Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (June 26, 2016)

         This sermon was preached on the occasion of Good Shepherd's 35th anniversary.

1 KINGS 19:14-21


In the name + of Jesus.

      This reading begins at the lowest point of Elijah's ministry and life.  It comes immediately after one of the highest points.  Elijah had been preaching in the northern tribes of Israel where the people were vacillating between worshiping the Lord and the Canaanite god Baal.  They saw no conflicts in bouncing back and forth between them.  I guess it seemed unloving to say that not everything is true.  Elijah had challenged the prophets of Baal, and this challenge resulted in the Lord proving himself to be the only true God and the false god Baal to live only in men's fantasies.  The prophets of Baal were put to death for leading God's people astray.  It was a day of great victory.
     But that victory lasted only about 24 hours.  Queen Jezebel pronounced a death sentence on Elijah.  The people who had rallied to the Lord just as quickly wandered away from him.  Elijah traveled from Israel all the way down to Mt. Sinai to tender his resignation.  In fact, he asked to be put to death.  To paraphrase, Elijah said, “Lord, they don't care.  I don't care.  All have forsaken you.  Just kill me off and be done with it.  Your promise has failed.  The Church is dead.”
     Perhaps this is not shaping up to be the kind of pep talk you would expect for a church anniversary.  Granted, things are not as bad as they were for Elijah, but that does not mean they are glorious.  Take a look at the Christian Church today.  It is fractured.  There are schisms between church bodies and in-fighting within them.  Churches mean in convention to formally reject portions of God's word, and pastors overthrow Commandments in the name of “love.”  The world cheers when Christians forsake God's word—either by neglecting the hearing of it or rejecting the content of it.  The Bride of Christ is not very pretty in this world, and she has not been very faithful.
     Elijah thought that the Bride of Christ was dead.  He asked to be relieved of his duties.  Instead, the Lord gave Elijah work to do.  “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.  And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria....  and Jehu ... to be king over Israel, and Elisha ... to be prophet in your place.” (1 Kings 19:15-16)  The Lord would not ignore those who had led his people astray.  Justice would come—either at the sword point of kings or at the condemning word of God's prophets.  And Elijah would not be the last prophet.  God's word would continue to be preached, and the Church would not perish.
     Even though Elijah could not see any evidence of it, the Church had not perished.  The Lord told him, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)  Among the scores of people who lived in and around the northern tribes of Israel, God had graciously and amazingly preserved 7,000 in the true faith.  They were certainly a minority, and the likely felt like it—alone, helpless, and defeated.  So the Lord sent Elijah back, because they needed a pastor.  The Church would not perish.  Elijah was even commissioned to ordain their next pastor, Elisha.  Elijah's ministry would not end until God's say-so, and Elisha would still be there to preach and teach, to comfort and encourage, to console and to strengthen God's faithful people.  The Church would not perish.
     The Lord Jesus Christ does the same for us today.  If we assess our own lives, we do not live up to the standard God sets for us.  We go through streaks in our Christian life—sometimes determined to live godly lives and devoted to God's word, other times giving in to temptation because we are tired of fighting it and dismissing God's word for other pleasures.  We grow weary of doing good and being faithful because many are not and seem none the worse for it.
