Saturday, April 30, 2016

Something from Ambrose (regarding the Christian struggle)


          Here is something from St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan (c. 340 - April 4, 397), regarding why Christians struggle but unbelievers seem to have a care-free, easy life.  This, by the way, is the atheists' and even the Satanists' boast about why their "belief" is the preferred one.  Ambrose reminds us why we struggle and, more importantly, the reward that awaits for those who struggle.

          Ambrose's observations should also be compared with Psalm 73.

          "Perhaps you say, Why are the wicked joyous?  Why do they live in luxury?  Why do they not toil with me?  it is because they who have not put down their names to strive for the crown are not bound to undergo the labours of the contest.  They who have not gone down into the race-course do not anoint themselves with oil nor get covered with dust.  For those whom glory awaits trouble is at hand.  The perfumed spectators are wont to look on, not to join in the struggle, nor to endure the sun, the heat, the dust, and the showers....

          "They, then, who have devoted themselves to pleasures, luxury, robbery, gain, or honours are spectators rather than combatants.  They have the profit of labour, but not the fruits of virtue.  They love their ease; by cunning and wickedness they heap up riches; but they will pay the penalty of their iniquity, though it be late.  Their rest will be in hell, yours in heaven; their home in the grave, yours in paradise."  ("On the Duties of the Clergy," Selections from Book 1, chapter 16, paragraphs 60 and 61)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sermon -- HVL Chapel (April 25, 2016)

This was the chapel devotion given at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, Michigan.


In Love He Will Remove The Problem Of Sin.


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Gospel writer Matthew sums up Jesus' ministry in this one verse: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)  You are all familiar with the miraculous healings that Jesus performed—restoring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the mute.  He made the paralyzed and lame walk.  He even raised the dead.
     When you go to church, you usually hear more about the first part of what Jesus did—teaching and proclaiming the gospel.  There is good reason for that.  Being blind does not send anyone to hell, nor does paralysis or even death for that matter.  Christians die, but that does not mean they have gone to hell.  Sin condemns us.  Sin is the reason we are guilty and unclean.  Sin is the reason people go to hell.  Sin causes us to despise God and to go against his word.  Sin causes us to think we are good enough and to think that if God has a problem with us that God is the one with the problem.  Sin makes unbelievers of us all, and that is the reason we would go to hell.
     Therefore, your pastor preaches God's word to you in order to put to death those sinful inclinations in you.  You are admonished so that you do not let sin make itself at home with you.  This drives you to Jesus, our Immanuel.  Behold!  The dwelling place of God is with man! (Revelation 21:3)  Jesus came to dwell among mankind in order to deliver mankind out of all sin and guilt.  Jesus alone forgives you sins because he has paid for them.  Jesus alone grants you the righteousness you need to stand before God because Jesus alone has it.  Jesus alone makes you children of the resurrection because Jesus alone has conquered death.  Jesus is the door into the kingdom of God.  Jesus is the way to eternal life.  That is why we preach about Jesus Christ who was crucified and is risen.  For, he alone forgives sins and saves sinners.
     So now, you bear the status of saints.  You are holy and blameless in the sight of God.  But you have not been delivered from all your troubles yet.  In fact, the older you get, the harder the troubles are going to seem.  Family and friends will die.  Bodies will get older, ache, and become frail.  You will be slandered by neighbors and sabotaged by co-workers.  You will experience car accidents, broken bones, flu, watery eyes, and runny noses.  You will read stories about war, terrorist attacks, hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding.  Guess what?  You live in a broken world.  That doesn't mean you won't enjoy any blessings in it, but the blessings are always pock marked by the effects of sin.  You will get to know many people who will be overwhelmed by all the problems in the world.  You will be overwhelmed too, from time to time.  But fear not.  You have your Immanuel.  You have a Savior who delivers you even from these.
     He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)  Jesus Christ not only taught and proclaimed the gospel, he also went about healing every disease and affliction.  The kingdom of God is not merely about forgiving sinners so that they can go on living in a corrupt, warped, and broken world.  You already have that now.  But you long to be delivered completely from your pains and  problems.  Dear Christians, you will be.
     St. John proclaimed the vision of your future: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)  
     The Lord Jesus Christ is your Immanuel.  He became man so that he could deliver mankind from sin and all its consequences.  That is why he healed diseases and removed afflictions.  Those are a foreshadowing of the perfection to come.  He rose from the grave with his body to show you that your bodies will also rise from the grave forever free from sin and its consequences.  He will make all things new.  The Paradise of God is better than you can dream of because there will never be problems there—not car accidents or cancer, not allergies or acne, not bitterness or backstabbing, not pain, not sorrow, not death, not sickness, and not even Kleenex.  Jesus will make all things new and perfect and permanent.
     I know that we do not have all of these things now.  For now, we continue as saints living in a sinful world.  For now, we continue to flee to Jesus for mercy and encouragement, for admonition and consolation.  And Jesus continues to pour out his blessings upon us.  And Jesus continues to remind us of the glories to come.  And they will come.
     In the meantime, rejoice!  For you have what people dream about.  You have been promised what people pray for.  People want a world where people get along, where wars have ended, where disease has ceased, where bodies don't get weak, and where loved ones don't die.  Dear Christians, you do not have to dream about it; you only have to wait for it.  Jesus came to dwell with man so that we could dwell with him forever.  The Lord who proclaimed the kingdom of God is also the Lord who puts an end to every disease and affliction.  These words are trustworthy and true, and they ensure your place in his kingdom now and forevermore.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016)

