures teach – there is no God but the Lord revealed in the Scriptures, and there is no salvation outside of the name of Jesus Christ.  All who deny this deny the truth; and all who deny the truth forfeit salvation.

Finally, a study of this creed and the history which surrounds it shows how important it is for us to be familiar with the history of the Christian Church.  When we understand how Christians who have gone before us identified error and combated it, then we will better be able to do the same.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sermon -- Pentecost (May 24, 2015)

GENESIS 11:1-9 
In the name + of Jesus. 
     After the Fall into sin and the Flood, the Tower of Babel incident is the most catastrophic event in world history.  It resulted in thousands of languages and dialects, and created division all over the world.  People look upon each other with suspicion and animosity.  If you’ve ever walked by two people having a conversation in a language you do not understand, you know the tension.  You wonder: Are they talking about me?  What are they saying?  Are they plotting to do something to me?  Chances are, they aren’t saying anything about you, but the fact that you don’t know what they are saying makes you view them as a threat.
     The Lord confused the languages at Babel in response to their sinful rebellion.  The people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)  This city and tower were not a snap decision.  They had made extensive plans for a permanent city.  Their goal was to make a great name for themselves.  Their tower would be a monument for their glory and exaltation.  
     And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do.  And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” (Genesis 11:6-7)  This was merely the beginning of their rejection of the Lord.  If the Lord did not intervene, these people would persist in their sins.  If left unchecked, they would perish forever.
     It is no coincidence that the name of the one who confused the languages of the people is the LORD, that is, Yahweh.  This is God’s covenant name.  It proclaims his love and redemption of sinners.  The Lord was not willing to let these people continue in their sin.  Therefore, he confused their speech.  The suspicion and the tension which resulted from this compelled the people to scatter from each other.  If they could not understand each other, they would not trust each other.  No longer could they unite in their confession of their own greatness.  No longer would they be united in building the monument to their own glory.  The different languages led to a spirit of division, and the various nations were forced to scatter.
     The sins of Babel still exist today.  We still desire to exalt ourselves.  We still want to make a name for ourselves.  We want to know that we matter and that we made a difference.  We want people to sing our praises.  Eulogies are devoted to that.  But the world remembers precious few people.  Many will go to cemeteries this weekend to remember soldier who died in the line of duty.  If you read the monuments, you will know names, dates, and perhaps the branch of service.  But you will forget that person in only a few steps away from the grave marker.  Every grave marker is not a monument to someone's greatness.  It is a monument to our mortality.  We will all die; for we are all sinners.  No matter how much we might try to make a name for ourselves, we do not endure.  Whatever glory we have does not last either.  We have no reason to boast of our greatness.  Rather, our voices should be devoted to a confession of our sins.  Repent.
     Because our sins have been many and great, we have given God good reason not to love us.  Still, the Lord does not merely reveal to us that we are sinners.  He reveals his mercy and salvation to us.  The Lord has sent his Holy Spirit so that we can know and believe that God loves us.  The Holy Spirit reveals that love by showing us Jesus Christ who came to deliver us from our sins.  Jesus has removed the curse of sin from us.  Jesus humbly and silently went to the cross to die for boastful sinners.  Jesus did not exalt himself before his enemies, but quietly accepted the charges of every sin against him.  That is why he died—for every sin.  Yet, at the end of his sufferings, Jesus raised his voice to declare, “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  The curse has been taken away.  The sacrifice is complete.  You are forgiven.  You are loved by God.
     Since God so loved the world, Jesus commissioned his apostles to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel.  On the day of Pentecost, however, many people from around the world came to them.  Jews from nations all over the Roman Empire gathered together for the feast at Jerusalem.  When these people were there, a mere 50 days after Jesus had risen from the grave, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles so that they could proclaim the Gospel to all of these people in their native languages.
     The Lord gave the apostles a voice to proclaim the Gospel.  In this way, the Lord reversed the curse at Babel.  Back then, the Lord confused the languages to drive the people apart.  On the day of Pentecost, the Lord enabled the apostles to speak in the many and varied languages in order to gather people together into the kingdom of God.  He did not completely reverse the curse so that all the world now speaks with the same language and vocabulary.  Instead, he chose to keep the variety of languages and dialects and cultures.  Instead of condensing the many languages into one, the Lord honored all of them by giving them something of value to say.  The Lord gives us a voice to proclaim the Gospel.
     The crowds observed: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11)  As the Spirit enabled them, the apostles proclaimed God's love for the world—proven by Jesus Christ who paid for the sins of the world.  This is why you do not need to go out and make a great name for yourself.  You have been baptized into the name of the Triune God.  You bear the name of Jesus Christ.  You are children of the Most High God.  There is no greater name you could have.  Nor do you need to fret about making a mark by which the world will remember you forever.  You have been made children of the resurrection.  Even if the whole world forgets you, the Lord does not forget his children.  He will raise you up and give you life everlasting.  In the meantime, the Lord calls you to serve in the various vocations he has given you.  You have not been given the charge to change the world.  You are called to love and honor your spouse, to care for and discipline your children, to be an honest and honorable employee,  to be a law-abiding citizen, and to be a compassionate friend.
     What's more, the Lord has given you something valuable to say.  The Lord gives you a voice to proclaim the Gospel.  You get to confess what God has done for you and for all mankind.  You get to declare the mighty works of God—that is, that God has proven his love for mankind by sending Jesus Christ who suffered and died to take away our sins and who rose from the grave to guarantee our resurrection to eternal life.  This confession does, indeed, change the world because it saves the people in it.  It delivers us from trying to make a name for ourselves, usually at the expense of others, and has us honor the name of Jesus by serving our fellow man in his needs.
     The Lord has been pleased to have us raise our voices to proclaim the Gospel so that people can be united once again—united in the kingdom of God for the praise of his name.  Though the Church still speaks with many languages, we all confess the same Savior and rejoice in the same salvation.  And the curse of Babel will find its perfect reversal at last in the kingdom of heaven.  There, St. John looked, and behold, (he) saw a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, and from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)  In Christ, we are one people and one Church, united in one voice and one confession, praising one Savior-God.  The Lord has given us this one voice to proclaim the Gospel which continues to gather into God's kingdom the people from this fractured world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Sad to say, I will never see the Beatles in concert, especially since half of them are already dead.

