Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (February 28, 2016)

LUKE 13:1-9


In the name + of Jesus.

     If there is one thing we learn in the Scriptures, it is that God does not think and act like we do.  God himself says so: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)  We find those words proven in our gospel reading today.
     Some people came to Jesus to ask him about one of the headline stories of the day.  Some Galileans had come to Jerusalem to present their offerings at the temple.  While they were in the temple performing their rituals of worship, Roman soldiers came into the temple, swords drawn, and slaughtered the worshipers right there.  The people asked Jesus about these things, no doubt expecting an angry response.
     One possible response the people might have expected was for Jesus to condemn the Romans.  The Law stated that the Jews were not to have a foreigner ruling over them.  Not only were the Romans ruling over Israel, but Pontius Pilate had even ordered the slaughter of Jesus' fellow Galileans.  Certainly Jesus would unleash a tirade condemning this Gentile intrusion and violence!  He did not.
     Another possible response was that Jesus would condemn the Galileans.  Pilate did not make it a practice to slaughter Jews for no reason.  The Romans did not act unless they had to.  So, it is likely that these Galileans did something to incur the wrath of Pilate, perhaps staging a protest or fomenting revolt.  In that case, Jesus might have said, “What did you expect when fools incite rebellion and insurrection?  Lawless people deserve to be crushed.  They got what they had coming.”  Jesus did not say that, either.
     God's thoughts are not our thoughts.  God's ways are not our ways.  Jesus turned the tables on the people and answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-3)  Jesus highlighted: “We” are no different from “they.”  Jesus
     Then Jesus doubled down on them.  He noted another headline event: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:4-5)  This one was not a violent act of men; it was a tragic accident.  Why did it happen?  Why were those 18 people killed?  What did they do to deserve that?  Jesus tells us, “We” are no better than “they.”  The point is not to wonder what someone did to deserve a tragic or violent death.  The point is that we are all sinners, and one way or another, we are all going to die because of it.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22,23)  Therefore, no one deserves anything good from God.  Our confession of sin is not empty words (or it shouldn't be): Because of my sins, “I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.”  That is true,, no matter what.  Some people's sins are newsworthy; most are not.  “We” are no different than “they.”  The Lord assures you: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5) 
     God's thoughts are not our thoughts.  His judgment is perfect; ours is biased.  We tend to think that we are spared serious problems because we are better or because God likes us more.  Our judgment says: “I'm sure that God likes me, because I like me,” or, “God must like my friends because I like my friends.”  This assumes our judgment is God's judgment, and that is idolatry.  It is also dangerous because if you think that you have been spared problems because you are good in God's eyes, what must you conclude when you have problems or suffer tragedy?  That God no longer loves you?  That God is getting back at you for something you did?
     God does not work by karma.  Karma is a lie, and it is based on flawed judgment.  God's ways are not our ways.  God does not pay tit-for-tat, granting a blessing for a good deed and inflicting pain for each sin committed.  If God did work by karma, we would all have been slain a long time ago.  Therefore, you cannot draw any conclusions based on how someone suffers or on how they succeed.  Were those Galileans sinners?  Sure.  Were those 18 who were crushed by the Tower of Siloam sinners?  Sure.  So were the people killed in Kalamazoo and the entire Fenton Twp. family who died from carbon monoxide poisoning.  But “we” are no different than “they.”  This is the only conclusion God allows you to draw when you see people suffer from violence and disaster: The world is sinful and so are the people in it, and unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:5)
     If there is no difference between “we” and “they” because all are sinners, then rejoice in this: Jesus Christ came into the world for sinners.  Jesus does not waste his time sifting through the world to distinguish the good sinners from the bad sinners.  With our biased judgment, we try to determine who has done more good and more bad, and we assume we have scored better than most.  But there is no difference.  All have sinned. (Romans 3:22,23)  Therefore, everyone scores the same.  There is no difference between “we” and “they.”  And since there is no difference, Jesus does not make any distinctions when he goes to the cross to pay the price for sinners.  Jesus does not sit in heaven with a scale or an abacus to determine which of your sins are big ones and which are little.  Jesus simply picks up all the sins of all people.  The Lord lays on him the iniquity of us all, and Jesus presents himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
     Jesus was not like the people at the Tower in Siloam who were the hapless victims of a tragedy.  Jesus went forth purposely to suffer the consequences for our sins.  Nor was Jesus the rebellious Galilean who got what he deserved at the hands of violent Roman soldiers.  Rather, Jesus got what we deserve  He paid the price for ours sinful rebellion.  Jesus bore the guilt of all sinners; therefore, he was also held responsible for them.  Jesus was convicted as a wretched sinner and was put to death under God's curse accordingly.  Since our iniquities were upon him, they have been removed from us.  And so, we are now blameless before God.
     Still, “we” are no different than “they.”  We are not saved because we are better, or smarter, or more appealing to God.  In man's judgment, God rewards those who are better.  But God's thoughts are not our thoughts, and God's ways are not our ways.  God's salvation is not a reward for people who are better.  It is that that you are better; it is that you are forgiven.  And that is God's doing.  That is why even though we are saved, “we” are no different than “they.”
     God's salvation is by grace—God's doing from beginning to end.  Even the fruit he seeks from us is his work in us and through us.  Our works are not better, as if my dollar to charity does more than an unbeliever's dollar to charity.  The  courtesy you show when you hold the door for someone is not better courtesy than someone else who does the same thing.  In that respect, “we” are no different than “they.”
     But your works are delightful to God because Jesus has purified them.  And your deeds are pure because Jesus has made you pure.  So, your comfort and your confidence cannot be because you are better.  Your comfort is that God is gracious.  Your confidence is that Jesus has forgiven you of all guilt and iniquity.  Your joy is that God's ways are much better than our ways; for his ways assure us of salvation.