     For 35 years, Good Shepherd has gathered as a Christian congregation for the same reason the Lord sent Elijah back to Israel—because sinners need God's mercy.  When you are giving into your sinful nature, you need to be called to repent.  Sin has no place in the life of a Christian.  St. Paul wrote to the Galatians about such sins: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21)  Our sins need to be rooted out and put to death.  To let them live or to live with them will eventually destroy faith.  We confess that our lives are not pretty, either.  But the Lord Jesus Christ still loves us.  He continues to summon us to come to him.  And when we come, Jesus is not angry with us.  He does not regret his sacrifice for us.  Instead, he continues to bless and to soothe and to save.
     This is why the Church shall never perish.  Just as the Lord was able to sustain 7,000 Israelites in the true faith when unfaithfulness was common, popular, and even celebrated, so the Lord is able to sustain his flock today.  The Church shall never perish because the Lord Jesus does not tire of declaring his love for us.  That love is proclaimed from this pulpit.  It is applied to individuals at the baptismal font.  It is proclaimed and participated in as we eat and drink the Lord's Supper.  Through these, the Lord Jesus continues to cleanse us from our unrighteousness by his holy, precious blood.  Jesus shed that blood as the payment for our sins, and he supplies its benefits through his ministers who administer God's blessings in the word and the sacraments.
     That is why the Lord sent Elijah back to Israel and anointed Elisha as the next prophet for Israel.  The word of the Lord needed to be proclaimed to people who were faithful but weary; who sought God's righteousness but were only seeing most people mock it; who needed to know that even though the majority was not faithful to the Lord, the Lord was certainly faithful and merciful to them.  And the Lord would carry out his will through material means—whether it would be with the sword of Hazael and Jehu, or with the mouths of Elijah and Elisha.  The Lord had not abandoned his post.  The Lord had not gone on sabbatical from his reign.  His mercy endures forever, and therefore so does his Church.  The Church shall never perish.
     For 35 years, God has been pleased to preserve this congregation and to have the pure gospel preached and the sacraments rightly administered.  But we are not gathered this day to congratulate ourselves for it.  We are only here because the Holy Spirit has been pleased to gather a small group of Christians who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Therefore, we delight in the word where his mercy is revealed and delivered.  We flock to the sacraments where he satisfies our thirst and feeds us with the righteousness we need.  And we beg others to join us, because we know that they need it too.
     I do not know if God will bless us so that we will grow into a mammoth congregation or if we will remain a small group of believers.  I suppose anniversary Sundays are supposed to be filled with visions of grandeur where we envision ourselves becoming the largest church in town.  But that sounds more like a political stump speech than the word of God.  The Lord did not tell Elijah to grow the church, only to preach the word.  And 7,000 people who craved it would weep for joy that they would get to hear it.  That is all God has given us to do.  If this congregation should perish for some reason (for, others have), let it not be because we were afraid to declare God's praise or because we got bored with God's grace.  And if this congregation does perish, God's word will not.  He will protect and preserve his people.  The Church shall never perish.
     The Bride of Christ may not be pretty to people who look at her, but the Lord Jesus has cleansed his Church.  He washes you clean, wipes away every spot and blemish of sin, and dresses you in garments of salvation.  Jesus has taken from you all that is corrupt in you, and he has bestowed upon you all that is good in him.  The world may despise the Church because she will only be faithful to her betrothed.  But there is no need to flirt with the world; for, Jesus alone saves you.  He is devoted to you and enamored with you.  That is all that matters.  The Church is his Bride.  Jesus presents her to himself as one who is beautiful and blameless.  And just as the Lord's mercy endures forever, so does his Church.  The Church will never perish and, therefore, neither will you.  You are his, both now and forever.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Something from ... Chrysostom on the Gospel writers

