Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas at Good Shepherd

Here are some photos from Christmas.  Merry Christmas from my family to you.

Family photo, minus Caleb who was very ill.

Here is Caleb from the Christmas concert at Michigan Lutheran Seminary on Friday,
barely hanging on with his sickness.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Sermon -- Christmas Day (December 25, 2017)

JOHN 1:1-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     Many Lutheran churches like to claim what St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)  The crucifixion is a dominant theme in our sermons, in our liturgy, and even in our church furnishings—both with the large cross overhead, and with the crucifix which is prominently displayed and used today.  It is no secret why we display and proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified.  That is the payment for the sins of the world.  It is at Jesus' crucifixion that the wrath of God was satisfied and that the body and blood of the Lord was given to pay for our sins for all time and for all people.  So, the emphasis on Christ crucified is both understandable and necessary.
     It may come as a surprise to you, then, to learn that the early Church was not in the habit of displaying crosses or crucifixes in their churches.  One practical reason is that, in the early part of Christianity, crosses were still being employed for execution, and some Christians were the sad victims of this bitterly painful death.  If crucifixion was not the central focus of the early Church, then what was?  It was the incarnation of our Lord.
     “Incarnation” is an impressive sounding, theological word.  If you don't remember it, that's okay.  It is probably easier to remember it when it is put to music: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.”  Or you may consider the words of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” (John 1:1,14)  This is the incarnation.  The Word became flesh.  God has become man.  The Savior, Jesus, is the Christ, the Lord.  But now the Lord has become one of us.
     The Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary at Jesus' conception.  This virgin, then, gave birth nine months later to a boy in Bethlehem.  The birth itself was rather unspectacular.  A boy was born to peasant parents.  No doubt Joseph and Mary were filled with joy and relief that mother and child were both healthy.  But as far as the citizens of Bethlehem were concerned, nothing particularly noteworthy or amazing took place that night.
     Perhaps Joseph and Mary were the only ones in the house who knew the significance of this birth.  Joseph knew that this baby was not his.  Mary was still virgin pure.  The holy one which was born is the Son of God.  They had each been given an angelic message which told them so.  The Lord was pleased to reinforce those angelic messages with one more.  To shepherds out in the fields, the angel came with the message: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  The shepherds not only ran into Bethlehem to see this, but they also “made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2:17)  In other words, they preached God's word to everyone they met.  Joseph, Mary, and anyone else there heard the shepherds preach the truth about this child:  He is the Lord.  He is the Word made flesh.  God dwells with mankind.  Our Immanuel has come to save us.
     The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  The Lord became flesh to take up the cause of mankind.  Mankind was God's special creation.  Everything God had created was simply summoned into being by the command of God.  God said it, and it was so—light, dry land, vegetation, sun, moon, and stars, bird, fish, and animals.  However, mankind was notably different.  God personally formed the man from the dust of the earth.  God personally crafted the woman from the rib of the man.  God even took counsel with himself at the creation of mankind before he made them.  “God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'  … So God created man in his own image.” (Genesis 1:26,27)  God assessed what he had created, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)  
     God loves what he has created.  Therefore, when man sinned against God, became corrupt in his thinking and doing, and was marked for death, the Lord was not content to write off man as a lost cause.  He has not dismissed you, either, even though you sin, are corrupt in heart and mind, and are marked for death.  Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace, joy, and love, but it ends up highlighting that we are corrupt and sinful.  For as much as we attempt to make Christmas magazine-cover perfect, we put more stress on ourselves than the season is worth.  Rather than be joyous, we become snippy.  Rather than joy over loved ones, we snap at them.  You may pat yourself on the back for being more generous at Christmas time than usual, but it is easy to toss money at a cause you really have no contact with than to be patient, loving, and understanding to people who stay at your house for a few days or whom you live with all the time.  Perhaps you have even had some family members write you off because of some spat you've had. 
     Our sins do not go away because of sentimental or peppy Christmas carols.  If anything, our sins are accentuated.  You may try to hide it or excuse it.  “I'm only snippy because you are annoying.”  But it is still sin, and it incurs not only the wrath of family members, but especially the wrath of God.  God gave you family members to love, not to despise.  If you despise what God has given you, you also dishonor the God who gave them.
     Others may write you off because you have sinned against them.  God is not willing that you should perish.  Therefore, the Word, the second person of the Trinity, became flesh and made himself one with mankind.  He became man to redeem man.  He became man to live the holy life which is demanded under the Law.  Adam did not keep the Law.   You and I have not kept the Law.  One man has—Jesus.  And he has kept it for you.
     God's Law also demands that he who is guilty must die.  Therefore, the Word became flesh to suffer what sinful flesh must suffer.  Jesus Christ has taken your guilt from you.  He was pierced to the cross for every piercing word we have shot at our loved ones.  He suffered in silence for every time we should have kept our mouths shut but could not help ourselves.  Just as he was born in weakness and wrapped in cloths at his birth, so also he died in weakness and was wrapped in cloths when he was place in a grave for our sins.  Jesus did all of this because he loves what he has created.  And even though we still sin against him in our weakness, his love remains constant.  You know how much patience you have for people who sin against you.  Would you blame our Lord if he became so annoyed by our sinful weakness that he wrote us off as lost causes?  But rather than be announed, the Lord remains merciful.  He is not willing to see you perish.  And so the Word who became flesh to suffer and die for fleshly man, assures you that his blood continues to purify you from all sin. 
     God became part of his creation to rescue his creation.  God became one of us to redeem all of us.  This is what the early Church marvelled at, and we do well to marvel at it as well.  God has not created us to stand off at a distance where he will check in on us once in a while to make sure we have not nuked ourselves out of existence.  Rather, God invested himself in his creation so that remain his cherished creation forevermore. 
     The Word became flesh and made himself one with us.  Immanuel has come so that God will be with us and we with him forever.  This is the glory of God.  That glory was veiled in flesh, but it is glorious nonetheless.  And this day, the Lord comes to us again.  He is veiled in bread and wine, but he comes all the same to deliver his gifts of forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  He comes to dwell within us, and summons us to consume his body and blood for our eternal good.  Behold!  The Lamb which was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger is now wrapped in bread and wine and placed in your mouths so that you will receive the salvation which God is pleased to give to sinners.
     Rejoice!  Immanuel has come.  The Word of God became incarnate so that he could be crucified for mankind.  The flesh and blood Savior overcame the grave so that man will live forever with the Lord.  God, who is now one of us, remains forever God with us.

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

Sermon -- Christmas Eve (December 24, 2017 -- 7:00 PM)

These are a few of the brief homilies that followed the lessons from our Service of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve.

6th Lesson Luke 2:1-7

Caesar cared little for what was going on in Israel.  He only wanted his taxes collected.  He needed his subjects counted.  So Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be counted.
This was God’s timing.  Time for the Savior to come.  Time for every promise to be fulfilled.  Time for the world to receive its Savior.
And so the Son of God was born.  He was wrapped and swaddled in cloths—a commoner who came for common sinners.  The Lamb of God was placed in a manger.  The Lamb of God had come to be the sacrifice that is made for common sinners.
  The Son of God did not come into this world to rival Caesar.  Caesar had his kingdom.  Jesus came to establish a greater kingdom.  He does not come to collect taxes from you, but to be the ransom price to save you from sin, from death, and from the devil.
Caesar's decree resulted in Joseph and Mary having to go to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.  His decree resulted in the Scriptures being fulfilled.  Caesar did not know, and he did not care.  But God knew it was time to redeem his people.  God cared to save you.  And so, through Caesar's unwitting decree, the Lord fulfilled his promise.  The Savior would be born in Bethlehem. 
And so came into this world the Seed of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, the Prince of Peace, the one who crushes the serpent, the one who is called Jesus, the one who is “the Lord who saves,” who saves you.