ACTS 13:44-52

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

In the name + of Jesus.

     We all like the idea of grace until we actually see it put into action.  Then we are bothered, or even outraged, that God would be so kind and accepting to some people.
     That is what happened at the synagogue where Paul and Barnabas went to preach.  It was common practice for St. Paul to go to the synagogue when he first entered a new town.  He went to see the people who were regular church-goers and who heard Moses and the Prophets read sabbath after sabbath.  Paul and Barnabas eagerly proclaimed to these Jewish worshipers that all of the promises and prophecies they had heard week after week had been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the atoning sacrifice which was foreshadowed by every Old Testament sacrifice.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
    At first, the Jews in at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch rejoiced in this message.  God had been faithful to his word.  God had sent his Messiah.  God was pleased to save his people!  Therefore, these Jews asked Paul and Barnabas to come back and tell them more the following sabbath.
     Word about this message got around town, so that on the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. (Acts 13:44)  That's when things turned bad.  When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. (Acts 13:45)  The Jews sneered at the Gentiles who had shown up at their synagogue, wondering, “What are they doing here?!  We are the chosen ones of God.  We are the regular church-goers.  We have worked harder and behaved better.  What makes them think that God has good things for them?”  These Jews despised the idea that the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world actually came for the world.  They were so outraged by God's outrageous grace that they rejected God's word, contradicted God's message, and drove God's messengers out of town.  God's grace is meant for all, but they did not believe it.  They were convinced that they had earned God's favor and that salvation was their exclusive right.  They loved God's grace until they saw it in action.
     We are tempted by the same self-centeredness today.  We are the regular church-goers.  We hear God's word and strive to order our lives according to it.  We believe that we have behaved better than others, and that may even be true.  It is not hard to find people who, by their sins, have made a royal mess of their lives.  People are abusive and obnoxious.  They are proud and boastful.  They are deceptive and hypocritical.  They are perverted and obscene.  They destroy lives with slander, lies, or schemes—either someone else's life or their own.  In other words, they are sinners and they prove it in magnificent fashion.
     If our church began to fill up with such people, how many of us would wonder, “What are they doing here?!”  Would our actions suggest to them, “You are as welcome here is a virus”?  If you have such thoughts, repent.  For you have betrayed yourself—that you think God's favor is yours because you have behaved better and that God's salvation is yours because you've done something to earn it.  If that is the case, you reject God's grace.  You prefer to be judged by merits.  Be warned.  If you want God to give you what you have earned, he will—condemnation for sinful arrogance.  Repent.
     But God's grace is meant for all.  To the Jews at the synagogue who despised the Gospel, Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you.  Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)  These Jews had refused to stand before God as sinners.  Ironically, they had judged themselves unworthy of eternal life because they though they alone were worthy of it.
     God's grace is meant for all, and it is needed by all.  We all stand before God as sinners.  We are not here because we are better or brighter.  We are beggars.  When you came into God's house this morning, you did not bring anything that God needs or that makes God better off.  We all come to God with nothing.  We acknowledge our sinfulness and confess our many sins against God and against our fellowman—even that we look with scorn on others who are foreign or unfamiliar or messed up.  If you recognize that you are a sinner: Good news!  Jesus Christ has come into the world for sinners.  He has nothing for those who are good enough in their own eyes.  But for sinners, Jesus Christ is gracious.  For beggars, Jesus Christ pours out his gifts.
     God's grace is meant for all.  Grace means that Jesus gives us what we do not deserve.  We do not deserve to have our sins forgiven.  He who is guilty should be judged and sentenced accordingly.  But Jesus has taken our sins from us.  He paid the debt he did not owe so that he could redeem us.  That cost Jesus his life at the cross.  The gift to us is full pardon for all wrongdoing.  We do not deserve God's favor.  Rebels deserve execution, not favor.  But Jesus Christ was crucified for us.  He was put to death under God's wrath.  We, in turn, credited for Jesus' obedience, have God's favor.  The gift to us is a place in God's kingdom now and forever.  We do not deserve everlasting glory.  We have earned hell.  But Jesus endured the shame of crucifixion and the curse of God for us.  The gift he gives us in exchange is a resurrection to glory everlasting.  This is God's grace.  He credits us for work that we did not do.  He takes the divine wrath that he did not deserve.  He does all of this for us—not because we have come to church or given large offerings or behaved better in public or done anything that gained God's attention.  Rather, it is all grace, and it is all done because God is gracious.
     God's grace is meant for all.  That does not mean that God allows people to go on living in sinful rebellion and accepts people who are impenitent.  Those who persist in sins do not believe God when he establishes right and wrong.  Those who are impenitent refuse to be sinners before.  Jesus has nothing for them.  But for all who are sinners, Jesus is gracious.  For all who are grieved by sins or ashamed. Jesus forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  He does not excuse them; he forgives them.  He does not put sinners on probation; he grants full pardon.  And though the consequences of a messed up life might still be messy, Jesus cleanses the sinner and dresses him up in his own righteousness.  That's what his grace does, and his grace is meant for all.
     If it frightens you that people may come to us who have royally messed up their lives, or if it concerns you that people who have been snatched from Satan's grasp may still have quite a few heathen moments, fear not.  It is true: It may be hard to love the unlovable, and it may get messy welcoming the messed up.  But in loving the sinner, we follow Jesus who said: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)  And how has Jesus loved you?  Even though you are far from perfect, Jesus still loves you.  Even though we don't deserve good things from God, he gives them all the same.  That is grace.  We rejoice that God has been gracious to us, and we pray that God's grace may be revealed to all and work in all.  By God's grace, those who are messed up are cleansed.  By God's grace, those who are unlovable are loved.  By God's grace, Christ's love converts sinners not only to saintly status, but also to godly living.  After all, that's what God's love has worked in you, hasn't it?  God's grace is meant for all; for God wants all to be saved.

