Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sermon -- HVL Chapel (August 30, 2016)

at HVLHS in Westland, Michgan

MATTHEW 10:40-42

Jesus Comes Through Messengers.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord does not do things the way we would do them.  We would like to see the Lord demonstrate his glory by signs and miracles.  We think that would get the world's attention and would get them to repent and believe.  We think that miraculous signs would also manage to keep our attention, keep us impressed, and keep us believing.  But God does not do that.  The Lord has never done miracles to entertain or to impress.  And even when the Lord did do miraculous signs, the world did not repent and believe.  Instead, Israel sacrificed to idols under God's nose at Mt. Sinai, and the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus.  And so, the Lord does not come to us through miraculous signs.
     The Lord does not do things the way we would do them.  We think that it would be best to entrust the message of salvation to angels.  After all, when Jesus was born, an angel spoke to the shepherds.  When Jesus was risen, angels declared it to the women at the tomb.  But God does not use angels anymore.  The angels did not tell everyone in Bethlehem; the shepherds did.  The angels did not proclaim the news to all of Jerusalem.  Jesus' disciples did.  Besides, whenever angels did come to proclaim God's word, people were terrified.  They cowered in the presence of holy creatures.  And so, the Lord does not come to us through angelic messengers.
     The Lord does not do things the way we would do them.  Even when the Lord came to save us, he hid himself in flesh.  He appeared as a frail, flesh and blood man.  While no one ran from Jesus in fear, neither did people rally to him because he appeared in glory.  People became believers the way they always had—through the preaching of the word.  Jesus preached God's mercy to sinners.  Jesus fulfilled God's love through his sufferings and death for you.  He declared himself to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins—the innocent one dying on behalf of the guilty.  It was not obvious.  Most people saw a nice man from Nazareth dying on a cross.  Those who believed the word of God saw the Son of God dying for the sons of men.  Only God's word reveals God's Savior.
     After Jesus' resurrection from the dead—the proof that his payment for sins is complete—Jesus ascended to heaven.  He entrusted the preaching of the word to his redeemed.  Sinners were to tell other sinners about forgiveness of sins through Jesus.  You and I might think there is a better way to do this—certainly a more impressive way to get this message out—but Jesus comes through messengers.  The God who became flesh for flesh and blood sinners sends flesh and blood ministers to declare God's salvation in God's name.  If that seems unimpressive, it probably is.  But God does not act to impress or to entertain you.  He acts to save you.  Jesus comes to you through messengers.
     Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.  The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward....” (Matthew 10:40-41)  Jesus Christ has sent ministers to administer his gifts.  Jesus Christ comes to you through his messengers in order to declare his salvation.  Jesus does not tell you to take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find your salvation.  All that Jesus won for you there he bestows to you through the word which is preached and the sacraments which are administered by his messengers.
     Jesus still does not do things the way we do them.  When we tell our stories, we like to glorify ourselves.  We like to be the hero.  Even when we are describing a disagreement that we are in, we make sure that we come out looking good even if we must omit a few facts to make that happen.  This is not true of the messengers Jesus sends to you.  Pastors do not preach about themselves.  Pastors are not the heroes of the story.  Neither are you.  If we are to come before Jesus, it is not as heroes, but as sinners.  Good news: Jesus Christ comes for sinners.  Therefore, Christ's messengers speak Christ's words.  Jesus said that if you receive the messenger who stands in the stead of Christ and speaks for Christ, then you are receiving Christ.  And if you hear Christ's messenger, then you receive the prophet's reward, which is the eternal life he is declaring to you.
     Once again, this is not always impressive.  But Jesus does not work the way we would.  But Jesus does work for your salvation.  He sends you messengers so that you can hear the word of the Lord spoken through the mouth of his messenger.  He hands you his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins through the hands of his messengers.  And if you are haunted by your sins, Jesus does not leave you alone to figure out how to find comfort or to be relieved of guilt.  He has sent you a pastor who will speak to you Christ's word in Christ's stead, and he bestows on you Christ's forgiveness.
     Christ's messengers declare to you his amazing grace: The Lord made you.  He has redeemed you, and he loves you.  The Lord has made this known in the Bible and sends messengers to preach it so that you can be comforted and confident of the Lord's salvation.

