Monday, May 30, 2016

Graduation from MLS

This past weekend, Andrew graduated from Michigan Lutheran Seminary.  We are proud of all of his accomplishments, and pray that the Lord will continue to bless and keep him in his future endeavors.

Here are some photos from the weekend.

The concert choir sang for the commencement service.
President Peterman presented Andrew with his diploma.
Laura was looking forward to this hug more than anyone.

Andrew with his godparents, Dan & Jeanette Schneider.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sermon -- Trinity Sunday (May 22, 2016)

NUMBERS 6:22-27


In the name + of Jesus.

     Dearly beloved of God, and especially the youth who are being confirmed here today.

     The Triune God has put his name upon you.  You were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Through that baptism, the Lord washed away all your sin and guilt.  The Lord Jesus has clothed you with his righteousness, a garment on salvation wrapped around you.  The Lord drove out the unclean spirit in you so that now the Holy Spirit dwells in you.  You are God's temple, in whom God dwells, and on whom God has put his name.
     This has been your status even from infancy.  As you grew up and learned more about God's word, you learned more about the blessing of having the Triune God's name upon you.  Granted, you did not grasp this in your infancy.  Nevertheless, you had the benefit of God's blessings, God's promise, and God's salvation.  That is because God had adopted you into his family, and you received the benefits of that family.  As infants, you did not really understand the blessings you were given when you were born into your earthly family.  You did not really know or appreciate the benefits of having your family and bearing your family's name—that you had parents who would feed you, clothe you, bathe you, protect you, and console you.  You did not get it, but you benefited all the same.  In the same way, you have benefited, even from infancy, when the Triune God put his name on you and made you his own dear child.
     Now that you have studied God's promises and commandments, you know what it means that you are children of the Most High God.  You understand that having the name of the Triune God put upon you is not merely a status.  Faith is not mere knowledge.  The devil has knowledge, too.  In fact, the devil knows the Bible better than you and I do.  Faith is not knowledge of the facts that any Jeopardy champion can rattle off.  Faith is a devout trust in God's promises.  Faith believes that God is good and faithful, even when life is hard and unfair.  Faith is not mere theory.  Faith is living and active.  Faith is put to work, forming our attitudes and guiding our actions.  So, we not only confess that we are children of the Triune God, we also live as his children.
     Over the years, your parents have told you what they expect of you.  They have taught you how to behave.  They taught you to say “Please” and “Thank you.”  They made you apologize when you were wrong.  Your parents set a standard of behavior which you are expected to follow even when you are not with them.  That's because you bear the family name, and your parents don't want you to disgrace that name with rude or wicked behavior.  This is also how it is with the Lord.
     The Triune God has put his name upon you.  You have been adopted into God's family and you bear the family name.  The Ten Commandments declare what God's will is for all people.  If you bear God's name, you rightly take to heart what those Commandments say.  By them, God tells you how his children should think, speak, and act.  But they also show us that we do not do what we should do.  They highlight that we have sullied the family name. Our attitudes are jealous and petty.  Our words are deceptive, unkind, and vulgar.  Our actions are not for the love of our neighbor, but for the good and the glory of ourselves.  Perhaps you have even had people confront you about your sins, getting in your face and saying indignantly, “That's how you act?!  I thought you were a Christian!”  The Bible admonishes us: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.  For, as it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'” (Romans 2:23-24)  Repent.  The Commandments remind us that we are still sinners, and we are right to confess that to be so.
