Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sermon -- Christmas Day (December 25, 2016)

o logos is the Greek for "the Word,"
who is the second person in the Trinity.
JOHN 1:1-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     We are familiar with the Christmas narrative from St. Luke's Gospel.  There is something endearing, perhaps even romantic in our minds, about Mary and Joseph gushing over their newborn boy while shepherds come to them from the fields and tell stories about the angel's message and heavenly choirs.  Luke is the chief historian among the Gospel writers.  He documents the story.
     St. John's Gospel also covers the Christmas narrative, but St. John gives us the spiritual realities behind the physical realities.  If St. Luke records the history, St. John presents the cosmic battle that takes place when Jesus enters into the world.*  The battle lines are drawn up as our hero enters into the fray.  It is a battle of heaven versus hell; light versus darkness; life versus death.  God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. (John 3:16)  The Son is given to do battle for us, and he comes knowing that he will be tortured and finally put to death.  The Father loves the world so that he gives his only begotten Son to die.  He gives his Son to sin, death, and the devil so that by his death, the Savior will rescue us from these wretched captors.
     St. Luke records the words of the angel: “For unto is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  He who is born in Bethlehem is the Lord.  St. John records the same thing this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” (John 1:1,14)  The Lord is the Maker of heaven and earth.  He loves his creation, and he is not willing that any in it should perish.  The Lord did not merely invest himself in this world by creating it.  He invested himself in this world by becoming a part it.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  God became man in order to redeem mankind.
     The Lord of life entered into a world which is dying.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)  Jesus has come to bestow life and to shine the light of God's grace on a world which is darkened by sin.
     To say that the world dwells in darkness is not to say that people are stupid.  Even though all people are sinners, people have not lost their intelligence, capabilities, or creativity.  We live in an amazing age in which technology has allowed us to travel the world, to send information instantly across the country, and to have machines do our household chores for us.  We get to enjoy symphonies, to see works of art, to read literature, and to send people to space and back by crunching numbers and doing physics.  These are not the works of stupid people.
     When sin entered the world, man's intelligence, creativity, and capabilities were not stripped; they were darkened by sin.  Because of sin darkened hearts and minds, we corrupt the use of God's good gifts.  Intelligence, creativity, and capability are now used in wickedness.  Technology allows gossip to escape a select group and to be published on the world wide web.  Creativity is used to promote perversion.  There are stories we would never tell in good company without blushing, but if they are put to a catchy tune we will belt them out with gusto.  And machines are driven into Christmas markets to kill people.
     We may admit that our sins are stupid, but we do not commit them because we are stupid.  Contrary to the saying, stupid can be fixed.  But we commit sins because we are sinners.  We are darkened in our understanding.  Satan convinces us that our highest goal of life is to be happy which translates into serving, loving, and coddling ourselves at the expense of others.  Sin causes us to despise our loved ones because they are a drain on the time, attention, and money that could be concentrated on ourselves.  Sin causes us to call God's word stupid because its threats curb our appetite for sin and forbids us from taking what God chose not to give us.  This is what Satan sells as happiness, and we in our sinful condition buy it.  Repent.
     But now the light shines in the darkness.  The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.  The Lord enters our world and lives as one of us.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)  That could also be translated “the darkness has not comprehended it.”  Even to believers, Jesus' life is incomprehensible.  Consider how Jesus lives for people who sin against him.  Jesus is God Almighty, but he comes into the world helpless and fully dependent upon sinful parents.  He is the Creator of all things, but now he is at the mercy of his creation—enduring the cold of night, the sorrow of burying loved ones, and the pain of betrayal.  He is the friend of sinners, but he also is the victim of sinners who accuse him, who beat him, and who finally kill him.  He is pure and innocent, and yet he will bear the guilt of all people.  He is the King of the Universe and loves the world, and yet the world by and large does not care for him at all.  Nevertheless, he suffers and dies for the sins of all.  Jesus came to save sinners regardless of how crooked, how violent, how notorious, and how nefarious they are.  Jesus had no reason to be punished for any sins, yet he consumes the full wrath of God for all sinners so that no one should have to perish.  We might think that only a stupid person would do what Jesus did.  The darkness does not comprehend this.
     But the light shines in the darkness, and God's grace is revealed to you.  Jesus does not suffer and die because he is stupid or because of stupid circumstances.  Jesus suffers and dies on purpose because he is gracious.  He gives to you what you do not deserve.  Jesus comes to take from you all of your guilt, your shame, and your death.  In turn, Jesus cleanses you of sin.  He gives you a clean heart and a right spirit which no longer views God in terror or runs from his word.  Even when God's word redirects your life, you acknowledge in penitence: “I was stupid and stubborn and sinful.  God is right and wise, and his word is good.”  The light shines in the darkness to show you that God is merciful, that God loves what he has created, that God has acted to save you from death and damnation, and that God desires to have you spend your eternity with him in joy.
     The light shines in the darkness.  To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)  Now, you are children of God.  You have been born again in the image of God.  Though that image has not yet been perfected in you, you get to use your intelligence, capabilities, and creativity in ways that honor God, that follow his word, that seek the good of your fellowman, and that find joy in what is pure and good.  The darkness still will not get it.  Those who still dwell in darkness may think you are stupid for living pure and decent and selfless lives.  But you, having been enlightened by Christ, now recognize that Jesus is full of grace and truth.  This grace saves you, and his truth guides you.
     In the town of Bethlehem, a Savior was born to you.  He is Christ, the Lord.  The facts are recorded by St. Luke.  But St. John sets the stage for the cosmic battle between light and darkness.  Your Savior has come and has won the battle for you.  He released you from your enemies and has made you are children of God.  No matter how hard or dirty the darkness fights to win you back, the light continues to shine in the darkness.  The darkness has not and will not overcome it.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world—the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9,14)  By that truth, he guides you; and by that grace he saves you.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sermon -- Christmas Eve (December 24, 2016)

          Our Christmas Eve Candlelight service at Good Shepherd was a Service of Lessons and Carols.  Following eight of nine lessons, there were brief devotions.  Below are two of them.

1st Lesson Genesis 3:8-15
The Seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head

          Is God good or not?  The response we all want to give is that God is good.  Still, there are parts of our life that we would like God to stay away from.  We want at least one corner of the world where God is not allowed, where we can keep our secrets, where we can hide from God.  But if God is good, why do we fear him?  Why is there some place we would like to flee from him?
Adam and Eve knew that God is good.  He created the entire universe for mankind and provided all they needed to live in comfort, in peace, and in joy.  But Satan convinced them that God is not good.  Satan convinced them that a loving God would not have laws or standards and would not forbid anything that might make people happy.  Adam and Eve bought Satan's lie, and they rebelled against God.
So, when God appeared to them in the Garden, God had not changed.  He never does.  But mankind had changed.  They were terrified of God.  They tried to hide from him.  They wanted to keep at least part of their life a secret from him.  But hiding shame does not remove shame.  Fleeing from the scene of the crime does not take away one's guilt of the crime.
You and I have inherited Adam's and Eve's guilt.  We have added our sins and shame to theirs.  Sin marks us.  Death comes for us.  Satan owns us.
But God is good.  He promised a Savior as soon as one was necessary.  He extended mercy even though it was not sought after.  He would crush Satan's head to set us free from him, and to reverse the curse of sin and death.  He would take the venom for us and endure bitter death in our place.  Satan would bite at him, but he would smash in his teeth and squash his head.  Thanks to the Savior, sin would be forgiven.  The grave would give back its dead.  And we are removed from Satan's grasp to God's kingdom.
In this we rejoice; for, the curse is removed, God is good, and he is good to us.