Image result for chrysostom

           Here is something from St. John Chrysostom ( c. 349–407), who served as bishop of Constantinople, regarding the Gospel writers, why we have only four accounts from twelve apostles, and why four accounts are plenty to confirm the truth of Jesus' words and works:

“And why can it have been, that when there were so many disciples, two write only from among the apostles, and two from among their followers?  (For one that was a disciple of Paul, and another of Peter, together with Matthew and John, wrote the Gospels.)  It was because they did nothing for vainglory, but all things for use.

“'What then?  Was not one evangelist sufficient to tell all?'  One indeed was sufficient; but if there be four that write, not at the same times, nor in the same places, neither after having met together, and conversed one with another, and then they speak all things as it were out of one mouth, this becomes a very great demonstration of the truth.” (St. John Chrysostom, pp 2-3, Homilies on the Gospel according to St. Matthew; Homily 1, part 5)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Pentecost



In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul is very clear about who you are and what your status is: You are children of the heavenly Father.  There is no greater title you could have, no greater honor anyone could bestow, and no greater blessing which comes from being children of the heavenly Father.  As you know, the children of the house have special rights and privileges that are not given to anyone else.  Children get to enjoy the food prepared by the parents.  They do not need an invitation.  Children are able to run to their parents for a hug and a kiss.  If a stranger did that, he would be pushed away in fear or disgust.  But parents welcome their children and are pleased when they come to them.
     Some people have spoken of all humanity, saying, “We are all God's children.”  That is true, to a point.  God has created all people.  And God is a heavenly Father to all people.  He provides everyone what they need to live.  Food, clothing, and shelter come from the Father's hand.  The Father sends both rain and sun on all people, regardless of who they are, how they behave, or what they believe.  But your status as God's children through faith in Jesus Christ is much more precious and comes with much greater blessings.  Through faith in Jesus, you have God's favor, forgiveness, grace, and salvation.  Since you are children of the heavenly Father, you are heirs of his kingdom.
     This has not always been our status.  We did not enter this world as children of the heavenly Father.  We entered it like everyone else—as sinners.  We lived apart from faith, which meant that we were under the demands of God's law.  St. Paul writes, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:23-24)  The law, or the Ten Commandments, were like a guardian.  That may not be the best English word, but I don't know what a better word would be.  The Greek word refers to a slave whose job it is to watch over a boy for his master.  The slave escorted the child, admonished him when he was disobedient, and encouraged him to behave.  That's what the Ten Commandments do—they reveal and enforce God's will.  If it is true that all humanity are God's children, then it is also true that all humanity is required to live under the house rules.  The Commandments forbid what is evil.  They command us to do what is good and to behave.
     The law tells us to be holy, and it shows us that we are not.  The problem is not that you can't know what God says is good.  He says that clearly.  Therefore, the problems is also not that you don't know what to do.  The problem is that you and I have not done it.  If we want to insist that we are good, then we do what everyone does—we cherry pick the Commandments and credit ourselves for what we have done.  You have given to charity?  Good for you, but you have still told lies.  You oppose same-sex marriage, but you have accepted cohabiting and sex outside of marriage.  You have not engaged in the petty dramas that happen in the workplace, but you have despised those who do and taken pride that you are better than them.  The law makes us aware of our sin so that we will not think we can work our way into heaven.  That is how the law drives us to Jesus.  The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24)  