     It is not only amazing that our Triune God has put his name upon us; it is also amazing that he does not revoke his name from us.  Nor are we the weird relative that he will only acknowledge begrudgingly.  Instead, God's face continually shines upon us.  That is part of the blessing that is proclaimed at the end of every service: The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. (Numbers 6:25)  This is what Jesus Christ has done for us.  He reveals to us that our Triune God is most merciful to sinners.  Jesus took our sins and bore our shame and guilt and was put to death under God's curse for us.  Jesus hung from the cross in total darkness as the heavenly Father poured out all his wrath on Jesus for us.  In turn, the Lord's face shines upon us.  We have pardon for all our sins.  And since the blood of Jesus always covers us, the Lord is always gracious to us.  We are always God's beloved children.  The Triune God has put his name upon you so that you will always know that you are his.
     Today, dear class, you are about to vow that you will always be faithful to the Lord Jesus.  You will vow to conform your life to God's will, as the Lord gives you strength.  You will need his strength, because the devil will be fighting hard for the rest of your lives to lure you away from God.  And the devil plays dirty.  He lies.  He distorts God's word.  He wants to deceive you so that you believe that his ways are better.  He tells you that God only judges, the devil is accepting; that God only condemns, the devil loves; that God is a bigot, that the devil tolerates.  The devil mocks God's will for purity; the devil celebrates promiscuity and perversion.  God calls you to repent; the devil tells you to apologize for nothing.  And the devil's ways may very well be more popular.
     The devil will also employ your friends for his purposes.  They will mock you for following God's word.  They will beg you to forsake God's commandments and assure you that bearing God's name is unimportant or just plan stupid.  As I said, the devil plays dirty.  And to top it off, you will have your own sinful nature to contend with which will convince you that you have better things to do than to go to church, to be fed by Jesus, and to believe the Bible.  I don't mean to paint a dismal picture, but an honest one.  We do not call it “the Church Militant” for nothing.
     Your hope, however, has not changed, and it has never disappointed anyone who has kept it.  Your hope is the Triune God.  He is the one who blesses and keeps you.  He has not only made you, but he sustains you.  He not only provides for your bodily welfare, he has secured your eternal life.  You do well to vow to be faithful to him, but you will also find that you sin against him.  You will not need acquaintances to get in your face and tell you, “That's how you act?!  I thought you were a Christian!”  You will say that about yourself.  But you will find that your Triune God remains utterly faithful to you.  He will cleanse.  He will be gracious.  He will grant you peace.  And he will not revoke his name or his blessings from you.
     It is also worth noting how the Lord bestows his blessings upon you so that you always remain in his good graces.  The Lord commanded Moses to give these words to Aaron and his sons to proclaim to his people.  He concluded by saying, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Number 6:27)  You will not remain a Christian merely by sitting at home and thinking about Jesus from time to time.  God's gifts are given by his ministers where God's people meet in God's name.  Here, the word which saves you is proclaimed.  Here, the Lord's Supper which feeds you is administered.  Here, the forgiveness which comforts you is dispensed.  Here, God's name which marks you continues to be proclaimed upon you.  Here, God's faithfulness is made known to you, and it is that faithfulness which will keep you faithful to him.
     Your confirmation vow will not save you.  It will not even comfort you.  You are saved and comforted and sustained and forgiven and blessed only by your merciful Father who sent his Son to redeem you who sends his Holy Spirit to create and strengthen faith in you.  Through word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit works to reveal to you the Son who proclaims to you your loving Father.  This is why you will always need the word and sacraments which are always in Christ's church.  The Lord desires this for you so that you will be his forever.  He is eager to bless and save you.  After all, that is why the Triune God has put his name upon you.