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A photo session -- 2016 basketball games, part 2

Once again, it is time to post a few more photos from the basketball season.  We are quickly coming up on the end of the year (only a few weeks away).  Faith is enjoying a little run in their conference playoffs.  Unfortunately, they play toinght at UW-Superior while we will be coming home after church.  We should be able to catch most of it when we get home.  Go Knights!  (And thanks to whoever has been taking the photos in Minnesota and has been posting them on Facebook!)  This Photo Session will feature Faith (Martin Luther College) and Philip (St. Peter's Lutheran School).

Since we were not able to make it to New Ulm for Parents' Day,
Faith was escorted by her cousins, Daniel and Jacob Schmidt.  Thanks, guys!!!
There's a background story here, I'm sure.

2nd place at the MLS tournament, co-ed division.  Coach Thuerer was not in the photo.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Lent (February 21, 2016)

Пророк Иеремия, Микеланжело Буонаротти.jpg
Jeremiah, by Michelangelo
from the Sistine Chapel
JEREMIAH 26:8-15


In the name + of Jesus.

     Lent is a penitential season in which we take stock of our lives and ourselves, to be aware of our sins—especially of those pet sins we are accustomed to doing—and to root them out of our lives.  The point of Lent is not to make ourselves feel bad.  The Lord does not want us to self-flagellate or to punish ourselves.  God is not a Sadist.  But our Lord Jesus Christ did proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)  Repentance is not mere sorrow over our sins.  It is turning away from them because we recognize that they are evil and opposed to God and his will.  And though being aware of your sins will make you feel bad, God uses that remorse for a godly purpose.  It is to drive you all the more fervently to Jesus for forgiveness and consolation.  And that, finally, is the point of the Lenten season.  It is about pointing people to Jesus who has made himself the atoning sacrifice to free you from your sins, to make you into a new creation, and to set you apart for good works and not for sins.  The Lord seeks your repentance.
     The Lord had sent the prophet Jeremiah to preach repentance to the people of Israel.  He did not send Jeremiah to the rougher neighborhoods of Jerusalem to confront the riff-raff.  He sent Jeremiah to church.  Jeremiah entered the temple to preach to the church-goers and to the clergy.  It was not enough that the people went through their rituals.  Their hearts were not conforming to God’s word, and their lives were not demonstrating God’s love. The Lord is not pleased when we merely play church or when our faith remains merely a mental exercise.  What you believe in your heart finally comes out of your mouth and your body—whether good or bad.  And things in Jerusalem were not good.
     The Lord sought their repentance rather than their destruction, so the Lord sent Jeremiah to preach.  In the past, the Lord demonstrated his judgment against Israel by destroying the tabernacle at Shiloh.  The Lord did not care about the structure in which the sacrifices were made, not if the people were persisting in their sins.  For the same reasons, the Lord would not spare their temple.  Jeremiah warned that judgment would come in violence and bloodshed and travesty if they did not mend their ways and their deeds.  It was not because God is a Sadist.  It is because the Lord seeks repentance.
     If you notice who sent Jeremiah and who Jeremiah spoke for, you will see it is the LORD.  That is spelled in all capital letters in your English translation.  When LORD is in all caps, it is the special name by which God revealed himself to Israel.  This is Jehovah, or more likely pronounced, “Yahweh.”  Yahweh is the God who acts to deliver his people.  He is the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush to send him back to Egypt to deliver Israel from bondage.  He is the God who parted the Red Sea so that Israel could cross on dry ground and so that their enemies would be drowned in those waters.  He is the God who provided for Israel in the wilderness and then brought them into the Promised Land.  This Yahweh sent Jeremiah to call the people of Israel to repent of their sins.  The Lord was not interested in destroying his people, but saving them.
     The Lord seeks your repentance too.  Your Yahweh calls you to assess yourself, even if you have been a church-goer your whole life.  There is a tremendous blessing in being a life-long Christian.  You have known your whole life that you are a child of God and, therefore, an heir of eternal life.  But if there is a danger in being a life-long Christian, it is that you may think lightly of your sins.  After all, you know the rest of the story.  You know that, after I call you to repent of your sins, I am also going to proclaim that Jesus Christ has paid the price for all your sins so that you are forgiven.  And this sermon will be no different.  But that also may lead you to think that your sins are no big deal.  After all, if your sins are forgiven, why should you be bothered by them, right?