On Sunday night, I got to see the next best thing at the Fox Theater in Detroit.  Rain, a Beatles tribute band, put on an awesome show.  The bass player (the Paul McCartney ringer) even played his bass lefty.  Interestingly, he played righty when he pulled out his acoustic guitar.  Now I have to look it up and see if McCartney actually did that.

The Beatles have such an extensive song list that, even after perhaps 30 songs, we could still walk out and say, "They didn't do that one, or that one, or that one....."  Nevertheless, great show!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon -- Ascension, transferred (May 17, 2015)


Pastor:            Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:              He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     Someone had once suggested to me that when a pastor chooses a Confirmation verse for his student, he is also choosing the text for that person’s funeral.  It probably does not work out that way very often, and I pray that we will not have to worry about Lindsey’s funeral for decades to come.  Nevertheless, your Confirmation verse will serve you well throughout your life and even in the face of death itself.  It also testifies why we find such comfort at the Ascension of our Lord into heaven.
     The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)  When you look at the world around you, it might seem like you have plenty of reasons to fear.  Tragedies take place on train tracks in Philadelphia.  Riots and protests are becoming more common place.  Earthquakes devastate Nepal.  Drought plagues California.  The world is full of problems, but that is nothing new.  Your own life will see its share of misfortunes and tragedies, too.  Friendships can blow up.  Temptations will not cease.  Death leaves no family unscarred.  And life comes with so many uncertainties and frustrations that we often wonder how we can cope. 
     Lindsey, you have studied Luther’s Small Catechism and have had years of Bible classes at St. Paul’s.  I do not say that you have completed your studies, because you are not done.  You will never be done as long as you are alive.  In fact, you will become more aware of your need for your Bible and your Catechism as you continue to grow.  You will discover that life in the Christian faith is never squeaky clean like your confirmation gown.  You will struggle with sin.  You will hear seductive voices try to lead you into temptation.  The Seventh Petition will not be mere memory work.  “Deliver us from evil” will be a continual prayer on your lips.  And you will often wonder, “If Jesus lives and reigns over all, and if I am a child of God, then why is life so hard?  Even Christ’s Church looks as messed up as the rest of the world!”  These are the conclusions that we can draw quickly when we look at our life and our world.  It seems that there are good reasons to fear.  Sometimes it might feel there are good reasons to quit, too!
     That’s why St. Paul prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened….” (Ephesians 1:17-18)  The eyes of your heart recognize that fears and frustrations do not rule.  They are not in charge.  Jesus rules.  The LORD is my light and my salvation.  The LORD is the stronghold of my life. (Psalm 27:1)  And he is greater than everything.
     There is nothing to fear since Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Maybe that sounds to you like Jesus has left us, as if to say, “Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father.  Therefore, he is not here.”  But “the right hand of God” does not refer to the placement of his throne, like saying that the pulpit is on your right side in the church.  For most people, the right hand is the strong, dominant hand.  So when we confess that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, it means that Jesus Christ has assumed all the power, honor, glory, and majesty of God. 
