Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Local Tourist -- The National Museum of the Great Lakes

This stretches the whole concept of "Local" in the Local Tourist, but Toledo is only about an hour away, so I will accept it.

The Local Tourist took a trip to the National Museum of the Great Lakes on the banks of the Maumee River.  Sadly, the retired Great Lakes freighter, Col. James M. Schoonmaker, was not open for the season just yet, but the rest of the museum was very impressive.  We spent close to four hours there, with a lot to read through.  There were also many exhibits which were able to keep Peter entertained for quite a while.  The stories about the progression of settling the Great Lakes region, the increase of shipping, the Great Lakes involvement of war efforts, and shipwrecks were very well done.  This place is worth your visit!

They also had a few items from the Edmund Fitzgerald, including oars and life raft, a life preserver, and a sounding board.  Apparently there are items from the Fitzgerald spread around quite a few places (e.g., Detroit, Sault Ste. Marie, MI, and Whitefish Point, MI).  Gordon Lightfoot was quoted but not heard in Toledo.

After our time at the museum, we traveled just a few blocks north on Front Street to the original Tony Packo's Cafe for some great food.  We also entertained the kids by showing them the stars' buns on the walls.  (If you've been there, you know.  Or scroll down for an explanation.)

Anyway, here are a few photos.  Enjoy!

Lunch at Tony Packo's.  Note the autographed hot dog buns on the walls.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sermon -- Easter Sunday (March 27, 2016)

LUKE 24:1-12

In the name + of Jesus.

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

     Easter Sunday began in a cemetery.  The women who had grieved at the death of Jesus  were also concerned that Jesus' burial had been so hasty.  His body was wrapped quickly by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  He was placed in Joseph's tomb because it was so close.  He was buried hurriedly because the Sabbath was so near.
     The women who came to the tomb had followed Jesus and graciously supported Jesus with their savings.  They sought to honor Jesus one last time, giving his body the proper attention it deserved for a burial.  They would tend to Jesus' corpse, and they would leave him for dead.  Then they would depart from the grave as they did on Friday, in tears.
     But when the women got to the tomb, they met the angels who had rolled the stone away.  They asked a question which also served as somewhat of a rebuke.  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  And they remembered his words... (Luke 24:5-8)
     The rebuke came because Jesus had told them explicitly and repeatedly what was going to happen to him at Jerusalem.  And it all unfolded just as Jesus had foretold it.  He was betrayed, he was delivered into the hands of sinful men, and he was crucified.  When Jesus' disciples saw these things, Jesus' words should have resonated in their heads.  Though it was appalling, it should not have been surprising.
     Both the women and the disciples missed the last part of Jesus' words: “on the third day (he will) rise.” (Luke 24:7)  Though Jesus had told them that he was going to die, he also let them know that death would not have the last word.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sins of the world.  He is true God so that his sacrifice would be enough to pay for the world.  The eternal God gave himself on behalf of all people of all time.  But he is true man, and this man is risen from the dead.  This man lives to forgive the sins of men.  This man lives to make death answer to him.  He is the man who has gone into death and come out of it.  He is the man who ascended to heaven and dwells there.  This man has paved the way for all mankind, and declares that all who believe in him will likewise be delivered out of the grave to eternal life.
     But the women and the disciples had missed that promise.  We also fail to grasp the fullness of the word of God.  What the angels asked the women they could just as well ask us: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)  It is also a rebuke for us, because we often look for life in the things that are dying or dead.  We imagine that a life full of stuff is a full life.
     That's not to say the things that bring us happiness are automatically evil things.  We recognize the blessings God gives us in this world.  We receive them with gratitude, and we enjoy them because they make life easier or happier.  We are grateful for priceless blessings like families, health, pets, hobbies, sunsets, apple trees, and music.  We are also grateful for blessings that give just to make life easier—like cars, automatic dishwashers, and WiFi hot spots.  We are even grateful for things are are absolutely frivolous—like stuffed animals, cartoons, and extra-large scoops of Cool Whip on the dessert.  But no matter how much easier or happier they make life, they don't produce life.  They can't preserve or sustain life either.  They are blessings, but they are temporary.  They are all either dead or things.  Over time, you will lose all of them, whether they are frivolous or priceless.  Cool Whip gets consumed.  Cars break down.  And family members die.  They are all temporary.  Even your own body is a temporary blessing.  Over the years, you may lose your hair, your balance, your 20/20 vision, and your ability to bounce back quickly after hard work.  Eventually, you lose even your breath, and you will die.
     Even though these things are dead or dying, we cherish them and cling to them.  We love and trust in them, and we live in fear of losing them.  If you have built your life upon them, you will find that your joy and your comfort and your very soul will be swept away forever.  If your life is wrapped up in dead and dying things, you yourself will die with them.  The angels implore you to consider: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)  Temporary blessings in a dying world cannot save you.  A life full of stuff is not really a full life.
     But today, Jesus Christ brings life out of death, and he grants life to the dying.  Jesus had gone into death for us, to pay for sin which has corrupted everything in this world.  Most specifically, Jesus went into death for you—so that you would be acquitted from your guilt, so that your body would be redeemed from death, and so that your life would not be measured by the size of your estate sale.  The sufferings and death of Jesus were done to pay for sins.  And the resurrection of Jesus guarantees that Jesus' payment for sins is sufficient.  It shows that Jesus' power over death is certain.  And it shows that life itself is no longer temporary.
     “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)  The life you seek and the life you dream about is found in Jesus Christ.  Jesus' resurrection means that you who believe in him and have been baptized in him shall also rise from the dead.  These bodies have been corrupted by sin.  They will get old, weak, and finally die.  But on the Last Day, Jesus will summon you from your grave.  Death will have to obey Jesus' orders, for Jesus owns the keys to death and Hades.  And Jesus will raise you up with a body that will never again know disability, disease, decline, or death.  And Jesus will bring you into a life that will never know strife, stress, sickness, sorrow, or struggles.  And better than this world, the blessings which Jesus will deliver to you will not be temporary or fragile.  Jesus' gifts are unending and unbreakable.
     “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)  Jesus Christ is the living one, and he supplies his life through the word which is preached and through the sacraments that are administered.  Jesus' gifts and the life he gives does not come through our own daydreaming or hard work.  The women at the tomb found no comfort in what they could see and feel.  Their comfort came only when they remembered Jesus' words.  That is why God's word is preached here every week.  That is where Jesus provides this life we crave.
     The life that Jesus supplies is not something that will come to you one day.  It is yours now.  Your eternal life has already begun!  The forgiveness Jesus won is yours now.  The peace Jesus proclaims is yours now.  The salvation which Jesus provides his yours now.  You are children of God.  Your life is founded on Jesus Christ.  Therefore, there is nothing that can rob you of your life.  Your body may dwell in a grave for a while, but your life is with Jesus.  And your body will be raised from the grave, glorified and immortal.
     Easter may have begun at a cemetery, but Jesus' empty tomb reminds you that no cemetery is to be feared.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is risen and has conquered death.  Jesus is the Living One and the source of life.  And his grace and his mercy means all his perfect and permanent blessings are for us.