     When the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith, it does not mean that God has changed his mind about his Commandments.  They must be obeyed.  But Jesus has come and has done the works for us.  Jesus' holy, obedient life is often held up as the example to follow.  Granted, it is an example of a holy life.  But that does not mean we can copy it.  Jesus lived not merely as a model, but as a substitute.  Jesus Christ has obeyed all of God's commandments.  Jesus did not flaunt it or take pride in that.  In fact, Jesus gave away his good works and has given you the credit for them.  You are justified by Jesus' works rather than your own.  St. Paul wrote, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)  In other words, the very holiness God demands of you, Jesus Christ has supplied to you.  Through baptism, Jesus has wrapped you in his holiness so that when God sees you, he sees Christ.  He sees one who is holy and blameless, and therefore one with whom he is pleased—one whom he is pleased to claim as his very own child.  You are children of the heavenly Father.
     St. Paul wrote, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)  That wording is intentional.  There are other places where the Bible calls you children of God, but here, “sons” is correct.  That is because in St. Paul's day, when a father passed down his inheritance, it was given to his sons.  Daughters got married and benefited from someone else's inheritance.  But you are all sons of God through faith.    And if you are all sons, then you are all heirs of his heavenly kingdom.
     It is also significant that St. Paul refers to you as sons who are clothed in Christ.  Just as Peter confessed, we also confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  He is God's beloved Son, perfectly obedient and perfectly pleasing to his heaven Father.  Now, if you are all “sons of God,” then you are truly God's family.  Then you are just as beloved and pleasing to the heavenly Father as Jesus himself is.  Then you also have an inheritance waiting for you in heaven, just as Jesus promised when he said that he has gone to prepare a place for you there.  You are children of the heavenly Father.  You have been adopted into God's family, and you receive all the benefits of it.
     “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Galatians 3:26)  Lutherans tend to toss around phrase “by faith” pretty often, but it should not be treated lightly.  That you are justified by faith provides for you the greatest security and comfort regarding your salvation and your place in God's kingdom.  As I had mentioned earlier, to be saved by faith means that we trust in Jesus' works on our behalf.  The works of obedience and atonement were completed by Jesus.  By believing in him, we receive the benefits of it.
     Now, if the Lord had left any part of your salvation in your hands, you would never be sure that you are saved.  On your best day, you would still have your doubts that you are good enough or have done enough.  On most days, you are sure you have not.  Again, as children of the heavenly Father, we are to obey the house rules.  We have been set apart for godly living, which we know is good and right for us to do.  And we still struggle to do it.  That is why we continue to flee to Jesus.  God does not put your salvation into your hands.  It is your heavenly Father who took the steps to adopt you.  It is your heavenly Father who sent Jesus to redeem you.  Jesus has done all the work on your behalf, both in his life and by his death.  He clothes you with righteousness.  He forgives your sins.  He has done it all perfectly, willingly, and gladly in order to redeem you.  Since Jesus has done it all perfectly, there is no doubt that your salvation is complete and perfect.
     You are all children of the heavenly Father by faith in Jesus, no matter who you are or what your background is.  St. Paul reminds you, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  Salvation is not determined by nationality or culture, not by economic status or class, and not by one's sex or age.  Since it is by faith, it is not even determined by your performance as children of God.  It all rests in Jesus' hands.  We are all saved the same—by faith in Jesus.  We all have the same identity—children of the heavenly Father.  Your heavenly Father loves you, enough to send Jesus to save you so that you can dwell in his house forever.  And as children of the heavenly Father, you have all the benefits of being his children, as well as a glorious inheritance of a heavenly kingdom.