     Jesus rules for us.  Jesus has not left us.  His promise is quite the opposite: “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  Wherever God is, that is where Jesus is.  God is omnipresent; so that means Jesus is always with us.  He is especially with us when we gather in his name to hear his word and receive his gifts.  Where the Gospel is preached and administered in the sacraments, Jesus is there to deliver his forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is not here figuratively, like you might try to keep alive the memory of your grandmother.  No, Jesus is truly, really present with us.  Therefore, his forgiveness, life, and salvation are not figuratively given.  They are real, and they are yours.  Not only that—Jesus dwells in you, therefore, his gifts are yours wherever you go.  Nothing can strip and rob you of them—not hatred, not slander, not rejection, and not even death.  So, you see, there is nothing to fear.  Jesus rules for you.  He is the stronghold of your life.
     Now, in some ways, the ascension of our Lord might seem unimpressive.  We confess that Jesus Christ is God—God from God, Light from Light, true God of true God. (Nicene Creed)  To hear that God reigns is hardly surprising.  But remember that Jesus of Nazareth is also true man.  He who is true man is now seated at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:20-21)  Therefore, man possesses all the glories of heaven.  Man has entered the very presence of God to dwell there forever.  And again, this is for your benefit!
     Jesus Christ became man to unite himself to us.  He took up our cause when he became incarnate.  He submitted to the commandments of God and fulfilled them all.  And so, man has kept God’s commandments and earned righteousness.  Then he went to the cross on behalf of all mankind.  He suffered, died, and was buried; for that is what men deserve for their sins.  But then Jesus rose from the grave.  A man suffered God’s curse, died, and went to the grave only to rise his grave.  Man has overcome death itself.  And now, Jesus ascended into heaven to dwell in the presence of God the Father forever.  Jesus united himself to us for all of these things so that we will follow the pattern he has established—from our lowly, mortal state through death to the resurrection to life and glory everlasting.  Jesus lives and reigns to guarantee all of these things for us.  Jesus rules for us.  In all these things, Jesus has exalted humanity so that we shall be recipients of glory in God’s presence forever. 
    Jesus rules for us.  But understand that Jesus’ rule is not only to guarantee glory for later.  Jesus’ rule benefits you now.  Jesus rules over all things in this age.  God the Father put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things (for) the church… (Ephesians 1:23)  Granted, it often does not look like it.  No Christian’s life is squeaky clean.  No one is exempt from the problems that exist in a sinful world.  The Church does not even look like the Church should look.  And since there will always be people who despise Jesus, there will always be people who despise and mock you too.  When you experience such difficulties, do not think that something strange is happening to you.  This is why the confirmation vow includes the phrase about suffering everything, even death, rather than turn away from Jesus and the true faith.  Though you will not suffer everything, you will have to endure some things.  But your sufferings do not mean Jesus has relinquished his rule or that he has forgotten you.  Even our sufferings serve our eternal good.  These remind us not to fall in love with a corrupt world.  In fact, sometimes things get so bad that we find ourselves praying for Jesus to return and to put an end to all of the sin and sorrow.  And isn’t that precisely the prayer we should be praying all the time, even on good days?
     Jesus rules for us.  He does not leave us or forsake us.  He does not forget us or neglect us.  Jesus Christ is still our Savior.  He is still our Immanuel.  He lives to intercede for us.  He comes in his gospel to deliver his mercy and goodness to us.  He has even exalted our humanity so that we will not remain lowly and frail creatures, but will be raised for everlasting glory.  Therefore, the LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)  Nothing can overpower him.  No one can undermine him.  No one shall overthrow his kingdom.  Nothing can undercut his promises.  Therefore, nothing can separate us from him.  Jesus rules forever, and for us. 