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

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Local Tourist -- Michigan by The Accidentals

I stumbled across this song, and I think it is a pretty cool homage to Michigan and traveling and vacations.  From  a band originating in Traverse City.  Well done!  Enjoy!

Monday, April 18, 2016

80 -- Again

Today, my father turns 80 years old.

There are too many things to thank my father for.  Now that I am a father myself, I realize that many of the things he did were done practically anonymously.  Much of what he did was done without any fanfare or crowing about it.  It was probably almost anonymous because it was done so consistently.  He went to work day after day to serve his neighbor (most of those work years as a trust officer), and to provide for his family.

I remember trips into what was then Security First National Bank.  He had a desk in a large room with probably 20 other employees.  The ceiling in that room was probably about 15 feet high.  I always thought it was really cool.  Eventually, he got his own office which, as I recall, was a glorified cubicle.  It might have been more private, but it was never as cool as that big room.

When the bank moved his job to Milwaukee but left him behind in Sheboygan, he tried his hand at jobs that he probably would rather not have held--insurance salesman, vacuum cleaner salesman, real estate salesman, and eventually employee at Sheboygan Paper Co.  But he did what he had to do to continue to be a provider.  Again, without fanfare (although his retirement came with some degree of jubilation).

I suppose the greatest service he provided over the years was Christian disciple--especially the discipline that meant we were going to be in church whenever there were church services.  Sunday mornings and Wednesdays in Advent and Lent were never optional.  It is just what we did.  And then he sent me to the Lutheran elementary school at Calvary, Sheboygan and later to Manitowoc Lutheran High School where we made the daily trip up and down I-43.  I don't know how nervous my parents got over us on the road every day, especially in winter.  But God was good.  The only damage I ever did to the car was in our drive way.  The other fender bender was when the car was parked and I was nowhere near it.  It is a relief when those things aren't your fault.

Anyway,  all those years of Christian discipline served my good both temporally and, by God's grace, eternally.  It even resulted in my continuing my Lutheran education through college and seminary so that I am a pastor today.

He also took us on really cool vacations.  We had a blast no matter where we went--whether to see the grandeur of the national parks in California or the legendary stories of "camping" on the gravel lot in Brush, Colorado where one could easily confuse the urinal with the sink.  The Germany trip was phenomenal, and I am glad that we finally got to go on it after years of dreaming about it.

Anyway, some stories are best re-told over ice cold beers in person.  I am hoping to do that again this summer, depending on what the schedule permits.  In the meantime, I will hoist one up for you later today.