7th Lesson Luke 2:8-20
The shepherds visit the manger

Gloria in excelsis Deo!  That is Latin.  In English: Glory to God in the highest!
The glory of God is that he loves us.  He loves what he has created.  He loves the people to whom he gave life.  But it is more than that.
The glory of God is that he loves sinners.  Even though we have been rebellious, even though we have not wanted to listen to God or follow his word, even though we have not loved our neighbor and have not even loved our loved ones as we are supposed to, God did not write us off.  God did not decree that we are a waste of his time and effort.  The glory of God is that he loves sinners.  But it is more than that.
God not only loves sinners, he acts to save sinners.  God loves what he has created, so he longs to redeem what he has created so that we will not perish in our sins.  God takes no delight in banishing anyone to hell.  That does not mean he won't do it.  It means that God acts so that sinners can be saved, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  The glory of God is that he acts to save sinners.  But it is more than even that.
God has become one of us in order to save all of us.  God has become man, mankind to deliver.  Pleased as man with men to dwell, pleased as man to die for men, pleased as man to take up our sins, to  be buried in death, to rise from the grave, to ascend into heaven, and to dwell there forever.  And since he has united himself to us, we follow him.  Though the grave may hold us for us while, Jesus will raise us with glorified bodies, Jesus will take us to the glories of heaven, and men will dwell with God forever.  God became man to dwell with men so that men will dwell with God forever.
This is the glory of God—that he loves people, that he loves sinners, that he acts to save sinners, and that he has become one of us in order to save all of us.
What the angels sing about, we benefit from.  And therefore, we join in their song:
Glory to God in the highest!  Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Local Tourist -- Christmas photos in Northville

I haven't posted much of personal life recently, so here is a quick photo shoot from downtown Northville from the other night.

Nathanael and Charli were not with us.  They were busy.  See the last photo for a really good reason why!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The original Christmas story

Many of us are familiar with the Christmas narrative of Luke 2:1-20.  Perhaps you are even among the people who memorized it for a children's Christmas service many years ago.  (I could still recite the King James Version in the same sing-songy manner we used if I had to.)

Our familiarity with the Christmas narrative, however, is probably influenced too much by Nativity scenes, creative hymnody. and European artists.  I know that I have been guilty of perpetuating in my own preaching images that are more imagination than fact.  (For example: There was no mean inn keeper who banned Joseph and Mary from his hotel.)  It's not that we have been telling lies; it is that our image of the Christmas narrative has been skewed by traditions which attempted to put the birth of Jesus in a European or American influenced context.

For a fascinating interview on the Christmas narrative, taking into account the Palestinian context of it all, take a listen to this interview from Issues, Etc.  Dr. Ken Bailey spent decades living in the Middle East and is very familiar with their culture, much of which still reflects the culture into which Jesus was born.  Dr. Bailey discusses the place where Mary would have been birth and the shepherds reaction to seeing Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, and ties these events to other parts of Scripture.  

The interview is about an hour, but is well worth your time.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Lutheran Satire -- Christmas origins

Every year, someone will insist that our celebration of Christmas is really one of pagan origins.

While the western Church has settled on December 25 as the day on which we celebrate Jesus' birth (the eastern Church opts for January 6), we also recognize that the Bible has not given us the exact date.  We honor December 25 not as a matter of doctrine, but of convenience.  The reality is that we celebrate the incarnation of our Lord whenever we come together, especially as we partake of Holy Communion.

Nevertheless, some Christians may wonder about the claims of pagan origins.

Lutheran Satire to the rescue!  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Advent (December 18, 2016)

MATTHEW 1:18-25


In the name + of Jesus.

     When Joseph got word that his betrothed was pregnant, he could not be faulted for accusing her of being unfaithful to him.  Jewish law stated that he could have had her stoned to death for her immorality.  But Joseph was not out for blood.  He just did not want to be married to someone whom he assumed—fairly—had hooked up with someone else.  He decided to break off the marriage quietly.
     But the Lord sent an angel to reveal to Joseph what no one could have known.  “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)  The Lord reveals the miraculous birth of our Divine Savior.
     While Joseph plays a significant role here, he has no lines.  Scripture does not record anything Joseph ever said.  But what Scripture does record is noteworthy.  Joseph listens to the word of the Lord, and Joseph acts according to that word.  When the Lord told Joseph, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife....” (Matthew 1:20), Joseph did just that.  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. (Matthew 1:24-25)  Joseph not only acted according to the angel's words, he also took to heart the Lord's encouragement: “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.” (Matthew 1:20)
     Joseph had good reason to fear.  The very same accusations that Joseph had made against Mary in his own mind were going to be made against him.  Rumors would be whispered among relatives.  Joseph would face openly mockery in the public square.  If Joseph accepted Mary as his wife, it was tantamount to admitting that he had fathered a child outside of wedlock.  If he denied responsibility, then Joseph would have been considered a fool for taking on the expense and responsibility of another man's child.  What could Joseph say?  He could tell the people of Nazareth what the angel had told him.  Do you think anyone would have believed him?
     Nevertheless, the Lord had revealed the miraculous birth of our Divine Savior.  Joseph had God's word on this.  So he accepted the scorn of his family, the ridicule of his neighbors, and the responsibility of raising a son who was not his.  For, Joseph was a faithful man who listened to the word of the Lord and acted according to that word.
     The Lord reveals the miraculous birth of our Divine Savior.  As the Lord had directed him, Joseph gave him the name Jesus because he comes to save people from their sins.  He comes for you, too.  He comes to bring forgiveness to you for all the times you had falsely accused your friends or rubbed their nose in their sins.  Jesus has come to atone for our sins of gossiping about others in order to feel better about ourselves.  He even comes to cover over our guilt for the times we did not want to listen to his word, or did listen to his word and then decided, “Yeah, I should do that, but I'm not going to.”  Jesus has come to save you from all your sins—not so that you can continue in them, but so that you will not be condemned by them.  He brings you into God's kingdom so that you get to hear his words of comfort, forgiveness, and encouragement.  He leads you to do as God's word says, even if you should suffer scorn for it.
     Jesus came to save you from all sin and to set you free from every accusation.  The Lord Jesus was falsely accused of many evils, but he did not repudiate any of the charges.  Rather, Jesus took all the charges for every sin.  For, Jesus did not merely come to be born.  Jesus came to be sacrificed.  The sinless Son of God became the sinless Son of Man in order to be a sacrifice the pays for the sins of all mankind.
     That's why this birth matters so much.  Babies are born every day, and all of them are going to die one day.  But Jesus is born to deliver us all from sin and death.  Jesus comes to be one of us so that he can save all of us.  And just as he has become our Immanuel, so he will always remain our Immanuel.  For, while we declare his glories now, our Divine Savior will come again soon to deliver us to the glories of his heavenly kingdom.  And there, we will dwell our Lord forever free from fear and scorn, free from accusations and guilt, and free from death.
     I don't know if Joseph ever got to hear the end of people scoffing at him.  In the end, all he could do is cling to the word of the Lord.  And while we never hear Joseph confess his faith with words, we do see it in actions.  Regardless of what his relatives and friends thought of him, all that matters is what the Lord thinks of him.  Joseph has been vindicated, and in fact is blameless of all sin thanks to the boy he named and raised.  It is the same for you.  As hard as it is to hear the scorn and mockery of others, your Lord's word is what matters.  The Lord reveals the miraculous birth of our Divine Savior, and he assures you that your Immanuel is with you and that this Jesus saves you.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: Week 3 (December 14, 2016)


