Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Epiphany (January 31, 2016)

LUKE 4:1-12


In the name + of Jesus.

     In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul wrote, “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)  These words serve as a powerful warning for us.  While it is important to cling to the word of God and to not yield even an inch of compromise regarding God's word, such faithfulness is useless if we have neither love nor compassion for our neighbor.  Our job is not to hoard God's truth, but in love to declare it.  In the process, we will declare God's love to people whose sins are so evident and so prevalent that people might think we are insane to tell such messed-up, self-destructive, and self-deluded people about God's forgiveness in Jesus.  And our own congregation might become much more messy by inviting such sinners into our midst.  But Jesus' grace is dangerous.  It means that we will deal with messed up people and their messy lives.  But that is good, because Jesus loves such people, and they need Jesus.
     Jesus went to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth to preach the word.  After Jesus read from Isaiah, he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:20,22)  In other words, Jesus was declaring, “I am the fulfillment of the Scriptures.  I am the one God promised.  I have come to redeem, to restore, and to reconcile.  There is no Messiah, no salvation, and no life apart from me.”  The people in Nazareth did not misunderstand.  They recognized exactly what Jesus had claimed.  Their pride in the hometown boy turned quickly into outrage.
     Jesus knew that his fellow Nazarenes would demand that he back up his claims.  He said to them,“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” (Luke 4:23)  It was not enough that they knew Jesus had done miraculous signs; they would demand to see them personally.  They felt that they had a right to Jesus' miracles and a greater claim on Jesus' ministry.  After all, they were his family and friends in Nazareth.  Surely that earned them something!
     But the kingdom of God is not about favoritism.  Jesus does everything based on grace.  But Jesus' grace is dangerous, because it demands that all people be treated as equals.  Therefore, Jesus highlighted two Old Testament examples of God's grace.  One was when Elijah was sent to the widow of Zarephath during a famine.  God could have sent Elijah to any number of widows in Israel to aid them.  Instead, God showed favor on a widow from Sidon.  Likewise, the prophet Elisha could have cleansed any number of lepers in Israel.  Instead, he cleansed a Syrian called Naaman.
     The people in Nazareth were outraged by Jesus' examples of grace.  They would have claimed, “Foreigners!?  Gentiles?!  They do not deserve God's grace!”  And that is true.  They didn't.  The problem was that the people of Nazareth believed that they did.  They were the chosen people of God.  They had the covenant.  Jesus was their kin.  How could Jesus suggest that they did not deserve God's grace?!  It is because no one deserves grace.  Jesus' grace is dangerous that way.
     We have a similar lack of compassion for people who do not deserve God's grace.  We are all familiar with people who have made a royal mess of their lives.  Often, it is because of self-inflicted stupidity or self-indulgent moral failings.  Con artists, alcoholics, and pedophiles made choices which led to their ruin.  Co-workers are ostracized because they can't keep their mouths shut.  Or they are fired because they slanderous their boss on Facebook.  They paid the price for their lack of self control, and few people feel sorry for them.  They have messed up their lives.  They don't deserve God's grace.  They have earned his wrath.
    It is true: Sinners who have so brazenly proven themselves to be sinners don't deserve God's grace.  But like the people of Nazareth, we believe we do.  We have behaved better.  We have been in church.  We have kept ourselves out of the doghouse, or at least out of jail.  And we believe that should be worth something.  But if you pray that God will reward you for your deeds, then be warned: God will.  God will give you what you have earned.  You will be judged for putting sinners into categories of those who don't deserve God's grace and those who do.  And, of course, you have categorized yourself as better and, therefore, deserving.  But the kingdom of God is not based on favoritism.  It is based on grace.  And Jesus' grace is dangerous.  It demands that all people be treated equally—as sinners.
     The people of Nazareth were so incensed that Jesus would put them on par with Gentile lepers and foreign widows that they prepared to throw Jesus off a cliff.  But this was not Jesus' hour.  So, passing through their midst, he went away. (Luke 4:30)  Jesus would not die on a hill at Nazareth.  Jesus would die on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
     Jesus' grace may be dangerous because it forces you to acknowledge that you are a poor, miserable sinner who has earned nothing but wrath.  But this is what Jesus preached on in that synagogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)  Jesus comes for poor, miserable sinners.  So, if you recognize that you are a sinner, then here is your good news: Jesus comes for you.
     Jesus comes with grace for you.  The very definition of grace is that Jesus gives you what you do not deserve.  He fulfills God's word which tells us that God does not treat us as our sins deserve.  Rather than repay us with the punishment we deserve, Jesus has taken our punishment for us.  Jesus humbled himself to counter the ways we have exalted ourselves.  Jesus groaned under God's anger for the times we have prided ourselves on our good deeds.  Jesus was condemned for all of our sins, because all our sins are worthy of condemnation.  In turn, Jesus gives us his righteousness, his blessing, and his salvation.  These are the gifts he gives to us—not because we have earned them, but because he is gracious to us.  And Jesus is not only gracious to us.  Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  It is not because the world deserves it; it is because the world needs it.  Jesus has been gracious by paying for the sins of all.
     Jesus' grace is dangerous because it makes all people the same.  No one deserves God's favor.  Yet, God has revealed his favor to all people through Jesus Christ who has redeemed sinners.  He does not treat us as our sins deserve.  Instead, Jesus gives you what you do not deserve—forgiveness of your sins and eternal life.
     Jesus' grace is also the reason that we can live dangerously in loving the unlovable and in proclaiming his forgiveness even to them.  Yes, there are many who have made a mess of their lives.  But Jesus Christ can cleanse even the worst of sinners.  That his grace.  No one deserves it, and yet, God gives it.  As we proclaim it, there will always be some who say in disgust, “I can't believe that God would love them.”  But there will be others who marvel, “I can't believe that God would love me.”  And in righteous humility, you get to marvel with them and confess, “Yes, he does.  He even loves me, too.”