Happy Birthday, Dad!
Mom, my brother Paul, and Dad in Leipzig.

Dad and Mom in Heidelberg.

Mom & Dad with their children, Paul, me, and Kris, celebrating their 50th anniversary, summer 2014.
My parents with all their children and their spouses and grandchildren.

Local Tourist -- Belle Isle, Detroit

This past Saturday, the Local Tourist and family (at least, whoever was available, which was only Laura and Peter), wanted to do something to see different scenery.  We decided to go to Historic Fort Wayne on the south side of Detroit and along the banks of the Detroit River.  It is only $5 per car load, and there are lots of buildings to walk through.  It is only open on weekends.  Sadly, it does not open for guests until May.  So, plan B.

We headed north of the downtown and drove to Belle Isle and had a picnic along the bank of the Detroit River.  We walked through the aquarium, the conservatory, played around the fountain, stopped in briefly at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, and walked to the Livingstone Lighthouse on the north-eastern tip of Belle Isle.

Because we have the state park passport already, the entire day was free (donations accepted at most places).  Because the day was so nice, Belle Isle was really hopping.  There were lots of bikers, joggers, picnic-ers, photographers, fishers, boaters, and people just enjoying the sun.  Workers were also in the process of getting the roads on Belle Isle prepared for the Detroit Gran Prix later this spring.  The trees were still pretty barren, only buds; but the fields of daffodils--large swaths of yellow--were scattered around the island and were in full bloom.  They were pretty.

Some photos.
Canada on port side; Detroit on starboard (assuming we are headed downriver. 

Inside the Belle Isle Aquarium.

Even though it was gorgeous outside, it is always soothing to look at palm trees.

Peter enjoys the James Scott Fountain.  It will be functioning Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

The anchor from the Edmund Fitzgerald.  It was dropped in the Detroit River in 1974 (chain link broke) and retrieved in 1992.

Livingstone Lighthouse.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (April 17, 2016)



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

In the name + of Jesus.