     Dear children of God, there is no place in all of the Bible where the Lord tells you that sins are no big deal.  Sins are rebellion against God and against his word.  God never regards that as no big deal.  Sins damn, without exception.  To get comfortable with your sins is to play with hellfire.  To dismiss them is to fail to recognize how deadly they are.  And if you let sins become habit, they will make themselves at home with you.  And if sin is at home with you, then you will grieve the Holy Spirit and cause him to depart.  Your Yahweh does not seek to desert you or to destroy you; the Lord seeks your repentance.  Therefore, repent.
     The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the church-goers and clergy in Jerusalem: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard.  Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.” (Jeremiah 6:12-13)  The prophet calls you to make your ways right, that is, to put away every wicked thought, word, and act, and to conform your life to God’s Commandments.  We do not do this because our good works save us, but because good works are God’s will.
     The Lord does not delight in inflicting pain or punishing you for your sins, and he does not reject you because you are not perfect.  The Lord is your Yahweh.  He is the God who delivers you from all your sins.  Jesus Christ has shed his innocent blood for our sins.  God has been pleased not to afflict us with violent judgment and an accursed death—even though that is what our sins deserve.  Instead, Jesus was afflicted with violent judgment, an unjust sentence, and an accursed death.  He willingly accepted our judgment and bore our accursed death so that we would find forgiveness for our sins.  Sins damn, without exception.  Every sin is a big deal; for every sin is rebellion.  But Jesus was damned for us for all our sins.  Jesus’ death on the cross was a big deal because that is where the Lord took care of all our sins.
     The Lord seeks our repentance, but even when we commit ourselves to doing better, we recognize that we still do not do the good we want to do.  And even the good we do is often done begrudgingly.  Husbands run the errands with a groan.  Mothers fix meals for their children when they would rather be reading a book.  You do your job with a smile pasted on your face because you despise the customers you are waiting on.  In other words, we prove that we are sinners.  But the Lord does not inflict punishment upon us for our sins.  Our Yahweh is not eager to smite us.  In fact, despite our own sinfulness, the Lord still blesses us and manages to provide blessings through our imperfect actions.  The errands still get done, the meals nourish the children, and the customer gets served.  But it is not because we are good.  It is because the Lord Jesus Christ renders our service good.  He purifies what is imperfect in us and declares it good.
     Jesus set you free from all your sins so that they will never condemn you and so that they will no longer own you or control you.  One who is freed from a death sentence does not make efforts to go back to doing what brought death upon him.  Therefore, since we have been set free from our sins, we repent of them and flee from them.  Lent is not about feeling bad; it is about Jesus who produces in us the joy of knowing that we are forgiven of our sins.  It is about Jesus who sets us apart from death and destruction and who sets us apart for good works.  It is about the God who remains our Yahweh—the God who delivers us from sin, from death, and from hellfire.
     For, the Lord is not a Sadist.  He does not delight in inflicting pain, in destroying people, or even in the death of the wicked.  The Lord seeks your repentance, and your Yahweh provides your deliverance and forgiveness.  That is who he is, and that is what he does.

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

Friday, February 19, 2016

A photo session -- 2016 basketball games

I have not done much with the basketball season this year.  Part of it is because basketball has a lot more games than football, and so it gets tedious to document everything.  Part of it is because we have not be able to get to many of the games.  For that matter, we have not beren very good about watching some games online.  It has been a busy year.  And part of it is because this season is not living up to the seasons we enjoyed in years past.  We have gotten to learn to face defeat and disappointment more than we have been accustomed to.

Anyway, here are a bunch of photos selected from the season.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pastors' Conference -- Trinity in Saline, Michigan

Today wrapped up another Pastors' Conference at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Saline, Michigan.  On Monday, we also had the teachers from all the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Elementary Schools in southeast Michigan and Huron Valley Lutheran High School join us too.

Anyway, here are a few photos from Trinity.

From the altar.
The symbols of the Gospels from the pulpit.

From the choir loft.  The table is still set up from the Pastors' Confernece.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (February 14, 2016)

LUKE 4:1-13


In the name + of Jesus.