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ascension Hymn: A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing

It is always a blessing to recognize that we are part of the Church catholic.  It is a Church that is not limited to the walls of Good Shepherd, to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, to North America, to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, or to the 21st century.  We are a part of the Church -- the people of God from all corners of the earth spanning through many centuries of time and even into heaven.

At our entrance hymn tomorrow, we get to recognize that beautiful truth.  We will be singing, "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing" for our Ascension service (transferred from Thursday).  The Christian Church has been joining together in this hymn, in one form or another, for about 1,300 years.  It was originally written by a British monk known as The Venerable Bede (673-735).

Tomorrow, we will join with Bede and with many other Christian voices spanning both time and space as we proclaim the ascension of our Lord: "Christ by a road before untrod ascends unto the throne of God!"

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 10, 2015)

JOHN 14:23-29

Pastor:            Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:              He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     There are few things more miserable than being lonely.  We all have an intense desire to be loved or to belong.  Some will give into their better senses in order to achieve this acceptance.  Girls are seduced by boyfriends.  Boys will do things both illegal and immoral just to keep their buddies.  Almost anything is better than being lonely or a cast away.  It is important for our young people to know that, when they enter high school and especially when they go off to college, living like a Christian can make you feel awfully alone.  Temptations to forsake the faith for the sake of being accepted will be persistent.  You will need the prayers and support of these people in this congregation.  You will need to find a faithful Lutheran church near your campus so that you can lean on the support of the Christians in your home away from home.  Most importantly, you will need Jesus.
     The disciples on Maundy Thursday knew that they needed Jesus, too.  For three years, that was not a problem.  He was with them, continually praying for them, protecting them, and preaching to them.  But that was about to change.  Jesus stated, You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’” (John 14:28)  I think it is likely that the disciples only heard the words, “I am going away.”  They were grieved.  Their Messiah was going to depart.  They probably felt that he was abandoning them.  They were about to feel very much alone. 
     What was even more strange was to hear Jesus say, “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)  The disciples should be glad that Jesus was leaving them?  And while it is good for Jesus that he his going to the Father, what about us?  How is this good for us?  The disciples did not understand that, either.
     Though Jesus was about to die, he would be raised from the dead.  After Jesus rose from the dead, he would also ascend to heaven.  It was never Jesus’ plan to stay on earth forever or to establish a worldly kingdom here.  But that does not mean he abandons his disciples or his Church.  Instead, the Lord promises he will make his home with you.
     Now, in order for the Lord to make his home with you, he has to drive out sin.  That which is holy and that which is sinful cannot dwell together, any more than darkness and light can co-exist together.  The Lord cannot make himself at home with you as long as your sins are at home with you.  He calls you to repent.  But your repentance and sorrow over your sins will not take them away.  Judas Iscariot deeply regretted betraying Jesus into the hands of his enemies, but that did not bring him forgiveness.  It did not bring him any peace.  Consumed by guilt and regret, Judas went away by himself and hanged himself.