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

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

Sermon -- Easter Dawn (March 27, 2016)

"NIKA" is the Greek word for "victory."
EZEKIEL 26:24-28


In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Ezekiel preached to the Israelites when they were already in exile.  They were there because they had sinned against God.  The Lord had sent prophets repeatedly to call Israel to repent, to acknowledge that his will is good, and then to do it.  They did not.  They decided for themselves what is good and bad, and they lived like it.  Each made his own desires and opinions the highest good.  They cast God down and set up themselves as gods in their own little world.  Idolatry is the first sin, and it rears its ugly, self-centered head in every other sin.
    The Babylonian Captivity was not a divinely ordained “time-out.”  God was not teaching the people of Israel to behave so that, once they learned their lesson, they could come back.  Sinners know how to behave, and they do it when they don't have a choice.  Teens straighten up when the teacher enters the room.  Adults do the same when the boss pops his head in.  Even pimps and gang members will demonstrate good manners when they have to stand before a district court judge.  And yet, before God we are still idolaters.  The problem is not that we don't know how to behave.  The problem is that we have not.
     The people of Israel deserved to be banished by God for their idolatry.  We deserve the same.  And yet, God does not banish us.  Rather than reject us, the Lord acts to reconcile us.  Ezekiel declared the word of the Lord:  “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)  
     In holy baptism, the Lord applies to you all that Jesus has accomplished for you.  Through your baptism, you partake in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In baptism, the Lord puts to death the sinner.  He kills off the heart that loves only itself and is stone dead to others.  He drives out the unclean spirit which perverts God's word and God's blessings.  Then he raises you up a new creation.  He creates in you a clean heart, grants you a new spirit which delights in God's will and desires to do it, and he even instills his Holy Spirit in you so that you are now the temple of God.  You are no longer unclean, and it is right that you do not revert back to uncleanliness.  Rather, you have been set apart as a child of God.  And even if you do not always feel like you live up to the title, you do have it.  God has given it to you.
     Israel did not deserve to be brought back to their land, but God did it anyway.  You and I do not deserve such a great salvation, but God gives it anyway.  In fact, God does it all: “I will sprinkle...  I will cleanse you.  I will give you a new heart...  I will put (a new spirit) within you.  I will remove the heart of stone...  I will put my Spirit within you.” (Ezekiel 26:25-27)  Jesus is our Savior.  He has done all the work, and he gives us all his benefits.  And since we are united to him in his death and resurrection, he will at the last raise us up from the dead and bring us to the home of his Father; for he has made us his people, and he is pleased to be our God.

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

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sermon -- Good Friday: The 7th Word (March 25, 2016)

THE SEVENTH WORD — Luke 23:44-46
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”  And having said this he breathed his last.

     With his last breath, Jesus again recited his Psalms: “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” (Luke 23:46; Psalm 31:5)  He went into death as if he were going to bed.  “Now I lay me down to sleep....”, confident that he would get up again.
     In his final word, Jesus does not address “God,” but his “Father.”  Like a son who has completed his assigned task, so he presented himself to his Father and submitted his work certain of his Father’s good pleasure.  Therefore, Jesus willingly put himself into his Father’s hands.  He willingly gave himself into death.  He confidently awaited his resurrection.
            Now you also are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26)  Therefore, you, like the Son of God, can face death with equal comfort and confidence.  The God who gave you life has also secured your eternal life.  The Savior who conquered death remains your Savior even when death comes to you.  There is nothing to fear.  You can go into death as a child who has completed the task God has given you to do—which is to believe in the one he has sent.  You can submit to your Father, confident that he approves and loves you as his own child, for that is what you are.  And you can lay down confidently awaiting your resurrection.  For, death is but a sleep from which your Lord will awaken you.
            So, when your last hour comes, you can recite your Psalms as Jesus did: I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4:8, NIV '84) “Father, into your hands I commend my body and soul and all things.” (Luther's evening prayer)

Sermon -- Good Friday: The 6th Word (March 25, 2016)

THE SIXTH WORD — John 19:30
           When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 