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

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Pentecost (June 12, 2016)



In the name + of Jesus.

     A common theme in King David's Psalms is God's mercy and forgiveness.  David had good reason to be mindful of God's mercy and forgiveness.  He was a sinner, and he proved it.  He needed God's mercy and forgiveness, and he knew it.  He was granted God's mercy and forgiveness, and he praised him for it.  That is why David also desired to proclaim it, as Psalm 32 declares: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” (Psalm 32:8)  This instruction is not about doing what you must do, but about knowing what the Lord has done for you.  David desires that you have God's mercy and forgiveness upon you.  Blessed are they whose sins are covered.
     David had lost that blessing because of his sin and worse, because of his cover up.  You are likely familiar with David's affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his trusted officers.  Once David got word that she was pregnant, David went into full cover-up mode.  He summoned Uriah from the battlefield under the guise of getting information from him.  Uriah, however, refused to go home to be with his wife.  After all, the other soldiers did not get to see their wives.  Even if Uriah was not in combat, he was on duty.  So, David's cover-up became more extreme.  He sent Uriah back to the front with the battle plans intended to get Uriah killed.  This was not to be an unfortunate casualty of war.  This was a hit job ordered by David.  After Uriah was killed in battle, David brought Bathsheba into the palace.  The citizens of Jerusalem must have gushed over the benevolence of the king: “Oh, how wonderful he is, taking care of the widow of one of his officers.  Now she will not be a widowed, single mother.  David will even take care of the child!”  It seemed perfect.  David was going to get away with it.
     David could con his citizens.  He could even lie to himself.  But David's conscience did not let him rest.  David admitted as much: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)  From outward appearances, everything looked fine.  But David's conscience testified against him.  It turned his stomach in knots.  It interrupted his sleep, haunted his thoughts, and ruined his appetite.  The conscience testified what God also knew: David was guilty.  His cover up was a farce, as cover ups do not take away any sin.
     We have not learned the lesson from King David, either.  We try all to cover up our sin and guilt, as if the Psalm taught us, “Blessed are they who figure out how to cover their tracks.”  Like David, we cover up by lying about our sins.  We insist we did not do them.  But this is what the Lord says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper....” (Proverbs 28:13)  Our cover up does not work.  We may also have family and friends who embolden us in our sins.  They will not confront us when we sin against God, and they will try to console the guilty conscience by stating that our sins are no big deal.  Friends think they are helping us when they want to cover up for us.  We are led to believe that we need not feel sorry for our sins, much less stop doing them.  And so, we are encouraged to continue in impenitence and to persist in our sins.  Therefore, David implores you, “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” (Psalm 32:9)  In other words, do not let your pride or stubbornness be the reason you perish in your sins.  Denying your sin does not make you guiltless.  Ignoring guilt does not take it away.  Digging in your heels against God's word will not make God change his mind.  King David wrote, “Blessed is the man ... in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:2)  On the other hand, there is no blessing for those who deceive themselves and think they can cover up their sins.  Repent.
     Since we cannot cover our own sins, someone else must cover them.  And this is what David proclaims: “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity...” (Psalm 32:2)  The Lord does not impute your sins against you.  Blessed are they whose sins are covered.  That is what Jesus came for.  Instead of treating you as your sins deserve, Jesus came to be treated as your sins deserve.  God does not ignore your sins.  That would make him unjust.  But in his mercy, Jesus has taken all your sin and guilt.  God counted your iniquity against Jesus, who then paid the price for all sin through his innocent sufferings and death.  God is most merciful.  Instead of counting your iniquity against you, God imputes Jesus' holy obedience to you.  The holy blood which Jesus shed for you was poured upon you in Holy Baptism.  It continues to be poured into you in Holy Communion.  In this way, Jesus covers you so that you stand before God as holy and blameless.
     Blessed are they whose sins are covered.  “Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:2)  It is not that God pretends we have never sinned.  It is that God covers our sin.  He does not ignore our sins; he forgives them.  Therefore, deception is unnecessary.  We do not need to pretend to be what we are not.  We do not need to invent virtues that we don't have.  We confess that we are sinners.  We confess the various infractions which we have committed against the Lord.  But we confess with faith in God's promise: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)  The Lord Jesus has covered the cost for your iniquity, and he covers you with his holy, precious blood so that you are found to be holy and blameless before God.
     Blessed are they whose sins are covered.  You have God's blessing upon you, but that does not mean the consequences of our sins melt away.  David's repentance and forgiveness did not restore the marriage of Uriah and Bathsheba.  Nor did it make David forget what he had done.  Nevertheless, his guilt was covered by Jesus.  Likewise, your sins may also come with their consequences.  Being repentant and forgiven for gluttony does not automatically make you thin.  Some sins may damage your reputation for a long time.  Though you may never forget your sins and though you may even have others label you for them, the Lord takes away your sin.  He covers your guilt.  And rather than reminding you of your sin, he reminds you of his mercy.
     Blessed are they whose sins are covered.  But there are many who live apart from this blessing.  Their only hope is your only hope—that the Lord is pleased to send someone to declare God's mercy and forgiveness.  Nathan declared it to David.  David declared it in the Psalm.  You have come here to hear it declared to you, for you have not outgrown your need for it.  And you get to declare it to friends and family whose personal cover up efforts are not working.  For them, there is hope and relief, but only in Jesus.  And since you know Jesus' works and promises, you get to bring hope and relief to them.
     All have sinned, but there is hope.  Jesus has you covered.  He is merciful.  He forgives all your sins.  He is the refuge for all sinners.  Blessed are they whose sins are covered.