     Even in our sinful condition, the Lord does not abandon us.  He comes to us and gives us a word of peace.  He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  (John 14:27)  Jesus’ peace is not so fickle that it will be withdrawn when we mess up.  On the contrary, it is precisely because we still mess up that Jesus delivers such a tremendous peace.  You can probably think of times when a friend no longer wanted anything to do with you because you had sinned against him or her.  Perhaps it was a lie.  Perhaps it was gossip.  Perhaps it was not even that you sinned against them, but pointed out their sins to them so that they would repent.  Then your friend no longer had any use for you.  That friendship was only as strong as one infraction.  It was fickle.  God’s peace is not like that.  Though he does not excuse sins, he will forgive them.  Jesus does not abandon you because you are still a sinner.  Rather, he remains your Savior because you are still a sinner.  The Lord makes his home with you.
     Jesus’ peace is not fragile either.  It is not broken by a dysfunctional family.  It is not shattered by insults.  It is not even marred by death.  The peace that Jesus gives you comes from his work for you.  Therefore, it is indestructible.  He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25)  As sure as his death and resurrection are, that is how sure your forgiveness and salvation are.  Your guilt is never greater than Jesus’ mercy.  As surely as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, that is how sure your resurrection and eternal life are.  Not even your death separates you from the love of Jesus.  And that is why it was good that Jesus returned to the Father.  He lives and reigns, forever interceding for you.  He sends his Holy Spirit to you, giving him as a deposit for eternal life.  Far from abandoning you, the Lord makes his home with you. 
     This is why you love Jesus, and this is why you delight in hearing his word.  It is also why you need to hear his word.  The world has not gotten any better.  People are still fickle—they may abandon you when friendship is no longer convenient.  The world’s promises are all fragile.  All the things which are supposed to bring you happiness can be swept away in a moment’s notice.  All the plans you had get thrown out.  But Jesus does not give to you as the world gives.  The Lord makes his home with you so that his gifts—forgiveness, salvation, mercy, the resurrection to eternal life—always remain with you.
     The Lord makes his home with you.  And it is important for you to understand how he does that.  Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)  Jesus works through his word.  Whether that word is preached or added to the sacraments, that is where Jesus is at work.  That is where he sends his Holy Spirit to you.  That is why it is important to keep his word, that is, to guard and cherish it as the greatest treasure you have—for it is!  It is good for you to hear the word preached, to read the word in your homes and with your families, and to meditate on what God has to say.  Then you will not be led astray by people who preach a worldly feel-good message which promises that you will be happy now.  If your peace comes through what makes you happy now, you will find yourself on a relentless pursuit of the next fetish.  Peace will be fickle and fragile since happiness can be destroyed so quickly. 
     The Lord does not grant his peace to you in any other place than his word.  There, you will find divine promises that cannot fail.  There, you will learn the evils which are to be despised and avoided and the good which is to be loved and performed.  There, you will find a Triune God who delights in you, who promises to dwell with you, and who will never forsake you even if the whole world turns against you.  The world and its passions are going to perish, but the word of God stands forever.
     The Lord makes his home with you.  He will never forsake you.  He has even gathered you together with fellow Christians who delight in God’s word with you.  Jesus has united you with a body of believers who encourage you and remind you that you are never truly alone.  We all join together to receive God’s mercy and peace in his word and sacraments.  We all get to pray for one another and support one another in a world that offers no real peace and cannot keep any of its promises.  But Jesus does not give to us as the world gives.  His peace is continual.  His presence is constant.  He remains our Immanuel, God with us, so that we will finally make our home in his heavenly glory.