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

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Church Painting

We are in the process of sprucing up the church a bit.  Phase 1 is putting a new coat (or three in some cases) of paint in the church.  Some photos below.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sermon -- Festival of St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor (January 24, 2016)

2 TIMOTHY 1:1-7


In the name + of Jesus.

     If you ever wondered where pastors come from, St. Timothy and his family give you a good example.  Rarely does a man become a pastor because he made a deal that, if God would rescue him from shark-infested waters or a foxhole, then he would become a pastor.  Men usually renege on those deals as soon as they are safe.  Timothy was neither in peril at sea or on the battlefield.  Timothy was at home.  Timothy's father was not a believer, but his grandmother and his mother were.  They taught Timothy the Scriptures even from infancy.  They taught Timothy to pray.  They took him to the synagogue.  Lois and Eunice took great pains to make sure that Timothy knew not only what the word of God was, but also that it was important.  It was through his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, that Timothy was being prepared for the holy ministry.  They prepared the next generation for the work of the Lord—though I doubt they thought that they were.
     The first we hear of Timothy was on Paul's second missionary journey when he stopped in Lystra, which is in modern-day Turkey.  Timothy was a disciple, and the other believers spoke well of him.  St. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him and, in essence, be the seminary at which Timothy would learn to become a pastor.  It is hard to know just how long Timothy, Lois, and Eunice had actually known Paul.  Even if they had met Paul on his first missionary journey, their personal interaction with Paul could be measured in weeks.  Nevertheless, Timothy joined Paul and Silas on that missionary journey, and he remained Paul's protege, and later fellow pastor, for the rest of his life.
     As remarkable as it was for Timothy to go with Paul, I am even more amazed at the willingness of Lois and Eunice to let him go.  When Hannah had vowed to give her son, Samuel, to the Lord, she at least knew that he would reside with the high priest at the tabernacle.  Eunice kissed her son good-bye, having no idea where he would be going next.  In fact, not even St. Paul could have told her.  She only knew that she would see her son rarely, if even ever again.  She had raised Timothy and taught him that the word of the Lord was important.  In fact, it was all that mattered.  And now she entrusted her son to St. Paul to preach that word wherever they would go.  With great courage, she presented her son to be a pastor who would preach the word.  It was work that had to be done, for the word is important.  It is all that matters.  It is all that saves.
     Now, I loathe to talk about myself in sermons.  You should hear and learn about Jesus, not me.  Still, I was once asked what made me become a pastor.  Well, get ready for one of the more boring stories you will ever hear.  There was no foxhole, no shipwreck, not even a lightning bolt.  What I had were parents to whom the word of God was important.  I had parents who took me to church.  We never had discussions on Saturdays about what we might want to do the next day.  We always knew.  We went to church.  That's because the word of God was important.  It was all that mattered.  After years of attending a Lutheran grade school and high school, I went to college to study for the ministry.  It was not a burning desire.  I actually decided I would study to be a pastor until I knew I did not want to be one.  Years later, here I am.  I am sure my parents were similar to Lois and Eunice, preparing the next generation for the work of the Lord, but never thinking that they were.
     Now, not every boy will become a pastor.  But if you want to prepare the next generation for the Lord, then devote yourselves to being parents and grandparents like Lois and Eunice.  It is not as hard as you think.  It is simply a matter of bringing your family to church.  Even when your children are grown, encourage them to continue going to church.  You get to continue to highlight by your words and actions that this is important, and that God's word is all that matters.
     I think it I safe to say that parents want what is best for their children.  What do they pray for?  They want their children to be healthy and happy.  They want their children to have lots of friends.  They want their children to prosper and to succeed.  Do you know who prays for that?  Everybody.  It doesn't matter if the parents are Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, or atheists, all parents want these things for their children.  But as nice as these blessings are, none of them will forgive a single sin or deliver anyone from death.