Advent At Hand.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Malachi is the last prophet in our Old Testament.  He is the last prophet in the long line of prophets who pointed ahead to the coming Savior.  The first promise was made by the Lord himself back in the Garden of Eden.  The Lord had foretold that the Seed of the Woman would come and crush the serpent's head.  He would deliver mankind from sin and death and would restore all things.  For centuries, the Church was reminded of that promise through patriarchs like Adam and Enoch and Noah.  And the Church hoped and waited.
     The Church continued her wait.  About 1000 BC, King David taught to Church to pray: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!  When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” (Psalm 14:7)  The Church does not measure fortunes in gold or in dollars or in real estate.  The fortune to be restored is the image of God which was lost when man fell into sin.  Our prayer for salvation is that such fortune would be restored to us.
     “When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let us rejoice and be glad.” (Psalm 14:7, paraphrase)  We rejoice that we will get to live free from sin and danger, free from trials and temptations, free from sorrow and death.  The Church is glad that God and man will live together in peace and harmony.  We are glad that God will restore us to what he first created mankind to be and has always intended us to be—pure and blameless.  We long for perfection to be restored in us, and for our world to be restored to its perfect state as well.  So, the prayer of the Church continues: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!  When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” (Psalm 14:7)  We pray, we hope, and we wait.
     But now comes Malachi.  About 400 BC, Malachi restated God's promise and he accentuated God's promise with, “Behold!”  In fact, twice!  The Lord promises our coming Savior.  Advent is at hand.  “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.  And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)
     The messenger whom Malachi foretold was John the Baptist.  He cleared the way for the Savior by proclaiming repentance.  Repentance is not merely feeling bad about your sins.  Repentance means putting off your sins and getting rid of what stands in the way between you and God.  This is how John the Baptist cleared the way for the Savior.
     It is still how we prepare today.  Every Sunday, we are summoned to approach God in repentance: “Beloved in the Lord, let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins to God our Father....”  This is not a “hurts-so-good” moment where we find some delight in feeling bad.  It is an honest moment in which we admit what we are.  We draw near with a true heart.  It may mean that your heart is heavy with guilt or sorrow.  It may mean that your heart is angry with God because he has not fixed all your problems.  It may even be that you don't feel particularly bad at all.  But this is not about conjuring up sorrow or emotion; it is about being honest.
     Advent is at hand.  Therefore, we recognize and confess that we are sinful human beings who never have nor ever will purge ourselves from self-serving actions or self-glorifying words.  Let us draw near with a true heart that recognizes we have made idols of ourselves, our children, our sports, our jobs, and our reputations.  Let us draw near with a true heart which does not merely feel bad about sins but gags at the thought of returning to them and resolves to amend what we have destroyed.  This is what repentance looks like.  It is a true heart that does not come before God to bargain, but humbly pleads for mercy.
     The Lord promised our coming Savior.  Malachi had foretold that John the Baptist would prepare the way for him, and then suddenly the Lord would come.  Advent was at hand, “and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)  The Savior comes to establish a new covenant, for we have failed to keep the old one.
     When we see world leaders make covenants today, each side negotiates the terms.  They may not get what they want in the deal, but they agree they will live with the compromise.  Then each leader will take his ceremonial pen and sign the treaty.  Old Testament covenants were bloody affairs.  The more literal expression is “to cut a covenant.”  The kings would cut an animal in two and separate its parts, leaving a blood trail in between.  Then they would ratify their covenant by walking together between the severed animal.  It was as if they were saying, “May I end up like this slain animal if I fail to keep my end of the covenant.”
     We have not been faithful to the word of the Lord.  A true heart acknowledges that.  But rather than strike us for our unfaithfulness, the Lord allowed himself to be slain for us.  He bore our iniquity and suffered as the one who has been unfaithful.  Jesus' body was cut and pierced and put to death for our guilt.  He was slaughtered as a Lamb so that we would be spared all punishment.
     By his sacrificial death, the Savior has established a new covenant.  He does not put demands upon us which we will not be able to keep.  There is no more demand for blood or a threat of slaughter.  Instead, our Savior pours out blessing upon us.  His sacrificial death has atoned for all our sins.  You have been washed in this blood in baptism, making you the saints of God.  The body and blood which were slain as the payment for our sins he feeds to us for the forgiveness of our sins.  By this, Jesus brings us salvation.
     Behold!  Advent is at hand.  “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)  The Church still waits for Jesus, but this time to return.  He has fulfilled the words of Malachi.  He came to his temple, and he has provided salvation.  Today, he still comes to his temple; for, you are his temple.  The Lord has made his dwelling within you.  He has begun to restore the fortunes of his people, transforming you into the new creation which he has always intended you to be.  And he keeps coming to you through preaching and feasting from the altar.  By these, he sustains you as his redeemed until he comes again.
     The Lord promised our coming Savior.  Malachi declared that Advent is at hand.  But after Malachi's promise, the Church still had 400 years to watch and to pray and to wait.  The final word of the Old Testament is: Your Savior will come.  And four centuries later, he did.  The final word of the New Testament through St. John's Revelation is: Your Savior will come.  Just as the Lord was faithful to his earlier promise, we know he will be faithful to this one.  It has been almost 2,000 years, and still the Church will watch and wait and pray: “Oh, that salvation would come.  Oh, that the Lord would restore the fortunes of his people.  Oh, that we will be delivered to Paradise.  Oh, that Jesus would come.”  Rejoice, for Advent is at hand.  And Jesus will bring us to everlasting glory.