     The word “If” usually is the beginning of very bad theology.  “If” can inspire some interesting mental exercises, but it rarely produces anything of value or truth.  “If Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit but Adam didn't, what would have happened?”  “What if only Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit after having a child?”  Interesting thoughts, but “If” never happened.  The only “If” that came from the Garden of Eden came out of the devil's mouth—that if Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would be like God, knowing good and evil.  Adam and Eve believed Satan's “If.”  As a result, those two who had been good and pure became evil and sinful.  “If” not only produces bad theology, it also is the springboard of temptation and often ends in sin and death.
     The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  You and I have been taught to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” but Jesus was specifically led into temptation.  You and I pray, “Deliver us from the Evil One,” but Jesus was delivered to the Evil One.  Jesus was in the wilderness to face what Adam had faced in the Garden.  But unlike Adam who believed Satan, and unlike us who have been seduced by Satan's “if's,” Jesus overcame all temptations.
     Every one of the devil's temptations to Jesus began with “If.”  And with each “if”, Satan challenged either God's word or twisted God's promise.  The Lord had just declared at Jesus' baptism, “You are my beloved Son.” (Luke 3:22)  Satan, in turn, questioned that claim: “If you are the Son of God...” (Luke 4:3)  It is also possible to translate Satan's words this way, Since you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)  Perhaps Satan was challenging Jesus' identity and sought him to prove it.  Or perhaps Satan conceded that Jesus is the Son of God.  Even the demons recognized that.  But if Jesus really is the Son of God, why doesn't he do for himself what he did for the Israelites in the wilderness?  Jesus, God miraculously provided bread in the wilderness for them.  Why can't you do that for yourself?  If the sons of Israel get bread, why not the Son of God?  Why would Father prohibit his Son from providing for himself what he needed?  Is that the kind of Father you have?  One who wants to see you struggle and suffer?
     It sounds familiar, doesn't it?  Satan begins all your temptations with “If” too.  He wants you to question whether you really are a child of God.  After all, if you are a child of God, then your life  should be easier and your behavior should be better, shouldn't it?  If you question that you are really a child of God, you will soon doubt God's promises.  You will believe that your life is not good because God is not reliable, or you will believe that God has not been good to you because you are not good enough for God.  Doubting God and his word is the first step into falling into despair and finally dying in unbelief.  After all, what hope do you have if you are not a child of God?  If.
     Perhaps Satan will concede that you are a child of God.  But then he will warp what it means to be a child of God.  You are a child of God, right?  So, if God wants his children to be happy—just like you want your children to be happy—why would God refuse to let you do or have whatever makes you happy?  God is love, right?  If God is love, then he will accept you however you are.  You don't have to change anything about your life, because a loving God will not judge you.  With this line of thinking, Satan would have you believe that God not only tolerates sins, he will even be pleased with them.  After all, if that is what makes you happy, and if God really loves you, shouldn't God want you to have or to do whatever you want?  Satan likes to play with the word “If”, but he will never tell you that the “then”, or the consequence, is death and hell.  You and I have been seduced by Satan's “If's.”  We have heeded his temptations.  We have committed the sins.  We have earned God's wrath.
     Understand that [the devil] is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44), but the devil rarely tells bald face lies.  Most people see through that.  Most people do not believe that murder is good, that rape is commendable, or that theft is noble.   Therefore, the devil distorts what God actually says, because Satan wants to sound like God so that he might deceive you.  That is why his “If's” make temptations sound like good ideas.  That is why his “If's” make God's Commandments seem unreasonable and God unloving.  That is why we convince ourselves that our sins are harmless and excusable.  Repent.
     Jesus has overcome every temptation.  The devil even quoted Scripture to try to get Jesus to sin against his Father.  But because he loved God's word, Jesus did not love the devil's distortion of it.  The devil's ultimate temptation of Jesus was that Jesus should not have to suffer and die for sinners.  There is some truth to that.  Jesus is God.  Our sins are really not his problem.  So Jesus, if you are the Son of God, then be the Son of God.  Why bother yourself with people who sin against you, who do not obey you, whose love for you is poor, and whose devotion to you is weak?
     Jesus overcame every temptation.  He did what no man has done or can do.  Jesus rejected every temptation and rendered perfect obedience.  And he did it for us to supply the righteousness we need.  Jesus has overcome every temptation so that we have one man who has finally given perfect obedience to God's word.  Satan did not overcome Jesus, and therefore, he did not overthrow our salvation.
     Jesus overcame every temptation and every sin.  Jesus did not abandon his role as the Son of God who has come to suffer and die for sinful mankind.  St. Luke wrote “when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)  That opportune time came in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There, Jesus prayed his only “If”:  “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  But there was no other way.  Jesus rejected any “If.”  He took the cup the Father had given him and suffered his wrath for all our sins.  There was no “If” with Jesus' sufferings and death.  Jesus did not stray from the word of God which sent him to fulfill all that the Father had given him to do.  Jesus overcame every temptation on the way to the cross and did not stray from his way to the cross.  And even though Jesus would suffer and for people who are not perfect in serving him, he suffered and died to take away those sins and to grant them his righteousness.  You have been given credit for the obedience you did not carry out, and Jesus died for the disobedience he was not guilty of.  There is no “If” about Jesus' salvation for us.  Jesus overcame every temptation, so his sacrifice for us is perfect.  There is no “If” about eternal life, for Jesus overcame the grave by rising from the dead.  His sacrifice for us is sufficient.  There is no “If” about our forgiveness, for Jesus lives and reigns to intercede for us.  Therefore, his mercy upon us is constant even though we still serve him in weakness.  Jesus does not attach any “If” to his promises.  His words are clear that you are forgiven.  Peace is yours.  Salvation is certain.
     Just as Jesus' actions were perfect and obedient, so also his words are perfect and clear.  When Jesus speaks to us, his words are neither deceptive nor distorted.  Therefore, you can be sure that you are the children of God.  You are redeemed from your sins.  You are marked for eternal life.  And you are pleasing to your Father in heaven.