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Something from ... Martin Luther re: Where to find Christ

          Far too many people who profess to be Christian also profess that they will meet him at the time and place of their own choosing.  They claim that they will commune with God in the lush forest, by the rolling stream waters, at some beautiful scenic venue, or in their deer stand.  "After all," they reason, "God is everywhere.  If God is everywhere, then I will commune with him wherever I happen to be."  What is so wrong about these sentiments is that God did not promise to bless or save you through these means or at these places.  The beauty of creation will show that God is wise, kind, powerful, and eternal (if he made these, he had to be here before they were), but it will never show you how sinners are saved.

         Martin Luther (1483-1546) wrote about where to find Jesus.  The immediate context has to do with Holy Communion, that is, Christ is found in the bread and wine for our eternal salvation.  But this quote hits on the main point--Christ and his salvation are only where Christ tells you that you will find him.  His promises come from Scripture, not from dreamy thoughts out of your own head.  Therefore, if you want to find Christ, go where he tells you to find him: In the word and sacraments.  (Hey!  Those are at church!)

“Although he is present in all creatures, and I might find him in stone, in fire, in water, or even in a rope, for he certainly is there, yet he does not wish that I seek him there apart from the Word, and cast myself into the fire or the water, or hang myself on the rope.  He is present everywhere, but he does not wish that you grope for him everywhere.  Grope rather where the Word is, and there you will lay hold of him in the right way.  Otherwise you are tempting God and committing idolatry.” (Martin Luther, The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ—Against the Fanatics, Luther's Works: American Edition, Volume 36 [Word and Sacrament II], p 342)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sermon -- 15th Sunday after Pentecost (August 28, 2016)

O WN is a Greek expression meaning "He who is."
HEBREWS 13:1-8


In the name + of Jesus.