     Your sinful nature will give you every reason to neglect that work.  To make your children happy, you may be inclined to give them whatever they want.  If they would rather go fishing than go to church, you will argue that fishing will make them happier.   If my kids are happier, then they will like me more and complain less, which only makes things easier for me—which means it is more about making yourself happy.  Your own flesh will also insist that sleep is more valuable than the Lord's gifts.  You may claim that Sunday is your day (“Family day” sounds even better!), not the Lord's day.  But understand this: The pattern you set will teach your children what matters and what is important.  If you present church as merely an option, they will learn than Jesus is optional.  And the world will assure them that there are better options.
     Prepare the next generation for the Lord.  We have not only the duty but the privilege of demonstrating to our children, grandchildren, friends, and neighbors that the word of the Lord is important.  It is all that matters.  And the reason is matters is because the Lord Jesus Christ has shown us just how much we matter to him.  Even though we have been lukewarm toward his word and have considered faithful, godly living a burden, Jesus has not regarded us as a burden.  On the contrary, he came to lift the burden of our sins off of us.  He took the wrath of God upon himself which we had fully deserved.  Our love for God is often fickle, but Jesus' love for us is constant.  That love is declared in Jesus' sufferings and death for us.  Jesus died for sinners, took the curse for sinners, and poured out his holy, precious blood to pay the price for sinners.  And even though we do not always show appropriate thanks to him with joyful obedience, Jesus still does not turn his back on us.  We still matter to him.  He who rose from the dead still lives to intercede for us and to proclaim his mercy and forgiveness upon us.  He promises that we, too, shall rise from the grave as he did, and we shall dwell in the glories of heaven with him.  That is how important we are to him.  We matter to him.
     Prepare the next generation for the Lord.  They will grow up to see a world that is not faithful.  They will learn that friends—even spouses--can turn against you, that promises are not always kept—and can even be outright lies, and that for all the world entices you with, the only guarantee the world makes is for disappointment and death.  Prepare the next generation for the Lord so that they know and trust the Savior who never turns away, whose promises are always kept, and who guarantees eternal life and everlasting joy.  Jesus does this because you are important to him.  You are what matters to him.  And so he continues to pour out his blessings upon you week after week because you need them.
     Prepare the next generation for the Lord.  When St. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, he was on death row.  He knew that he was about to die for preaching the gospel.  He encouraged Timothy to boldly and faithfully continue in that preaching.  Though death would separate them in this world for a time, they would enjoy a blessed reunion in heaven with Jesus; for nothing can separate us from his love.
     You also, remain firm, bold, and faithful in Christ, and encourage the next generation to do the same.  Your children are the only blessings God gives you in this world which you can see in heaven.  If it is important for you to see them there, then prepare them for the Lord and encourage them to continue in what you have taught them.  No matter what valuable lessons you teach them in this life, most are only for this life.  But it is only the holy Scriptures which make you wise for salvation and which bring comfort to you in this frustrating world.  And it is only Jesus, though his word and sacraments, which saves you.  That is important, and it is all that matters.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Pastoral Concern -- Prayer for the gift of life and protection of the unborn


          For 43 years (as of January 22), abortion has been legal in America.  Many consider it a right.  Some even boast of it, as if the death of an unborn child is something to be celebrated and championed.  It is a disgusting evil, and it is equally disgusting that it is defended and supported by so many.  If you happen to have stumbled across this little blog and are one of them, repent.  Please.
          For those who are seeking comfort or support from the bitterness and scars (particularly the mental and spiritual anguish of post-abortion distress) caused by abortion, you can contact any number of Pregnancy Counseling centers.  You can check out the Redford Pregnancy Counseling Center in Redford, MI  (west suburban Detroit, 24-hour hotline is posted on the web page).  You can also find information about pro-life issues at Christian Life Resources.  But if you are truly grieved by your guilt, please go to a pastor for confession and absolution.  Jesus has paid for all sins, and there is no need to have to bear the burden of guilt and shame--even for abortion.
          In recognition of the dark day on which Roe v. Wade decision was made (Jan. 22, 1973), this litany is offered for your use, whether personal or congregational.  If memory serves, I drafted this, so there are no copyright issues.  If I actually did borrow it from another source, I will update this post and state where I got it from if/when I found out.
          Kyrie, eleison.  Lord, have mercy!