7th Lesson Luke 2:8-20
Glory to God in the highest!
God is merciful to sinners.  He comes in weakness and humility; that is where his glory is revealed.  He comes not dominate, but to die.

Glory to God in the highest!
The shepherds went to the manger.  In a trough where the lambs fed, the Lamb of God was found.
He is the Christ.  He was the Lord’s Anointed, sent and set apart as prophet for proclaiming good news to sinners; sent and set apart as High Priest for making the atoning sacrifice for sinners; sent and set apart as King for conquering our enemies—sin, death, and Satan—for us.
He is the Lord.  The one who created the world had come personally to redeem the world.

Glory to God in the highest!
The shepherds told what they had seen and heard.  God has been good on his word.  God has been merciful.  God has come for sinners.  God in the manger.  God with us.  God for us.
Glory to God in the highest!

8th Lesson Matthew 2:1-12
The Magi sought their king.  Though they already had a king in their homeland, though they met a king in Jerusalem, they sought something greater.  They sought a king with an everlasting kingdom.
The Magi found their king.  They did not care that he was an infant—at the time utterly dependent upon Mary and Joseph for everything, at the time hated by Herod and later hunted by him, at the time years from fulfilling all that he had come to do.  They knew he was king.  They confessed it to be so.  They would bow before him.
The Magi found their king.  Even though Jesus had come for their good, they presented him with their goods.  They thanked him for work he had not yet done.  They bowed before him even though he was not yet in his glory.  They rejoiced that their Savior had come.
The Magi had found their king.  They travelled extensively to worship him.  They put forth time and effort and priorities to see him; for they knew that he had come for them.
The king still comes, and he still delivers his gifts.  He is no longer veiled in flesh.  Now he comes in word and sacrament to give his gifts of forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  If you would be wise for salvation, then it is wise to put forth time and effort and priority to come and bow before him.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Advent (December 24, 2017; 10:00 AM)

LUKE 1:26-38


In the name + of Jesus.

     Evangelical Lutherans have had a strange aversion to the Virgin Mary.  It is true that we reject any kind of worship of her—for, worship is reserved for God alone.  And it is true that we label it blasphemy when others name Mary co-Redemptrix—for, Christ alone is our Redeemer—or Queen of heaven—for, God alone reigns on high and does not share that glory with anyone.  But as it often happens, we let the pendulum swing too far the other way.  When Mary sang praise of God after she had conceived a son in her womb, the lyrics of her song included these words: “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48)  God chose to bring the Savior of the world into the world through the womb of Mary.  The blessed Virgin Mary is the only person ever who can claim that she gave birth to God.  The Church has made that confession for centuries.  But calling Mary the mother of God is not about exalting Mary; it is about confessing who Jesus is.  He is God in the flesh.  Or, as the Athanasian Creed so brilliantly says: “He is God, eternally begotten from the nature of the Father, and he is man, born in time from the nature of his mother...” (Athanasian Creed)
     Although Mary is not worthy of worship, she is worthy of imitation.  You are likely familiar with the angel's greeting and message to Mary.  But it is good to consider again exactly what the Lord was asking of Mary.  Gabriel informed Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)  I suppose that “asking” is not the right term.  Gabriel was not asking Mary for her permission to have the Savior conceived in her womb.  The Lord had chosen her for this special and unique vocation, just as in ages past the Lord had chosen Noah to build the ark, Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt, and David as king of Israel.  The Lord had promised to send a Savior into the world.  Nothing was going to keep the Lord from fulfilling his promise.  So, when he sent Gabriel to Mary, the Lord informed her that this Savior would come through her.  Mary's response revealed a humble, remarkable faith: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  
     We tend to romanticize the Christmas story.  We want it to look like a Hallmark card.  Real life is much more gritty than that.  Mary was not yet married when she got word that she had conceived.  No matter how much her parents loved her, this was a problem for them.  No matter how understanding Joseph was, he would feel betrayed.  And no matter how much Mary explained to the townsfolk about Gabriel's appearance and message, who would believe her?  Mary would have to bear scorn for this, perhaps for her whole life.  So, the Lord's favor was upon Mary, and this was the result?!  Nevertheless, Mary took the Lord at his word.  Mary accepted the vocation that was given to her.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38)  Even when serving the Lord meant hardship, Mary preferred to be the Lord's servant over serving her own interests with an easier life.  The cross was more valuable than comfort.
     Now, the Lord will never lay on you the responsibility he put upon the Virgin Mary.  Your Savior has already come, born through her.  Still, the Lord calls you to serve him in your various vocations.  In those vocations, you love the Lord by loving your neighbor.  You seek God's honor by seeking your neighbor's good at the expense of your time, energy, and money.  You demonstrate God's patience by patiently enduring the sins of your fellow man.  That is what God has given you to do in your home, in your community, or at your job.  And yes, it will often be hard.  Your sinful flesh will hate it.  Your sinful flesh will urge you to sit on your rear end and pawn off your responsibilities to others.  Your sinful flesh will want you to hoard your time, energy, and money for your own interests and to despise others in need of mercy.  Your sinful flesh will want you to seek revenge on those who sin against you and to defend your pride and your importance at all costs.  Repent.  There is nothing commendable about following the desires of the sinful flesh.  Sin may appease the flesh, but it stirs up the wrath of God.  If you reject the vocations and the works God gives you to do, you have earned his judgment.  Repent.
     When Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a son, she wondered how a virgin could conceive.  She did not reject God's word; she was confused by God's ways.  Gabriel informed her that this was a miraculous act of God, and that the Holy Spirit would implant in her the Word now made flesh.  He then declared, “Every word with God is not impossible.” (Luke 1:37, my translation)  Mary's response was simply to say, literally, “Behold, the servant of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38)  Whatever God had given her to do, Mary submitted to it.  He is the Lord, and she—his servant—would do what he had given her to do.
     Behold, the servant of the Lord.  If you would be known as a servant of the Lord, then you also submit to do what the Lord gives you to do.  If he is the Lord, then you do not have the liberty to tell him, “No.”  A servant does his master's bidding, or he is a bad servant.
     What can we say about this?  We aren't good servants.  We have told our Lord, “No,” because his ways are hard and inconvenient and costly.  We have despised our vocations and neglected the works God has given us to do.  Even if we could imitate the Virgin Mary who demonstrated an amazing faith in submitting to her role as being the mother of the Savior, we also note that she acknowledged her need for this Savior too.  We all do, because all have sinned.
      Behold, the servant of the Lord.  The true servant of the Lord is not you or me or the Virgin Mary.  It is the Son who was implanted in the womb of Mary.  Jesus came to be the perfectly obedient servant of the Lord.  This did not just mean being nice to his friends and to his enemies.  It also meant leaving the glory that is rightly his and living in the weakness of a human being.  It meant forsaking the heavenly riches for earthly poverty.  It meant forsaking the use of his divine power and submitting to the limits of this world.  It meant submitting to abuse, scorn, and false accusations.  It meant submitting himself to beatings, flogging, and to death on a cross.  It meant taking on the guilt of sins he did not commit so that he could deliver us from our guilt and sin.  It meant enduring the pains and torments of hell on behalf of the people who defied his commandments, shirked the responsibilities for the vocations he had given them, and did not serve him as Lord.  Behold, the servant of the Lord!  Jesus did everything that was given him to do.  He lives up to his name, Jesus, which means Savior, because he has done all that is necessary to save you from your sins, to pardon you of your guilt, and to bring you into the kingdom of God.
     Behold!  Now you are servants of the Lord!  This is true because Jesus, the perfect servant of the Lord, has served you.  He has supplied you with what the Lord intends for you to have—the forgiveness of your sins, the confidence of your salvation, and the favor of God.  And Jesus summons you to keep on receiving your Lord's gifts—the body and blood of Christ which conquers death and pardons sinners, the word of absolution which consoles troubled hearts, and his constant blessing.  Then, as redeemed children of God—not merely servants, but beloved children of the Father—you get to go out and honor the Lord with lives that are motivated by God's service, God's love, God's mercy, and God's honor.
     You will never be asked to do what the Virgin Mary did.  She is blessed because of her unique role as the mother of God.  You will never be asked to do what Jesus did.  Only he could carry the sins of the world to the cross to be the atoning sacrifice for sinners.  The Lord, however, is pleased to use you in his kingdom for his glory and for the good of your neighbor.  Behold, you are the servants of the Lord; you get to do what God has given you to do.  Behold, you are the redeemed of the Lord, you are the beneficiaries of God's goodness.  Behold, you are the beloved of the Lord; you are the evidence of God's grace.  Behold, you are the Lord's because the Lord has been pleased to serve and to save you.