     Of the seven words which Jesus spoke from the cross, these words are probably the most familiar, and the most comforting.  Three words in English; one word in Greek: “It is finished!” “tetelestai.”  In English, it is a present tense.  In Greek, it is a perfect tense.  The perfect tense refers to something which happened and which still has effect to the present time.  We heard in when Satan tempted Jesus.  We heard Jesus say, “It is written.”  But it is really a perfect tense: “It has been written.”  And it still stands.  That is what Jesus says at the cross: “It is finished.”  It has been accomplished, and it still stands.
     “It is finished!”  It was not the last gasp of a man dying by crucifixion.  Jesus cried this out in a loud voice.  It was a proclamation.  It was said for the benefit of anyone in earshot.  It was recorded for the benefit of the world.
     “It is finished!”  Tetelestai.  It has been accomplished, and it still stands.  What is “it”?  Jesus has done what no person has ever done.  He is the one man who has ever given perfect obedience to God's Commandments.  Even on our best days we are not perfect.  But all of Jesus' days were perfect.  The Law has been fulfilled.  A man has kept the Law, and he has done it for you.  He gives you credit for the work which you did not do.
     In turn, he takes credit for the sins which he did not do.  Jesus offered up his life as the perfect sacrifice which takes away the sins of the world.  He absorbed the guilt and, therefore, the torments that the guilty deserve.  He consumed God's wrath to its last drop.  Therefore, there is no more wrath.  There are no unpaid debts.  There is no sacrifice left to be made.  “It is finished.”  Tetelestai.  It has been accomplished, and it still stands.
     “It is finished.”  This word Jesus uttered just before he died.  And it is the word we cling to when we face death.  Because of this word, we do not have to invent virtues that we do not have.  Nor do we have to pretend that our sins are not what they were.  Are we sinners?  Yes, but Jesus has taken our sins away.  Are we perfect?  No, but Jesus supplies us with his holiness.  We do not have to go into death pretending to be what we are not or pretending to have what we don't.
     What we do have is all we need: the word of Jesus.  “It is finished.”  The perfect life has been lived.  The cursed death has been died.  The sins of the world have been paid for.  Jesus has completed it all.  It has all been accomplished, and it still stands.  Tetelestai.  It is finished.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (March 24, 2016)



In the name + of Jesus.

     The greatest event in Israel's history was marked by a feast.  The Lord had promised the deliverance of his people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.  But before the Lord's deliverance, he had afflicted the nation of Egypt with ten distinct plagues, each plague mocking Egypt's gods and proving their impotence.  The tenth and final plague was the plague on the firstborn.  Every firstborn male in Egypt—whether man or animal—would be slain by the Lord in one night.  The Lord, however, gave Israel deliverance from death.  He commanded them to slaughter a flawless lamb.  Its blood was to be put on their doorposts.  When the angel of the Lord saw the blood of the lamb, he would pass over their homes, and no death would come upon them.
     That night, the angel went throughout Egypt.  Every home which was not marked by the blood of the lamb was filled with death, with shrieks of grief, and with mourning.  At that very moment, the people of Israel were all gathered together in familial harmony, and they were feasting.  They were not ignorant of what was going on in the Egyptian homes.  Nevertheless, their homes were filled with peace, with comfort, and with festal joy.
     The Israelites commemorated that deliverance annually.  They continued to slaughter lambs.  They continued to gather in familial harmony.  They continued to proclaim the Lord's deliverance with a feast.
     Prior to the Lord's deliverance, God had spoken to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” (Exodus 6:2-3)  That's not to say that Abraham did not know who the Lord was.  It means that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not witness the Lord's salvation.  At the Passover, the Lord revealed himself to Israel as the God who saves.  At every successive Passover, the Israelites continued to proclaim the LORD as the Savior-God.  The greatest event in Israel's history was marked with a feast.
     Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover together on the night he was betrayed, which began the series of events leading to his crucifixion.  Once again, the Lord was about to reveal himself as the God who saves.  However, the enemy to be destroyed was not a powerful army of men and horses and chariots.  The enemies to be destroyed were sin, death, and the devil.  Like a Passover lamb, Jesus would be slain and pour out his blood.  That blood, which pays for our sins, also marks us and delivers us from death.  Jesus would crush the devil so that he could no longer taunt us over sins we have done or torment us over the judgment we deserve.  The Lord Jesus Christ was about to go forth and put an end to these enemies once and for all.  Just as it was with Israel, so it is with us: We celebrate a victory we did nothing to win.
     And as it was with Israel, so it is with us: The greatest event in the history of the Church is celebrated with a feast.  St. Paul reminds us, “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  It is in this feast that Jesus reveals himself as the Lord, the Savior-God.  The Lord's Supper, upon which our Lord summons us to feast, is no re-enactment.  This is not a Passion play or a Christmas pageant.  We are not pretending or memorializing anything.  What Jesus gave into death to pay for our sins he gives to us in the feast for the forgiveness of our sins.  Thus, we proclaim the Lord's death.  Jesus himself says so.
     The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)  
     Jesus does not give us counterfeit comfort.  He does not supply his forgiveness in theory.  That would reduce God's promises to slogans and buzzwords.  In the face of death, such words are ultimately useless.  We suffer from true and real guilt.  There is nothing pretend about our sins.  We may paste on a happy face, but we often are hiding real shame and painful regret.  Especially at the grave, there is no play-acting.  Even the best eulogies do not reverse death or remove guilt and shame.  Therefore, the Lord took a true, real body because we bear in our bodies true, real sins.  Jesus took our sins into his body in order to suffer a true and real death for them.  The Lord took on flesh so that it could be nailed to a cross and laid in a tomb.  By his death, Jesus removed our sins from us and left them for dead in his grave.  By his resurrection, Jesus destroyed death.  We have a living Savior who proclaims a true real forgiveness of our sins and a real and everlasting life to all who believe.  Thus, we proclaim and celebrate his death, for that is where the payment for sins has been made.
     Just as Jesus assumed a real body to bring us the forgiveness of our sins, so he gives us his true body and blood in the Lord's Supper for the forgiveness of our sins.  He is the Lord—the Savior-God who comes to us in a real, tangible way to personally deliver the benefits of his sufferings and death to us.  That is why, when the Church gathers, we do not put on Passion plays or show movies.  They may tell a story.  They may tug on emotions.  But Jesus has given us something better and something real.  He summons us to the feast where Jesus personally gives us the body and blood which take away sin, which overcome Satan, and with bring victory over the grave.  In the feast of the Lamb, we don't ponder Jesus' love and salvation; we ingest it.
     That is why “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  This supper delivers everything that Jesus won for you—forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The body which bore our sins is given to you to eat.  The blood, which was shed as the atoning sacrifice, is given to you to drink.  When we eat and drink, we participate in the body and blood of Christ and receive his salvation.  When we eat and drink, we consume our Lord who is pleased to dwell in us and conform our lives to his.  This, then, is also the death of our sin and the newness of life in Christ.  For here, we are united to Jesus.  We proclaim his death, and we partake of its benefits.
     As it was with Israel at the Passover, so it is with us: We are not ignorant of what is going on the world around us.  We know there is death.  We see the brokenness of this world—revealed in violent storms and viruses.  We notice the wickedness of men—whether in petty squabbles or in mass destruction.  But in the midst of all of it, we have a Savior-God who delivers us from evil and preserves us in his kingdom.  Our Lord tells us not to fear.  Instead, he prepares a feast.  He has us gather in familial harmony as the family of God.  He summons us to eat and to drink.  We partake of the cup and feast on the Lamb.  We are delivered from sin, death, and the devil.  In the midst of death and pain and sorrow, we celebrate with joy.  We feast with our Savior-God.  We proclaim his death, and we receive his mercy.