A Litany for the Gift of Life 
and for the Protection of the Unborn

P: Almighty and eternal God, you have created this world and all of us in it.  We praise you, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Lead all people everywhere to see that you are our Maker and that we are the work of your hands so that all would consider human life to be sacred.  Protect and defend all to whom you give life, whether born or unborn, until that day when you take our life from us again.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Heavenly Father, you do not delight in the death of the wicked, but that all would turn from their evil ways and live.  Keep us from evil, and forgive us our sins.  Strengthen us to proclaim your Law and to warn those who would continue in their sins.  At this time, we especially pray that you would help us to warn those who continue in the sin of abortion.  Work mightily through your word to bring to repentance all who seek, provide, or support these willful acts of murder.  Change the hearts of people who see this wrong and dare to call it a right, and who are so blind to call good what is evil.  We ask not only that our nation may be cleansed of this heinous sin, but also that you turn all people from their evil ways so that they would live.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Lord of the nations, you have given authority to the governments of this world to bring order and protection and to punish the wrongdoer.  We pray for our rulers that they would act responsibly in their positions over us.  Cause the leaders of our nation to restore justice for the unborn, who are being oppressed and killed.  Grant our President wisdom and courage to speak out against abortion.  Guide our legislators to propose, support, and pass laws that would protect the life of all people, whether unborn, elderly, frail, defenseless, or handicapped.  Move our judges to do your will in all cases which decide life and death.  Teach all rulers to despise what is evil and to cling to what is good.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Heavenly Father, you have commanded us to live chaste and decent lives.  Bring all people to recognize the virtue of chastity, to exercise self-control over their sexual impulses, to honor marriage, and to keep the marriage bed pure so that every pregnancy is a cause for joy rather than regret.  Teach husbands and wives to regard children as a reward to be cherished and not a burden to be avoided.  Grant to all pregnant women, according to your mercy, a happy result in their childbearing.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P:   Merciful Father, we thank you for the mercies you have bestowed upon us through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Many still bear the guilt, the shame, and the scars from sins they have committed against you.  Reveal to fearful sinners your mercies through the sufferings and death of your Son, Jesus Christ – whose body was cut, abused, and pierced to pay for sin, whose life was given up for the benefit of all, and whose blood was shed to cover over our guilt and shame.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Gracious Redeemer, you have called us to be the salt of the earth that this world might be preserved from greater wickedness.  Grant that more people will take your word to heart so that they will not sin by killing their children.  Bless those who work in our Pregnancy Counseling Centers so that they may faithfully speak your word to those who come to them.  Let the fear of your wrath crush those who plot wickedness, and let your forgiveness deliver the penitent from damnation and despair.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

P: Gracious Redeemer, you have called us to be lights to the world.  Embolden us to bring your word to those around us.  Strengthen each of us so that, by our words, deeds, and prayers, we may truly be little christs to this world – doing your will, defending the helpless, aiding the needy, standing by the lonely, comforting the fearful, holding on to your truth, upholding your glory, and demonstrating your love.  Lord, in your mercy,
C: Hear our prayer.

Other intercessions may be offered.

P: Heavenly Father, we bring all of our petitions and intercessions to you, trusting that you will hear and act for our good, according to the promises of your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we join to pray….


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 17, 2015)