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Things that make me go, "HMMMMMMM..."

Every once in a while, you have to wonder what someone was thinking.

The picture below is from The Church by the Sea in Madeira Beach, Florida.  It is a non-denominational church.

All things considered, the entire church complex seems to be a pretty nice building.  But I was wondering if, at any point in the design or construction process, someone did not even once ask, "Does anyone else see a chicken?"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (May 3, 2015)

ACTS 13:44-52

Pastor:     Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:       He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     Paul and Barnabas always made their first stop in the synagogue whenever they came to a new town.  That’s where Moses and the Prophets were read every Sabbath.  The people there were familiar with the promises of God.  Paul and Barnabas went there to declare that the Law and the Prophets and all the promises of God were fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.  God’s salvation had come through Jesus Christ.  He is the glory of Israel and a light to lighten the Gentiles.  The word gives light to the world.
     The problems arose when the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.  But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. (Acts 13:44-45)  For whatever reason, the people from the synagogue believed that God’s salvation was just for them.  They were God’s chose people, suggesting that God had neither room nor love for others.  While it is true that the Jews were God’s chosen people, they were chosen so that the salvation of the world would come through them, not so that salvation came exclusively to them.  St. Paul reminded them of God’s clear word on this: For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 13:47)  For God so loved the world, not a few.  Jesus always came to be the Savior of the nations, not the Savior of one nation.  The word gives light to the world.
     Like the Jews in that synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, we may also tend to think that we have a greater right to salvation than others do.  When we consider the behavior of others, we commend ourselves for being better—assuming that our actions have won for us special favor in God’s sight.  But here is the scandal of Jesus Christ—salvation is by grace.  That means it is all God’s doing from beginning to end.
     You are no more worthy of God’s favor than an ISIS militant, whose zeal for his religion—though misguided—is undeniable.  You are no better than an addict or an agnostic.  For, this is what the Lord says: “There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22,23)  Now, you may object, saying, “I am better than ISIS; I don’t kill people.  I am better than an addict; I don’t rob people for my next fix.  I am better than agnostic; I am in church.”  Your sins may not be as personally destructive as the sins if ISIS militants or crack addicts, but you still have sins, and they are all damnable. 
     In our Gospel, Jesus tells us that the mark that should distinguish us as being different from the rest of the world is that we love one another.  But we demonstrate that we do not love as we ought.  We do not have mercy on other sinners, but would prefer that we remain “we” and they remain “they”.  We are like the people of the synagogue who looked at the Gentiles and wondered, “What are they doing here?!”  To insist that we are better is to insist that we deserve better and that we have done more to earn our place in God’s kingdom.  We do not want God to be gracious; we want him to reward us for being who we are.  That is precisely what Paul and Barnabas witnessed in the synagogue—people who believed that salvation was limited to “us” and that God should not save “them.”  Repent.
     Jesus declared: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  
     But the word “love” has been badly misused, therefore, we need to define it.  First, to say what love is not: Love is not simply giving people want they want to make them happy.  That kind of love encourages husbands and wives to abandon their marriages for someone better.  It tells us to have no real commitment to anyone, because as soon as someone makes you unhappy or hurts your feeling, you have to move on. 
     To know what love is, we look to God; for God is love.  God’s love has been made most vivid by Jesus.  Jesus’ love was not reserved for those considered worthy.  Jesus knew that there would be many who would despise him and reject him.  Jesus also knew that many would use his amazing love to defend their sins and their refusal to repent of them.  It did not matter.  Jesus came to do what love demands—to seek the eternal well-being of all people.  For God so loved the world, not a few.
     Jesus’ sacrificial love sought the well-being of sinners, not because any deserve it, but because God is love and seeks your good.  He seeks the good of all.  Your sins are evil and they are damnable.  Therefore, Jesus suffered for you.  He suffered torment and wrath and pain and death and hell.  He endured this for you, because this is what love demanded in order for you to be forgiven and saved.  This is how God has shown his love to you—by the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ on behalf of all sinners.  The word brings light to the world.
     Your salvation is yours by grace.  Jesus did all the work from beginning to end, so you have no reason to boast that you are better than anyone.  And your salvation remains yours as God works in you and sustains you in the true faith through the word and sacraments.  In this way, he preserves you from going back to your sins and fills you with a love for what is good and for doing what is beneficial for your neighbor.  Your salvation is all God’s doing from beginning to end.  You did nothing to deserve it; but Jesus Christ did everything to secure it for you.  This is the light that God has shone on you, and it is the word that we preach to the world.
     And now we love because he first loved us.  This love first honors God and his word.  That is where we learn what is good and what is evil.  Love, then, always seeks the good of someone else.  Love will never encourage or condone sin.  We must call it what it is because it is damnable and brings death.  It is not love to willingly let people suffer these.  Love proclaims the truth and will even suffer for what is good rather than abandon it.  We are to love one another, knowing that our love may be abused, rejected, or scorned.  For loving God’s word and standing firm in it, we may even be told that we are evil and hateful.  But we will love anyway so that God’s love is seen in both our words and our deeds.  We want the word to give light to the world.  Those who love their sins or who love themselves may never repent.  But as many as are appointed to eternal life, God will gather into his kingdom.
     The word brings light to the world.  This salvation is not intended for a few, but for all.  Paul and Barnabas were eventually driven out of town for preaching such a lavish grace and such a generous salvation.  They were slandered and finally exiled.  Nevertheless, the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52)  Though the mighty and influential made their power known by driving out Paul and Barnabas, God’s love made its power known by gathering his elect to his Church.  Not even persecution or threats could diminish the joy of Christ’s salvation. 
     It is no different for you.  Your joy is not based on popular opinions; your joy comes from knowing that Jesus Christ has given you a place in his kingdom.  Your salvation does not come by how much or how well you love others; it comes by God’s grace through Jesus Christ who loved you perfectly.  Therefore, your salvation is sure.  Nevertheless, we will speak and act in love to all.  The light of Christ shines on us, and the light of Christ shall shine through us to beckon others to Christ’s salvation.  This is how it must be; for nothing can suppress our joy.

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