      The letter to the Hebrews was written to Christians whose faith was hanging by a thread.  They were Jews who had converted to Christianity.  Judaism was recognized by the Roman government as a valid religion; Christianity was not.  As a result, these Christians faced persecution.  They were not only slandered and despised, but they also could have their property confiscated, could be arrested, imprisoned, or even martyred.  Some Jewish Christians forsook the Christian faith in order to be spared the persecution.  The Christians who received this epistle were contemplating the same thing.  They were tired.  They were scared.  And they did not know if it was really worth it to remain faithful to Jesus.
     This epistle was sent to remind them that Jesus Christ was always faithful to them.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)  Whether times are hard or easy, whether it is a good day or a bad day, Jesus Christ is forever the same.  He does not forget his people, and he does not forget his promises.  Jesus Christ is forever the same—living, reigning, and doing all things for our eternal good.
     We do not face the same kind of persecution today, but we do have something in common with these Christians.  It is that our fear is often greater than our faith.  Fear influences our lives and guides our behavior.  That's because we fear, love, and trust the wrong things.  We fear losing our money, our reputation, our friends, and other worldly goods.  As a result, we do not see our fellow man as one to love and to serve, but as one who is a threat to be feared.
     We all have a hard time digesting the words of this epistle which encourage putting one's faith into action.  Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is forever the same.  He does not edit his will no matter how harshly the world rejects it.  He does not alter his commandments when it is hard to keep them.  His word stands.  But our fear of the world is greater than our faith in God and his word, and we fail to do the good God demands.
     This is what the Lord says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have....” (Hebrews 13:5)  But we fear losing our money because we trust money more than we trust God.  When look to our checkbook for comfort.  We do not pray or take God at his word when he promises that he will provide enough.  We fear, love, and trust in the wrong things.
     This is what the Lord says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4)  Men are pleased to use women, but fear committing to them because that means putting someone above themselves.  Women fear losing a boyfriend and know that a bed will keep him around for a while.  Some are so desirous of affection or lust that they will abandon the natural order to get it, or they will even forsake reality to be aroused by images on a computer screen.  The world sees this as normal.  Purity is mocked and perversion is praised.  But hear this word: “God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4)  The Lord established marriage for the good of a man and a woman.  He blesses the marriage bed so they can rightly carry out their desires.  God will judge all who defile this.  Man does not fear this, but we do fear the label we will get if we stand firm with Jesus.  We fear, love, and trust in the wrong things.
     This is what the Lord says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)  We fear losing our possessions.  When we crave our goods, we care little for the people who might benefit from using them.  Yes, there is always going to be a risk that someone is conning you, but the fact is: Generosity will always be abused.  Even we abuse God's generosity as we use God's blessings to love ourselves and not our neighbor.  And yet, God continues to love, to bless, and to be merciful to sinners.
     We do not live up to God's Commandments because we fear what we might lose by doing so.  We are afraid of losing money.  We are afraid of our reputation being maligned.  We are afraid that friends may turn on us.  And so our fear is greater than our faith.  For, we do not fear God's judgment.  Let the words sink in: God will judge.  No one will escape it.  Repent.
     Jesus Christ is forever the same.  He does not change his word when things are difficult.  But there is good news in that statement.  Jesus does not change his word when things get difficult.  Jesus Christ is forever the same, which means he is forever your Savior.  Jesus demonstrated perfect love for his fellow man by giving up heavenly glory for sinners.  He proved a perfect love for his Father in keeping his commandments.  And yet, his perfect love was rewarded by people hating him and slandering him.  He had all of his goods confiscated from him.  He was arrested, imprisoned, and finally put to death.  All this Jesus did so that we would be delivered from our sins.  He loved perfectly on behalf of us who have loved poorly.  Jesus emptied himself of all things in order to redeem us sinners.  And Jesus knew the risks.  He knew many would never care or repent.  He paid the price anyway, and lets his grace get abused.  Even though we remain sinners, Jesus Christ forever intercedes for us so that we are continually forgiven of our sins.  Not only does Jesus deliver us from our sins, he has even overcome death so that death and hell cannot have us.  We belong to Jesus.  And he has said,“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)  
     Since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, we do not need to fear anything.  Every Christian can live confidently, no matter what threats you face from anyone or anything.  Jesus Christ alleviates our fears so that we can live our faith.  We seek the good of our fellow man without fearing what it will cost us.  We seek the glory of God by confessing his word and living according to it without worrying what other people will think of us.  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)  If we lose our goods, our freedom, our friends, or our reputation, or even our life, we need not fear.  These things are only temporary anyway.  And if we should have to suffer for the sake of Jesus, then let us live as the body of Christ and tend to each other in our griefs and needs.  After all, if we are willing to show hospitality to strangers, then surely we will care for each other.
     Jesus Christ is forever the same.  That stands firm.  His kingdom and his mercy endure, no matter what we endure.  And from what we read in Hebrews, it seems that they had to endure a lot!  Consider this word of instruction: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)  Since he uses the word, “Remember,” it seems likely that this congregation had lost some of its pastors.  Perhaps they were imprisoned, or exiled, or even martyred.  I don't know.  These Christians were told to “consider the outcome of their way of life.” (Hebrews 13:7)  They were not told: “These men believed in Jesus and preached him.  See how good things were for them?”  If they suffered and died, things were not good.  The Christians were told to consider the outcome of their way of life.  Even if they were killed, they were not lost.  Jesus Christ remained their Savior even in the worst of suffering.  Consider that and imitate it, remembering our Lord's promise: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)  No matter what man did to them, they could not rob them from Jesus Christ, and they could not rob them of Christ's salvation.
     So, do not fear.  Jesus Christ is forever the same.  His word stands.  His kingdom endures.  He has said,“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  He does not forget his redeemed, and he does not back off on his promises.  Therefore, be faithful.  Jesus Christ is forever the same.  He is forever your Savior.

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

Saturday, August 27, 2016

MLS Footballl -- It begins! vs. Almont (Aug 24 & 25, 2016)

The first games of the season were Wednesday (Aug. 24) and Thursday (Aug. 25) against Almont.