     Hebrew poetry is not concerned with rhyming.  The word play in Hebrew poetry is often in parallels.  For example, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)  Lamp is parallel to light, and “my feet” is parallel to “my path.”  Sometimes the parallel is a contrast.  For example, “Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, but sin overthrows the wicked.” (Proverbs 13:6)  The contrast there is obviously between sin and righteousness, the blameless and the wicked.  The word play in Psalm 23 is not in parallels, but in its design.  In English, when we want to emphasize something, we usually make it the first word or the punch line.  In Hebrew, the main point is put in the middle.  The words which come before and after that phrase either prove support it or are the consequences of it.  The very middle of Psalm 23 are the words: “For you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)  
     The LORD is my shepherd.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:1,4)  The Psalm does not say that there is no evil.  You would have to be willfully naive to think that there are no evils around us.  We see them, hear about them, and experience them all the time.  In particular, we think of the evils which can destroy us and condemn us.  For as bad as some evils are, such as a car accident, car accidents do not damn.  Sin does, and sin is always there.  We are seduced by the sinful attitudes and actions which are common around us.  And we are enticed by the sinful desires that spring up from our own hearts.  If our way is not blameless, our sins will overthrow us.  Death, of course, is always out there.  We know that the grave will one day claim us.  And the devil does all he can to pull us away from our Lord.  He tempts us, convincing us that we deserve the very things God forbids.  And then, when we have sinned, the devil taunts us so that we feel miserable in our guilt and shame.  There is plenty of evil out in the world and down in our hearts.  Therefore, let us keep watch, stand firm, and pray.
     We cannot escape the evil around us, but we need not fear it.  The LORD is my shepherd.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:1,4)  The Lord Jesus does not abandon us or forget about us amidst the evils that we know and feel—whether they are pesky and inconvenient, or wicked and damnable.  The Lord Jesus is and remains our Immanuel.  That is the central point of Psalm 23: “For you are with me.”
     A good shepherd always is with the sheep.  In the Judean community, every family would have had a few sheep.  A youth from the community would be hired to shepherd the flock for everyone.  He would know where to lead the sheep to make sure they got fed.  They did not go into fields protected by barbed wire fences.  They went out into open wilderness.  Predators would have pretty easy access to the sheep—unless they had a good shepherd to defend and protect them.
     Sheep are also prone to stray.  They pay attention to the little tuft of grass in front of their snouts.  Soon, they drift away, caring only about the next tuft of grass.  They are not even aware that they head right into potential death.  Therefore the shepherd calls to them so that they hear his voice and stay close where it is safe.  Likewise, we are prone to stray.  We devote ourselves to what is next on our schedules.  We fail to give head to our Shepherd's voice and end up wandering away from him, unaware of the danger we are in.  The problem is not our schedules anymore than the sheep's problem is the tuft of grass.  The problem comes when the sheep neglect the shepherd's voice.  With the shepherd, there is no danger.  Apart from the shepherd comes certain death.
      The LORD is my shepherd.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:1,4)  This Psalm was well known to the people in Jesus' day.  So, when Jesus declared, “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11), they knew that Jesus was proclaiming that he is the Lord who shepherds his sheep.  And then Jesus went on to say what makes him the good shepherd.  “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)  As a good and faithful shepherd, Jesus takes his stand between us and between all the evil that would threaten or destroy us.  With the shepherd, there is no danger.
     I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)  Jesus Christ protects us from every evil.  You do not need to fear your sins.  Jesus Christ has taken your sins from you.  Jesus suffered the wrath of God in your place.  Your shepherd has taken the blows and let his body be rent apart so that you would not suffer.  Instead, you are forgiven.  You need not fear the devil, either.  Though he prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour you, Jesus Christ has overcome him.  When the devil taunts you about your sins and tries to smear you with the shame of what you have done, Jesus speaks a more powerful and more soothing word.  To the devil, you are prey.  You are meat to be devoured.  To Jesus, you are precious.  You are the lamb he has redeemed with his life.  And he lives to claim you as his own forever.  The devil does not have you.  The devil cannot have you.  Jesus reminds you, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)  With the shepherd, there is no danger.  Therefore, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)  