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Holy Week -- The Triduum


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sermon -- 6th Sunday in Lent / Palm Sunday (March 20, 2016)



In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Zechariah preached to the nation of Israel shortly after they had returned from 70 years of captivity in Babylon.  These Israelites came back to find Jerusalem laying in ruins and their temple nothing but scorched rubble.  Until they had walls reconstructed, their city was defenseless.  Until they had the altar rebuilt, there was no smoke from the offerings to proclaim that God was with them to have mercy upon them and atone for their sins.  These Israelites had just begun to rebuild their city and their temple when Zechariah proclaimed the word of the Lord: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you...” (Zechariah 9:9)
     Now, keep in mind that Jerusalem was still pretty much in shambles when Zechariah proclaimed these things.  David's kingdom had been cut off with no evidence that it was poised to return.  There was no palace, and there was no one who dared to claim a throne for himself.  To do so would have been regraded as an act of treason against the Persian government which allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem.  Israel was not even looking for a king, much less preparing for one.
     “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is he...” (Zechariah 9:9)  The king whom Zechariah foretold would be a righteous king.  He would not be like the idolatrous kings who incurred the Lord's judgment against the nation and led to their exile.  He would not be crooked or deceptive.  He would rule in justice and would proclaim the truth even if the truth should hurt.  Behold!  Your king is righteous.  That means more than he is honest; it means he is holy.
     Americans do not appreciate what it means to fear a king, much less one who is holy.  We take great delight in mocking our leaders.  Saturday Night Live's best skits are the political ones.  With freedom of speech, we seem to think it is our duty to post insulting comments about our leaders on the web.  No sovereign would ever put up with that kind of insolence.  Just ask the North Koreans.  Now, if an earthly, sinful monarch would not tolerate mockery, how much more does it anger our holy God!
     The fear of the Lord has been felt by anyone who has ever come face to face with him.  The prophet Isaiah and the apostle John both received visions of the Lord upon his heavenly throne.  Both heard the angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! (Revelation 4:8)  “The whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)  And both fell face down to the ground in terror at their glimpse of the holy, holy, holy Lord.  Even the seraphim sheltered their faces from him.  Sinners have good reason to fear the Lord.  But we don't.  Not even the fear of hell keeps us from sinning against him.  We boldly defy God by using his name as an expletive or failing to use it at all in prayer.  God tells us to love our neighbor, but we despise the people he brings us into contact with.  We defame acquaintances.  Rather than calling loved ones to repent, we assure them that they are fine when they sin against God and others.  We plot revenge rather than grant forgiveness.  We avoid giving our time, our energy, and our money to anyone.  We even regard our loved ones as a burden or a nuisance.  And we think that God either does not see or does not care because life goes on as usual.  But the God who rules over heaven and earth sees all that goes on in heaven and earth, even in every heart.  The righteous God knows, and he judges righteously.  The King of heaven and earth will put all people to the test.  Those who are guilty will be rightly judged as guilty, and they will be rightly condemned for their guilt.  Repent.
     Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)  Jesus Christ is, without a doubt, the holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty.  Yet, he does not come in glory.  He comes in humility instead.  For, he does not come to give sinners what they deserve.  He comes having salvation.  The Almighty comes to save us who are feeble and frail.  He comes in meekness to save us who have been bold in our sins.  The Lord of hosts entered Jerusalem and the crowds welcomed him with rejoicing and shouts of “Hosanna!”  Although unwitting, it was a perfect plea.  For “Hosanna!” means, “Save, now!”  It proclaims exactly what Jesus came to do.  He is the Lord who comes to save.  Behold!  Your king comes to you, and gives you every reason to rejoice.
     When your king comes, he comes unarmed.  Zechariah declared, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off...” (Zechariah 9:10)  Your king establishes his reign without an army, without chariots or war horses or bows and arrows.  Jesus enters Jerusalem not to slaughter, but to be slain.  You may wonder, “What kind of king is this?  He is meek and presents no threat.  He is righteous, and yet comes to pardon the guilty.  He comes to establish a kingdom, and yet is going to his death.”  This, dear Christian, is the King who comes for you.  He comes to deliver you from your guilt by taking your punishment for you.  He comes to deliver you from the grave by going into death for you.  He comes to destroy your enemy, the devil, so that you are free from his tyranny of temptations and accusations.  The king dies for you to pay the price for sins, and then the king rises from the grave to overcome every threat you face.
     Behold!  Your king comes to you!  And he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:10)  The Lord Jesus answers our prayers of “Hosanna!” and establishes a kingdom of peace.  The peace which Jesus gives is peace between God and man.  God's anger only rests upon those who are guilty of sin.  But if you have been pardoned for all your sin, and if the blood of Jesus purifies you from all unrighteousness, then God cannot be angry with you.  Rather, God is pleased with you.  We cry, “Hosanna!” and our Savior King makes his royal decree: God's favor, salvation, and peace are ours.
     Behold!  His kingdom extends from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth.  Behold!  Your King reigns where he grants his peace.  Wherever the word of God is rightly preached and his sacraments are rightly administered, there is the kingdom.  There, Jesus reigns and bestows his salvation.  His kingdom is not limited by borders or race or even time.  His kingdom extends to the ends of the earth and even into heaven.
     Behold!  Your king comes to you again today.  And the church of heaven and earth join together in receiving him.  He is the “holy, holy, holy Lord God of heavenly hosts; heaven and earth are full of his glory.”  We sing the song of the angels and saints in heaven.  They, in turn, join the song of the saints on earth, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”  Again, we will cry out our Hosannas, and again the Lord comes and save.  And once again, he comes veiled in humble means.  The holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty comes in bread and wine to deliver his salvation and to preserve us in his kingdom.
     Rejoice, dear Church of God.  Behold!  Your King comes to you.  He answers your prayers of Hosanna.  He delivers his righteous salvation to you.  He grants you his everlasting peace.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers (March 16, 2016)