The MLS JV Cardinals played host to the Raiders.  The JV Cardinals were playing quite a few Freshmen for their first game.  They will need to work on their game a bit as it happens every year.  Whenever MLS started to move the ball a bit, they turned it over and gave Almont pretty decent field position.  Almont's game plan seemed to be to grind out a few yards at a time and consume a whole lot of clock in the process.  At one point, Almont consumed about 7 minutes of clock and had just passed mid-field.

Philip got more playing time than he thought he would, playing mostly defensive tackle.  The coach gave him credit for forcing a fumble in the 2nd half.  Sweet!

Still, the JV came up on the wrong end of a 29-0 final.  Keep working, boys.  Most schools from here on out will be smaller.

The varsity had somewhat of an uphill battle from the get-go this year, as almost the entire offense from last year had graduated.  Adversity showed up early as the starting QB, Cade Kestner, broke his arm before the 1st quarter was even over.  Last year's JV QB, Adam Arrowsmith, took over and did a fine job.

Although MLS could have groaned and moped, assuming the whole season was shot about 10 minutes into it, they did not roll over.  They answered Almont's first two scores, seeing a 14-14 score into the 2nd quarter.  Unfortunately, a turnover late in the first half gave Almont a really short field and a quick score.  It was 21-14 at halftime.

After regrouping at halftime, MLS still came out playing hard.  Each team put up two more scores in the 2nd half, ending in a 35-26 score.  Caleb played at wide receiver (one catch; targeted three times) and safety (a few tackles).  He also had a few appearances on special teams.  

Hopefully, a week of re-working some things and looking forward to some schools closer to MLS' size, we will see a resilient team find some happier results.

Some photos.

Philip is No. 65.
Philip is 2nd from the left in the four-point stance.
On the last play of the game, Philip stepped in at center with a perfect shot-gun smap.

Philip with classmate Cole Broekhuizen.
Philip and Cole have known each other since pre-school at St. Peter's.
Caleb wears No.3 this year.
Caleb is in pursuit.
Nathanael, Andrew, and Peter came to watch Caleb's game.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Traveling with the Schroeders ... end of summer, 2016

Vacation was hard to come by because of multiple work schedules and only three cars to accommodate all the schedules.  (It is somewhat embarrassing to complain about "only" three cars.)  So, once we had people placed in football camps, we could afford to take one of those cars out of circulation and hit the road for a week.  As it turns out, we needed that car in circulation anyway.

Back in July, some Schroeders headed to Wisconsin to see my parents.  More of us were supposed to go, but an additional orthodontist appointment for Caleb meant that Laura and Caleb did not.  But Nathanael, Philip, Peter, and I got to go both to see my parents and to catch part of Packers' training camp.  Nathanael had hoped to get his SVSU shirt autographed by SVSU alum and Packers' wide receiver, Jeff Janis.  But Janis walked past, so no autograph for Nathanael.

Our actual family vacation whittled the family down to Laura, Peter, and me.  All others were either at football camp or working.  In this incredibly dry summer for Michigan, we got to enjoy rain on our vacation.  But in the midst of our vacation plans, we found out that Charli had arranged plane tickets for Nathanael to come and see her graduation from boot camp in South Carolina.  We were not able to make the trip, but we were glad Nathanael got to go.  Way to go, Charli!

So, here was the itinerary for our vacation.

Jellystone Park, Frankenmuth (2 nights)
Home to get Nathanael to the airport (1 night)
Traverse City State Park / M-22 drive / Sleeping Bear Dunes (2 full days, 1 night)
Back home to pick up Nathanael from the airport (1 night)
Say "Goodbye" to Faith who left for New Ulm on Friday morning, sleep a lot to get caught up from excessive running around; spend the night at home (1 more night)
Up to Saginaw for Caleb's and Philip's registration & opening service at MLS.  We were going to have a family night at a hotel, but Caleb and Philip said they were going to stay in the dorm.  So, why spend the money?  Go back home.

Anyway, here are a few photos from the last month of summer.  Enjoy!