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Advent (December 11, 2016)

MATTHEW 11:2-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     John the Baptist came in fulfillment of God's promises.  He was immediately recognized as a prophet even by the religious establishment.  Because of John's fiery preaching style, some wondered if he were the Christ.  When asked what claims he made for himself, John deferred to the Holy Spirit's words through Isaiah.  He confessed that he was “a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” (Matthew 3:3)  John's message was simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)  John's message of urgent repentance stirred the hearts of many people.  They were eager to receive their Messiah, and John was pointing them in the right direction.  In fact, John literally pointed his disciples to Jesus, declaring, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
     Jesus of Nazareth came in fulfillment of God's promises.  He was immediately recognized as a prophet even by the religious establishment.  Jesus' message was the same as John's: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)  At this point, however, their lives take different paths.  John the Baptist preached fiery and faithful sermons, but his call to King Herod that even he should repent landed John in prison.  Jesus, on the other hand, was being invited to feast with prostitutes, tax collectors, and Pharisees.  John was languishing in a royal dungeon.  Jesus was as popular as ever.  John had good reason to wonder if he were going to die.  Jesus was living it up.
     Therefore, when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3)  Some have argued that John knew he was about to die and with this request was doing nothing more than directing his disciples to become Jesus' disciples.  John's disciples were about to lose their master.  So John was directing them to a better master—in fact, the Messiah.  Even from prison, it is argued, John the Baptist was pointing: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
     That certainly is possible.  But it is also possible that John the Baptist was having his own doubts about Jesus.  This does not mean that John was becoming an unbeliever.  It means that John was a human being.  John had been a faithful preacher of the Lord.  His role in life was to be the forerunner of the Christ.  But the judgment John had warned about was not happening.  No fire had been kindled.  If the axe were at the root of the trees, no one had yet been cut down.  In prison, John had too much time on his hands to think.  He wondered about his preaching.  He wondered about Jesus' actions.  He even wondered if he might be wrong about Jesus.  Was there another one to come?  Was there someone else who would usher in the kingdom John had said was at hand?  Was there another to execute the judgment which John foretold?  At the root of all John's questions was this: Am I wrong?  Have I been a fool to believe in this one as the Messiah?
     If you have also had doubts, you are not alone.  No one wants to be a fool.  That is why people pride themselves on being skeptics, cynics, and agnostics.  It seems wiser and safer to believe in nothing than to believe in Jesus and be wrong.  But if doubts arise in our hearts, it is likely because we make assumptions about the Lord or the Bible.  When our assumptions are shown to be wrong, then we are disappointed, perhaps even shaken.  We might conclude that the Lord deceived us or lied to us.  Even Christians find themselves believing in promises that God had never made to them.  We think that God will fix every problem, heal every disease, reverse every disaster, or erase every consequence.  But when God does not cure every wound, avert every disaster, or fix every relationship, we reason that God has failed us.  God does not always act like we think he should, especially when we assume that God had made us promises he did not actually make.
     Doubts arise in our minds about Jesus and his promises when he does not act like we do or like we think he should.  Suddenly Jesus is not the Messiah we had hoped for.  John the Baptist feared that was the case.  Though John may have struggled with doubts and fears while he pined away in prison, John did not abandon true faith.  John the Baptist turned where faith always turns—to the Lord.  He sent his disciples to Jesus.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) 
     Jesus could have answered with a simple, “Yes.”  Instead, Jesus points weak faith to a strong promise.  Jesus responded, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)  John is like a bride who asks her husband if he loves her.  She knows the answer, but she still wants to hear it.  While John sat in prison, faith told him that Jesus is the Messiah and the Lamb, just as he had told others.  He wanted to hear it from Jesus.  He needed to hear it.  And so he sent disciples to get the word for him.
     When John had been asked what confession he made about himself, John quoted Isaiah.  When John asked Jesus what confession he made about himself, Jesus likewise quoted Isaiah.  It is as if Jesus were saying to John, “Dear cousin, you have heard what I have been doing.  It is not the fiery judgment you had expected.  Though unbeliever are indeed cut off from the kingdom, fire will come later.  But behold!  See what is happening.  Isaiah is being fulfilled.  God is faithful.  I am the servant he has foretold.  Your finger has pointed people to the right place.  You are no fool, John.  Blessed are you that you are not fooled by misguided expectations.”  Jesus points weak faith to a strong promise.
     And so it is with you.  Doubts will creep into our minds at times.  But like John the Baptist, we do well to turn to Jesus for our assurance, for our answers, and for our hope.  We go to the man to whom John pointed.  We go to the word which God himself gave.  If you want to pride yourself on being a skeptic, do not dare be a skeptic of what God has actually said.  While we can be fooled, it is not God who fools us.  God never lies or deceives.  He tells sinners that they are sinners.  But he points sinners to Jesus who loves us enough to die for our sins.  He reminds us that the Lamb of God has been slain for us.  He assures us the blood of the Lamb purifies us from all sin, and then he invites us to feast on his flesh for the forgiveness of our sins.  You may know all this is true, but you still need to hear it.  You still need to be fed and nourished, consoled and encouraged.  And Jesus points weak faith to a strong promise.
     John the Baptist was comforted by our Lord while he was in prison.  Jesus did not go to bust him out.  Jesus did not even suggest that John would avert death.  What Jesus did promise to John was that he was loved by God, would be redeemed by God, and would receive comfort and peace in the kingdom of heaven.
     And so it is with you.  Our Lord does indeed say that he will deliver us from every disaster, that he will reverse the consequences of our sins, and that all people will finally get along.  But he does not say that will happen in a sinful world.  It will happen in the kingdom of heaven, and that will come later.  But he does promise that, in the midst of our troubles now, he is with us.  He loves us.  He forgives us.  He keeps watch over us, and he will preserve us in the true faith.
     Therefore, we flee to our Lord in the midst of doubts and threats and death.  Our Lord alone has the words to comfort us.  He does not grow tired of our weakness or weary of our continual need for his reassurance.  And if you would be blessed by him, then flee where he is found.  If we pay attention to his words, we will always know his promises and will always have true comfort.  Jesus' promises will never lie or deceive or fail.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, who loves us, and who saves us.

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: Week 2 (December 7, 2016)