JOHN 2:1-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. (John 2:11)  Jesus had been invited with his mother and with his disciples to rejoice at the union of a groom and his bride.  It was a time of great joy and celebration.  In our day, a marriage feast lasts for a few hours.  The marriage feast Jesus attended could have lasted up to a week.  During that week, the groom would provide food and drink for all of his guests.
     During that week in Cana, they ran out of wine.  No wine means no feast.  It means that the guests get sent home early, some of them disgusted, all of them disappointed.  The groom would have been greatly ashamed for failing to provide what was needed.  Meanwhile, the mother of Jesus recognized the problem, and she knew the one who could provide a solution.  Mary came to Jesus with her petition.  It was an implied prayer, for Mary did not tell Jesus what to do.  She merely told Jesus the problem: “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4)  Jesus was not being rude to his mother.  He was simply letting her know that it was not his time now.  In John's Gospel, Jesus' hour always has to do with his death.  It was not about alleviating the embarrassment of a young couple.  If that's all this was about, Jesus could have told everyone, “Quick, everyone, run home and grab a bottle of something and bring it back.”  That would have solved the problem and could have demonstrated the love of the community for each other.  But that is not why St. John records this.  The height and depth of Jesus' glory would be revealed by his death.  At Cana's wedding banquet, Jesus showed that he would supply a greater banquet.  Mary believed that Jesus would be merciful and would supply what was lacking.  So she said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:4)
     It apparently did not take long for Jesus to act.  He told the servants to fill the stone jars with water.  The guests had all purified themselves, so the water jars were empty.  The servants filled them to the brim, and from that water Jesus supplied what was best.  Jesus said to them,“Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  So they took it.  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine.  But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:8-10)  Jesus supplies what is best.
     This is what Jesus always does.  He always supplies what is lacking and he supplies it with what is best.  What is lacking in us is righteousness.  To be clear, this is not a matter of us being pretty good people, but not as good as God demands.  You are either righteous or you are not.  At Cana, they were not running out of wine or down to the cheap stuff.  They were out.  There was none.  And so it is with our righteousness.  We have none.  God has commanded us to be holy as he is holy.  It is still what he expects us to live up to every day.  But we prove ourselves to be lacking in this righteousness every day.  The blemishes of sin are on us.  We are like the hapless groom at the wedding at Cana.  We know what our responsibilities are.  We may have been put forth a decent effort to meet our responsibilities.  But, to our shame, we have come up short.  We have not served our neighbors as we ought.  We have not even loved our loved ones as we ought.  We are quick to find fault and slow to forgive.  Love covers over a multitude of sins, but we demonstrate our perverse pride by highlighting others' faults rather than graciously overlooking them or forgiving them.  These are the signs of hearts that do not have the righteousness God demands.  No wine in Cana meant no feast.  No righteousness in us means no peace with God, and no place at the heavenly feast.  Repent.
     But Jesus supplies what is lacking.  Jesus supplies what is best.  It is clear that the shortage of wine was not Jesus' problem.  Neither was Jesus obligated to fix the problem.  But Jesus demonstrated his amazing mercy in supplying what was best.  In fact, Jesus' miracle atoned for the groom's failings.  The master of the banquet pulled the groom aside and asked him why he had saved the best wine for later.  The groom was credited for something he did not do.
     Jesus does the same for you and me.  We are not righteous, but Jesus supplies what is lacking.  Jesus supplies what is best.  He supplied the perfect, obedient life that God demands of us.  His perfect love was evident in everything he did.  But Jesus credits us for his perfect life.  He has purified us in waters of baptism, cleansing us of every blemish of sin.  In baptism, Jesus has clothed us in garments of salvation.  Heaven is the wedding feast of the Lamb, and the Lord Jesus has clothed us in those wedding garments so that we will feast with him at that wedding banquet forever.  The Lord does not see us as people who fail, falter, or fall short.  He sees us as beautiful and blameless and without blemish.  Jesus supplies what is best.
    St. John wrote about Jesus' changing water into wine, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)  Though Jesus revealed his glory, for the most part it went unnoticed.  The groom did not know where the wine had come from.  The master of the banquet did not know where the wine had come from.  The guests might not even have known they had run out.  The only ones who truly knew that a miracle had taken place were the servants.  The servants only did what Jesus had told them.  They took the water which Jesus had blessed, they went at Jesus' command, and they gave what was best to the people at the feast.
     Jesus still does the same today.  And again, Jesus' glory is practically unnoticed in what he gives to us.  We have set aside bread and wine for a sacred purpose. Jesus' words will be added to them.  His servant will distribute them according to Jesus' command, and the guests at the feast will receive what is best.  Here you will find Jesus revealing his glory to you.  For the Bible assures us, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  Jesus' death is the hour in which he truly revealed his glory; for, that is where he has made the payment for all our sins.  He does not merely alleviate embarrassment; Jesus covers over a multitude of sins with his holy blood.  Here, what Jesus gave into death to pay for our sins, he gives us to feast on for the forgiveness of our sins.  This is the feast that will sustain you until the Lord brings you into the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.  Even though you and I do not have the righteousness we need, Jesus supplies us with what we are lacking.  Jesus supplies what is best.
     “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” (John 2:11)  It began at a wedding feast, and it will culminate at a wedding feast.    At the wedding feast of the Lamb, we will see Jesus in all his glory, and we will feast with him forever.  Until then, we come to the altar for the feast which he already supplies on earth.  This is where we partake of Jesus' glory.  This is where we receive his best gifts.

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

Sunday, January 10, 2016

MLS Basketball -- Hard Lessons from Hard Games

This past week, Michigan Lutheran Seminary boys' basketball teams found themselves in games that went into double overtime.  In both cases, they lost.  The JV Cardinals lost on Monday, January 4 to Carrollton, and the Varsity Cardinals lost on Friday, January 8 at St. Louis, 57-55.