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Athanasian Creed -- a little history

        This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  While specific focus will be on the mystery of the Trinity, we will not unravel it.  I wonder if we will even grasp it when we are in God's presence in eternal glory.  My suspicion is that it will remain a mystery at which we will marvel for eternity.  But if God enables us to grasp this mystery then ... well, all the better.

        Although we will not unravel the mystery of the Trinity this Sunday, we will confess it.  It is the one Sunday of the year when we will confess the Athanasian Creed (one version of it here) which is the most succinct and complete confession of the Trinity I know of.  What follows is a little history on it and some clarification of a few phrases in it.  These notes are not entirely original with me.  I would like to give credit to where I got it from, but as time has gone by, I cannot recall the source.

The Athanasian Creed is one of the three catholic creeds.  The word catholic means universal, as in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  The word creed comes from the Latin word credo which means “I believe.”  Luther said of this creed, “I doubt whether the New Testament church has a more important document since the Apostolic age.”

Although named for Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria (ca. 296-373), it is almost certain that he did not write it.  Neither Athanasius nor his contemporaries ever refer to it.  But even if Athanasius did not write the creed, he certainly would have ascribed to it.  Athanasius was one of the bishops at the ecumenical Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) which opposed the heresy of Arius (ca. 250-336).  Arius denied the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, teaching that he is of a similar substance to God the Father, but not of the same substance.  In essence, Arius claimed that Jesus Christ is not the eternal God.  This belief has resurfaced in modern-day cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.  The Council of Nicaea adopted the Nicene Creed to affirm that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God” and “of one being with the Father.”

The Athanasian Creed first appeared in Gaul (France) late in the 5th century.  Early in that century, Europe was invaded from the east by barbarian tribes, notably the Vandals and Goths.  This event marked the beginning of the Dark Ages.  During this time, the people and the clergy lapsed into illiteracy and ignorance of the Scriptures.  In addition, some of the invaders were Arian in their beliefs.  Out of this confusion came the need for a clear statement of faith.  The result was the Athanasian Creed.

The Athanasian Creed quickly assumed an important role in the orthodox church.  (Much of the visible church was overrun with Arianism.)  Emperor Charlemagne (ca. 742-814), in order to preserve the true Christian faith, decreed that all churchmen had to learn this creed and to be able to teach it to the laity.

The second portion of the Athanasian Creed reaffirms the Nicene Creed regarding the person of Jesus Christ.  However, it begins with a most excellent presentation on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  It says no more and no less than Scriptures say, letting the paradox of God’s nature stand (i.e., God is one; God is three).

Confessors of the creed should not be put off by the second to last article which says: “Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire” (cp also John 5:28,29).  The article does not teach salvation attained by human works, but simply reflects that our good works (or lack thereof) are evidence of God-given faith (or unbelief).  When we remember that our good works are actually God’s work through us, then we will understand this article correctly (cf Ephesians 2:8-10).  In addition, we remember that are judged based on Jesus’ merits, not our own.  We have been given the credit for Christ’s righteousness.  Therefore, we are heirs of eternal life.

This creed ought to bring us great comfort, as it speaks clearly about our God and his plan for our salvation.  Its clearness and boldness are refreshing in this age of doctrinal confusion.  This is no wishy-washy confession.  It states what the Scriptures teach – there is no God but the Lord revealed in the Scriptures, and there is no salvation outside of the name of Jesus Christ.  All who deny this deny the truth; and all who deny the truth forfeit salvation.

Finally, a study of this creed and the history which surrounds it shows how important it is for us to be familiar with the history of the Christian Church.  When we understand how Christians who have gone before us identified error and combated it, then we will better be able to do the same.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sermon -- Pentecost (May 15, 2016)

GENESIS 11:1-9


In the name + of Jesus.