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

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Pastors' Conference -- Michigan District Convention at MLS, Saginaw

This past week, the Michigan District held its convention at Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) in Saginaw, Michigan.  The highlight of every convention is the worship.  In addition to daily devotions (morning and noon) in the MLS chapel, we also had the big service at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church just down the road from MLS.

I especially enjoy the robust singing throughout these services.  And high marks to our organist(s) who occasionally dropped out during some of the hymns so that we could enjoy the a cappella singing of the hymns in parts.  Photos of St. Paul's and the MLS chapel below.

Note: This was taken early, so attendance in this photo was light.  It filled up well.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 5, 2016)

1 KINGS 17:17-24


In the name + of Jesus.

     There was a woman who was doubly grieved.  She was a widow which means that she already had the grief of having lost a husband.  After her husband died, then her only child also died.  The widow lived in a day when there was no social security, no welfare, and no life insurance policy to cover expenses.  Her means of support was supposed to be her one and only son.  But since he had died, she had no means of support.  Not only was she devastated, she was also suddenly destitute.
     It is interesting how the widow responded to Elijah in the midst of her grief.  She did not express concerns about who would take care of her.  She did not even wail that her only surviving family member was gone.  She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:18)  The widow of Zarephath was not only stricken with grief, but was pricked in her conscience by this untimely death.  We do not know what her sin was.  Perhaps she was haunted by one particular infraction against God's law.  Perhaps it was a lifetime of regrets.  We don't know.  When she said she was reminded of her “sin,” that Hebrew word is usually translated “iniquity,” which refers to guilt.  So perhaps the death of her son simply underscored her own sinfulness and, therefore, made her fearful of God's displeasure against her.  One part of the widow was protesting, “My son and I did not deserve this!”  Another part of the widow acknowledged, “I am a sinful being.  This is God's judgment.  I had this coming.”
     You may feel similar pangs of conscience.  It especially gets your attention when death comes around—either facing your own death or seeing the death of a loved one.  When death looms, you may get angry and think that God owes you better than you are getting.  Satan wants you to think that God is good only when you are happy, but that when you are unhappy—which is inevitable in a sinful world—it is because God is not good.  Satan sows seeds of bitterness so that you would conclude, “If this is how God treats me, who needs him?”  Be warned: Satan is not interested in giving you anything good.
     Or the pendulum may swing the other way.  You may be like the widow who recognized that this sin brings trouble, and that we all deserve to die for our sins against God.  While that assessment is true, it does not bring any hope either.  That is why the widow lashed out at Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:18)  She was convinced that, if Elijah had not come and if God would have left her alone, life would have been better.  But it would not.  She and her son would have had to face death all the same.  If the Lord had not intervened, they would have had to face death in their sins, with no hope of relief, and with no chance to be saved.  Be assured: The Lord is eager to give you only what is for your good.  Therefore, the Lord sent a man to help.  Behold!  A man who raises the dead!