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

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Weekend schedule for Christmas

This is a reminder of the weekend schedule at Good Shepherd (since some have asked).

Divine Service -- Sunday, December 24 at 10 AM. (Oh yes, regular church! It's still Advent.)

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service -- Sunday, December 24 at 7 PM. (NOW it's Christmas; Christmas Eve, that is.)

Christmas Day Festival Service -- Monday, December 25 at 10 AM. (High festival service. Actual Christmas Day.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sermon -- Mid-Week Advent – 3rd Wednesday (December 20, 2017)

MATTHEW 1:20-23

With Enlightenment To Him 
Who Does Not Understand.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Joseph was a righteous man, which means he believed the Scriptures and tried to live his life according to them.  But Joseph was also a sensible man.  When he learned that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant, he deduced that she had been unfaithful.  There is no way Joseph could have known the truth, and no reasonable person would have assumed anything different.
     The angel Gabriel had revealed to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a son.  The angel had also told Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, in her old age was six months pregnant.  It was kind of a nudge.  Mary took the hint and went to see Elizabeth.  She stayed there in Judea until John the Baptist was born.  By the time Mary returned to Nazareth, she would have had a baby bump.  The gossip would have been flying around Nazareth.  And what was Joseph to think?  Had Mary been unfaithful in Judea?  Or did she leave for Judea because she had been unfaithful in Nazareth?  There weren't many other conclusions to draw, not for a sensible man.
     But Joseph was also a righteous man.  Mary was burdened by enough shame already.  Joseph chose not to make it worse by publicly denouncing her for adultery.  Obviously, the marriage was off, but Joseph would dissolve their betrothal quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21) 
     To whom does the Lord come?  To enlightenment to him who does not understand.  The Lord sent his angel to Joseph to enlighten him to the facts that no one could know unless God had revealed them.  The angel assured Joseph that not only was pregnant Mary faithful, but she was still virgin pure!  The child in her womb was not the son of another man, but the Son of God.  The only way Joseph would ever know or believe this is if God himself had revealed it to him.  Never in the history of the world was there a virgin birth.  If you recall all the miracles of the Old Testament, there are no virgin births.  But the Lord enlightened Joseph to this unique miracle.  God was coming into the world in the flesh, and he assumed his flesh from Joseph's betrothed.  To whom does Jesus come?  With enlightenment to him who does not understand. 
     An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife....” (Matthew 1:20)  Joseph would have had a number of fears in taking Mary into his house.  He would have opened himself up to the gossip that was already circling around Mary.  And the gossip would not stop with the birth of Jesus, either.  People would always be talking about this child of Mary's alleged unfaithfulness.  Even if Joseph and Mary told about the angels' announcements, how many do you think believed them?  Joseph would take on the responsibility of a child which was not his.  He would be entrusted with being the protector and guardian of the Son of God. 
     But Joseph was enlightened to this one fact that would strengthen him and Mary in the difficult days to come: This child is the fulfillment of a promise.  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)  Although there were no virgin births in the Old Testament, God had foretold one.  The angel alerted Joseph that its fulfillment was in Mary's womb.  Immanuel was coming.  God had become a human being and would dwell with his people.
     To whom does Jesus come?  He comes with enlightenment to those who do not understand.  Joseph is not alone in being confused by God's plans or misreading what God has done.  We share in our limited understanding of God's actions.  We often wonder, “What is God doing?  Why isn't God acting faster, better, or different?  Why does God have me going through whatever it is I am going through?”  Like Joseph, we feel the pain, frustration, disappointment, or grief that comes in this life.  We would hope to be spared; God sends it anyway. 
     Unlike Joseph, we do not have the luxury of having an angel appear to us in our dreams to explain what God is up to.  We may never know why God is doing what he does or why he permits what he does.  When the angel alerted Joseph what God was up to, he reminded Joseph of God's word through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)  There are many words and promises which sustains us when we do not understand what God is doing.  Those words don't reveal God's reasons; they reveal God's person.  The word of God enlightens us to this. 
     The LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136)  The Lord is good, no matter what.  God's word does not say the Lord is good when life is easy.  The Lord is good at all times.  That is just who God is.  Even when we suffer pain, frustration, disappointment, or grief, the Lord is good.  His steadfast love endures forever.  That does not mean that life will be easy, or that we will understand what God is up to.  It means that, no matter what bitterness or confusion we face, the Lord continues with his faithful love. 
     That faithful love is shown us through the child which was conceived in Mary's womb.  God became one of us to dwell among us.  God became one of us to suffer and die for all of us.  In the case of Jesus, God enlightens us so that we know exactly what he is up to.  Joseph was told: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  Jesus is what his name means: “The Lord saves.”  He not only takes away your sin, he even delivers you from the grave.  He puts an end to God's wrath.  He forgives our sins of doubt, of frustration with God, or of a faith which tends to trust our own experiences over God's revelation.  Though we are weak in faith, God's steadfast love endures forever.  Even though we were born sinners, God has been pleased to give us new birth into his family, making us heirs of heaven and children of the resurrection.  Those promises are clear, even if your life is confusing.  And no amount of confusion in your life will negate God's clear promises.
     To whom does Jesus come?  With enlightenment to him who does not understand.  Although God enlightened Joseph about Mary's pregnancy, that did not mean God made it easy for Joseph.  While Mary spoke words of acceptance to God's plans for her, Joseph never said anything.  In fact, Joseph utters no words in the Bible.  But what Joseph is exceptionally good at is listening to the word of the Lord and acting on it.  After the Lord enlightened Joseph about the son of Mary, Joseph immediately fulfilled his role as husband of Mary and guardian of Jesus.  I don't know if Joseph ever really was able to wrap his head around what God was doing, but Joseph served faithfully in all of it.  He had a word from God, and that was enough.
     Like Joseph, you have a word from God, too.  The LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136)  Therefore, you get to live in the peace of knowing that God does, indeed, know what is doing.  And whatever God does, he is doing it all because he loves you and desires your eternal good.  You may never understand why God does what he is doing—and you don't have to; but you have been enlightened to know who is doing it for you.  The LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136)  And that is enough.