PSALM 14:1-7

Advent Awaited.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Psalmist notes that with the Lord is refuge, salvation, and rejoicing.  But apart from the Lord, there is nothing good and there is no one who is good.
     This is hard for people to understand.  People do not believe that there is no one who is good.  We would say that see people do good all the time.  Brain surgeons save lives.  Stock-brokers enhance 401k's for clients.  Garbage men keep the city sanitary.  In general, people put in an honest day's work, pay their bills, take care of their families, and do no harm to their fellow man.  That is what we expect of people, and that is what most people are like.  Most people do not go to jail.  Most people are nice.  Most people know how to behave themselves, and they do not even need to go to church to figure that out.  
     We judge based on outward appearances.  We can only see what people do and listen to what they say.  Our assessment of a person being good or bad is measured only by his behavior, whether he is obedient or rebellious.  And since most people know how to behave, at least most of the time, we live under the assumption that all people are basically good.  We assume that all people are approved by God, and that only a few have been wicked enough to have earned God's wrath.
     The Lord's judgment, however, is different.  This is what the Lord says: The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)  It is understandable that people assess good and evil based on outward appearances.  That is all we have to go on.  But God is able to peer deeper than that.  As he declared to Samuel: “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  
     The Lord looks into the hearts of people and he sees that the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. (Genesis 8:21)  No one has to teach children to be selfish, to take toys from their playmates, or to lie.  As soon as a toddler is old enough to prove he is a sinner, he does.  And while people learn to become more sneaky with their sins, no one roots them out.  In our hearts we hide feelings of jealousy and bitterness.  We think horrible thoughts about other people, and we smile as we quietly ponder what kind of evil things we wish would happen to them.  We keep an enemy list in our heads, and we make keep track of who has sinned against us so that we will snub them when we get the chance.
     This does not describe felons, but all people, even Christians.  If God is to call you good, it means far more than you have been good most of the time or have done more good than harm.  It means that you do only good all the time.  And no one measures up to that.  Therefore, God's assessment is correct.  The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see...   He has seen, and he has assessed us all: They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)  
     Apart from the Lord there is no good.  There is only guilt and shame and regret and death.  But with the Lord, there is salvation and refuge and even rejoicing.  That is what the Lord revealed when he announced Advent back in the Garden of Eden.  And it is what the penitent prayed for as Advent was awaited.  Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! (Psalm 14:7)   
     Salvation comes from Zion, which is the presence of God.  It is the only place salvation could come from.  We cannot erase our sins.  Hiding our shame does not take it away.  And the burden of regret gets heavier as we dwell on what we could have done better and what we wish we could take back.  The problem is not that we are basically good people who have a few regrets, the problem is that we are corrupt people who are haunted by regrets.  We are all flawed, broken, and hurting.  But the Savior whom the Lord promised promises to remove all this burden and shame from you.  Advent is awaited, and the people who yearn for relief from their sins cry out fervently for the Lord's promised Savior to come.  Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! (Psalm 14:7)   
     Of course, you know the rest of the story.  Jesus has come.  Jesus Christ alone is good—perfectly loving his fellow man in words and actions, perfectly obedient to God's word in doctrine and practice, and perfectly pure in his thoughts and selfless in his motives.  Jesus did not merely put on a good outward show; he outwardly showed his good and pure heart.  And yet, Jesus died as a criminal and under the condemnation of his Father.  That is because he has borne our sin and shame.  He settled the account for all our sins.  His blood was poured out to cleanse our filthy hearts and to cover over all our shame.  Instead of letting us pretend that everything is alright when we know it is not, Jesus pardons us of all guilt.  He does not ignore our sins; he forgives them.  Instead of letting us try to find ways that we can take back our sins, Jesus takes them away.
     The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see that there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)  Therefore, Jesus Christ credits us with his goodness.  He does not command, “Do better!”  Instead, he declares, “I have done it all for you.  The Law has been kept.  The sins have been removed.  It is finished, and it is done for you.”  Therefore, you do not have to wonder if you are good enough for God, or if you have done enough for God.  It is all done.  Jesus brings salvation out of Zion.  He is your refuge in God's judgment.
     Advent is still awaited by us, for we are looking forward to Jesus' return from heaven to deliver us from our struggles to do good and from our continuous battle against our conscience which continually reminds us that we are never good enough.  Therefore, our prayer continues with the Psalm, “Oh that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!” (Psalm 14:7)  For when our Lord comes for us, he will free us forever from the sinful nature that clings to us.  We will finally be free, perfectly free, to live without sin, to speak and act without regrets, and to laugh and think without shame.  We will never be plagued by what we should have done or said or by wishing we could take something back.  Instead, we will be perfected.  We will rejoice in the goodness of God.  He will restore the fortunes of mankind, making us the saints he always intended us to be.  And we will rejoice in it.
     For with the Lord there is refuge and salvation and rejoicing.  Therefore, we flee to the Lord for all things good.  And just as he comes to us now to grant sinners comfort and salvation, so in heavenly bliss he will have us rejoice in his goodness forevermore.

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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 4, 2016)

2 PETER 3:8-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)  John did not suggest even for a moment that there was time for one more fling or for the people to get something out of their system.  John's message was not, “Pretty soon you will have to repent.”  John warned of imminent judgment.  Repent!  Repent now!  Sins cannot be ignored or played with.  They bring judgment.  Judgment is at hand.  Repent!  Repent now!
     About 30 years after John the Baptist preached, Peter was writing his epistle.  He was assuring the Christians who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire that the Lord had not forgotten them.  The day of the Lord would come.  Whatever they were suffering for the sake of Jesus would come to a blessed end.  And like John the Baptist, Peter did not suggest that there was time to be lazy about faith, repentance, and good works.  Not even the suffering they were enduring was a good enough excuse to take a break from serving Christ in words and deeds.  In the case of these Christians, the issue was not that they were dallying in sins; it was making sure that they were not neglecting Christ's gifts or resting from faithful service to him.  This neglect is also sin—not a sin of commission which doing what is evil, but a sin of omission which is failing to do what is good.  St. Peter reminds us that we cannot procrastinate doing what is good, as if there is time to get around to it later.  So Peter's Advent message is the same as John the Baptist's, and it is the same today.  Repent, for the day of the Lord will come.
     John the Baptist preached about 30 AD.  St. Peter wrote his epistles roughly 60 AD.  We are almost 2,000 years removed from those, and the day of the Lord has not yet come.  It tempts all of us to be lax about the Christian faith and to procrastinate with repentance and good works.  Peter himself acknowledges this:  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come... (2 Peter 3:9-10)  
     If history has taught us any lessons, it is that mankind does not take the Lord very seriously.  You can read through your Bible and learn over and over again how people have not feared the Lord or regarded his word.  Take Noah, for example.  Noah preached both by words and actions.  Noah couldn't build an ark that size in secret.  When asked why he was building it, Noah warned the people of God's coming judgment.  But no one feared the Lord.  No one heeded his word.  Despite the ridicule and rejection, Noah continued to faithfully serve in what the Lord had given him to do—both in building the ark and in confessing God's word.  The people would not be bothered with repentance.  They did not take the Lord's judgment seriously.  So, but went on with their lives, both in productive and destructive works—but all without faith.
     If history has taught us any lessons, it is that the Lord is to be taken seriously.  When he gives his Law, he expects it to be obeyed.  Since he is the Lord of all, he expects all to obey it.  And when we sin against the Lord, he follows through on his judgment.  The world was destroyed by a flood in Noah's day, as the people mocked Noah's ark and ignored his preaching.  The Lord's judgment had never been a secret.  And it finally did come, as promised, even when it was not believed.  Likewise, fiery judgment came upon Sodom.  Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and later again by Roman armies.  All were forewarned by the Lord.  Mostly, the word of the Lord was ignored.
     Be mindful of this: The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)  The day of the Lord will come.  Though it delay, wait for it.  The Lord has not forgotten his redeemed, and he is not ignorant of those who mock you for believing his word and living your lives according to it.  And do not forget the Lord's word, lest you too no longer take it seriously.
     The season of Advent is not only a time of waiting for the Lord's return, it is also an illustration of it.  Already, the world parties and celebrates the holidays.  Some do not really even know what they are celebrating.  But who can resist a good, rousing party?  People feast and drink and give themselves to decadence, laughter, and entertainment.  The world throws a good party because it does not believe it has to face judgment.  If you won't take God seriously, why would you care about anything else?
     The Church, however, is not feasting yet.  We are waiting for the coming of the Lord.  The waiting is frustrating because we are eager for Christ to come.  The waiting is hard because when we see so many who don't care, we start to wonder why we do.  But the day of the Lord will come, and it will come with fiery judgment.  It will come with the destruction of the world and it will expose the deeds of all people.  It will come suddenly, and though it is no secret, it will be a surprise to the many who have hear the warnings and laugh at them, who refuse to repent, and who even say they are Christians but procrastinate in their repentance and neglect God's word.
     This sermon has become one of the more dismal ones preached here in recent memory.  But it is good for us to be reminded that fiery judgment is coming on the earth and on those who love it.  God is to be taken seriously.  Therefore, we heed the warnings of John the Baptist and St. Peter: Repent!  Repent now!  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and (striving for) the coming of the day of God...  Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:11-12,14 translation edited by the preacher)  
     If you long to be delivered from the judgment to come, then continue to flee to the one who is our refuge from all judgment—Jesus Christ.  He comes in the word which is preached, declaring to you that Jesus mercifully delivers you from the judgment against you.  He has lived in obedience for us.  He has suffered and died for us to atone for all our sins.  He has covered our sins of omission where we have neglected the word of God and prayer and procrastinated in good works.  He has cleansed us of our sins of commission where were have boldly sinned because we did not think that God would really follow through on judgment.  But God has followed through.  The judgment that stood against us was poured out on Jesus.  He has endured hellish death for us so that we will be granted a blessed death and a good judgment.  Jesus is our Savior from the fiery judgment that is coming upon the earth.  What's more, Jesus not only delivers us from fiery judgment, he delivers us to a blessed heaven.  For, according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)  That is the coming of Jesus which we look forward to.
     Until that day, we wait patiently for our Lord's return.  We fight against temptation, we confess our sins and renounce them, and we amend what we can in our lives and relationships.  Like Noah, we commit ourselves to all that our Lord has given us to do—to prayer, to diligent service, and to confessing the word of the Lord even in the face of ridicule and rejection.  Though the world will not our Lord seriously, we will so that we will not be fall from God's grace and salvation.
     The day of the Lord will come.  Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:14)  In other words, flee to Jesus again and again.  We flee to Jesus for his salvation.  And we become so accustomed to fleeing to Jesus for good things that, while the world weeps and gnashes its teeth at Jesus' return, we will rejoice.  For we know that the Savior who suffered all things in order to save us from a fiery judgment will deliver us to the home of righteousness and will pour out his blessings upon us forevermore.  As John the Baptist and St. Peter urge us, we repent now.  But then, when the day of the Lord comes, we shall feast forevermore.