     The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)  For now, it may seem that death is winning; for we are all going to die.  We have watched loved ones die.  Death overlooks no one.  But you do not need to fear even death.  The Psalmist reminds us, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)  Your Good Shepherd has already gone into death for you.  Death had swallowed Jesus up, but death was forced to spit him up when Jesus burst forth out of the grave.  Jesus Christ is risen, and he lives as your Immanuel.  Jesus lives to serve you as your Good Shepherd.  Even though you will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will walk through it.  Not even death can separate you from Jesus.  Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades, and when he comes again at the Last Day, he will deliver you from the grave to life everlasting.  Even in the face of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)  
     And it gets better.  If you are in Christ, you do not have to live your life like you are barely escaping evil all day long.  We do not cower behind walls, peak out of blankets over our heads, or tremble at the sound of everything.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  ...You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies... (Psalm 23:4,5)  We feast with our God.  Even though sin, death, and the devil are always around us, the Lord Jesus prepares a feast for us right in front of their faces.  We get to rest in God's presence and rejoice in God's care.  The table is prepared for the feast, and here Jesus Christ fills you with what you need for your salvation.  Here are the body and blood which were given for the forgiveness of your sins.  Here are the body and blood which have conquered death and the grave.  Here are the body and blood which Satan could not destroy.  Here they are—for you.  It is the feast of the Lamb given to the lambs of God.  In the face of our enemies, Jesus is with us and is given to us.  In the midst of evil, Jesus restores our souls.
     I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)  Our Good Shepherd leads us with his words of comfort and encouragement.  And he guards us from behind with goodness and mercy following us.  Jesus knows you and loves you.  He guards you and keeps you.  He feeds you and strengthens you.  And since he shepherds you for your everlasting good, you shall not want.  You lack nothing.  For, you are his, and he is yours.  Since he is your Immanuel, you shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:6)

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

Friday, April 15, 2016

Chrysostom and 21st century Christians

After considering Chysostom's words again, it is apparent that context would have been helpful.  One glaring omission in the quote, as short as it is, is Jesus Christ.

Many Christians today (and even a large number of non-Christians) would agree with Chrysostom's words as they are written.  Why are we saved?  Because we are beloved by God.  In other words, just because God loves us.

Apparently, that means God either does not pay attention to our sins, or ignores them, or never was really bothered by them to begin with.  It means that there is no reason to repent, no need to turn from wickedness, and no point in pursuing godly living.  It means that the Ten Commandments are a farce, and God was kidding about his judgment and his wrath.  It means that we don't have to take God seriously at all -- except when he tells us that he loves us.  Even though we can laugh off everything else God says and does, we firmly believe that we will go to heaven because God--whom we would not take seriously in any other aspect--loves us.

This is what you are left with if Jesus Christ is removed from the picture--a god who is neither to be feared or taken seriously, and yet whom we expect will give us a place in heaven and who loves us.  Does this seem contradictory yet?

Therefore, Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to God's love for us.  Jesus is the one who reveals God's love to us.  God is serious with his Commandments, and he promises (not merely threatens -- God issues no empty threats) hellish torment to any who do not keep his Commandments.  But God also sent Jesus Christ to fulfill and obey all of the Commandments for us.  Then Jesus credits us with the work he did.  We are credited with work we did not do -- "not by laboring and sweating."