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

Monday, December 18, 2017

Something from ... Lutheran Satire re: Christmas origins

We are one week away from Christmas Day today.  Invariably, there will be people who claim that Christianity is a sham and that we are stealing our celebrations from pagan festivals.  Since these arguments seem to be made in an authoritative way with "evidence" from "experts," even some Christians can be deceived.  No one wants to be made a fool of, and some consider it the healthiest alternative to challenge or even disbelieve everything.

Pastor Hans Fiene has put together an amusing and informative rebuttal for those who insist Christmas has pagan origins.  Enjoy, and join us at Good Shepherd on Christmas Eve (7:00 PM) and Christmas Day (10:00 AM) to celebrate the festival with divine origins--God becomes man to redeem mankind.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Advent (December 17, 2017)

JOHN 1:17


In the name + of Jesus.

     “You better be good for goodness' sake.”  We know it from a Christmas jingle, and it sounds like pretty good motivation to make children behave.  But in reality, we don't really mean what it says.  We don't really mean that being good is its own reward.  We mean, “You better be good if you want to see presents.”
     Sometimes we attach rewards to good behavior.  Usually, we don't.  You don't get a reward for obeying the speed limit.  If you obey the law, you avoid a penalty.  But no police officer pulls you over to commend you for observeing the posted speed limit or for coming to a complete stop at an intersection.  Utility companies don't give prizes because you pay your bill on time.  By obeying the law, you avoid punishment.  You spare yourself pain and punishment, but rarely does anyone celebrate you because you have done what you are supposed to do.
     St. John wrote, “The law was given through Moses.” (John 1:17)  Through Moses, God gave the Ten Commandments, which express God's will for all people of all time.  With the Law, the Lord both threatens punishment on the wrong doer and reward for the obedient.  What does God say about all these commandments?  He says, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6; Luther's Small Catechism)  For the wrong-doer, there is wrath and punishment.  For the obedient, there is blessing.  For the guilty, there is death and hell.  For the righteous, there is life and heavenly bliss.  So, the Lord gives us every incentive to obey the commandments in order to receive blessing, and he gives every incentive to avoid sin so that we do not suffer divine wrath and damnation.
     “The law was given through Moses.” (John 1:17)  The Law is good, because it shows us what is good.  But if you think that God's Law is not good—if, in fact, you hate God's Law—it is because that Law shows you you are not good.  We believe God's Law is good when it directs how others are to treat us.  We believe we deserve the first place in line, the assistance of others, and the benefit of the doubt.  But we hate God's Law when it shows us we are wrong.  We hate being convicted for rude behavior, for selfish ambition, for snarky words, for jealousies, for pettiness, and for perverse preferences.  God also denies us when we try to excuse our behavior by insisting that other people had it coming, that we have the right to do what makes us happy, or that no one is the judge of us.  Since God is the giver of life, God holds the right to judge it.  He decides what is good and what is evil, and he enforces his commandments.
     “The law was given through Moses.” (John 1:17)  Even when it damns us, the Law is good.  For, the Law is not the problem.  We are the ones who have disobeyed it.  We are the ones who despise it.  We are the ones who defy the God who gave it.  We are the ones who sin against our fellowmen by living as if they are not worth the effort to do the good that God prescribes or by suggesting that it is okay if we or our friends persist in the evil God forbids.  The Law of God is good; it condemns us because we are not.  Repent.
     No matter how much you strive to be good—whether it is for the sake of gaining a reward, for the sake of avoiding punishment, or just for goodness' sake—no one is good enough to save himself.  God does not demand an earnest effort.  God demands perfect obedience.  The Law cannot save you, even though it is good.
     The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)  What God's Law demands, Jesus Christ supplies.  Jesus did not enter the world to show us how to keep the Law.  Jesus did keep God's Law perfectly, but that does not mean we can do what he did.  Jesus came precisely because we could not do it.  We are not saved because we have been good, or even good enough.  We are saved by grace alone.
     The Scriptures declare: “By grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  We are saved by grace alone.  That means salvation is a gift.  Unfortunately, Americans don't really get what it means that something is a gift.  In just over a week, there will be Christmas Eve and Day family gatherings.  Family members will swarm around the Christmas tree to shred wrapping paper and to tear into packages.  So we think we know what a gift is.  But how many parents will look at their children on Christmas morning and say, “Why are you looking for anything under the tree?  We don't owe you anything!”  You know the moaning and wailing that would ensue.  Or your children might reply, “Very funny!  Where are the gifts?”  Commercials are playing which inform husbands that it is not enough to get your wife a gift; it had better be the right gift.  If you feel ripped off because you did not get a gift or insulted because you did not get the right gift, then how much of a gift is it?  When we expect gifts, they are not gifts.  They are obligations.
     It is important to understand this: God owes you nothing.  The fact that God gives generously to you does not mean he was obligated to.  Grace means that God gives you what you do not deserve.  What you and I deserve is God's wrath and punishment.  We have earned that because of our sins.  But that is not what God gives us.  God gives us his Son to save sinners.  Jesus gives a life of perfect obedience to fulfill what you and I have not done, and then Jesus gives you the credit for it in your baptism.  Jesus gives his innocent life in exchange for your sin and guilt.  Jesus gives himself over to judgment so that you are pardoned.  Jesus gives himself into death so that you can have eternal life.  The eternal Son of God endured the pains of hell so that you could receive the eternal joys of heaven.  Jesus did not owe this to you.  He did not do this because you have been good.  He did this because he is good, and his love endures forever.
     You are saved by grace alone.  Jesus continues to be gracious to you.  Even though we still sin in our weakness, Jesus does not respond to you with snark.  He speaks tender words of mercy.  Even though he knows all our secrets, Jesus does not expose our shame.  He covers it.  He deals patiently with repeat offenders of his Law.  He does not slam shut the door of heaven because you had a bad day.  He continues to assure you that you are children of a forgiving God.  This is grace.  God gives us what we do not deserve.   He speaks and acts for your benefit.  Jesus did not go to the cross for his glory—though that is where his glory is revealed; he went there for yours.  God's good is for your good.
     You are saved by grace alone.  Your salvation is God's doing from beginning to end.  That means your salvation was done to perfection by a perfect God.  And that means that your salvation is not in doubt.
     The Law shows you that you need to be saved.  Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), who has shown himself to the Savior of mankind.  He gives you what you do not deserve, but he gives it gladly.  You are saved by grace alone.

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sermon -- Mid-Week Advent – 2nd Wednesday (December 13, 2017)

LUKE 1:26,31-33

With Comfort to Him Who Waits.

In the name + of Jesus.