JOHN 17:20-26

Jesus Prays For Us.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus often went off by himself to pray.  Rarely do we ever hear of the content of Jesus' prayers.  In the upper room with Jesus, the apostles got to hear and record Jesus' prayer in detail.  In this prayer, Jesus prays for us.  He prays that we may know the Lord, that we may know his love, that we may know his glory, and that we may be perfectly united through him in knowledge, in love, and in glory.
     The glory Jesus prays about catches our attention immediately.  We all crave glory because we believe that glory is always a good thing.  Hollywood craves the glory of Oscar statues and best-whatever awards.  Athletes crave the glory of championships and Hall of Fame recognition.  The glory we crave is that we want to be the best and brightest at whatever we put our hands and minds to.  Being the best and the brightest means wealth, fame, and other rewards.  We believe that glory ultimately means happiness.  We want glory not so that we can benefit others, but so that it benefits only us.  That is why we crave it, and that is why we envy others who have it.
     Jesus prays for us—that we will see his glory.  But our warped view of glory gives us the wrong idea.  With a sinful view of glory, we think that Jesus wants us to see him in holy radiance and eternal splendor so that we can stand in awe and so that he can bask in our awe.  But that means Jesus' prayer is ultimately for himself and his own ego.  Jesus is God, and therefore he is glorious.  He is holy, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  Those things are glorious.  Those things are awesome, but those things do not save us.  In fact, they only terrify us.  Jesus revealed his divine glory at the transfiguration where, as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. (Luke 9:29)  When the apostles became fully awake they saw his glory. (Luke 9:32)  But this did not redeem them.  Rather, it terrified them.
     Jesus prays for us, and if he prays that we would see his glory, that is ultimately for our good.  So if it is not that we stand dumbfounded by Jesus' holy awe, what is the glory that he wants us to see?  The glory that Jesus reveals to us is the love that God has for sinful men.  His glory is that he has mercy upon sinners.  Jesus reveals that glory not in dazzling splendor, but in bloody agony, in shameful mockery, in brutal crucifixion, and in bitter death.  This glory has to be revealed to us because it is not evident from our vantage point.  The prophet Isaiah described Jesus' appearance, saying, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” (Isaiah 52:14)  He was “as one from whom med hide their faces.” (Isaiah 53:3)  And this, says the Lord, is glorious.
     Jesus prays for us.  Jesus always prays for us.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed fervently.  It is one of the few times we are privileged to hear the content of Jesus' prayers.  And while it is true that Jesus prayed for himself in Gethsemane, ultimately, his prayer was still for us.  Jesus prayed that he would receive strength to do the work the Father had assigned to him—to take away the sins of the world.  That has always been Jesus' prayer, because that is God's will.
     This is the glory that God reveals to us: Jesus' suffered and died for us.  Jesus' glory is not for his own benefit, but for ours!  Jesus was not obligated to pay for our sins, but he has sought our good.  And seeking our good meant that Jesus took himself into the pains and torments of bitter sufferings and a cursed death for us.  We crave glory, but Jesus humbled himself to death, even death on a cross.  Our sins separated us from God; for God cannot endure sins.  God does not tolerate our own personal rivalry with him where we exalt ourselves over others and even exalt our will over God's.  But Jesus took those sins upon himself.  Jesus became sin for us, and therefore God could not endure his own Son.  Jesus Christ was forsaken by God, hung to die in the darkness of Good Friday, cursed upon a cross, and carried lifeless to a tomb.  Jesus was condemned so that we would be pardoned.  Jesus humbled himself into death so that we would be exalted to eternal life.  He has reconciled us to God and promised that we will dwell in life eternal in the presence of God.
     This is precisely what Jesus asks for when he prays for us.  Jesus prays, “I do not ask for (the apostles) only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us....” (John 17:20-21)  Jesus prays for us, that we would all be united in him.  And indeed we are!  For, there is no difference among us.  We are all sinners who have been redeemed by Jesus' sufferings and death.  Any glory we have comes from Jesus.  If we are holy in God's sight, it is because Jesus has cleansed us of all sins.  If we are heirs of the heavenly kingdom, it is because Jesus has marked us for eternal life.  If we are children of the heavenly Father, it is because Jesus has united himself to us and, in turn, united us to him.  Our glory comes from Jesus.  He has redeemed our bodies and souls so that we will partake in the resurrection to everlasting life.  This is because Jesus was made a body and soul man who went into death for us and conquered it in order to deliver us from sin, from death, and from hell.  And the glory that Jesus bestows is not for a moment, but forever.  This is the glory we have, and we have it only because Jesus Christ has revealed it to us and bestowed it upon us.
     Jesus prays for us.  He said, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)  The love of God which was revealed to us now lives in us.  Therefore, our glory is not that we make ourselves famous or rich, but that we love God and our neighbor.  Since we are in Christ and since he dwells in us, our lives conform to him.  We live as the new creation which God has made us to be.  That means we seek the good of our neighbor, just as Jesus sought ours.  It may not appear glorious as far as the world defines glory.  In fact, it will cost us money, energy, and time, and it may go unnoticed or unappreciated.  But we do not do our work to gain notoriety or honor or reward.  We do it because that is what love does.  As it was with Jesus, so it is with us—our glory remains hidden until the resurrection.
     But in all of these things, Jesus prays for us.  He continues to intercede for us.  Even on our best days we are not perfect.  Therefore, Jesus still lives to serve and bless us; for the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.  That does not change.  Just as Jesus lived on earth to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so even now he lives and reigns to serve and to give his gifts to redeem sinners and to retain us as his saints.  Jesus prays for us.  He seeks our good.  And he reveals his glory—that he saves us and will deliver us to the glory that is without measure and without end.