     After Noah and his family left the ark, the Lord blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1)  It was just a few generations later, however, that the people abandoned the Lord’s blessing and dishonored his name.  Rather than filling the earth as the Lord had commanded, the people made these plans: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4) 
     The people were not interested in honoring the Lord’s name.  They wanted to make their own name great.  They wanted their city and its tower to be a lasting monument to themselves, so that future generations could marvel at their ingenuity and ambition.  Now, it is not that the Lord despises beautiful buildings or dedicated communities.  Look at God’s creation and you will see that God delights in beauty.  God’s commandments show that God desires vibrant, industrious, and orderly communities.  But God never delights in people who seek to make a great name for themselves, especially at God’s expense.
     That problem is not limited to the plains of Shinar.  We all strive to make our names great and, like the people of old, we do it at the expense of God’s word.  Like the people at Babel, we go our own way to gain the praise of others.  Others may praise us if we give ourselves into sin because they are eager to see us join in with them.  The world despises godly living because godly lives stand in contrast to sinful deeds and condemn them.  On the other hand, if we stand firm with lives that are noble, chaste, sober, and honest, we hope that we will be recognized and honored for that.  One way or another, we long to be great and to be praised, so we build ourselves up—often by cutting others down.  We turn things upside down—desiring to have God honor our name rather than we honoring his.  This is what the Lord says: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought...” (Romans 12:3)  Repent.
     The Lord was not pleased with the events on the plain of Shinar.  The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do.  And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.”  So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Genesis 11:6-8) 
     The Lord’s act was not entirely done in judgment.  It was the LORD—Yahweh, the God of mercy—who confused their speech and dispersed them.  The Lord would not let them march lock-step into damnation.  The Lord acted to stop their united efforts of sinful rebellion.  He caused their languages to sound to each other like babble.  The people who had been united in speech and in purpose could no longer understand each other.  They viewed one another with suspicion, with fear, and perhaps even with animosity.  So, the people did under compulsion what they were unwilling to do in obedience: They scattered throughout the world to fill it.  In this way, out of one tongue the Lord created the languages, and out of one people the Lord created the nations.
     But on the day of Pentecost, we notice a great reversal.  On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit sanctified our “Babel.”  The Lord Jesus sent his Holy Spirit upon the disciples who enabled them to speak in many languages.  Jews from all over the Roman Empire had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover.  The people heard the disciples speaking in their hometown languages and said, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:11) 
     On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit began to gather into the kingdom of God the nations which had been scattered throughout the world.  The Holy Spirit did not reverse the curse at the Tower of Babel by reducing all languages back into one.  Rather he sanctified all of the languages of the world.  The Holy Spirit sanctifies our “Babel,” and has given each language something of value to say and confess.
     Once again, the Lord’s actions are not made known by judgment, but by mercy.  That mercy is revealed as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached to sinners, declaring that Jesus has received the judgment which had been upon us.  Jesus was nailed to a cross for us and for all people.  Above him was posted the charge in multiple languages.  And now God’s love is declared in all languages.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29)  Jesus took the lowest place under God's wrath for all people so that we would be exalted and so that our names would be honored and written in the book of life.  It is only Jesus who can give you a great name, that is, one which is known by God and beloved to him.
     The Holy Spirit sanctifies our “Babel.”  The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in languages which were unknown and unlearned by them so that the people from all the nations could hear and know that God’s salvation is for them.  Thousands of years after Pentecost and thousands of miles away from Jerusalem, that message is repeated today.  For God’s love is not limited to one language, to one culture, to one nation, or to one age.  No matter how much sinners might try to make a great name for themselves, all sinners end up dying.  Almost all of them end up being forgotten by history.  Even their own families forget them in just a few generations.  The only monuments left for any of them are tombstones.  But the Holy Spirit reveals to you that your name will dwell eternally in the kingdom of God.
     This is what was revealed on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit worked through the words proclaimed to the world which had gathered in Jerusalem on that day.  After the feast, those people scattered back to their own nations, but they had also been gathered in to a kingdom that is not limited to borders, cultures, languages, or time.  They returned home with the word that Jesus Christ has had mercy upon sinners, that God so loves the world, and that he has saved them.  The Holy Spirit gives us these same words of eternal life to confess.  He gives us the glory of God to proclaim.  He exalts our speech—not so that we can boast of ourselves, but so that we can boast of Jesus Christ who is the Savior of the nations.   The Holy Spirit sanctifies our “Babel.”
     In the final book of the Bible, St. John was given a revelation of the kingdom of God in heavenly glory.  At the center of all things is the Lamb on the throne.  But around the Lamb are all those who have been saved.  St. John described it: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10) Although Christ’s redeemed may come from many nations, they are one people.  Though they may speak with many languages and dialects, they speak one confession.  The Holy Spirit unites Christ's Church in voice and in purpose—to speak a clear message of God's love and salvation to the world.  By doing so, we honor our God name and we praise his great name.

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

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sermon -- Ascension, transferred (May 8, 2016)