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sermon -- Ash Wednesday (February 10, 2016)

ISAIAH 59:12-20

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Psalms teach us, “All men are liars.” (Psalm 116:11)  Chances are, you know some people who are worthy of the title “Liar” because of the way they do business, because of the way they treat their spouse, or because of the stories they tell—either boasting about what they have achieved or hiding what they are trying to get away with.  But we don’t want to admit that.  Likely, you are one who takes pride in your integrity and would vehemently defend yourself against the insinuation that you are a liar.
     Still, the Scriptures are not wrong.  All men are liars. (Psalm 116:11).  [The devil] is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).  We have listened to the devil’s language, and we have learned his dialect.  We all have lied to ourselves, believing that we are better than we really are.  We believe that our good intentions are equal to good deeds, even if they never go further than intentions.  We believe that whatever good deeds we do gain us credit.  We believe the lie that if someone commits sins more wicked than ours, that benefits us.  We even believe that our sins are ultimately harmless and that our pet sins can be played with.  All men are liars. (Psalm 116:11)  We lie to ourselves, and we believe our lies.  Repent.
     The prophet Isaiah teaches us to be honest before God and with ourselves and to confess our sins.  “For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities.” (Isaiah 59:12)  That last phrase can also be translated, “our iniquities are conspicuous,” or “out in the open.”  That is why we know them.  Even if we can hide our sins form co-workers and neighbors, our families know us better than that.  And even from our families we manage to keep some sins hidden.  But we know our iniquities. (Isaiah 59:12)  We know the lust and the bitterness and the selfishness and the jealousies and the greed and the vengeance that darken our hearts and influence our words and actions.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, we still would rather believe the lie and confess that we are good.  All men are liars. (Psalm 116:11)  And, of course, it all lies open before God.  Our guilt is conspicuous.  Our transgressions are with us.  Our sins testify against us. (Isaiah 59:12)  Whether you have a smudge on your forehead or not, you are marked with death because you are filled with sin.  Repent!
     The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.  He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede. (Isaiah 59:15)  At first glance, it seems that the Lord was displeased that all men are liars and sinners.  And to be sure, that does displease the Lord.  He does not find delight in evil.  But then, neither does the Lord delight in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32), not even the wicked! (Ezekiel 33:11)  The Lord who first said, “Dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19), does not delight that we will die because of our sins.
     The Lord is displeased at this: that there was no man who could bring forth his salvation, and there was no man who could mediate on behalf of sinners.  And if there was no man to do this, then all men would be lost.  All would die in their lies and their sins.  The Lord is displeased by such things.  Therefore, the Lord's own arm worked salvation for him.
     No man can redeem the life of another (Psalm 49:7), so the Lord came to redeem us.  The Lord became man to carry out the justice that was lacking in man, to do the righteous works that are demanded of man, and to intercede as a man on behalf of mankind.  Though all men are liars, this man, Jesus Christ, dealt only in truth and righteousness.  Jesus did not go throughout the world looking for honest men or seeking recruits to go with him to establish justice, righteousness, and salvation.  His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. (Isaiah 59:16)  Jesus single-handedly went forth to do the work that no man had done or could do.  He proclaims only truth, and he carries out only just works.
     He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17)  For Jesus, our salvation was no half-hearted effort.  He dressed himself for battle, prepared to conquer the foe and to destroy his reign over us.  But his weapons were not swords, and his armor was not steel.  He armed himself with the word of God and defended himself with righteousness and truth.  Then he went out to conquer our foe and rescue us from the devil and his lies.
     His own arm worked salvation for him.  The prophet Isaiah foretold: “A Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 59:20)  If Jesus is a Redeemer, that means there is a cost to redeem us.  And the cost was Jesus himself.  His own arm worked salvation for him.  Jesus went forth to defeat Satan and to bring us release from his grip on us.  He gave himself over to pay the price for sin, which is death.  He gave himself into death on behalf of people who have been marked with death.  He died as the accursed cheat, thief, braggart, and liar for us who are truly guilty of the charge.  But he gave himself up—holy God and innocent man—for all of us.  That is the price which had to be paid to redeem us.  The Redeemer (has) come to Zion. (Isaiah 59:20)  Jesus paid the price.
     His own arm worked salvation for him, but Jesus has given you all that he worked for.  He has replaced the lies with his truth.  He enables you to be honest.  You do not have to pretend to be what you are not.  You don't have to convince yourself or anyone else that you are good or better or deserving of reward.  You don't have to invent good works to pad your resume or the find ways to credit yourself with good intentions.  Instead, you acknowledge that you are a sinner.  You can admit that you are marked for death—ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
     But you also know that you have a Redeemer who gives you credit for work that you did not do.  He has wrapped you up in his righteousness and has bestowed upon you his salvation.  It is not your work, but it is yours all the same.  It displeased the Lord that you should perish, therefore the Lord is pleased to save you.  Jesus has purified you from evil.  He has freed you from the devil's claim and has taught you to renounce the devil's lies.  He has created in you a clean heart and renewed in you a right spirit.  He has gone into death with his flesh and conquered the grave for you.  Therefore, he will deliver you out of the dust and ashes, and he will raise your body up to eternal life.
     The Redeemer has come to Zion.  Jesus has paid the price.  He has battled, and he has overcome his enemies.  His own arm has worked salvation for him, and he has done this work for you.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sermon -- HVL Chapel (February 9, 2016)