Green Bay Packers' training camp.
Nathanael enjoys watching the wide receiver drills at Packers' training camp.
Peter's Lambeau Leap at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Me with my parents in Sheboygan.
Andrew got to say "Goodbye" to Faith before he headed back to Ann Arbor for more football camp.
Peter with Yogi Bear at Jellystone Park.
Peter at Bronners' Christmas store, Frankenmuth.
Peter, checking out directions in Sutton's Bay on M-22 in Leelenau county.
Ice cream break at Northport on our M-22 loop.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, from the top of the Empire Bluff Trail.
Peter running down the Dune Climb, Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Caleb and Philip, all ready for a new school year at MLS.  Peter starts 2nd grade later in the week.
A final farewell hug before Faith leaves for MLC in New Ulm, MN.
We will not see Faith until Thanksgiving.  Sniff.....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 14, 2016)

The prophet Jeremiah, from the Sistine Chapel,
by Michelangelo.
JEREMIAH 23:23-29


In the name + of Jesus.

      The prophet Jeremiah preached in Jerusalem for a number of years.  If you want to ball park a date for his ministry, you can hang it around 600 BC.  Jeremiah was a unique voice in Jerusalem.  That's not to say he was the only prophet there; it is to say that Jeremiah's message stood in stark contrast to what all the other prophets were saying.
     Most preachers in Jerusalem were promising peace and prosperity for Jerusalem.  They assured the people that they were beloved of God, that God would protect the people from their enemies, and that the Lord would always preserve his temple.  Jeremiah, on the other hand, preached this: “Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.” (Jeremiah 26:4-6)  In other words, the people of Jerusalem were under God's wrath.  Because they were unfaithful to the Lord's covenant, he would exile them, destroy their city, and obliterate their temple—just as God had foretold through Moses.  Jeremiah's message was a bold and blunt call to repentance—that the people turn from sin lest they be destroyed and damned.  Guess which message the people preferred.
     Be faithful to God's word, and that means listening closely and continually to God's word.  The only way that you are going to be able to trust that you are listening to what is the truth and to not be deceived, and subsequently damned, by lies is to be faithful to God's word—both hearing it and doing it.
     Jeremiah spoke the Lord's word: “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’  How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another...?” (Jeremiah 23:26-27)  From these words, we might think it is easy to label a false prophet.  But it is,'t, not always.  While it is true that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), it is also true that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).  In other words, Satan tries to sound as much like Jesus as possible so that he can seduce the sheep away from their Good Shepherd.  The only way to avoid being seduced and devoured is to faithfully listen to your Good Shepherd.  Be faithful to God's word, and then you will continue to have your trust in God's truth.
     The false prophets in Jeremiah's day were believed for several reasons.  One reason is that they claimed to speak for God.  Another reason is that their message was appealing.  The people wanted to believe that God did not get hung up on their sins like Jeremiah did.  They wanted to believe that God loves all and would always grant them peace and prosperity.  Be honest; you like the sound of that, too!  And to be fair, there is an element of truth in what the false prophets were saying.  God is love.  God does, indeed, desire the salvation of all mankind.  Jesus does promise life to the full.  Therefore, many preachers sound like they are proclaiming God's promises when they promise love, peace, and glory.  And since my flesh craves these, I want to believe that they are all true.  But let me ask you: Do you really think that the abundant life that Jesus promises is about satisfying your greed, your lust, and your ego?  And if you know that Jesus does not promise such things, why would you entertain the preachers who promise them?  And why would you continue to crave such a life?  Repent.
     I would like to tell you that it is better today, but it is not.  Satan will always seduce and deceive through fine-sounding lies.  You can't stop Satan from being Satan.  A recent Facebook meme illustrates this, claiming, “Your relationship with Christ is not defined by your attendance at church.”  To be sure, you can find an element of truth there.  After all, not everyone who goes to church believes or lives according to God's word.  But ask yourself: Who is more likely to say this, Jesus or Satan?  If you are going to be faithful to God's word, where do you hear it?  God bestows his forgiveness and salvation through his word.  Where is it preached?  God grants his grace through his sacraments.  Where are those administered?  You hear, “Your relationship with Christ is not defined by your attendance at church,” and your sinful flesh will always say, “Yeah, see?  I don't need church.”  But Jesus says you do.  Since church is about gathering to hear the word and to receive the sacraments for the forgiveness of sins and salvation, how can staying away be God's will?  That is a lie, no matter how much it appeals to you.
     You can't stop Satan from being Satan.  Satan always masquerades and lies.  The Lord knows there will always be preachers who will preach Satan's lies in God's name.  And they will always have an audience because many want to believe the lies are true.  That is why the Lord says through Jeremiah: “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.  What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:28)  You cannot stop Satan from being Satan.  But you don't have to give him your ears.  Be faithful to God's word.
     The prophet Jeremiah was despised for being a faithful prophet of the Lord.  And just as it was in Jeremiah's day, so today, pastors who refuse to label sin and to call sinners to repent are applauded and celebrated as loving and nice.  But false prophets sin against God and their fellow man because they will not let anyone be a sinner.  If that does not sound like a big deal to you, then take these words to heart: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  
     Be faithful to God's word and understand that there is no nice way to call a person a sinner.  Even the Lord knows that.  “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)  Sinful hearts must not be coddled; they must be crushed.  Therefore, God crushes us and shows us that we are not as good as we like to think we are.  If we are afraid of God and his wrath, good!  That means we believe him when he says, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:24)  We can probably hide our sins from most, but nothing is hidden before God.  He sees.  He knows.  He does not pretend that we are good.  The devil does that, and he is lying.  God proclaims the hard truth: All are sinners.  It may not sound nice to say so, but it is good to say so.  To believe that you are a sinner is to believe God's word.
     Be faithful to God's word; for that word declares: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  If you hear the word “sinner,” and confess, “That's me,” then hear the first part of the sentence, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  And then confess, “That's me!”  Jesus Christ came for you.  Jesus Christ came to take away your sins.  He does not overlook them.  He has suffered God's wrath for all of them.  He has died a cursed death for you in order to deliver you from the curse.
     Do not be wowed by vision-casting pastors who always have some new dream to tell you.  In doing so, they make themselves the source of truth.  Since your eternity hangs in the balance, you need a sure word to cling to.  You have it.  Be faithful to God's word which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  Sinners find mercy only through Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ comes to you only through his word and sacraments.  Through these, Jesus applies to you the forgiveness he won by his death and the salvation he won by his resurrection.  God has given us no other means of his grace, but what God has given us is sufficient to forgive and to save.  Therefore, be faithful to God's word.
     The Lord sent the prophet Jeremiah to preach the word of God to sinners.  He sent Jeremiah to say what had to be said so that sinners would repent and not perish.  God still sends preachers to do the same.  God gave you his truth so that you will not be deceived.  God proclaims his forgiveness so that you will not be destroyed.  These are the words of eternal life.  Be faithful to God's word so that your faithful God will bless and keep you always.