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: 1st Week (November 30, 2016)


Advent Announced.

In the name + of Jesus.

               Satan is not creative.  He does not need to be.  Every temptation from him echos his first one: “Did God actually say...?” (Genesis 3:1)  The devil was not asking about the Lord's vocabulary or grammar.  He questioned God's love and God's wisdom.  “If God really wants you to be happy, why does he withhold things from you?  If God really loves you, why won't he let you have whatever you want?  Why not think for yourself?  Do what you want!”  With that, he got Adam and Eve to question God's love and wisdom.  With that, he is still effective against us so that we do sins that we know are wrong.  But we do them anyway, because we think that doing them will make us happier.
     Satan is not creative.  He does not need to be.  Satan still leads us into sin because we are sinners.  We have already fallen.  And since we have no strength in ourselves to rally and take our stand against him, he easily knocks us down again.  Satan entices us to believe that sins are good and that God gave his Commandments to squeeze the joy and the fun out of life.  So we go back to our sins, forgetting the regret and the shame that accompanied them before, and foolishly hoping that they will not burden us again.  And if you should not feel any shame over your sins, then be especially afraid—because you are lost.  But whether a person boasts of his sins with braggadocios stories or sits silently in shame because of them, it does not matter.  All are guilty.  We are all worthy of God's wrath.  We have all earned the grave.  We deserve the depraved world we live in, because we have contributed to it.
     Even though Adam and Eve turned their back on God and his word, God did not turn his back on them.  Adam and Eve fled from God in terror, but God sought them in mercy.  As soon as a Savior was needed, the Savior was promised.  Advent was first announced in the Garden of Eden.  The Lord promises the coming Savior.
     It is astounding, though, that when the Lord promised a Savior, he was not speaking to Adam and Eve.  He spoke to Satan.  While Satan was still in the form of a serpent, the Lord declared to him, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  
     Advent was announced.  The Lord told Satan that Satan's victory over mankind would be undone.  And Satan himself would be undone.  The Lord promised our coming Savior with these words: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  (Genesis 3:15)  Satan brought sin into the world by deceiving a woman, but through a woman the Lord would bring the Savior into the world.  Advent is announced: The Seed of the Woman would come to crush the serpent's head.
     The Lord promises our coming Savior.  He spoke to Satan, as if the Lord were saying, “You intended to destroy what I had created.  You seduced them into rebellion and sin.  You corrupted their hearts so that they would always be terrified of the Lord and repulsed by his commands.  You have perverted them so that they will never find peace and joy no matter how fiercely they pursue it in this world.  You have taught them to fill their life with money and goods, knowing that they will end up going to the grave empty-handed.  Your rule over them is always with sin and fear and doubt and death.  And you insist that by infecting them with your deadly venom, they are yours forever and will suffer and die forever.  
     “Satan, that is what you intended, but a Savior will come to crush you and to turn all of your plans to dust.  A Savior will come to set mankind free from sin.  Your most fervent accusations against them will be useless.  All their doubts will be erased and all their uncertainties will be made certain as they take refuge in God's clear words and promises.  Their terror before God will be replaced by the Savior who shows them how dearly God loves them, wants them to be with him, and to receive his blessings forevermore.  To that end, even death will be overcome.  Satan, neither you, nor sin, nor death will ever own them.  For you will lie crushed underfoot.  Your power and your kingdom shall be destroyed, but they—my beloved creatures—they shall live and rejoice.  For, they are not only my created people, they shall be my redeemed people.  For, Advent is announced.  Their promised Savior will come.”
     But of course, there is a price to be paid for salvation.  The enmity between Satan and the woman's Seed would not leave him without scars.  The Lord had foretold it: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  The serpent would sink his teeth into the Savior as he crushed him.  The Savior would take in all the venom Satan had to give.  He would absorb into his body all the sin and shame, all the guilt and regret in the world—even for the people who have no regrets over their sins.  Jesus would take it all, and he would suffer for all—the good and the bad, the Pharisees and the tax collectors, the virgins and the prostitutes, the church-goers and the atheists.  Your Savior would give his life into death to deliver you.
      Advent is announced, and it declares this: Satan cannot harm you anymore.  He will hiss, but his fangs have been kicked in by Jesus.  The serpent has been crushed.  By taking all sin into himself, Jesus has delivered you from guilt and from its judgment.  By dying, Jesus has redeemed you from the grave.  And by rising from the dead, Jesus has burst a hole in the grave so that it can no longer keep its dead.  Advent is announced to reveal that the Father in heaven is most merciful, that he does not delight in the death of the people he has created, and that he has worked salvation for you.  Therefore, you not only have peace of conscience and joy in this still-sin-infected world, but endless peace, joy, and blessing in the perfect glories of heaven.
     Advent is announced.  The Lord promises our coming Savior.  The Lord declares to Satan that his defeat is definite and imminent.  But it was not a private conversation.  The Lord declared this in the ears of the sinners who need that salvation.  Adam and Eve got to hear God's love for them as the Lord announced his plans to destroy the devil, to reconcile the people whom Satan had estranged from God, to redeem them from death, and to rectify the damage Satan has done.  Adam's and Eve's comfort was not from guessing what God might do, but from hearing what God would do.  And he would do it for sinners!  The Lord would restore the Paradise Garden to what he had always intended it to be.  He would fill it with the people he has redeemed.  And he will bring us there to live the life God always intended us to have.
     The defeat God had announced has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  That salvation is announced to you today through God's word.  That promise and proclamation of victory rings not just in Satan's ears, but in yours, too.  This is how Jesus saves you.  He speaks to you so that you will hear and believe, and so that you will be sure of peace, comfort, and joy through Jesus.  Just as the world waited once for the Savior to come, so now we wait for our promised Savior to come once more.  Soon he will deliver us from this world of sorrows to the everlasting joys of heaven.