EXODUS 34:29-35
The Radiant Glory of the Lord.

In the name + of Jesus.

     It is no surprise that the people of Israel were afraid when they saw Moses' face shining.  Moses' face was reflecting the glory of God.  When the people saw it, they were petrified.  It was not because Moses looked weird, though I'm sure that had its own shock value.  Rather, it is because Moses' presence reflected God's presence.  That is what frightened the people.  God's holiness, even when it is reflected, produces fear in men—whether it is Zechariah in the temple, shepherds in the fields, or women at the empty tomb.   Likewise, no Israelite wanted to be anywhere near Moses when he was shining with the radiance of God.  Even Moses' own brother, Aaron, wanted to keep his distance.  It was reminiscent of Adam and Eve fleeing from the sound of the Lord God when he was in the Garden of Eden.  Sinners have good reason to fear the holy God.
     Even though you have never seen the radiance of God shining from anyone's face, I am sure that you have experienced the fear of the Israelites to some degree.  It is the fear of being a sinner who must give an answer to God.  Perhaps it has happened when you were doing something you knew you were not supposed to be doing.  Perhaps you were looking at a webpage  you should not have, or were trying to snitch something off limits, or were even doing something relatively harmless like a prank, but then someone walked in on you—perhaps a parent or a teacher or even a friend.  You snapped your head around and had that deer-in-the-headlights look of terror.  Even if the person who walked in on you had no idea what you were doing, just the fact that you got caught was enough to afflict you with fear and shame.  You probably tried to cover up by stammering some excuse, or you pretended to be angry so that the person who discovered you feels like it is his fault you were doing what you were doing.  Or you uttered some loud, random question (“Do you know if that Spongebob Squarepants marathon starts at 5 or 5:30?”) hoping that the weirdness of your question would distract the other person from your sin.
     The greatest terror, however, comes to you when you are alone and have some quiet time to think.  That is when the devil makes you acutely aware of your sins and guilt.  He replays your thoughts, words, and actions for you, and highlights what you deep down know—you are a sinner, and you have proved it in shameful ways.  You cannot take back the words you said.  You cannot fix the hurt you caused.  And you fear God's wrath which falls upon you because of your sins.  And what's worse is this: You know you should fear God's wrath.  You know you do deserve his curse.  You can't escape it no matter how many plans you make or deals you try to cut.  That is similar to the fear that the Israelites had when they saw Moses' face shining with the radiance of the Lord.
     But now hear the word of the Lord: Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.  But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them.  Afterward all the people of Israel came near... (Exodus 34:30-32)  Moses summoned the people to him, for his intent was not to terrify them, but to give them the words that God had given him.  Through Moses, God established his covenant with Israel.  It was a covenant that demanded obedience, but more importantly promised salvation from all the guilt with terrified them.  And so that the people would not continue to be terrified of the radiance of the Lord in Moses' face, he covered himself with a veil.
     The Lord Jesus Christ has established a new testament with you.  When the Lord came to earth, he did not radiate his divine glory.  He veiled his glory with humble flesh so that he would not terrify us.  What's more, Jesus Christ summons us to hear his word so that he can reveal God's love to us.  Though we rightly fear God's wrath, Jesus reveals that he will deliver us from God's wrath.  Jesus does not ignore our sins; he deals with them and removes them from us.  He takes our guilt and shame, and he stands before the Father in our stead so that we will not be destroyed in his holy wrath.  Instead, it is Jesus who was cursed and condemned for us.  He put himself in the cross-hairs of God's wrath and suffered for all our sins.
     Jesus summons us to hear the word of the Lord, and that word is forgiveness of sins.  He has cleansed us of our sins by his holy, innocent blood.  He has covered our guilt and shame with garments of salvation.  And he continues to give us his holy body and blood for our forgiveness.  Though his body and blood are holy and glorious, he veils them in simple bread and wine so that he will not fear, but so that we will flee to God's altar for his mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.
     Last Sunday, we had heard how Jesus did reveal his radiant glory for just a moment to three of his disciples.  They were afraid when they saw it.  You notice that the Church does not highlight Jesus' transfiguration in our stained glass or in most of our art.  You are more likely to see Jesus praying in Gethsemane or a crucifix.  The Church emphasizes Jesus in his most humble state—in his innocent sufferings and death—because your salvation is not found in Jesus' radiance at his transfiguration or in God's awesome holiness.  These things only produce fear in sinners.  Rather, your salvation is found in Jesus' holy precious blood and in his innocent sufferings and death.  So, Jesus' transfiguration gets one Sunday, but Lent gets six weeks.  There, God veils his holy splendor, but he reveals his divine love and mercy.  That is how God approaches us so that we do not flee in terror.  Instead, this is how God comes to sinners to remove our fears, take away our guilt, relieve us of all shame, and bestow eternal life.