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

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (March 13, 2016)

ISAIAH 43:16-21


In the name + of Jesus.

     One of the mysteries of our faith is this: “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling ... because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began....” (2 Timothy 1:9, emphasis added)  In other words, God's plan of salvation was in order before he even created the world.  Some might suggest that the whole incident in the Garden of Eden, then, was a set up—that God wanted Adam and Eve to sin against him so that he could step in and save them.  However, that ignores what the Bible plainly says.  God is not the author of evil.  God does not delight when people do evil.  The point is not that God wanted the world fall into sin; the point is that God, by his pure grace, has always wanted mankind saved from sin, death, and hell.  Even before their sin had its consequences, the Lord planed restoration for his people.
     In Isaiah's prophecy, we see something similar.  The prophet Isaiah was preaching to the people of Judah around 700 BC.  That was about 100 years before they would be taken into captivity.  Isaiah called them to repent so that this exile would not happen.  Sadly, Israel did not listen to God's word despite numerous warnings.  But Isaiah told them that, after their exile, God would restore them to their land.  Now remember: About 100 years before Judah was even taken captive, Isaiah proclaimed that God would restore them.  It is not that God delighted in their disobedience so that he had an excuse to save them later.  God never delights in sin.  But even before their sin had its consequences, the Lord proclaimed a restoration for his people.
     The Lord had already revealed himself to Israel as a Savior.  He is the God who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick. (Isaiah 43:16-17)  This was the deliverance which the Lord worked for Israel when he brought them out of Egypt.  At the shore of the Red Sea, with the Egypt's powerful army ready to pounce, the Lord parted the Red Sea so that Israel could walk through on dry ground.  When the Egyptians gave chase, the Lord brought the waters back and destroyed Israel's enemies.  Israel won a great victory without even drawing a sword.  The Lord is the God who saves.
     Isaiah declared, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)  In other words, they hadn't seen nothin' yet!  Behold!  A perfect restoration would come to Judah, and a greater salvation than the Exodus.
     The Lord first fulfilled this promise by restoring Judah to its homeland after their captivity in Babylon.  After 70 years of captivity, God led a remnant of Israel through the wastelands back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple.  God did this to be faithful to his promise.  The Savior would not be born in Baghdad, but in Bethlehem.  Behold!  A perfect restoration!  Everything God did to restore Israel to its homeland is ultimately about fulfilling the plan that God had set forth from eternity.  Not even Israel’s disobedience would overthrow God’s plans. Therefore, the Lord restored the people of Israel to their land.
     Behold!  A perfect restoration!  God remains gracious despite mankind’s sinfulness.  That is the way God always works.  The people of Israel were God’s chosen people only because the Lord had graciously chosen them.  God was not obligated to bring them out of Egypt and to destroy the Egyptian army.  God did not owe it to them to drive out Canaanite nations and to bring them into the Promised Land.  These actions were based on promises God had made, and the Lord was true to his word despite the defiance and complaining of the Israelite people.
     In the same way, the Lord restored a portion of exiles to Jerusalem after their exile.  It was not because God owed it to them; it is because God had made a promise which he would keep despite the sinful attitudes of men.  In fact, God even used the sins of men—the hatred of the Pharisees and scribes—to bring about the fulfillment of God’s plans.  Jesus' parable in our gospel sternly warned the Pharisees that they were about to put to death the Son of God.  But they did not listen.  In their anger and unbelief, they fulfilled God's plans and put the Son of God to death.
     That does not mean that God was pleased with it.  God is never pleased with sin.  God used their sin for his good purpose—to bring about the salvation of the world.  God remains gracious despite mankind’s sinfulness.  That is the way God always works.  God does not do things because he owes it to us; it is because God has made promises.  And God is always faithful to his word despite the sins of men.
     Our situation is no different.  We are Christians only because God was pleased to reveal his salvation to us.  We confess the Christian faith only because the Holy Spirit has planted faith in our hearts.  We remain in the Christian Church only because the Lord strengthens and keeps us in the one true faith.  All this is despite our sins.  We grow bored with God’s word.  We don’t pray the way we should.  We are all open to the charge that we do not live or speak or think like Christians.  We are all still sinners, and we all still know it.  So, why should God remain patient with us?  And why should God keep us in his kingdom?  Once again, it is not because we have finally mastered temptations and have achieved perfection.  Behold!  A perfect restoration!  God has restored us to himself and keeps us in his kingdom because of his gracious promises.
     “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19)  The new thing is that God does all the work to take away the sins which should condemn you and banish you from God and his goodness.  Jesus Christ was not obligated to take your guilt upon himself.  Jesus Christ did not owe it you to you pay for sins he did not commit.  Jesus Christ did not have to conquer death and the devil so that you would have the victory in a battle you did nothing to win.  And yet, because God is gracious, Jesus did it for you.  Because God had promised to be your Savior, even from eternity, God acted to save you.  And behold!  This is a perfect restoration.  Jesus has completely taken away your sins so that you are a full-fledged child of God.  You are not under suspicion, and you are not on probation.  And even though you sin daily, you are not teetering on the verge of hell.  Rather, the blood of Jesus Christ continually purifies you of all sin.  You get to come to God’s altar where you partake in the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  The feast is for you because God continues to be gracious and continues to save.  Behold!  It is a perfect restoration.
     And Jesus does even more than that.  For this is what Isaiah foretold: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:19-21)  Part of the curse which fell on the earth through Adam’s and Eve’s sin was that all creation was effected.  Therefore we know not only a world of uninhabitable wilderness, deserts, and wastelands, we also know a world of destructive floods and rain shortages, mutating genes and migraines, and endangered animals, invasive plants, and messed up eco-systems.  Jesus comes not merely to bring a restoration to sinners, but even to a sinful world.  The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)  The Lord will bring life back to the dead and will bless what has been cursed—whether the creation which has been corrupted, or our bodies which will be raised from the dead to glory and the everlasting life.  Then the Lord Jesus will restore all things to the perfection which God had created and which God had always intended them to be.
     And again, it is not because God is obligated to do these things for us.  It is because God has been determined to be gracious to us—from before the creation of the world to its end and forever.  Behold!  A perfect restoration.  Behold!  He will make all things new.  And that is why God's people declare his praise.