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

Advent Vespers


It is Advent.  

It is a season of preparation, repentance, and prayer.

With that in mind, Good Shepherd is having mid-week services (we call them "vespers" which is a prayer service) so that we can quietly contemplate the coming of the Savior.  He has come once to save us, and he will come again to deliver us from this sorrowful world to the endless joys of heaven.

Our Advent Vespers will be Wednesdays at 7:00 PM. 

Our theme this year will be:

          The Lord Promises Our Coming Savior.
                    Advent Announced.   (Genesis 3:15)          November 30      
                    Advent Awaited.   (Psalm 14:1-7)      December 7    
                    Advent At Hand.  (Malachi 3:1)      December 14    

To make your attendance as convenient as we possibly can, we will be serving a supper at 6:00 PM.

For one night each week, spend some time not worrying and hustling and bustling.  Here is a quiet hour to hear and remember God's promises to weary and burdened souls.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Advent (November 27, 2016)

ROMANS 13:11-14


In the name + of Jesus.

      St. Paul has good news for you: Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)  Though the Church has been waiting eagerly for centuries, the Lord's return is closer than it has ever been.  Perhaps the Lord's patience is making us impatient.  Perhaps the Lord's patience even has us questioning his faithfulness.  We do not know the day of his return, but we live in the faith which insists that he will return.  The Groom will not forget or forsake his Bride.  Christ will come for his Church.  And that day is nearer now than when we first believed.
     But Jesus' return demands our vigilance.  It means not only praying for Jesus to hasten on his return.  It also means that we persist in faithful service to the Lord until he does return.  Keep watch!  Your salvation draws near.  St. Paul spells what that means in very practical terms.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:12-14)  
     Keep watch.  Your salvation draws near.  It should not be a surprise to you.  Nor should it be a surprise to you will be enticed to forget about the world to come and to embrace the world which is here and now.  And it should not surprise you that you will struggle with your own sinful desires.  Perhaps you are drawn to sexual sins and seek entertainment to gratify those urges.  But those urges never are satisfied; the more they are fed, the hungrier they get.  Perhaps you are drawn to intoxication, preferring to alter your senses with drugs and alcohol than deal with your responsibilities and realities.  Those are sins which people take upon themselves.  While you may be prone to sexual immorality and drunkenness, no one makes you do them.  Those are sins you take into yourself.
     But other sins fester within us.  St. Paul said, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, … not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Romans 13:13)  Bitter feelings arise within us, but we let them take root there.  They only reveal themselves when we tell our friends how we feel, expecting them to support us in our hatred and envy.  And because friends are interested in our happiness rather than our salvation, they assure us that we are right in souring a sibling's happiness, in destroying a co-worker's rapport with fellow workers, or in divorcing a spouse who is never good enough.  St. Paul warns: “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)  It is not that sins catch us by surprise; it is that we make plans to do them and we are comfortable in continuing in them.  Repent.
     Keep watch!  Your salvation draws near.  We pray fervently for our Lord to return in order to deliver us from temptations, from sins, from weaknesses, and from the frustration of dealing with friends who encourage us to neglect the faith, but we should not get the idea that salvation will only be achieved when the Lord returns.  Your Lord comes to you now to deliver salvation to you.
     If you long to be delivered from sin and guilt, then flee to this altar where the body and blood of the Lord are given to penitent sinners.  That body and blood were first given for your sin and guilt at the cross.  Jesus bore your sin in his body, and he gave his body to be wracked with the torment of crucifixion and with the anguish of God’s wrath in order to atone for all your sins.  Jesus shed his blood as the perfect sin offering which covers over your sins.  Salvation has been won by Jesus’ body and blood which were given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Salvation is delivered to you by Jesus' body and blood which are eaten and drunk by you for the forgiveness of sins.  Salvation is also delivered by the words and promises of God which are proclaimed to you, declaring not only that God is merciful, but especially declaring that God is merciful to you.  And if guilt still plagues you, then come to Private Absolution where you are the only you to whom forgiveness is given.  It is not that God will save you someday down the road when he returns.  Jesus saves you now.  Forgiveness is yours now.  His judgment is rendered to you now: You are delivered from sin and death.  You have everlasting life.
     Nevertheless, we pray fervently for Jesus’ return.  For, when he comes, we will be taken to the glories, the peace, and the joys of heaven.  Never again will we worry about struggles against our flesh.  Never again will we have friends who entice us to sin against God with acts revenge inspired by jealousy or with plans which sound brilliant only because they are fueled by alcohol.  Your friends may congratulate you for your sins, but your conscience will condemn you and you will have the bear the guilt for it.
     Keep watch!  Your salvation draws near.  There is no doubt about what Jesus has done to win our salvation.  His sufferings, death, and resurrection have achieved everything for us.  There is no doubt about the salvation Jesus delivers to us.  His forgiveness does not come with strings attached or conditions which have to be met.  The only thing that makes us tremble in regard to our salvation is ourselves.  That is why St. Paul warns: Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:12-14)  We can sabotage our own salvation by taking our sins lightly, by giving into them, by using the Lord’s forgiveness as an excuse to sin all the more, or even by neglecting the word and sacraments which provide our forgiveness.  If you should lose your salvation, it is not because Jesus failed you.  It is because you proved yourself to be faithless with a life that either was given into sin or a life that did not care for the good gifts Jesus gives.
     Therefore, keep watch!  The temptations which come to you are common, and the desire to continue in faithful obedience often grows weak.  In other words, you and I are still sinners.  That is why we continue to flee to Jesus.  Jesus continues to be merciful to us.  He forgives our sins.  He strengthens our faith.  He fills us with the spirit to do what is good and to recognize that sins are not only destructive to our lives, but even to our souls.  So, while doing good works will not save you, refusing to do them will condemn you.
     Keep watch!  Your salvation draws near.  The day is soon coming when these struggles will come to an end.  Now, our lives are lived in humility, in patience, in struggles against temptation, and prayers for mercy and strength.  Advent remains a time of repentance, prayer, and keeping watch.  We strive for godliness, fighting off the lusts of our selfish flesh and rejecting the enticement of worldly immorality.  Now is our time of fasting and keeping watch.  But your salvation draws near.  And when Jesus comes again, we will rejoice and feast and sing.  For, he is the source of our joy and peace.  And he comes soon to bring joy and peace that will not be bothered with struggles, sins, or sorrows.  That deliverance is what we long for and pray for.
     Good news: Your salvation is drawing near.  Therefore, we will keep watch.  We give our attention to Jesus’ words, and we pray for Jesus appearing.  He has saved us, and he will bring his everlasting salvation.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sermon -- Thanksgiving (November 23, 2016)