Then Jesus Christ made himself sin and a curse for us.  He bore our sin and its consequent punishment.  He endured the hellish torment at the cross.  He suffered and died the cursed death so that our death will not be cursed.  We are saved by Jesus' sufferings and death -- "not by fatigue and suffering."

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)  This is what Chrysostom was preaching about.  But when Jesus is left out, whether in a short quotation or in an entire sermon, God's love is at best in doubt or at worst not to be taken seriously.  Only in Christ are these things sure.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Something from Chrysostom

Image result for chrysostom

          Here is something from St. John Chrysostom ( c. 349–407), who served as bishop of Constantinople, regarding our salvation:

          "For not by laboring and sweating, not by fatigue and suffering, but merely as being beloved by God, we received what we have received." (p, 2, Homilies on the Gospel according to St. Matthew; Homily 1, part 4)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 10, 2016)

JOHN 21:1-19


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     In the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed, the apostles got into a debate about which of them was the greatest.  Perhaps it was in conjunction with Jesus telling them that he was about to die.  If Jesus were no longer the leader, which one of the apostles was greatest and, therefore, would assume his mantle and be the next rabbi for their group?   Obviously, none of them was the greatest.  None of them was even good.  They all abandoned Jesus.  Peter made a strong case for being the worst of the Twelve, denying Jesus three times and renouncing him.
     Jesus had appeared to these faulty men twice already.  Jesus' appearances proved that their flesh-and-blood Savior who died was still their flesh-and-blood Jesus.  Only now, the body which had been crucified and buried was alive.  Jesus Christ is risen!  And Jesus was not angry with them because of their sins.  He declared peace to them so that they would not be afraid.  He absolved them so that they would not be plagued with guilt or sorrow.  The apostles rejoiced at the sight of Jesus.  Jesus lives, and sins are forgiven.
     After those two appearances by Jesus, they went back up north to Galilee, to their homeland.  Jesus had told them to go there.  But the apostles seemed to be at somewhat of a loss of what to do next.  So, they went back to what they knew.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:3)
     In the first light of the day, Jesus appeared on the shore.  He instructed the fishermen to cast their net on the right side of the boat, and he assured them they would find fish there.  The disciples pulled in an extraordinary number of fish in their net—way more than they needed for their next meal.  It would be enough to sell in the marketplace feed their families for days.
     It was all too familiar to John.  That disciple … said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7)  These fishermen had witnessed Jesus do this same miracle some three years prior.  Immediately after that miracle, Jesus called these men to leave their nets, to be his full-time disciples, and to train for the ministry.  Just as Jesus repeated that miracle, so Jesus repeated that call.  Jesus' resurrection did not mean that the disciples no longer had anything to do.  The risen Lord wants his sheep fed.
     After Jesus had feasted with his disciples, he spoke to Peter.  Three times, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”  It was as if Jesus were undoing Peter's three denials and reinstating Peter as a bona fide apostle.  But Jesus' first question to Peter deserves more attention.  Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15)  The question is “these” what?  “Do you love me more than these other apostles?”  This seems unlikely.  Jesus had rebuked the disciples for boasting about who was greater than whom.  We don't have contests in this church about who is the greatest Christian.  There are no awards ceremonies for who has the strongest faith or who has done the best works.  Such contests would not only be worthless, they would be destructive.  Even when we have such contests in our heads, we insult fellow Christians.  If anyone would dare to make such boasts, people would not be concerned if that person fell into sin.  They would cheer to see him fall from his perch and would take sinful pleasure in his humiliation.  Our place in God's kingdom has nothing to do with how great we are, how strong our faith is, or how much we do.  It has everything to do with how much Jesus loves us.  Our place God's kingdom is only ours because Jesus had done all the work to bring us into it.  Therefore, there is no room in the kingdom of God for exalting oneself—whether taking pride that I am better than you, or rejoicing that I not as bad as you.
     What seems more likely is that Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these fish?”  Remember, Peter and the others had hauled in 153 large fish.  That was a lucrative day on the Sea of Galilee.  Is this what Simon would come back to when things got hard?  Is this what Simon would revert to when he struggled, when he failed, or when he felt utterly defeated?
     We all have places where we tend to flee to when life gets hard or sad or disappointing.  Some medicate themselves with alcohol.  Others bury themselves in their work.  Some just shut out everyone else.  This is how people deal with grief or guilt, heartache or hardship.  When you feel like you have been a failure as a Christian, you may be tempted to quit because you do not measure up to what you think other people think of you.  But this is precisely why the risen Lord wants his sheep fed.  Jesus Christ knows that we are weak, and he knows that we still sin against him.  While Jesus urges us to repent, to flee from sin, and to pursue what is holy, he also knows that we will fall short.  Sometimes our sins will be sorely disappointing—both to ourselves and to others.
     But the risen Lord wants his sheep fed.  That began with Peter.  Jesus did not tell Peter that he was too great a source of shame upon the Lord and, therefore, was no longer worthy of being Jesus' disciple.  We are not judged based on our merits, but on Jesus' merits.  Though we strive to be faithful, we are not graded by God on how faithful we have been.  We would never know if we have been faithful enough, and we would be back to contests about which of us is the greatest and who is more faithful than whom.  Instead, our comfort is that God is faithful to his promises, and that Jesus has been faithful for us in fulfilling all of God's promises to forgive sinners.  And so Jesus called Peter, with all his faults and weaknesses, to go and feed his sheep.  The risen Lord wants his flock to be tended with words of mercy, compassion, consolation, and encouragement.  None of us is perfect.  But we have a Savior whose love for us is perfect, whose sacrifice for us is perfect, and whose faithfulness to us is perfect.  That perfect love sustains us through all of our imperfections.
     It had not been much before this time that Peter had boasted of his greatness.  He was full of himself, thinking that he would go brilliantly to a glorious death in defending Jesus against his enemies.  Obviously, it did not work out that way.  Gethsemane was not a glorious moment for Peter.  Likewise, we may be guilty of having made great boasts about all the good we were going to do for God, only to have our boasts and our plans result in an inglorious failure.  But Jesus told Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) (John 21:18-19)  In other words, Peter would get his wish after all.  He would die for Jesus.  But Peter's death would not be a mark of shame, even if it were gruesome.  God would be glorified by Peter's service in feeding his sheep and in dying for Christ's name.  In the same way, the Lord is honored by your service in his name, no matter what it is, even if it seems trivial or thankless.  You do not have die a martyr's death to honor Jesus.  All your works honor Jesus.  For, even though your works are done in weakness and remain imperfect, the blood of Jesus cleanses them and makes them good and glorious to your Father in heaven—just as the blood of Jesus makes you good and glorious to your Father in heaven.
     But no matter what you do, your greatest work is being fed by our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is he who loves us and sustains you in the Christian faith—delivering you from all your sins and consoling you with his faithful promises.  This is your glory, and this is what makes God glorious—that God loves and saves sinners.