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

Friday, March 11, 2016

Service Notes -- Passiontide


This coming Sunday (March 13) is the 5th Sunday in Lent which marks the beginning of the season of Passiontide (the final two weeks of Lent), in which the Passion of our Lord intensifies.  Therefore, the Lenten fast also intensifies which we can observe in our worship setting.  The sights and sounds in God’s house are muted even more.  For the past number of weeks, our celebration has been muted in the following ways:
> There is no Alleluia in the Verse of the Day.
> We do not sing the Gloria in Excelsis after the Absolution.
> There are no flowers on the altar.

Starting now, you will note these additional practices.
> The Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father) is omitted from the Psalms
> All artwork or icons have been removed or veiled.
> The ringing of the church bell ceases.
> All music is muted except for the support of congregational singing.

Our services will practically be barren of celebration, but that is the point.  We are fasting.  We are penitent.  We are intently focusing on the sufferings and death of Jesus.  Ceremony and celebration will return with vigor on Easter Sunday when we rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord which declares that sins are forgiven and that death is destroyed.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

MLS Basketball -- It's over

Another season of Michigan Lutheran Seminary basketball came to a painful end last night.  MLS was facing Reese in the division semi-final game.  They were completely in charge of things (from reports I had heard -- we were unable to go) until Casey Williams rolled his ankle.  After that, the sizable lead that MLS had mounted against Reese slowly evaporated.  Reese went on to win the game, 52-50, and advance to the division finals.  Thus ended Andrew's high school basketball career.

The other factor which made this year so difficult was how many times MLS ended up on the short end of the stick.  MLS completed the season with a 10-10 record.  .500 basketball teams are usually not regarded as much of a threat.  A quick glance at the scores on M-Live and from my own personal notes shows that MLS was 12 points away from having a record of 15-5.  A whole lot of "if's" going a different way makes a huge difference in the record.  MLS came out on the short end of every close game.  Every one.  That hurts, and that is also how the season ended.

And so we come to yet another "last" in the Schroeder household, and we did not even get to watch it.  But we will watch what Andrew has in store for him in the years to come, and we pray that God will keep watch over him in whatever he does in the future.

I have no doubt that the notes above are what hang on Andrew's mind about the season and the playoff game from last night.  I hope that he also appreciates the milestone that was achieved in last night's game, too.  After three years on varsity basketball, in his very last game, Andrew scored his 1,000th career point!  If memory serves, my career high game in high school was 4 points.  By my math, I would have needed at least 250 games to do what Andrew did.  We are certainly proud of his accomplishments, and I hope that he is proud, too.  Those 1,000 points were not gifts.  They were earned, and it has earned him the respect of many--not least of all, his parents.

You can check out the M-Live article (with a less-than-flattering photo of Andrew driving to the hoop--scroll through all the photos) here:

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Photo Session -- HVL Tournament / St. Peter's basketball

Philip's last basketball game for grade school was on Sunday at the HVL Tournament.  They had hoped to bring home the 3rd place trophy, but too many missed shots resulted in taking 4th place in the final game.  Philip ended up getting a medal for All-Tournament team.  We are proud of his accomplishments and look forward to what his years at Michigan Lutheran Seminary might mean.

Here are some photos from the weekend.

A close win over St. Stephen's, Andrian

A loss against St. Paul's, Livonia.

A win against Crown of Life, Warren.

A loss against Trinity, Jenera, OH.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 6, 2016)

LUKE 15:1-3,11-32


In the name + of Jesus.