     In Psalm 46, the Lord speaks: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  The Lord says this to his people throughout history.  The Lord makes his promises, and God's people wait.  Waiting is hard.  There is nothing we can do to change God's time table.  We simply must endure whatever it is we are going through, confident that God will be faithful to his promises, that God will grant peace, and that God will save.
     The waiting game started with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  As soon as a Savior for sinners was needed because there were sinners who needed to be saved, God promised one.  Adam and Eve repeated that promise to future generations, but they were still waiting for it to be fulfilled when they died.  Noah had to wait on the ark for more than a year before he walked on dry ground again.  Abraham waited 25 years for the Lord to give him the son he had promised.  Israel waited under the bondage of slavery for 400 years until the Lord raised up Moses.  Regarding the Promised Land, it was for centuries that the Israelites had the promise but not the land.  Waiting was hard.  Many never witnessed the fulfillment of God's promises.  They could only take to heart God's assurance: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  In other words, do not despair.  God is true.  God is faithful.  He will not forget his promises.  Just wait.
     Some of God's promises appeared to dissolve into disappointing failure.  Consider the promise that the Lord had made to David when David had planned to build the temple.  “Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.  When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.  When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him....  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.  Your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:11-16)  
     The Lord's promise to David was that his throne would endure forever, and a son from his own body would reign there.  But after about 400 years, due to Israel's unfaithfulness to the Lord, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and put an end to the kings of Israel.  David's throne was reduced to ashes.  Eventually, Israelites resettled in the land, but David's line was never restored.  Israel only knew foreign kings.  By the time Jesus was born, the land was ruled by an Edomite named Herod.  It seemed that God's promises were not kept.
     So it seemed.  But God is true.  God is faithful.  God does not forget his promises.  Although there was no earthly reason to believe it could happen, there were some in Israel who believed that God would do what he said.  God would establish David's throne.  The son of David would have a kingdom that endures forever.  God would be faithful.  They needed only to wait, to be still, and to let God be God.  “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  For, God is true.  And God does remember his promises.  To whom does Jesus come?  With comfort to him who waits.
     Long after God had first promised to Adam and Eve, long after God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, long after God had promised to David, God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth to let a virgin teenager know that God had remembered his promises.  The wait would come to an end.  The Savior, at long last, would come.  The angel said to her, “Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33) 
     To whom does Jesus come?  With comfort to him who waits.  To those who live in guilt because of their sins—whether you live in the shame of your foolish, regretible moment or you live in the frustration of giving into your weakness again and again—Jesus has come with forgiveness.  To those who long to be relieved of the bitterness and miseries of this world, Jesus has come with mercy.  To those who are waiting for a better kingdom and a more enduring peace than this world can offer, Jesus has come to save.  For centuries, God's people waited, and God proved faithful and true.  God sent Jesus to save people from shame, from guilt, from frustration, and from misery.  He comes with comfort to him who waits.
     God reigns on high, and the devil can't do anything about that.  But we live here, and the devil afflicts us regularly.  We have no chance of fighting off the devil.  Therefore, God left his throne on high to enter our world and to become one of us.  He took on the nature of humanity in the womb of Mary while retaining the nature of God.  By becoming man, Jesus made himself one with our race and submitted himself to temptations of the devil, to obedience to God, and to death on the cross.  This man, unlike all other men, overcame all temptations; he did not lose his kingdom to the devil.  This man, unlike all other men, gave perfect obedience to God; he did not lose God's favor.  And this man, for the sake of all other men, died under God's curse with our sins.  This is the cost to deliver you from sin, death, and the devil.  And this is what brings you into the kingdom of God.
     To whom does Jesus come?  With comfort to him who waits.  Jesus gave his life as the ransom to deliver you from the devil.  And then Jesus rose from the dead to live and reign over a kingdom that endures forever.  The Son of David, Jesus, the man from Nazareth, lives and reigns forever.  His kingdom is a rule of grace and forgiveness and life everlasting.  Jesus has been pleased to rescue you from the devil's claim and to bring you into his joyous kingdom forevermore.  Since Jesus cannot die again, his kingdom endures forever.  And since you have been marked by Jesus' blood, you will live and reign with him.  His claim on you endures.  His forgiveness remains upon you.  This is the comfort Jesus delivers to sinners in his word and sacraments.  And this comfort cannot be destroyed by anything the devil or this world can do.
     To whom does Jesus come?  With comfort to him who waits.  And the Church still waits.  We are waiting to be delivered out of the miseries and sorrows that afflict us in this life.  We are waiting to be freed from our own regrets and weaknesses from our sins.  We are waiting for death to be destroyed and eternal peace and joy to be ours.  Each of us is waiting to be relieved of whatever is personally grieving and afflicting us.  Just as God was true and faithful in the past, so he will be with our everlasting peace and rest.  So, we wait.  We are still.  For, God remembers his promises.  And while you wait, God continues to remind you of those promises.
     The Lord Jesus lives and reigns.  His kingdom endures forever.  His mercy is yours.  Be still, and know that God will never stop being God—the true and faithful Savior, and the comfort of sinners.

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Something from ... Veith's blog re: Hannukah and Jesus

I refer you to an article written by Gene E. Veith at his blog, and he links to another blog about Jesus and Hannukah.  It gives the background to Hannukah, but more importantly, it refers to the claims Jesus made during the festival of Hannukah.

Once in a while, we hear people make the claim that Jesus never claimed to be God, and that his identity as God was foisted upon him by later disciples.  (Such people claim that the Gospels themselves were more propaganda than historical accounts, so any of Jesus' claims of divinity in the Gospels are claimed to be later inserts and not historical.) 

The claim Jesus made at Hannukah (Feast of Dedication in John 10) is noteworthy both for its claim and the setting in which Jesus made this claim. 

The observations and insights were made by others, so I now refer you to their works.  Both are pretty quick reads.

Gene E. Veith (Cranah, the blog of Veith) is here:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2017/12/jesus-and-hanukkah/

The original source that he sits is here (and linked in Veith's own article):

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 10, 2017)

MARK 1:1-8


In the name + of Jesus.