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

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sermon -- Transfiguration (February 7, 2016)

LUKE 9:28-36
(Theme borrowed from Rev. Guy Purdue)

In the name + of Jesus.

     Normally, Jesus of Nazareth looked like any other Jewish man.  While the disciples were amazed at Jesus’ words, those words came out of the mouth of a man.  The crowds were amazed by Jesus’ miracles.  But even as he healed the deaf, the blind, and the lame, and drove out demons, he looked like a man.  They had confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but that was a confession.  It was based on faith, not sight.  By faith, the disciples knew that he was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  By sight, he was just Jesus of Nazareth.  But for once, on that mountain, the Son of God looked like the Son of God.  The divinity of Jesus shone through and radiated from his face and his form.  It was a glimpse of glory that had never been seen, only believed.
     But it was more than that.  As [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:29-30)  Jesus not only radiated his heavenly glory, he also had heavenly guests.  Moses was the prophet to whom the Lord had spoken and through whom he had established his covenant with Israel.  Elijah was the prophet to whom the Lord had spoken and sent back to serve those in Israel who had remained faithful to that covenant.  Now these sainted prophets spoke with the Lord who himself had come to fulfill his covenant and all of Scripture.  They spoke of Jesus’ departure, or his exodus (the Greek word), which he would fulfill in Jerusalem.  Jesus had come to reveal his true glory at Jerusalem through his sufferings and death.  That is where God’s love is displayed, because that is where the Lord paid for the sins of the world.  That is where Jesus secured the forgiveness for all your sins.
     A glimpse of glory gets us ready for Gethsemane and Golgotha.  At this mountain, Peter, James, and John saw the glorious, heavenly vision.  But from this point, they would see Jesus’ weakness and humility on display.  Peter, James, and John would go with Jesus to pray at night in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There, rather than seeing Jesus in glory, they would see him in agony.  Rather than seeing his face glow, they would see him sweating drops of blood.  Only hours after that, Jesus would hang from a cross on Golgotha, bleeding and dying.  There, Jesus would not look even remotely like the Son of God.  In fact, he would be so beaten he would barely look like Jesus of Nazareth!  The disciples would be tempted to abandon Jesus as one giant disappointment and failure.  But this glimpse of glory at Jesus’ transfiguration would be a reminder to them that this Jesus was no fraud.  The agony in Gethsemane does not change the fact that he is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  The crucifixion at Golgotha does not negate the truth that he is the Savior of mankind.  This glimpse of glory gets us ready for Gethsemane and Golgotha.
     Peter wanted this glory to last much longer than a glimpse.  He loved seeing the Son of God look like the Son of God.  He wanted a continual, glorious kingdom right there on the mountain.  But soon, Moses and Elijah departed.  Soon, Jesus’ appearance was back to normal.  Soon, they would go back down the mountain to life as usual.  But before they went, God the Father gave these disciples and us the proper focus.  Even though Jesus’ divinity was clearly demonstrated, the Father added his personal testimony, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)  So, while this glimpse of glory gets us ready for Gethsemane and Golgotha, it is continuing to listen to the Lord which sustains us through every aspect of life.
     When Peter, James, and John later witnessed Jesus enduring the depths of suffering, they had to remember that Jesus had foretold them that this would happen.  They would have to cling to his words when Jesus did not look like what the Son of God should look like.  It is the same for us when the Christian life does not look like we think the Christian life should.  If we are children of God, why don’t we look like it?  Why don’t we feel like it?  Why does life still consist of pain and heartache, of fear and doubt, of struggling against temptations and falling into sin?  We might complain that God is not acting like God should act.  He should step up and stop divorces, prevent cancer, frighten criminals and terrorists into submission, cancel tornadoes, and eradicate flu season.  At least God’s children should look like God’s children and have the good life.  Yet, we struggle.  We cry.  We ache.  We sin.  And we continue our march toward the grave.