After both games, Cardinal players and coaches were agitated by the results for various reasons.  Of course, everyone (fans included) replayed the games and considered missed opportunities.  One more made free throw.  One more converted lay-up.  One jump shot that could have gone in.  One rebound that went to the opponent resulting in one more chance which they converted or in one more chance that we did not get.  In a games that go 4 full quarters and then two more periods of 4 minutes each, there is a lot to replay.  Many opportunities made and missed.

While the winning team can bask in victory and review whatever play was deemed the game winner, the losing team recounts dozens of moments that could have swung the result the other way.  One more free throw, and we don't even go to overtime.  One more rebound, and we avoid double-overtime.

Even though all the "ifs" are true (IF we had done this, ....  IF we had not done that, .....), it is important to remember that the "ifs" go both ways.  IF we had missed one more free throw, we go home earlier and no happier.  IF we had coughed up one more turnover, we don't even see overtime.  IF there had been one more mistake, we get no more chances to have just one more chance.

Hard losses are hard to take.  We blame someone else.  We blame ourselves.  That's easy, and it does not fix anything.  Sometimes you just lose.  That happens, and you don't have to like it.

It has been said that you learn more about yourself from losing than from winning.  That's probably true.  You find out where your level of determination lies.  Is it worth pursuing excellence when your pursuit has not had excellent results?  Winning makes such a pursuit easy.  It is not so easy when you lose.  It is easy to play sports when you win, because winning is fun.  Losing isn't.

But throughout life, we strive for excellence and work hard for a reward.  Sometimes, that reward does not come, even after an excellent effort.  You don't have to like that, either.  But there is great honor in the striving, the struggling, and the pursuit when results make it hard.  There is nobility in pressing on when circumstances are pressing against you.  It is God-pleasing to pursue excellence and to make the valiant effort no matter what the results, especially when the results are disappointing.

Next week, the Cardinal basketball teams will take to the floor again.  Next week, they will put forth a valiant effort.  They will strive, and they will give their best.  That's what we teach them to do.  If the scoreboard reflects a favorable result from their efforts, all the better.  But even if it doesn't, the greater honor will be in the valiant effort.

"IF" ponderings are about the final score, not the effort or the people.

Go Cardinals!

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after Epiphany / Baptism of our Lord (January 10, 2015)

LUKE 3:15-17,21-22


In the name + of Jesus.