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

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pastors' Conference -- Calvary in Eaton Rapids, Michigan

This past week, our Pastors' Conference was held at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church in Eaton Rapids, Michigan.  The altar and the communion railing are marble and rather ornate.  Pastor Mark Eckert informed me that these had come from a Roman Catholic facility and were installed by the members of Calvary some years ago.  They were concerned about if it would be centered or not, because once it was in place, they were not going to move it again.

Unfortunately, the top piece of the altar was a little too high and was replaced so that the altar could fit under the ceiling.  From what I was told, the cross they put on the top was an improvement from what had been there,  Apparently, the highlight of the altar had been the Virgin Mary and not Jesus.  The change to the top of the altar, then, was not merely practical, but theologically necessary.

Some photos.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 3, 2016)

JOHN 20:19-31


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

In the name + of Jesus.

      On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them... (John 20:19)  I suspect that the disciples were even more fearful of Jesus than they were of the Jews who were locked outside of their room.  They all had good reason to be afraid of him.  The last time most of them had seen Jesus, they were running for their lives out of the Garden of Gethsemane and into the dark of night.  Those who had boasted that they would never forsake him and would even die with him forsook him.  Jesus went on to die alone.  These disciples were plagued by the guilt of their faithless allegiance.  They were not good disciples.
     These guilt-ridden disciples were all gathered back in that upper room where they had feasted with Jesus.  They had heard reports of Jesus' resurrection from the women.  For the most part, they dismissed them.  But what if it were true?  What would Jesus say to them if they saw him again?  How angry would Jesus be?  Would Jesus reject them and cast them into fiery judgment?  He should, shouldn't he?  These were legitimate concerns.
     Then, Jesus appeared among them.  He was not angry.  There was no sense of regret or disappointment.  He said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  He did not breathe fire; he breathed his Holy Spirit upon them.  He did not cast them out of the kingdom of God; he gave them authority to serve in his kingdom and even to proclaim his forgiveness to others.  He came to trembling sinners and declared, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
     When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:20)  Jesus demonstrated that it was really him—their flesh and blood Savior.  We should take to heart the fact that Jesus appeared in the flesh to declare his peace.  Although the word of God is clear in many places about God's mercy and forgiveness, Jesus did not leave these disciples to figure out for themselves that God loves and forgives the guilty.  The guilty are too frightened and confused to know or believe that God loves them.  They might hope so.  They might even insist that it has to be true.  But a guilty conscience will not let your heart have rest.
     Judas was just as guilty as the eleven with his sins.  In fact, Judas was the only one of the Twelve who actually tried to amend his sins.  Judas tried to return the money he had received to betray Jesus.  But Judas' attempt to undo his betrayal and its consequences did not take his sins away.  Wanting to be freed from his guilt did not make Judas free from his guilt.  Judas Iscariot was so overcome by his guilt and grief that he sought relief in suicide.  Sadly, that faithless death only resulted in endless grief and eternal sufferings.  The remaining disciples huddled together in the upper room.  They, too, wanted to be freed from their guilt and shame.  But banding together for mutual consolation could not take away their sins or relieve their guilt.
     Therefore, Jesus himself appeared to these disciples.  The very one who had taken their sins to the cross delivered the message of forgiveness to them.  Jesus did not speak about some nebulous forgiveness.  Jesus personally declared that their sins were forgiven.  Jesus knew they had failed.  He knew all their faults.  And he still loved them.  He declared, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  Jesus had authority to forgive their sins, and so he did.  As he declared it, so it was done.
     Now, our sins are just as real as those of the disciples.  Every day we strive to be faithful to our Lord and obedient to his word.  But we forsake God's truth when holding firm to it costs too much.  Our society desires to be free from God and his word, and our nation fulfills the warning from St. Peter, “With respect to (sinful attitudes and immoral behavior) they are surprised when you do not join in with them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1 Peter 4:4)  We do not like to have abuse heaped upon us.  And so even Christians adopt worldly attitudes, get drunk, sleep around, turn to obscenities, and back away from God's word when people sneer at us for believing it and living like we do.  We like being popular with the world more than being faithful to God because we favor immediate pleasure over future glory.  So, how should the Lord treat us when we abandon him because it was hard or inconvenient to be faithful Christian?  Repent.
     If you feel guilty over your sins, if you feel ashamed of your cowardice, if you are burdened by your lack of faith and obedience, you are where the disciples were in the upper room.  At those difficult times, you may think of reasons why your sins should not trouble you any longer.  But how can you trust your thoughts?  Depending upon your mood, you can convince yourself how awful you are or how wonderful you are.  If you believe you are so awful, despair may lead you where Judas went.  If you believe you are so wonderful, is that God's word or are you just telling yourself how wonderful you are?  No matter how convinced you are of your own opinion—whether you are awful or wonderful—God's judgment is the only one that matters.  Therefore, if you want to have peace, you need God's word to deliver it.
     The Lord Jesus appeared to his troubled disciples in the upper room on Easter evening to absolve them of their sins.  He does not appear in person any longer.  But this is what he does instead.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23)  
     Jesus gives authority to forgive sins to his disciples.  The same authority Jesus has to forgive sins he gives to his disciples.  And the Church calls ministers to apply that forgiveness to troubled sinners.  If you are troubled by your sin and guilt, you will not find peace in some nebulous forgiveness out there.  How would you ever know that Jesus forgives you, and that he forgives that sin?  He does this by sending flesh-and-blood ministers to speak in his stead and by his command.  “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” (John 20:21)  Jesus said.  Jesus gives authority to forgive sins.  Through his ministers, Jesus applies to you personally the forgiveness of your sins.  Yes, Jesus knows that you have failed.  He is aware of all of your faults.  And he still loves you.  He does not look upon you with disgust or disappointment.  Rather, he looks upon you with mercy and desires you to live without guilt or shame or fear.  So Jesus gives you a personal word of forgiveness, and you hear it when his minster declares, “I forgive you.”  It is Jesus' “I” that you hear.  It is Jesus' forgiveness that is applied to you.  It is declared with Jesus' authority and backed by Jesus' own promise: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:23)
     Jesus gives authority to forgive sins.  And he is not chintzy with his forgiveness.  You are all disciples of Christ.  You are all priests of God and servants of the Lord.  And you all have friends who carry upon them the burden of guilt and shame.  Many of them live in terror at the idea of seeing Jesus.  They expect him to be angry, and for good reason.  They need the very forgiveness that you have.  And you get to be the voice that Christ uses to bring relief to guilty hearts and comfort to troubled souls.  Jesus gives authority to forgive sins to you, too.  It is his word.  It is his good news.  And it is meant for everyone Jesus died for – that is, everyone.
     Jesus gives authority to forgive sins.  He does this for your benefit so that you can know, without a doubt, that your sins are forgiven.  He grants peace to troubled sinners, and he brings joy to grateful saints.

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