     I suppose Christians may be disappointed when they begin reading the Gospel of Mark.  St. Matthew's Gospel begins with the ancestry of Jesus and the angel's words of assurance to Joseph that the child Mary is carrying is not the son of another man, but the Son of God.  St. Luke's Gospel, of course, has several angelic messages all focusing on the birth of the Christ child.  St. Mark's Gospel, however, begins with a very succinct, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)  Mark wastes no time.  He gets to the point, as if there is very little time to do it.
     John the Baptist's preaching is very much the same.  John does not try to win the crowds over with rhetoric or a slick presentation.  There is nothing about the John the Baptist that is slick.  John is rough and raw—from his locust and wild honey diet to his camel's hair tunic to his wilderness residence.  John the Baptist was not interested in playing to the crowds (though they did come to him).  John was not interested in making friends (though he did have disciples follow him).  John was interested only in fulfilling the task God had given him.  As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” (Mark 1:2-3)  John would prepare the way for the Messiah.  For John, this was not going to be done with gentle persuasion.  The path would not be made straight with careful, intricate landscaping, but with a bulldozer.
     I doubt when John began preaching that he thought his days would soon be cut short by King Herod's sword.  But John did warn people that the ax of judgment would soon be swung by the Christ.  For that reason, there was precious little time for John to make his point.  John had no time for polite chit-chat.  John was blunt.  John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)  The kingdom of God was at hand.  And so there was an urgent plea for people to repent. 
     Advent pleads for an urgent repentance.  Advent declares that a Savior is coming.  However, if a Savior is going to mean anything to you, then you must believe that you actually need to be saved.  The only way the Gospel will mean “good news” to you is if recognize that life without God's favor means bad news.  Therefore, John the Baptist did not hesitate to preach a word that does not merely scold, but damns, so that people would crave God's mercy and salvation.
     Advent pleads for an urgent repentance.  It still does.  St. Peter reminds us of Jesus' second advent in our epistle, that is, Jesus' return to judge the living and the dead.  He writes to Christians about being prepared for that day.  Peter does not tell us to do our best.  He sets the bar much higher.  St. Peter tells you “to be in lives of holiness and godliness” and to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish....” (2 Peter 3:11,14)  This diligence is crucial, because the Lord will come suddenly.
     In the Prayer of the Day, our petition was this: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son.  By his coming give us strength in our conflicts and shed light on our path through the darkness of this world.”  Our greatest conflict is not a battle of wills against other people, but against our own sinful flesh.  No one ever becomes the master over his own flesh.  If you did, you would live a life of holiness and godliness.  But we do not.  We daily are conflicted between wanting to do what is good and right and wanting to do what is selfish, easy, and convenient—and that at the expense of other people.
     The conflicts we face with our own flesh often arise when we have conflicts with other people.  We use a difference of opinion as an opportunity to despise other people or to hurl sarcastic zingers at them.  Sarcasm feels especially good because we use our words to demonstrate our annoyance, to express our disdain for another person, and to try to humiliate them.  Then, if the zinger truly hits, we take pride in ourselves for showing that we are right, smart, and superior.  Then, we glorify ourselves further by telling friends how we belittled someone else with our brilliant wit.  All the time, we believe that we are better people than those we despise.  Repent!  Those who exalt themselves, especially at the expense of others, will be humbled by God.  Your friends may laugh at your stories, but the Lord is not amused.  Advent pleads for an urgent repentance.
     All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5)  The people who came to John did not repent because John's preaching was raw.  They repented because John was right.  John preached the word of the Lord which does not allow any man to pretend that he is good enough for God.  Repentance is a continual, daily attitude.  We daily acknowledge that we continue to sin and never live up to God's commandments.  We strive to.  We want to do better.  And maybe God has even given you strength to overcome some of your conflicts.  But no one is ever masters his sinful flesh.  That is why Advent pleads for an urgent repentance.  We will never cease to need our Savior. 
      John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)  The whole point of preaching and baptism is for the forgiveness of sins.  In other words, it points you to Jesus.  John prepares the way for the Savior by setting before us in very plain terms our need to be saved.  You need to be saved from a heart that spews out sarcasm, that despises other people, and that exalts yourself.  Jesus comes to save you from your sins, from your conflicts, and from yourself.
     Advent pleads for an urgent repentance.  While John the Baptist rightly urges you to put off your sins, Jesus quietly takes them from you and puts them onto himself.  Jesus bore the guilt for every one of our sarcastic attitudes and belittling words.  Then he made himself the recipient of the harsh words, of the bitter accusations, and of sinful men who exalted their own agendas at the cost of Jesus' life.  But Jesus submitted to all of it in order to alleviate you from all guilt.  Though innocent, Jesus silently suffered and died rather than lash out at those who truly are guilty.  He suffered the judgment of God for all who spew out sarcasm, mockery, and lies.  You need to be saved from this judgment.  Jesus has saved you by taking this judgment from you, suffering for you, and dying instead of you. 
     While John the Baptist was much more raw than Jesus in his preaching, they do have this in common.  They did not use sarcasm to belittle the people they speak to.  In plain, honest language—without lies, flattery, or sarcasm—they showed people they were sinners; and they showed sinners their need for salvation.  John prepared the way for Jesus by exposing sins and warning of judgment.  When Jesus came, the guilty found comfort from their guilt.  Jesus spoke tenderly to those who were ashamed.  He spoke mercifully to those who were in fear.  He even spoke patiently to those who could find sins in other people but not in themselves.  But he did plead for their urgent repentance; for there is no salvation without repentance.  That is what Advent pleads for.
     St. Mark began his Gospel as if the time were short.  And to be sure, the time is shorter now than when John wrote it.  That is why the call to repent and to flee to Jesus is urgent.  It is true for you, and it is true for your family, friends, and anyone else you know or meet.  These people are just like us—sinners.  Most feel their sin from time to time.  They know their death is coming.  But they do not have the hope you do.  Whether you would be as raw or rough as John the Baptist or more tender like Jesus does not matter.  It did not for John or Jesus.  What does matter is the urgency of Advent.  The Savior has come to comfort sinners and to forgive sins.  The time of this salvation is now.  For Advent will soon come to an end.  And the only joy there will be is for those who know their Savior.  That joy is yours.  Pray that it will be delivered to others as well.

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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sermon -- For the Funeral of Eric Schuster (December 8, 2017)

This sermon was prepared for a funeral at Great Lakes Military Cemetery in Holly, MI.  However, due to the tight time schedule allotted for each burial there, I was given about five minutes to conduct any Christian rite whatsoever.  The sermon was condensed to a three minute devotion, followed by the committal.  This is the full sermon which had been prepared.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:42-49


In the name + of Jesus.

     Eric Schuster was born on March 2, 1951, and shortly after he was born, his parents took him to be baptized.  They did it for one simple reason: They knew that this day was coming.  They did not know when it would come, but they knew that Eric would die one day.  They knew that Eric would have to stand before God in judgment one day.  And they wanted Eric to receive God’s mercy instead of God’s condemnation.
     So, he was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  In baptism, he was washed clean of all sin.  Jesus wrapped him in a garment of salvation.  He declared him to be holy and blameless, an heir of heaven, and a child of the resurrection.  All his life long, Eric lived in this baptismal grace.  He was strengthened in it whenever our Lord fed him with his body and blood for his continued forgiveness.  God was faithful to him, sustained him, and—as he promised in his baptismal covenant with him—has delivered him to his heavenly home.
     I am sure that you all have your own special memories of Eric, whether as a husband, a father, or a co-worker.  Most memories are fond ones; others maybe not.  One of the things I remember about Eric is that he was no phony.  He did not try to make himself to be a saint to me.  He acknowledged that he had made his share of mistakes and committed his share of sins.  And he did not pretend that his sins were no big deal.  But more importantly, he remembered God's promises to him.  I was privileged to remind him of those promises again and again.  For, Jesus does not come to save fake sinners.  Jesus comes to save real sinners.  Eric knew that, and found comfort in remembering God's promises to him.
     I am sure you will always cherish your memories of Eric.  But our comfort is not what we remember about our loved ones.  God does not judge our loved ones based on what we think of them.  God's judgment is based on what Jesus has done for us and on the promise he makes: “Whoever believes and his baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  Our comfort is that God remembers us.  When the Bible says that God remembers, it means that he acts in order to deliver from disaster and death.  God remembered Noah in the ark, and then he made the flood waters recede.  God remembered the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, and then he sent Moses to deliver them.  God remembered Eric Schuster already from eternity.  From eternity, God's plan was to send a Savior to deliver him from death and damnation.  And in Eric's lifetime, God applied that salvation to him by means of his baptism.  And God remembers his covenant to Eric in that baptism.
     Our Lord had to do this because our first parents, Adam and Eve, believed Satan’s lies and plunged into sin.  With sin comes God’s curse.  With sin come all kinds of ailments, frustrations, pain, and problems—including inoperable cancer.  With sin comes death.  The first man, Adam, brought sin upon all mankind, and so all mankind must die.  Eric died because he was a sinner, which he confessed freely.  He did not argue with God that he was better than he was.  He knew that God demands perfection.  Being nice does not save us.  Anyone can be nice to anyone else for a moment.  Eric did not pretend to be perfect.  He remembered his sins.  He was not holy.  He needed to be delivered from sin, death, and damnation.
     But God remembered Eric.  He sent Jesus for him.  Jesus is called the second Adam because he is the second holy man to walk the earth.  The first Adam had sinned against God; the second Adam obeyed.  The first Adam earned God’s wrath; the second Adam earned God’s blessing.  The first Adam brought death; the second Adam brings life.  The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.  As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:47-49) 
     When Eric was baptized into Christ Jesus, he received all the benefits of Jesus' redeeming work on his behalf.  Eric was given credit for Jesus’ holy obedience.  God will not condemn anything that is holy; so Eric has been saved.  He was given the benefit of Jesus’ sufferings and death.  Since Jesus has taken his sin from him, he also took the punishment for him.  Since the punishment for sins has been taken away, there is no condemnation for him.  He gets eternal blessings.
     Like all of us, Eric had borne the body of the first Adam.  Adam was of the dust of the earth.  Dust he was, and to dust he returned.  Likewise, we have mortal bodies which are subject to sickness, weakness, aging, and death.  No medicine, no chemo, no surgery can keep us out of the grave forever.  Because we are mortal and corrupted with sin, these bodies are not eligible to enter heaven.  For, that is where our Lord dwells, and only that which is holy can dwell with him.  There is nothing sinful allowed in the gates.
     But that which is sown in weakness will be raised in glory.  Our Savior has shown you how it will be.  Jesus lived his life in humility and died in weakness.  Jesus was dishonored, beaten, rejected, condemned, and crucified.  This was the price that had to be paid for our sin.  His battered and lifeless body was laid to rest in a most humble condition.  But on the third day, that body sprang to life.  Jesus rose from the grave in glory: Master over death, Deliverer of sins, and Giver of eternal life.  Jesus rose from the grave with his human body, but in glorious life—never again subject to pain or misery or death.  Since Eric belongs to Jesus, all that belongs to Jesus also belongs to Eric.  So, while Eric's remains will be laid to rest in a humble state, his body will be raised up from the grave in glory.
     God remembers Eric Schuster.  He was baptized into Christ, so he will bear the likeness of the man from heaven.  Jesus has authority over death and the grave, and so he will summon him from the grave and raise him from the dead.  This body which is sown perishable, in humility, and in weakness will be raised up imperishable (he will never die), glorious (he will never suffer), and incorruptible (he will never know cancer or sickness, lose his balance or grow frail.  Just as Eric received Jesus' righteousness, so he will also receive Jesus' likeness—a glorious risen body that will forever have a place at the eternal feast in heaven.  The Lord remembers Eric Schuster, and he will never forget his promises.
     I’m sure that you will take time to reminisce about your husband, father, and friend.  I’m sure there will be stories of laughter, of doing battle with large dogs, and so forth.  But your greatest joy is that God has remembered Eric.  Jesus Christ has marked him as his own through baptism and has presented Eric to himself as a holy and blameless child of God.  That is how he stands before the Lord now.  Then, at the resurrection, his body will catch up to his baptism.  He will be raised glorious, immortal, and incorruptible.  He has been redeemed from the likeness of the first Adam, and he will bear the likeness of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.  You can be sure of it; for God remembers his covenant.  God remembers his people.  And God remembers Eric Schuster.