     At the beginning of every service, we invoke the name of our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is that name into which we were baptized.  It is in that name that our lives as Christians began.  At our baptisms, God washed us clean of our sins and adopted us into his family.  So, we now bear the family name—Christian.  It is by holy baptism that the Lord Jesus Christ has united us to himself.  If we are united to Jesus, then all that is his he gives to us—everlasting righteousness, victory over sin and Satan, deliverance from death and the grave, and a glorious resurrection to eternal life.  Baptism means unity with Jesus.
     In Luther's Small Catechism, we are instructed to make remembrance of our baptism every day.  The Catechism states, “In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father, Son +, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  Making the sign of the cross accentuates your connection to Jesus and his cross.  While you don't have to make the sign of the cross on yourself, you certainly should not despise it.  That sign was first made upon you when you were baptized and when you were marked with the Triune name.  Making the sign of the cross is a worthy reminder that you are baptized and, therefore, are united to Jesus and a recipient of all his gifts.  This daily remembrance of your baptism is a tremendous comfort.  It reminds you of whose you are, and it is a proper motivation to remember for whom you live as you are about to get on with the tasks of the day.  Baptism means unity with Jesus in every aspect of your life.
     Today, our Gospel has us remember not our baptism, but Jesus' baptism.  Perhaps we don't give as much attention to Jesus' baptism because it doesn't make sense to us that Jesus should be baptized.  Jesus is righteous.  One who is holy does not need cleansing.  Jesus not only kept the Law, he has also been entrusted with enforcing it and judging us according to it.  John the Baptist testified that Jesus was coming in fiery judgment: “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16-17)  The fact that the holy Messiah was about to break into their world should have struck fear into them so that they would repent.  That's why John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing—so that they would not fall under his judgment.
     John was not wrong to preach repentance and judgment.  The coming of Jesus indeed comes with judgment.  Whoever does not repent will be lost forever.  When Jesus comes again, he will judge the living and the dead.  Our creed confesses this correctly, and we do well to take it to heart.  We, too, fall under God's judgment.  Baptism does not excuse us from good works.  On the contrary, it sets us apart for good works.  We cannot live as though what we do does not matter because we are Christians.  In fact, the Bible declares: “It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And 'If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'” (1 Peter 4:17-18)
     When Jesus came to be baptized by John, he was anything but fiery or vengeful.  He even seemed to fly in the face of John's warnings.  He did not excoriate people for their sins; rather, he joined with them in being baptized.  When we were baptized, Jesus united us to him.  But when Jesus was baptized, he united himself to us.  Baptism means unity with Jesus.
     Dear Christians, you have been united with Jesus in your baptism.  This is how you escape the fiery judgment that is to come.  For, the waters of baptism douse the fires of hell and quench the burning wrath of God.  This is all because Jesus has united himself to you in his baptism.  By submitting himself to a sinner's baptism, Jesus put himself in the place of sinners.  Jesus united himself to all mankind.
     Baptism means unity with Jesus.  He has made himself one with us to take up our cause.  The man, Jesus Christ, has done the work which God commands every man to do—perfect obedience to the Law.  At Jesus' baptism, the Father in heaven declared that Jesus had done exactly that.  God cannot be pleased with anything that is short of his own holiness.  God is not pleased with anything that is evil, corrupt, or crooked.  Therefore, his verdict on Jesus is significant: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)  Though the first man did not obey God's commands, and no man has since, this man has.  Jesus of Nazareth had earned God's favor by his perfect obedience to him.
     That perfect obedience continued in Jesus all the way to the cross.  There, he selflessly laid down his life for sinners.  Jesus put himself under God's fiery judgment and was scorched in the heat of divine wrath.  He suffered for sinners because he had united himself to sinners and stood in our place.  The man, Jesus, bled and died for us.  But since Jesus is also God, his sufferings and death count for us all.  It is Jesus' blood which has satisfied God's anger and have lifted God's curse.
     What Jesus did at the cross is a historical event from almost 2,000 years ago.  But the way God delivers that payment to you now is through his word and sacraments.  You were united with Jesus in holy baptism.  In holy baptism you were cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Holy Baptism is, as St. Paul describes it, the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)  It is your new birth into the family of God.  It is how the Lord has given you new life, that is, regeneration, so that you are no longer dead in sin, enslaved to Satan, and bound to death and the grave.  Now you are free.  If Satan every accuses you of your sins, you can flee to your baptism for refuge.  If you ever fear death, you can flee to baptism for your refuge.  You can boast, “I am baptized.  I am united with Jesus.  Where he has victory, I have victory.  My sins have been paid for.  My death has been undone.  My place is with Jesus who lives and reigns in heaven.  Therefore, nothing can condemn me; for I am a child of God.”  And if you are in the family of God, then you also bear the family traits—you are holy and blameless in the sight of God.  You love what is good and right, and you abhor whatever perverts God's good gifts.  And since baptism unites you with Jesus, you also have received the same verdict as Jesus: “You are my beloved children; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22, paraphrased)  
     Baptism means unity with Jesus—who for us men and for our salvation Jesus Christ became man (Nicene Creed), and who for us men and for our salvation, this man was baptized.  He has taken up all our sin in his baptism so that he could bestow all his righteousness on us in our baptisms.
     And this is why the Catechism urges you to make daily remembrance of your own baptism.  It is where God has set you apart from the death and destruction that is coming upon the world.  It is where Jesus has delivered you from the curse and condemnation which sinners deserve.  It is where Jesus has set you apart for godly living, and it is how Jesus enables you to serve the Lord without fear.  Yes, you were set apart for godly living, but you are not trying to earn the Lord's favor through your godly lives.  Rather, you have the Lord's favor because you are now his children.  Baptism unites you with Jesus, so, when you were baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on you, and the Father is well pleased with you.

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

MLS Basketball -- vs. Carrollton

It looks like the trips to the Michigan Lutheran Seminary basketball games will be few this year due to conflicting schedules.  But this week appears to be quite promising for catching both JV and Varsity contests.

Below are some photos from the JV game vs. Carrollton from Monday (Jan 4) and from the varsity game at Carrollton on Tuesday (Jan 5).  The JV came up short, losing in double overtime.  The varsity ramped up their efforts in the second half, playing some very good defense especially in the 4th quarter to take a 59-53 victory home.  [Update:  This M-Live article says the final score was 59-56, but I am certain the scoreboard at the end said 59-53.]

Photos below.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Schroeder Christmas Letter -- 2015

I always have the intention of getting our Christmas letter out before Christmas, but then duties trump that.  Anyway, here is the year-end review from 2015.  Enjoy!

Only a week remains to be seen
To wrap of the year of two-thousand-fifteen.
So we shall engage in our regular manual
To summarize what happened in this last annual.