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

Friday, August 12, 2016

Something from ... Augustine re: Faith and Grace

          Something from Augustine, Bishop of Hippo  (November 13, 254 - August 28, 430), regarding faith and grace.  St. Paul wrote that faith is "not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Augustine highlights this, reminding every Christian that salvation is completely God's work.  Even the faith, which we often call our own, is God's doing and God's gift.

“His last clause runs thus: I have kept the faith.  But he who says this is the same who declares in another passage, I have obtained mercy that I might be faithful. 1 Corinthians 7:25  He does not say, I obtained mercy because I was faithful, but in order that I might be faithful, thus showing that even faith itself cannot be had without God's mercy, and that it is the gift of God.” (Augustine, Selections from “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 17)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Things that make me go ARRRRGGGGHHHH -- Hall of Fame Game

This past Sunday, after church was over, Nathanael, Andrew, and I took a road trip to Canton, Ohio for the Hall of Fame Game.  It was cancelled on account of paint.  PAINT!!!

For details, see here.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sermon -- 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 7, 2016)

HEBREWS 11:1-3,8-16


In the name + of Jesus.

      Faith always effects a person's life.  Even if you believe in something that is untrue, it will effect what you say and do.  I think last summer there was a story about a man whose faith in the Detroit Lions prompted him to get a tattoo which said: Detroit Lions, Super Bowl Champs, 2015.  Give him credit for his optimism, but now he has a permanent reminder of his misguided belief.  But his faith demonstrated itself in his actions.
     As foolish as that Lions fan might be, his actions are harmless, all things considered.  Other beliefs are not so harmless.  Many are now believe that men should have the right to consider themselves women and that women should have the right to declare themselves to be men.  Beliefs have consequences, such as men using women's locker rooms and public bathrooms.  Because some believe that this is a matter of civil rights, they tell you that you have the problem if you still believe that a man is a man and should use facilities that were designed for men.  But just as we would not humor a man who declared himself to be Jesus and insisted we treat him that way, so also it is neither loving nor healthy to pander to people who, for whatever reason, despise the sex they are and strive to “fix” it by mutilating their bodies.  Such perverse beliefs result in perverse actions.  Faith, even wrongly placed, will always effect what you say and do.
     Faith always effects a person's life.  What a person believes matters.  The writer to the Hebrews states: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)  In other words, Christian faith is convinced in the reality of things you have not seen yet.  But Christian faith is not wishful thinking; it is based on the very words of God.  Our conviction of good and evil is not based on shifting morals or opinions; it is based on God's unchanging word.  The word of God, therefore, effects what we say and do.  Our hope for heaven is not just because it sounds nice; it is because the Lord Jesus Christ has promised it.  Though we have not seen it, we are convinced of it because we have God's word on it.  Faith seeks a better homeland.
     The patriarch Abraham made a journey across miles of rugged and dry terrain to go to a new homeland.  He was not exiled, nor was he running away from debt or enemies.  Abraham went because God told him to go.  Because Abraham believed God's word, that effected what he did.  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. (Hebrews 11:8-9)
     God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would one day possess the land on which they lived.  They took God at his word.  They did not leave to find a better place to build a permanent settlement.  They lived as strangers in a land which God said would someday be theirs.  After decades of living as nomads, the only thing the patriarchs ever actually owned were the graves of their family members.  Nevertheless, even though Abraham himself did not see the fulfillment of God's promises, Abraham believed God.  Faith sought a better homeland.
     Of course, the main promise that God made to Abraham was not for a plot of earth, but for a place in heaven.  God promised that the Savior would come for Abraham through Abraham's family.  That Savior would pay for all sins, conquer death, and bring eternal life to all who believed.  God had declared that it would be so, and Abraham believed it.  For that reason, Abraham sought the better homeland of heaven.  Abraham know that even the grave he bought he would eventually not need.  Abraham believed God.  Faith in that promise effected how Abraham lived—not longing for this world but for the heavenly kingdom which he had been promised.  Faith seeks a better homeland.