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sermon -- Mid-Week Advent – 1st Wednesday (December 6, 2017)

LUKE 1:18-20

With Proof to Him Who Doubts.

In the name + of Jesus.

     In the city of Jerusalem, the priests from the division of Abijah were taking their turn to serve at the temple for the month.  In this division was a priest named Zechariah.  Zechariah had been reporting with the division of Abijah for service at the temple since he was twenty years old.  In all those years, the lot had never fallen to him to go into the Holy Place to make the sacrifice at the altar of burnt incense.  It was late in his life that the lot finally fell to Zechariah.  God's timing had come for the Christ to enter into the world.
     When Zechariah was burning incense in the Holy Place, the angel Gabriel appeared to him on the right side of the altar, just in front of the curtain which covered the Holy of Holies.  The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  …  And he will go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:13,17)  In fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets, Zechariah would be the father of the forerunner of the Christ.  Elizabeth, who had been barren, would give birth in her later years.  This is the word of the Lord.
     Zechariah was confused.  Zechariah did not believe the angel's words.  I suppose today's skeptics would applaud Zechariah for not being a fool.  If we saw a YouTube video in which two senior citizens popped a balloon to announce the gender of their unborn child, we would never believe it was their child.  We would assume they were doing it for a grandchild.  Or we would assume it was a joke.  We would not think they had any announcements to make for themselves.  Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?” (Luke 1:18)  Zechariah did not believe it either.
     To whom does Jesus come?  With proof to him who doubts.  Zechariah wanted a sign.  He demanded proof to know that the angel's words were true.  God granted Zechariah his sign, but the sign also proved to be judgment against Zechariah.  The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)  
     We might consider the judgment against Zechariah to be harsh.  Could you really blame him for being a skeptic?  In word: Yes.  Consider the scene again.  Zechariah was a priest on duty, serving the Lord in his temple.  Zechariah entered into the Holy Place, as close as he was allowed to get to the presence of God.  The Lord sent his angel to Zechariah in that temple.  He did not come to Zechariah in a dream at his house.  He was not some mysterious voice in the dark.  God had sent an angel to Zechariah during the prayer service of Israel.  Israel's prayer was that God would send his Messiah.  As Zechariah was making this petition, the angel Gabriel came in answer to it.  God's angel came to God's temple to tell God's priest that God's Messiah would come.  And Zechariah and Elizabeth would be the parents of John, the forerunner of the Christ.  The Savior, Jesus, was coming.
     To whom does Jesus come?  With proof to him who doubts.  Zechariah had asked for a sign to prove that the Lord's word was true.  Zechariah received both a sign and a judgment—he was made mute until the Lord's word would be fulfilled.
     To whom does Jesus come?  With proof to him who doubts.  Our sinful flesh often causes us to doubt God's word.  Like Zechariah, we make observations about our life and circumstances, and we judge God according to those.  Zechariah doubted God's word with his excuses: “Elizabeth is barren.  We're too old.”  We doubt God's word with our judgments.  When we and our loved ones are healthy, we believe that God is good.  When we are successful and do not stress over finances, we believe God is love.  When we are delivered from stress and trouble, we believe that God is merciful.  But when we face hardship, when blessings are withdrawn, when we are put through an emotional wringer, we doubt God's word.  We doubt that God is good or merciful or loving because we don't see or feel an easier life than we expect. 
     To whom does Jesus come?  With proof to him who doubts.  Zechariah doubted a very specific God-given promise.  It is important that we understand what God promises and what God does not.  God does promise to give us each day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:31-32)  He does not promise large reserves in our bank account.  God promises that he will work out all things for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)  He does not promise life will be easy, or that we will understand how he will work out our hardships for our good.  God promises to meet all our needs in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)  He does not say that whatever you think YOU need he will give.  We often hold God accountable for promises he did not make.  When these are not fulfilled, it is our fault for not knowing God's promises.  We not only fault God for promises he did not make, we doubt the promises he did make.  Repent.
     To whom does Jesus come?  With proof to him who doubts.  Zechariah doubted the word of the Lord, but God's mercy did not depend on Zechariah's faithfulness.  God is faithful to his promises.  He had promised to send a Messiah and his forerunner.  God's word stood, even if Zechariah doubted it.  John was born of an old-ages barren woman.  The Savior came after John.  And the Savior atoned for Zechariah's sin.
     Jesus comes for us for the same reason.  God's faithfulness is not weakened by our weaknesses.  We suffer for our own weaknesses and doubting.  We inflict ourselves with grief and worry and fear when we doubt God's promises.  But Jesus Christ comes for you, and he comes with proof to him who doubts.  He comes to bring forgiveness to you for your doubts, fears, and worries, even for weak faith or misguided faith.  As it was with Zechariah, so it is with you.  Jesus comes for you with proof of God's love.  That proof is seen in Jesus' sufferings and death.  He suffered for your sins.  He became weak for your weakness.  He faithfully fulfilled his role as the atoning sacrifice for your misguided faith and doubts.  That payment stands, and God is faithful to forgive all who believe in Jesus.   It is not the strength or sincerity or perfection of your faith with saves you.  You don't have faith in your faith.  Rather, it is the faithfulness of God to his own promises which saves you.  It is Jesus' atoning sacrifice which covers your sin and guilt.  And for the sake of your faith and for the consolation of your soul, the Lord proclaims to you again and again through his minister: “I forgive you.  Fear not; you are mine.”
     To whom does Jesus come?  With proof to him who doubts.  Zechariah was not the only skeptic in Jerusalem.  The elders and the priests also demanded a sign from Jesus, but Jesus would not perform for them.  Old Testament promises should have been enough to prove that the kingdom of God had come to them in the person of Jesus.  Still, Jesus gave one proof: He would rise from the dead.  Either he is risen or he is dead.  If he is dead, Jesus is a liar and a fraud.  But Jesus is risen!  He lives, and therefore, he is the Messiah.  He is your Savior.  His word is sure.  His promises stand.  Your forgiveness is real.  Your salvation is certain. 
     To whom does Jesus come?  He comes for you.  Even if your faith is weak, God's word is solid.  Whether your life is going fine or your world is a mess, your Father in heaven is good and merciful.  Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection are the proof.  I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (Luke 1:19)  God is faithful.  His word is fulfilled.  Your Savior has come. 