ACTS 1:1-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     After Jesus had risen from the grave, he appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days.  During those forty days, Jesus spoke to his disciples about the work they had to do.  The kingdom of God was established by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but that does not mean that people automatically were in it.  The Scriptures teach us, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)  So, if people are going to be saved, they need to know who their Savior is and what he has done for them.  And if they are going to hear about him, someone needs to preach and to tell them.  That is what Jesus gave his disciples to do before he ascended into heaven.  The ascended Savior kept them focused on his kingdom.
     The disciples did not get it—not entirely.  They were still clinging to the idea that Jesus being the Messiah meant a glorious kingdom on earth.  If Jesus is the Son of David, he should take his place on David’s throne and rule Israel in glory.  That is why the disciples asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)  Jesus dismissed their question.  He refocused them so that they were not concerned about worldly kingdoms or worldly glory.  The ascended Savior kept them focused on his kingdom.
     The disciples are not alone in their longing for a glorious life in a glorious world.  We still long for it, too.  We are gearing up to elect our next president.  Many people exhaust a great deal of energy, passion, and money so that the right person will be elected.  Perhaps you believe that one candidate has the best ideas and will fix the wrongs of our nation.  Or perhaps you worry that we will get the wrong president and are convinced that the country will be ruined if that happens.  Well, I don’t know what will happen to our nation no matter who becomes president.  Neither do you.  You may be confident of your theories, but you don’t know.  Even if you are convinced that your candidate will fix everything—let me ask you: When has our world ever been fixed? 
     I am sure that Jesus’ disciples had some valid complaints about the way things were being run in Palestine.  Even though Jesus Christ had been exalted as the Lord of Life and the King of the universe, he did not tell his disciples to march on Rome and overthrow Caesar.  He did not formulate a plan to get revenge on Pontius Pilate or suggest that they no longer had to obey King Herod.  The ascended Savior kept them focused on his kingdom.
     Dear Christian, that is the Lord’s role for you, too.  The ascended Savior keeps your focus on his kingdom.  The world that we live in is broken.  The people who live in it are sinners.  And you are one of them.  No president or politician or program is going to fix any of that.  Jesus Christ does.  The righteous Lord came into our world to save sinners.  He became flesh and blood to deliver us, who are flesh and blood, from our sins.  The Righteous One gave himself into death on behalf of the unrighteous in order to pay for all sins.  But now Jesus lives and reigns.  He lives to proclaim that your sins are, indeed, pardoned.  He reigns so that nothing can overrule his verdict.  Jesus Christ is risen from the grave.  He lives, and death no more can claim him.  He reigns to declare that you, who have been baptized into his name, will also rise from the grave with your bodies to live forever. 
     And now Jesus has also ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  In other words, a man has gone into the presence of God to rule heaven and earth.  If flesh and blood dwells in God’s presence, so will the flesh and blood people he has redeemed.  Through Jesus, you are redeemed from your sins and relieved of your guilt.  All regrets are taken away.  All shame is covered.  Through Jesus, your place in eternal glory is secured.  He is the first man to enter into the presence of God—for he is righteous.  And in baptism, Jesus has clothed you with his righteousness.  Therefore, Jesus will bring you into heaven, and the dwelling of God will be with men, and mankind will dwell with God.  This is the kingdom that Jesus has established, and your ascended Savior keeps you focused on this kingdom because it is the only place where you find forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting glory.
     The glory, however, is yet to come.  We still live in this world which is filled with tears and terrors and troubles.  Now, some efforts can relieve a few tears and troubles, but no fix is perfect or permanent.  It is good and right to provide aid to those who are in need and to comfort those who are suffering.  This helps to alleviate the miseries of a sinful world.  But no social program, no tax hike or tax break, no legislative act, no executive order, and no judicial decision will ever forgive sins or deliver people from death.  That is why Jesus told his disciples not to worry about the kingdoms of the world.  You have a much greater kingdom to rejoice in.  You get to proclaim a King who lives to have mercy upon sinners, to serve and to save them.  The ascended Savior keeps us focused on his kingdom.
     The Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in order to take his place at the right hand of God.  The right hand for most people is the dominant hand.  It is a sign of strength.  God revealed his hand whenever he acted to save, as when the Scriptures say that the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt with “a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.” (Psalm 136:12)  So, when Jesus takes his place at the right hand of God, it does not mean he has removed himself from us.  On the contrary, it means that Jesus is wherever God acts to save.  He is wherever the word is preached.  He is where baptism is applied.  He is where the Lord’s Supper is administered.  He is where sins are absolved.  And since he dwells in you, he is with you always.  If Jesus is with you, then all of his benefits are continually yours.  You do not teeter in and out of God’s kingdom throughout the day.  You are always blameless before God and beloved by God.  You are always redeemed and, therefore, ready for your final breath.  You are heirs of glory, prepared to receive a kingdom in which there are no tears or terrors or troubles … ever.
     The world longs for what you have.  And the world will only know of our Lord’s glorious kingdom if we tell them.  That is what Jesus gave his disciples to do until he returns.  The leaders of this world will jockey and fight for their moments of honor and realms of power.  It will always be this way.  It is not for you to worry about that.  But you—go and proclaim the kingdom of God.  That is where Jesus keeps your focus. 
     As Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples stared up trying to keep their eyes on Jesus.  Two angels appeared and gave the disciples a nudge.  They said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)  Jesus would not be seen by them or anyone else until he returns on the Last Day.  Until that day, there is work to do, and the time is short.  The world is dying.  People in it are dying.  We have the privilege and duty to confess Jesus’ name and proclaim his salvation—to comfort those who are afraid, to give hope to those who are ashamed, to encourage those who are struggling, to welcome those who are lonely, and to declare everlasting glory to those who are broken.  All people need Jesus, and we are the ones who have him.  We get to proclaim Jesus and his salvation. 
     The ascended Savior keeps us focused on his kingdom.  It deserves far more effort, time, and attention than any presidential campaign.  Only Jesus brings lasting joy, eternal hope, and everlasting glory.  He is not campaigning for anything.  He lives and reigns.  His kingdom endures forever.  His mercy endures forever.  And all who believe in him shall live and reign with him in glory forever. 