In the name + of Jesus.

      Have you ever wondered what the world might be like if Satan had complete, unchecked control of it?  You probably would think of a world that is constantly at war.  You would think of marriages falling apart and marriage itself under attack.  You would think of protests, riots, and rebellion against authority.  You would envision many people dying of various diseases, nations suffering from natural disasters, and people at odds over who should receive help and who should not.  In other words, you might envision the world as we know it, but worse.
     The Lord issues a warning with a much different picture.  The Lord does not warn Israel about a world of troubles, but a world of prosperity.  Consider this: If Satan were given unchecked control of the world, there would be no wars on any fronts.  Crops would grow in abundance and no one would be hungry.  The economy would boom.  The abundance of wealth and the lack of war would result in a housing market which allows people to build luxurious homes to live in.  Now, isn't that the exact scenario we pray for and work for?  We yearn for wealth, health, peace, and prosperity.  These are the kinds of blessings which prompt holidays like Thanksgiving.  So what is the problem?  The problem is that Satan warps God's gifts to us.
     The Lord said: “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God....” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14)
     The Lord warned Israel about the danger of peace, prosperity, and wealth.  If the Lord would give all these blessings and all these blessings made life easy for the Israelites, they would quickly forget the Lord.  After all, if everything is going great, who needs the Lord?  They could devote themselves to building up their own worldly kingdoms at the expense of the kingdom of God.  Heed the warning so that you do not go astray.  Remember the Lord your God.
     No matter who you are or what you believe, Thanksgiving is a day to express gratitude that you have received blessings, and that these blessings are gifts.  Even if you insist that you earned your wealth, the Lord notes: Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17)  Even if you did earn your wealth, the Lord gave you the ability to do so and blessed your efforts.  But you and I have not earned God's blessings; they are simply given.  You did not earn your birthday, your parents, your family, your abilities, your interests, sunshine, rain, peace in our land, music, art, pumpkin spice flavor, and so on.  These are gifts that are graciously given, and even the most stiff-necked atheist can appreciate them.  But if this is as far as our Thanksgiving goes, then we are no different from the stiff-necked atheist.
     Remember the Lord your God with thanksgiving.  Listen again to the reasons the Lord gave to Israel why they should remember him.  The Lord is the one “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.” (Deuteronomy 8:14-16)  Four times, the Lord declared his faithful grace to Israel.  The Hebrew accentuates this all the more.  He caused you to go out of the land of Egypt....  He caused you to go through the great and terrifying wilderness....  He caused you to attain water out of the flinty rock....  He caused you to eat in the wilderness....”  The Lord had not only delivered Israel out of Egypt and destroyed their enemies for them, he also sustained them on their way to the Promised Land.  The Lord is the cause for all their blessings.
     It did not matter that the wilderness could not produce crops or supply water to feed them; the Lord miraculously fed them and nourished them.  It did not matter that serpents and scorpions threatened them; the Lord defended them.  The Lord used the impossible situation in the wilderness to highlight that he was the cause of their salvation, their sustenance, their defense, their hope, and their very life.  The only reason Israel survived in the wilderness for forty years is because the Lord was with them to bless and keep them.  For that reason, they should always remember the Lord their God with thanksgiving and with faithful and humble obedience.
     Beware, lest your wealth causes you to forget the Lord's highest blessings.  Yes, the Lord supplies you with all you need to live and more.  He supplies it with abundance and variety.  But these blessings will not save you.  They do not pay for sins.  They cannot bribe the grave.  And no matter what blessings the Lord does give you, they will all pass away.  
     Remember the Lord your God with thanksgiving.  Remember that it is the Lord who saves you and sustains you.  He has caused his Son to come down to earth for sinners.  He has caused your sins to be lifted from you and taken up by Jesus.  He took up your cause, to pay for your sins by his sufferings and death.  And since Jesus has risen from death, the grave now owes Jesus its dead.  The Lord was pleased to cause this gospel to be preached to you so that you know where to find forgiveness for your sins, comfort for your soul, deliverance from death, and assurance of the resurrection to eternal life.  He causes his word to come to you still—whether it is proclaimed mercy in preaching, or it is added to water which has cleansed you of your sin, or it is added to bread and wine so that you can be sustained through this life and delivered safely to the heavenly land.
     Remember the Lord your God with thanksgiving.  For, he causes all things to work for your good and to bring you to everlasting glory.  That is true even in the hardships you face in this life.  It is true especially in the hardships you face in this life.  When your situation seems impossible, it is because you do not have strength to deal with poor health, with faithless friends, with political turmoil, and with death.  It is because God shows you that all earthly blessings—no matter how beneficial or beloved—will finally be lost.  The Lord causes hardships, bitterness, frustrations, and temptations to work for your good.  For, when these come upon you, then all you can do is to pray to God and to cast your cares upon him.  And if that is what it takes to have you call upon God and to cast your cares on him, then the Lord is blessing you when he sends you hardship so that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:16)  
     Remember the Lord your God with thanksgiving.  He is always the cause of your comfort, your hope, your joy, and your salvation.  He is the only cause of your comfort, your hope, your joy, and your salvation.  This life with its disappointments and even with its blessings will come to an end.  Life with Jesus Christ will not.  When disappointments invade your life, you learn that the only comfort that matters is what Jesus supplies.  Remember the Lord your God who alone forgives all sins, who alone gives you eternal life, who alone promises you glory which will not be destroyed or be devalued.
     What would this world look like if Satan had unbridled control of it?  That doesn't matter, because he does not.  Jesus has delivered you from your enemy.  He lives and reigns to defend you from every enemy of salvation and to preserve your life in the midst of sin, death, and the devil.  We give thanks to God for whatever gifts he is pleased to give us.  We use them to honor God and to serve our neighbor.  For, we know that we are merely passing through this world, more eager to receive the kingdom that God has promised us than building up our little kingdoms in this world.  Therefore, we flee to Jesus who sustains us every day and will finally deliver us to the perfect and endless blessings of heaven.

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