     The same is true for you.  Jesus Christ has forgiven all your sins, no matter how bad, how frequent, or how many.  You are not forgiven sins because you think you should be.  You do not have relief from your guilt or deliverance from the grave just because you want it.  That is wishful thinking.  Christian faith rests on what is certain, which is the word of God.  The only way you can know that your guilt is removed is if God himself removes it.  He has—through the sufferings and death of Jesus.
     God points you to Jesus with the promise: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  It was the will of the Lord to crush him; … his soul makes an offering for guilt.” (Isaiah 53:6,10)  Faith takes God at his word when he applies that forgiveness to you personally.  He says, “Repent and be baptized, all of you, for the forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 2:38)  So, if you are baptized, then you are forgiven and saved.  That is what baptism is for.  You do not have to look inside yourself to determine if you are forgiven.  God has done the work.  God has made the promise.  God has applied the blessing to you.  And he continues to provide that salvation when we feast on the body and blood of Christ.  Jesus summons us: “Take, eat and drink.  This is for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Faith takes God at his word and finds the certainty of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
     Because faith takes God at his word, faith also seeks a better homeland.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  ...But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:13-14,16)  As a result, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not feel ripped off that they did not rule over their own country.  They could gratefully receive the blessings God gave to them, and then bid farewell to the world when their time here was done.  They knew that a better homeland awaited them, and they looked forward to it.
     Faith seeks a better homeland.  Faith takes God at his word, and that effects how we live.  We believe that the best this world has to offer will never compare with the glories of heaven.  We are not ingrates, however.  We recognize the blessings that God gives us here, and we joyfully receive them for the time that God gives them to us.  But we also know that every blessing in this life is just for this life.  All are temporary.  A good meal, as sumptuous as it may be, will only please your palate for a moment and satisfy your belly for a while.  Friends may bring you happiness for a number of years.  Family members are cherished for perhaps decades.  But it will all come to an end.  When we willingly let go of these blessings, it is not because we regarded them as useless or worthless.  It is because we look forward to the permanent, glorious blessings God has promised to all who believe in him.  Faith seeks a better homeland.
     Like Abraham, we confess that we are strangers in this world.  Our true homeland is in heaven.  Faith seeks what is better.  And if you are seeking and striving for what is better, you will be all the more willing to forsake whatever keeps you tethered to this world.  Faith always effects a person's life and will shape everything you say and do.  If you love this world, you will cling tightly to every widget and gizmo you get here.  And then you will perish with it.  But if faith seeks a better homeland, you will dedicate yourself to living like it.  Faith leads you to forsake sin and flee from temptation because you believe that these lead to death.  Faith compels you to hear God's word and to partake in the sacraments because you know that these bestow forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Faith even makes you willing to part with earthly goods and glory because they do not save, and they can even ensnare you.  Faith does not seek these; faith seeks a better homeland.
     Faith seeks a better homeland.  Since God does not lie, our faith is not misplaced.  When our time on this world comes to an end, we will be grateful for whatever blessings we got to enjoy, but we will also gladly say “Good riddance” to this world.  For, as we confess, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come because rather than cling to this world, we crave the one to come.  The Christian faith always effects our life now, because we are convinced of a life of heavenly glory later.  Faith seeks a better homeland, and it will not be disappointed.