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

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Word for today -- Dishevelled

This sign is strangely placed.  Either you should have
begun your detour about one mile back, or the sign should be
on the other side of the stop light and facing the opposite direction. in, "my office is dishevelled."    "9 Mile Road is dishevelled."  "I-275 is dishevelled."  "The organ in the church was dishevlled," but thankfully has been restored to good order.

          Between renovations being done around the church (Bob Wozniak and Brian Mowers are doing a TON of work on these things, as are some others) and the road construction being done in the area, everything is out of sorts.  It will be nice when it is all done, but for now, things are ... well ... dishevelled.

Some photos.

Granted, my office usually looks this dishevelled,
but poor lighting does not allow you to see the shelves pretty well emptied of books.

Here is the empty office, freshly painted.  New carpetting comes next week.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Something from Ambrose (regarding penitence and pride)

          Here is something from Ambrose, bishop of Milan (c. 340 - April 4, 397), regarding the one who seeks repentance.  What strikes me more than anything is the zeal Ambrose describes regarding the penitent who desires the forgiveness of sins and the participation of Holy Communion.  Ambrose describes one who will groan, yearn, and beg with tears to receive God's mercy.  There is no greater longing that he has than to be forgiven and reconciled both to Christ and to his fellow believers.

          I don't know if this was portrayed as the ideal or if Ambrose actually encountered people who were this zealous for absolution.  At the very least, he seems to portray the denial of the sacrament to some as fairly normal.  The desire is for the penitent to show a sincere repentance, but it is equally interesting to see one who is not too proud to humble himself as lowly as possible (in tears!) to receive absolution from the pastor.

          From my experience, people want less and lesss to approach the Lord as sinners.  They see the Church as the place that should cater to them.  They expect, even demand, that they should be received without question.  They insist upon their rights both for forgiveness and the Lord's Supper.  Guests who show up only moments before the service begins (and often think that telling me their names is enough to be received at our altar) are highly insulted that they might have to wait even one week until we can have a discussion about their confession of the Christian faith.  Even if they will be back and their own altar the following week, they are offended that they are encouraged to patiently wait until they return to their own church and pastor.

          On the one hand, I appreciate people who trust in Jesus, take him at his word, and are confident of their salvation based on Jesus' own promises.  On the other hand, the pride is appalling when people tell the pastor that he has no business hearing their confession or examining their faith--which is only concern for their soul's eternal well-being.  If a pastor is not to do these things, then why even have a pastor?  The shepherd is regarded as superfluous, and the sheep, apparently, are to tend themselves.  Such people usually never show up again.  Their pride has been wounded.  They will not be humble, but will let the pastor know how arrogant he is.  I do not pretend to know what is in their hearts.  If fact, that is what I hope to examine and learn.  They, however, have no problem judging mine.

          Anyway, that is enough of my rant.  Ambrose is better reading anyway.  He urges sinners to come to the Lord's Church in all humility, seeking only mercy, and seeking it fervently.  He even urges the whole congregation to have the same fervent longing for the forgiveness of the penitent who has come to them so that they, having all received the same mercy, may all be one communion.