God is always good, so we need not complain.
He has sustained and blessed us this year again.
We are pleased to inform you, as another year goes,
Our joys have far outweighed our sorrows.

Laura continues to track her blood platelet count
And gets checked to learn the platelet amount.
Whether low or high—we can never be certain,
But hospital stays have become quite rare.

Laura still teaches K through 2nd grade.
Her love for her class is always displayed.
She finds time to see our kids in their busy-ness.
She cares for our house and does not get enough rest.
We learned that her life will soon take a new track.
St. Peter’s Lutheran School will not be back.
They voted to close it, which will happen in June.
We pray God will direct our direction, and soon.

Good Shepherd continues to open its doors
For sinners who crave the mercy God pours.
Tom preaches, teaches, communes, and absolves
And does whatever the ministry involves.

He keeps up his blog, you can follow along
He likes to take photos of the kids in action
Which provides him with a healthy distraction. 

Martin Luther College is where you will find
Faith in her third year exercising her mind.
She also works her legs, arms, back, and hands
Playing basketball with some of her best friends.
She was the nanny for two boys in the summer past.
She’s gone to friends’ weddings and had quite a blast.
She loves to come home and spend time with Peter.
She is now 21; toast her with a margarita.

In late October, Faith and we had a discussion.
A car crash had given her a nasty concussion.
Though it totaled the car, Faith was not at blame.
And God is so good—his guardian angels came.

One year at MLC for Nathanael was enough.
He likes to be closer to all the family stuff.
He now attends Saginaw Valley State U.
And Charli is attending there with him, too!

For over four years, a steady couple they have been
They went to Ford Field and saw that “Hail Mary” win.
He still does lawn service for his summer employment.
He wishes he had a car for driving enjoyment.

Andrew is a senior; MLS days are fleeting.
Each season is the last of his high school competing.
Last season, basketball wins made his season quite fun.
MLS went far in their team’s playoff run.
In football camps, he had hoped to turn heads,
But he ended up with a cracked rib instead.
He healed up and played games quite stout
At safety; also QB, and later wide out.

The Cardinal team notched a 10-2 slate.
Andrew got honors from team, conf, and state.
He sings in the choir and last spring went on tour.
He’ll graduate in May, at least we’re pretty sure!

Caleb is a Cardinal at MLS.
He is a sophomore and continues to impress.
He is getting good grades, his GPA’s high.
It sounds like Caleb is a popular guy

Driver’s Ed. this past summer was part of the plan.
He has his permit and likes to drive when he can.
Caleb straps on headphones and blocks the world out.
Caleb’s the quietest of the kids, no doubt.
Caleb played football for the JV squad.
Some catches at receiver had the crowds awed.
This winter JV basketball is what he’s got
Where he drives to the hoop or blocks someone’s shot.

Philip has had quite a year to remember
With a Packer game at Lambeau back in September.
The NFL game was an experience glorious,
And it helped that the Green and Gold came out victorious.

Philip is at St. Peter’s and in his final grade.
One more year of Eagles basketball to be played.
He knows MLS comes after his graduation.
He also anticipates a May confirmation.

After long years of waiting, Philip is no longer vexed.
He just got a phone to make calls and to text.
He lives with his iPod and WiFi access.
As far as his school work, he strives for success.

On December 15, Peter turned seven years old.
He likes to trounce in the snow and the cold.
He is a Minecraft player on PlayStation4.
He would never leave the game if we let him play more.

Peter attends the same school as Philip, his brother.
He’s in first grade and he is taught by his mother.
He started to learn basketball and loves going to practice.
Three January games will be enough to attract us.
Peter is excited about all things Star Wars--
Decorative bed sheets and shirts in his drawers.
He still likes to draw, to color, and read.
He loves playing with his siblings, and grows like a weed.

Summer vacation filled the family with glee.
The first stop was Knoxville in Tennessee
To the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Faith was eager to see pioneers of the game.

Then down south we drove with much determination
To the place where we had made our reservation.
We pulled in quite late and set up in the dark
At Walt Disney World campground and park.

A three day pass was the deal we got—
To Magic Kingdom and then to Epcot,
And finally Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
We saw the mouse with the ears that everyone knows.

A month later we drove through traffic chaotic
To Philadelphia, a city which is quite patriotic.
The University of Penn had a camp for Andrew.
We saw Independence Hall and a cracked bell, too.

We hope you have enjoyed our year in review.
We pray that the Lord keeps watch over you.
May the love of our Savior which was given at his birth
Fill you with comfort, with joy, and with mirth.

Tom, Laura, Faith, Nathanael, Andrew,

Caleb, Philip, and Peter Schroeder