     Elijah took the lifeless body of the widow's son.  He prayed to God on behalf of the widow.  “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”  Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” (1 Kings 17:20-21)  Elijah did not presume to say that God owed this to her because her life had been so hard.  Elijah prayed that God would have mercy, and that God would bring a remedy for death.  Even though God did not owe her, and even though the widow did not deserve it—for she was a sinner—God restored the life of her son through his prophet.  God had mercy.  He returned to this widow her son and rescued her from being both devastated and destitute.  Behold!  A man who raises the dead!
     Perhaps you find the account of Elijah raising the widow's son to be practically useless to you since you don't expect the Lord to restore your dead to you.  While the widow's son was given back her, you bury your loved ones and are left with the grief.  Do not be too hasty with your conclusions.  The Lord is your merciful Father in heaven, and he does not leave you to grieve without hope.  In fact, he does not leave your loved ones to die so that they are lost forever.  Granted, he does not restore your loved ones to you here and now, but that does not mean you have lost them.  That is because Jesus has redeemed them.  Behold!  A man who raises the dead!
     Jesus of Nazareth came to deliver mankind from death once and for all.  The boy from Zarephath was, indeed, raised from the dead through the prophet Elijah.  The young man from Nain was personally raised by Jesus.  But after the joyful reunion, we don't know what happened to them.  We do know that they are not on earth any longer.  Though they had been restored to life for a time, they eventually died.  Death still had mastery over them.
     But Jesus Christ has done much more for you.  Jesus made himself the sin offering for you in order to deliver you from your guilt.  He was consumed under God's wrath so that you would be spared the justice you deserve for your sins.  For Jesus, it was no mere slap on the wrist.  Rather, it was nails through his wrists, a spear in his side, and a gruesome death by crucifixion.  But even more brutal, it was dying under God's curse for the sins of the world.  Therefore, when Satan haunts you with your sins, you have a reply for him.  Tell him, “You must take this up with Jesus, because he has taken my sins from me, and therefore my sins do not condemn me and death cannot harm me.  What's more, Jesus has given his righteousness to me, and therefore God cannot be displeased with me.”  That is what Jesus did for you.  He died and has risen from the dead—not like the man from Nain or the boy from Zarephath.  Jesus raised himself from the grave never to die again.  Death no longer has mastery over him; rather, Jesus of Nazareth has mastery over death.  Behold!  A man who raises the dead!
     Jesus lives, forever victorious over death.  And since Jesus has redeemed you, he does not merely give you a few more years in a world of wars and disease, of deception and disappointment.  Rather, Jesus brings the resurrection from the grave.  He brings you to the Paradise of God in which no one is racked with pain, no one is plagued by guilt, no one is a victim of crime or cruelty, no one is a casualty of war or accident, no one is short-changed or empty-handed.  This is the kind of kingdom you long to live in, and that you long for your children to live in.
     Even if you must endure the inexpressible grief of burying a child, you still have hope.  For, though you must bid farewell to your loved ones who die in the Christian faith, they are not lost, nor is their life cut short—for eternal life can never be cut short.  They are with Jesus and they live.  And they live forever.  And they live in peace and joy and glory.  And they will also be raised from the grave to live as God created them to be—body and soul children of God for all eternity.  On the Last Day, the Lord shall raise up all the dead, and give perfected bodies and eternal life to all who believe.  Through the man Jesus Christ, man has relief from all guilt and a remedy from death. The joy the widow had on that one day in Zarephath shall be your joy for eternity.  And the glad reunion which was enjoyed for a while in Nain shall be an everlasting reunion among God's people.  Behold!  Jesus is the man who raises the dead and the Savior with whom we shall dwell forever!