     The problem is not that God has failed us.  The problem is that we have believed promises that God never made.  We have assumed that God said he would make heaven on earth and be the instant fix to every problem.  We expect glory.  Then we get angry with God for problems that he neither caused nor promised to prevent.  Our problems come because we are sinful creatures living in a sinful world.  Bad things happen, and sometimes they happen to us.  The glory we crave is deceptive.  God does not promise endless success and honor.  That is what the world craves.  Today, dozens of grown men will vie for football glory in the Super Bowl.  Last year's champions can only look at gaudy jewelry and say, “I remember when...”  Worldly glory only gets a glimpse.  The fanfare of championships, the thrill of the wedding day, and the accolades of the promotion quickly face to photographs and memories.  Do not be deceived by worldly glory.  Even pagans get that, and it is fleeting.  Jesus gives us a glimpse of heavenly glory, but it only serves to get us ready for Gethsemane and Golgotha.  That is where God's glory is truly seen.
     Jesus left behind his glorious moment to make the trip to Gethsemane and then to Golgotha.  There, Jesus suffered under God’s wrath, bore the guilt which stood against us, and endured the divine vengeance upon sinful mankind.  The glimpse of glory reminds us that it is God who does this for us because he loves us and wants to deliver us from a life of pain and sorrow, shame and remorse, dread and death.  So when we complete our march to the grave, we will not fear.  After Jesus delivered us from sin and its curse, he conquered the grave by his resurrection.  The march to Jesus’ grave ends with an empty tomb.  Therefore, the march to our grave ends with eternal life.
     This is the glory you should long for because it is everlasting.  And that glory will come to us just as it did for Jesus.  In this life, we will endure humility, weakness, suffering, and sorrow.  These are constant reminders that we need God’s mercy and strength.  You will need to listen to him to persevere through life.  But fear not!  The glory will come.  Jesus' love means that he will give you more than a moment in the sun or fifteen minutes of fame.  Just as Jesus entered his full and everlasting glory at his resurrection, so will you.  Then you will have bodies that will be incorruptible, blessings that will be inexhaustible, glory that will be inexpressible, and life that will be eternal.  The Lord will be pleased to have you not only see his glory, but share in it.
     For now, though, we will begin another Lenten journey in which we will remember the depths of our sin and be reminded of the heights of God’s love.  We will again ponder the sufferings and death of Jesus.  But we know that Jesus is not some man to be pitied.  He is true God who loves you and willingly suffers and dies for you.  The glimpse of his glory gets us ready for Gethsemane and Golgotha.  Listen to him; for his words sustain and strengthen you in times of struggle and sorrow, and they proclaim to you a gracious deliverance to everlasting life where you will not merely get a glimpse of his glory.  You will dwell in it, and you will partake in it.

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ash Wednesday -- The Imposition of Ashes

          Ash Wednesday is a week away.  With that in mind, here are some words of instruction regarding the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday, a custom which is still somewhat novel at Good Shepherd.

          On Ash Wednesday, as the ashes are applied to people, the pastor will repeat to each person this phrase:

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

          These words paraphrase Genesis 3:19 where the Lord proclaimed a curse upon man when he had first sinned.  St. Paul repeated that thought in his letter to the Romans: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  This is the harsh reality of sin.
          The use of ashes long pre-dates the New Testament Church.  In the era of the Patriarchs, Job confessed his sin and declared, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)  The Imposition of Ashes teaches a dual lesson.

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

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

          This ceremony truly sets the tone for Lenten season.  We are marked as sinners.  We are marked for death.  We are marked as the penitent whose only hope is Jesus Christ.
          Our comfort comes from Jesus who takes our sin.  He dies our death.  He marks us as his own who have been baptized into his name.  That is where the penitent find comfort.  That is where the dying find life.

Practical matters regarding the Imposition of Ashes
          No one should feel obligated to receive the ashes on the forehead.  If you do not want to do it, the ushers will simply pass you by and go to the next row.  Children may participate at the discretion of their parents.
          We will begin the service with the rite.  Where the bulletin indicates, the ushers will begin to invite people by row to come to the communion railing to receive the ashes.  The penitent will kneel at the railing (like Lord’s Supper), and wait as the pastor applies the ashes to the forehead in the shape of a cross.  Please resist all temptations to scratch or smear the ashes.  (The ashes will easily be washed off with soapy water.)