          "If, then, any one, having committed hidden sins, shall nevertheless diligently do penance, how shall he receive those rewards if not restored to the communion of the Church?  I am willing, indeed, that the guilty man should hope for pardon, should seek it with tears and groans, should seek it with the aid of the tears of all the people, should implore forgiveness; and if communion be postponed two or three times, that he should believe that his entreaties have not been urgent enough, that he must increase his tears, must come again even in greater trouble, clasp the feet of the faithful with his arms, kiss them, wash them with tears, and not let them go, so that the Lord Jesus may say of him too: His sins which are many are forgiven, for he loved much. Luke 7:47"  ("Concerning Repentance," Selections from Book 1, chapter 16, paragraph 90)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 1, 2016)

JOHN 14:23-29


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord Jesus told his disciples before he ascended into heaven, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)  Although Jesus has ascended into heaven, he does not abandon his disciples.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, he sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in you so that, no matter where you are, God is with you.  He is always your Immanuel.  Jesus lives, and through his Spirit the Risen Savior bestows a lasting peace upon you.
     The world does not know such a lasting peace.  Whatever peace this world promises is is momentary.  Peace treaties are only valid until someone finds a reason to break them.  Nations are either at war or are worried about what their enemies might be plotting.  All it takes is one argument for a family's peace to be destroyed, perhaps even for a generation.   Peace in the workplace can be disrupted because the wrong guy got the promotion.
     Still, we crave peace because peace is good.  Familial harmony is a blessing.  Workers delight in a happy workplace.  The entire world wants a life without war, disaster, or petty bickering.  But the world cannot give such peace.  Sinners are all too ready to go to war—whether full scale armed conflict or personal and petty vindictive battles—over just about anything.  And it is not just “out there.”  It is you, too.  Repent.
     You and I are also guilty of causing fights and factions because of self-centered pride.  Your conscience tells you so.  Your conscience does not convict you of sins you did not commit.  Your conscience is a witness against you for the evil things you have done and for the good you failed to do.  And your conscience does not negotiate peace with you.  If you are guilty, your conscience continually says so.  Repent.
     To the guilty conscience, Jesus bestows a lasting peace.  He does not tell you to ignore your conscience, nor does Jesus pretend that you are innocent.  Instead, he takes your guilt and the punishment your conscience testifies that you deserve.  Jesus has suffered and died in your place for the charges which had stood against you.  And based on Jesus' sufferings and death for you, the Lord pardons you of all charges.  Your sins are not ignored; they are forgiven.  By his forgiveness, the risen Savior lives to bestow peace.  And since Jesus lives and reigns forever, his peace lasts forever, too.
     Likewise, we all have our own death to face.  Death produces both sadness and fear.  But even in the face of death, the risen Savior bestows a lasting peace.  Jesus Christ has gone into death for you, but he is risen.  Jesus' body departed from the grave never to die again.  Since you have been baptized into Christ, this victory is yours too.  In baptism, Jesus gave everything that is his and made it yours.  Now you, too, are sons and daughters of God Most High.  Now you, too, are children of the resurrection.  Now you, too, are heirs of eternal life.  Just as the Lord raised the daughter of Jairus and the young man from Nain from the dead by calling them to wake up, so the Lord will do for you.  Death does not have the last word; Jesus does.  Death will not last, but your peace will.  So even in the face of death, you have a lasting peace.
     The risen Savior bestows a lasting peace to you.  It is not based on your feelings.  Those change.  It is not based on what you experience.  God's love is not determined by good days and bad days.  The risen Savior bestows his peace through his word which never changes.  Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)  Keeping God's word is not merely following his commandments; it is especially holding firm to his promises.  And since God's word does not change, your peace will not change.  Since God's word will never pass away, your peace will never pass away.
     Nothing in this world can undo Jesus' death, so nothing can undo his forgiveness to you.  No disaster can negate Jesus' resurrection, so nothing can negate your salvation or your resurrection.  God's love for you remains constant.  God remains your Immanuel.  Jesus lives, and your risen Savior bestows a peace which endures every circumstance, overcomes every fear, and lasts forever.

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