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Something from ... Luther, and A Pastoral Concern regarding marriage


          This comment from Luther has also spawned into a pastoral concern about marriage vs. cohabitation and refusing to get married.

          The following is from Martin Luther (1483-1546), written in 1530.  It is regarding men who will not marry.

          "For God has created women to be held in honor and as helpers for man and for this reason he does not wish to have such love forbidden and despised.  The flesh and the devil teach men to use women only for dishonor so that one after another is put to shame, as your new, highly lauded marriageless (I nearly said honorless) state has done up to now and still does.  That is not to love women, but to love and seek unchastity and shame in women, treating and regarding them not as women but as harlots, so that henceforth no one wants to love or respect them.  But God wills that they be valued and esteemed as women and that this be done gladly and with love.  That is to say, one should take them in marriage and remain with them in conjugal love.  That pleases God, but it requires skill and grace." (Martin Luther, Exhortation to All Clergy Assembled at Augsburg, Luther's Works: American Edition, Vol. 34, pp 41-42)

          These words were originally written against the Roman Catholic Church which forbid their priests to marry and commanded their celibacy (although many had mistresses).  The problems that resulted in Luther's day are similar to the problems which are reported against many priests today.  There is nothing new under the sun.

          What struck me about this passage, however, is a different way to apply it today.  Many people are forsaking marriage.  They do not, however, remain chaste until they are married.  Refusing to marry, couples share a house, a bed, often children, and other matters that pertain to married couples.  They usurp all the rights and privileges of marriage, and yet flaunt that they will not marry, even insisting that fornicating and cohabiting are honorable.  Men refuse to be honorable, committed, loving husbands; and women concede that this is a preferred arrangement.

          An honest question for those who are cohabiting: If you are so committed to one another, why don't you actually get married?  Alternatively, if you are not that committed to each other, why are you so eager to live as if you are married?

          Re-read the above quote from Luther.  This time, do not consider the context of priests who are ordered to remain celibate.  Rather, think of men who refuse to marry the women they live with.  And if you are among those who are treating your lover so shamefully, repent and marry that woman.  Honor her and God's gift of marriage as they deserve to be.