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Something from ... Cranach, the Blog of Gene E. Veith

One of the blogs I frequent is by Gene Edward Veith, a retired professor from Patrick Henry College, a member of the LC-MS, and an author of some very good books on Christian vocation and Lutheranism. 

Today, I refer you to this article, in which he quotes his former pastor's newsletter article entitled, "Because God is merciful."  You can read it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2017/12/because-god-is-merciful/

While the article focuses on some issues that are particular to the congregation of St. Athanasius Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vienna, Virginia, it is not hard to make it apply to Good Shepherd.  We simply change a few particulars, but the main point still stands.

God is merciful.  He is our good and merciful Father in heaven.  That is true no matter what struggles or hardships we are going through.  Even when it does not appear that God is good and merciful, he is.  He remains so.  He always will, because that is who God is for us through Jesus.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Sermon -- For the Funeral of Ryan Fecho (December 5, 2017)

Ryan Michael Fecho 
(October 20, 1982 - December 1, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     When St. Paul wrote to the Christian Church in Thessalonica, he wrote to a people who were grieving the loss of their loved ones.  Actually, it was worse than that.  The Thessalonian Christians had been led to believe that those who died in the faith and were buried had been lost forever.  It seems that some had concluded that only those who are still alive when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead will dwell with the Lord with their bodies.  St. Paul wrote to alleviate their fears and to encourage them in the Christian's hope: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” (Nicene Creed)
     We are gathered today as people who grieve the loss of a loved one, Ryan Fecho.  Perhaps the confusion and grief that hits us today more than anything else is God's timing in Ryan's death.  Ryan was only 35 years old.  He was such a loving husband and a devoted father.  He was a faithful worker both for Bosch and here at Good Shepherd.  And, quite frankly, Ryan was fun to be around.  It leaves us wondering why this happened, and why it happened now.  Even when we try to come up with reasons, they are not really satisfactory.
     This is what the Lord says, “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands.  For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace...” (Isaiah 57:1-2)  To be sure, Ryan is now forever spared from the toils and troubles of this world.  Satan cannot harm him at all.  And yet, Ryan would have been pleased to stay here and continue to be a loving husband, devoted father, and faithful worker for decades to come.  And you would have been pleased to enjoy the benefits of that, too.  God had other plans; and we don't get it.
     The question that may never get answered about Ryan's death has to do with the “when” of his death.  Why now?  God has chosen not to reveal that to us.  But the “why” of death is made plain from the Bible.  “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)  We all come into this world as sinners.  And that is why we are all going to die.  We may expect to live eight decades, give or take; but we have no guarantees.  Neither did Ryan. Many die old; others die young.  The death of some is expected; the death of others is a jarring surprise—as it was with Ryan's.  We never know when death will come, but we always know why: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) 
     But you have a hope that endures through all things.  What St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians is also true for you: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
     It is true that Ryan was a sinner, but it is also true that Ryan was baptized into the name of Jesus.  In baptism, Jesus took from Ryan all sin and guilt.  In doing so, Jesus also took away from Ryan the wrath of God and the power of the grave.  Jesus Christ suffered the torments not just of crucifixion, but especially of hell.  It was a faulty heart which brought death to Ryan, but it was the pierced heart of Jesus which poured out blood that paid for his sins.  Jesus endured what sinners deserve.  The wages of sin have been taken care of by Jesus.  Since Ryan was baptized into Jesus, he did not face God's wrath, or curse, or hell.  In baptism, Jesus cleansed Ryan of sin, marked him as a child of God, and made him an heir of the heavenly kingdom.  No heart attack changes the heart of God in that.  That is why your hope endures through all things.
     St. Paul encourages you: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)  Kendra, and the rest of the family, St. Paul does not say you will not grieve.  When death strikes a loved one, you can't help but grieve.  When the bond we have with our loved ones is ripped apart by death, it hurts.  It leaves a scar.  You grieve, but you do not lose hope.  Ryan's life may have been cut short in this world, but life is never cut short in the kingdom of God.  Ryan's soul has gone to be with Jesus.  He lives with Jesus because he belongs to Jesus. 
     You have a hope that endures through all things, even the grave.  Thanks to Jesus, it is not something that holds terror over us.  We view it as the enemy because it takes our loved ones from us.  But you have a Savior who overcomes that.  When God came into the world to save, he became a man.  That man was crucified, died, and was buried.  But then he rose from his grave.  It is not a memory that lives.  It is a flesh and blood man, Jesus, who lives.  He is now Lord over death and the grave.
     Just as Jesus took from Ryan all that was bad at his baptism, so also at his baptism Jesus gave to Ryan all the benefits of his death and resurrection.  St. Paul writes: Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14)  Jesus lives and reigns over death.  For that reason, when Jesus comes again on the Last Day, the grave will have to give Ryan back.  It will not just give back a memory.  Jesus will raise up the man, Ryan Fecho so that, body and soul, as God created him to be, he will live.  And he will live in glory with a body that will never be subject to death or weakness or sorrow again.  Never again will he know a heart condition or a heart break.  This is why we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  This is the hope that endures through all things, even into eternity.
     If Ryan had died at 95 rather than 35, his hope was the same—that he would be forgiven of all his sin, that his soul would be delivered by the angels into Paradise, and that he would be raised from the grave to live forever.  Ryan Fecho was baptized into that hope.  He was confirmed in the Christian faith after years of studying about that hope.  Every time he came to this altar to feast on the body and blood of the Risen Savior, he was strengthened in that hope.  And he finally died in that hope.  But this hope endures through all things.  It is not negated by tears, or a heart attack, or even by death.  Just as you cannot nullify Jesus' death and resurrection, so you cannot nullify this hope.
     We may never understand the Lord's timing in Ryan's death, but we cling to this: The Lord is good and his mercy endures forever.  Therefore, you have a hope that endures through all things—even this death.  You and I have no answers for death.  Jesus Christ does.  He is the resurrection and the life.  He holds the keys to death and the grave.  More importantly, he holds us near and dear to him, even as he holds Ryan in heavenly peace.  Jesus lives and reigns for our good, and he promises a joyful reunion of all who live and die in the Christian faith.  Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18); for they are your enduring hope.

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