     I don't know if it is unique to America; it's probably a human nature thing: We like to see justice done.  Even our entertainment taps into that desire.  We want the cop shows to end with the bad guy being arrested, convicted, or even killed.  We like to see James Bond foil the evil plot.  On a smaller scale, we watch YouTube videos to see people do stupid stunts.  We don't feel bad for them because they get hurt.  Rather, we point and laugh because their stupidity got them what they deserved.  Even Oscar winners can't help but rant about some injustice they deem important.  People have varying ideas about what justice looks like, but everyone demands it and delights in it.
     For that reason, we might have some sympathy for the older brother in the parable that Jesus told.  The younger brother had asked for his share of the inheritance.  He took the money and went off to spend it all on booze and prostitutes.  The older brother, however, was the good son.  He did not dishonor his father by asking him to cash out his last will and testament before he was dead.  He did not sully the family name with a lifestyle of drunken nights and fornicating.  He stayed at home.  He did his chores.  Far from squandering the family fortune, he did all he could to add to his father's estate with hard, diligent work.  Now, you be the judge: Which one was the good son?  Which one should the father love and honor?  It's a pretty easy answer, isn't it?
     Now you can appreciate why the Pharisees were disgusted by Jesus.  The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)  What kind of rabbi honors people who so flagrantly sin against God?  What kind of prophet rubs shoulders with people who sully the Lord's name with their wicked ways?  Jesus did not merely give them a polite wave or a brief acknowledgment; Jesus received sinners and ate with them.  In other words, he bonded with them, declared unity with them, and accepted them.
     The older brother was the good son.  He never left home.  He always showed up for duty.  And he expected to be rewarded for it.  After yet another day of laboring out in the fields, he came home to the sound of music and dancing, to the smell of beef roasting, and to the noise of the revelers laughing.  But the party was not for the good son; it was for the scoundrel who came home destitute and dirty and desperate.  Honor and reward were being bestowed upon the derelict.  Where is the justice in this?
     When we hear Jesus' parables, we often try to associate ourselves with the hero of the story.  But which are you really closer to?  Is it not the older brother?  He is the one who claimed: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command...” (Luke 15:29)  Those were not empty words.  For all those years, he was the good son who tried to be obedient.  Doesn't that describe us?  We are the ones in church again.  We daily strive to do what God's Commandments call us to do.  But like the older brother, we believe that justice demands that we be rewarded for our good behavior and our church attendance.  We think that we have earned something from God because we have not given ourselves over to a life of boozing and whoring.  The Pharisees truly believed that they did deserve better from God, just like the older son who was outraged that the flagrant sinner was celebrated while he was weary from another day of toiling in his father's service.  That, we would argue, is not justice.
     But the Lord does not work according to justice; the Lord is gracious to the sinner.  That really begins to bother us when we see God's grace put into practice.  We want to see justice done.  We want to see sinners pay the price.  But God desires to be gracious.  He delights in saving sinners, no matter how sinful they have been.  That is why Jesus welcomed tax collectors and prostitutes, telling them that there was mercy even for them!  If we say that we like the idea of the tax collectors and the prostitutes being welcomed by Jesus, what we mean is that we prefer to know about it in a magazine article, not in our own church.  We rejoice that a prostitute in Vegas repents and goes to church.  Would we have such joy if that woman came off the street from last night's work and sat down in Good Shepherd this morning?  That is how we are like the older brother who refused to step foot in his father's house when the prodigal son was welcomed back with open arms and without strings attached.
     We fail to recognize what justice looks like.  If we demand God to give us what we deserve, he will.  And for our sins, we deserve death and everlasting punishment.  Maybe you don't think your sins are as egregious as the crook or as flagrant as the prostitute, but God sees the deeds we do behind closed doors, hears the words we say behind people's backs, and knows even the secret thoughts of our hearts.  The divine justice we deserve for those is eternal fire.
     But God has revealed a different justice to us.  The Lord is gracious to the sinner.  In our parable, if we are going to compare Jesus to anyone, it may well be the prodigal son.  For, Jesus left his Father's house and went to squander all of God's gifts and his goodness on people, even on the likes of the prostitutes and sinners who came to him.  That is exactly what disgusted the Pharisees: The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)  Jesus spent his time and his mercy on all kinds of sinners, including those who will never care or repent or believe.  We find this lavishness foolhardy.  Why be more merciful than you need to be?  But Jesus never considered such lavish mercy a waste.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—even our sins of being so stingy with our compassion and failing—even refusing—to love the unlovable.
     Our mercy has strict limits, but Jesus poured out boundless mercy and grace upon us.  His mercy caused him to take our sins upon himself and to suffer for us what justice truly demands.  He was condemned and cursed for us.  And his grace caused him to give to us a place in the Father's house that we could never earn or deserve.  Jesus has cleansed us of our filth, wrapped us in a robe of righteousness, and put the ring on our finger which gives us all the privileges of being in the Father's house.  We rejoice in seeing justice done.  The Lord finds great joy that Jesus was prodigal (i.e., wasteful) with his grace; for it means the salvation of sinners.  And after Jesus had completed his mission, the Father received Jesus back with festal joy and fanfare.  Jesus lives and reigns on high, assuring us that we, on whom he spent his grace, will live and feast with him.
     The Lord is gracious to the sinner.  If you are the older brother who dwells in the Father's house, you have not been cheated out of anything.  As the father said in the parable, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31)  Jesus' lavish grace has been spent on you, and it continues to be spent.  For though you strive to be obedient children to your heavenly Father, you and I still fall short.  But God does not grow tired of being gracious to sinners.  He is not stingy with his compassion and forgiveness.  All that is his is yours.  You have his blessing, his peace, his favor, and his salvation.  As his children, you are heirs of eternal life.  These have always been yours.  And so, you have a comfort that all people crave even though they wallow like pigs.
     The Lord is gracious to the sinner, no matter how wicked that sinner has been.  And if the Lord's grace means that flagrant sinners are brought into the family, you have lost nothing.  But you have gained a brother.  Therefore, it is fitting to celebrate at the salvation of every sinner.  We welcome them to the feast, and we look forward to the eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb, where his mercy, his grace, and his goodness endure forever.

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