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

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sermon -- Funeral of Alice M. Laho (June 2, 2016)

1 CORINTHIANS 15:42-49


In the name + of Jesus.

     When God created the heavens and the earth, everything was perfect.  There was no sorrow or mourning or crying or pain.  Adam and Eve were created with perfect, robust bodies—able to run and to jump and to dance.  With able hands, they were able to enjoy the abundant goodness of Eden's Garden.  But Adam and Eve used their capable hands to grasp the fruit which God had forbidden and to which God had added a curse.  By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve brought sin into the world with all of its consequences.  Now, man is marked for death.  Now, creation has been subjected to a curse.  Now the world is broken.  Eden's Garden has been replaced with a world of thistles and thorns.  What God had created to be perfect, robust bodies are often broken and diseased.
     I don't know how much Alice got to run and jump and dance in her youth, but since she was 18 years old, she has been bound to a wheel chair.  I know she wanted to dance, but sin's consequences had made its impact on Alice's body.  Sin's consequence makes its impact on every human body.  In some it is more pronounced, but every body is marked by it—whether it is merely felt by the nuisance of corrective lenses, or it is experienced in a crippling disorder or a weakened heart.  Finally, every body must suffer death.  For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  That is what the sin of Adam brings, and we are all Adam's children.  The first man was of the dust of the earth....  And, as was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth.... (1 Corinthians 15:47,48)  Just as Adam died, so must we all—earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
     We all have different memories of Alice, and I think just about all of them were good.  I was always amazed how Alice did not let her limited abilities have her wallowing in self-pity or bitterness.  I suppose there were days when that happened, but I can't say I saw them.  Nevertheless, Alice did not pretend to be what she was not.  She knew that our human sinful condition was the ultimate culprit which brought on her arthritis.  She also knew that she had inherited that sinfulness and its curse.  She confessed that she was a sinner—not in pride, but in penitence.  She also knew that death would come for her one day.  And on May 29, 2016, it did.
     Nevertheless, Alice did not fear death.  That is because Alice knew that Jesus Christ had taken care of death for her.  Jesus Christ, who is true God, became true man to rescue mankind from sin, from its curse, and from all its consequences.  Jesus bore in his body all of Alice's iniquity when he went to the cross.  There, Jesus took the worst that death can do to anyone: Jesus endured the wrath of God on account of sin.  Jesus died a cursed death in our place, suffering the hell we deserve.  He was crucified, died, and was buried.  On Good Friday, Jesus' body was sown into the ground in death.  On Easter Sunday, Jesus' body burst forth from the ground with life—the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  Everything that went wrong in Eden's Garden was rectified in the garden where Joseph of Arimathea had his tomb.  It was there that Jesus rose to live forever.  It was there that Jesus conquered death.  And just as Jesus died for us, so also he rose for us so that all who believe in him also have victory over death.
     Through holy baptism, Jesus Christ gave Alice all the benefits of his saving work.  Jesus put to death the sinner and made her a new creation, a saint.  That is the status Alice had all her life long.  Granted, she did not always look like it.  No one looks victorious in a wheel chair.  She did not always act like it; she could get ornery.  But when she was baptized, Alice became a child of the Most High God.  She was forgiven of her sins, and she was marked for the resurrection.  She believed it and confessed it.  At the resurrection on the Last Day, Alice will finally look like the child of God which God said she is.
     For this is what the Lord says:  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.... (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)  Perhaps it sounds mean to say that Alice's body is sown in dishonor.  That does not mean that Alice died in disgrace.  It means that sin had ravaged her body.  It did not function as God had designed it to do.  Just as Jesus had restored Alice from the status of sinner to saint, so also Jesus will restore Alice the perfect, robust body that he had always intended us to have.  What is sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory.
     For that reason, Alice did not fear death.  In fact, Alice even found hope in death.  She took Jesus at his word when he declared, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25)  She took the Holy Spirit at his word when he inspired St. Paul to write: As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:48-49)  What is sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory.  Alice now not merely bears the status of child of God, she dwells in God's presence as a saint.  The frail, sinful body of Alice Laho will be raised glorious, incorruptible, and strong.  She will run and jump and dance.  She will sit down only when she wants to, and my guess is that it will not be often.
     What went all wrong in Eden's Garden was rectified at the Garden tomb of Jesus.  Sins have been taken away.  Death has been left in the dust.  The man, Jesus Christ, lives and reigns and grants his victory to all mankind who believe in him.  Though Alice's body will be sown into the ground, it will spring forth in glory on the Last Day.  For, Jesus Christ has marked Alice as his own.  He has redeemed her body and soul.  Her soul has been taken to Jesus and rejoices already in his presence.  Her body awaits the resurrection and will be perfected once and for all.
     I am guessing that Alice prayed frequently and fervently to be made whole.  God has been pleased to answer her prayer.  The answer did not come on this side of Judgment Day, but it will come at last.  It is just as St. Paul declared: Just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:49)  What is sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory.  As surely as Jesus Christ lives, so does Alice.  As surely as Jesus is risen from the grave, so will Alice.  And as surely as God is faithful to his promises, so Alice gets to rejoice in them with singing and praising...and dancing.

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