Monday, February 27, 2017

Imposition of Ashes

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

These words paraphrase Genesis 3:19 where the Lord proclaimed a curse upon man when he had first sinned.  St. Paul repeated that thought in his letter to the Romans: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  This is the harsh reality of sin.  The use of ashes long pre-dates the New Testament Church.  In the era of the Patriarchs, Job confessed his sin and declared, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)  The Imposition of Ashes teaches a dual lesson.

1)  It is a mark of penitence.  We demonstrate outwardly the sorrow for sin that we have inwardly.

2)  It is a mark of death.  It is a reminder that we are all dust, and to dust we will return.  The ashes remind us that we are helpless in our sinful condition.  Our only hope is a Savior.  We repent of our works.  We cling to Jesus for his.

We will begin the Ash Wednesday Service (March 1, 7:00 PM) with the rite.  Where the bulletin indicates, the ushers will begin to invite people by row to come to the communion railing to receive the ashes.  The penitent will kneel at the railing (like Lord’s Supper), and wait as the pastor applies the ashes to the forehead in the shape of a cross.  Please resist all temptations to scratch or smear the ashes.  (The ashes will easily be washed off with soapy water.)
No one should feel obligated to receive the ashes on the forehead.  If you do not want to do it, the ushers will simply pass you by and go to the next row.  Children may participate at the discretion of their parents.
This ceremony truly sets the tone for Lenten season.  We are marked as sinners.  We are marked for death.  We are marked as the penitent whose only hope is Jesus Christ.
Our comfort comes from Jesus who takes our sin.  He dies our death.  He marks us as his own who have been baptized into his name.  That is where the penitent find comfort.  That is where the dying find life.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sermon -- Last Sunday after Epiphany: Transfiguration (February 26, 2017)

 MATTHEW 17:1-9


In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Peter was right about one thing: “Lord, it is good that we are here.” (Matthew 17:4)  It was, indeed, good to see the glory of Jesus.  It was, indeed, good to be in the presence of the Church Triumphant.  It is the future that we all look forward to.  It is what we pray that God will finally deliver us to.  It is why we come to church, so that God will keep us faithful until he brings us to that glory.  It was, indeed, good to be there.
     Peter's motives, however, were a bit skewed.  Peter had hoped to have glory apart from the cross.  Peter wanted to keep the momentary vision forever.  He had confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16) only about a week before this.  This was a confession of faith.  But on the mountain, at least for the moment, it was not a matter of faith.  For once—for the first time!—Jesus of Nazareth actually looked like the Son of God.  Peter, James, and John got to see what their fellow apostles only believed.  On this mountain, they lived by sight rather than by faith.  Peter preferred that.  Peter wanted to see and feel the blessings and the glory of God.  Faith struggles to believe, but feelings are real!—at least, that's what sinful flesh leads you to believe.  But that was not what the Lord wanted these apostles to take from this vision.  Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.
     Three times in this gospel, St. Matthew used the word “behold!”  (The ESV editors chose to translate it only twice; but the evangelist wrote it three times.)  What is, perhaps, most remarkable is where Matthew did not write, “Behold!”  St. Matthew wrote, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:1-2)  When Jesus' appearance changed—when his face shone like the sun and his clothing gleamed like lightning—there is no “Behold!”  You'd think there would be!  Jesus finally let his glory radiate through his lowly, fleshly appearance.  That was amazing.  It was proof positive that Jesus is exactly who he said he is—the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But that is not where St. Matthew wants us to keep our attention.
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.  “Behold!”  Matthew tells us what to pay attention to: Behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him....  He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and [behold,] a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:3,5)  Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.  St. Matthew would have us pay attention to what we hear rather than what we see.  For, faith does not come by what you see or feel; faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.  That glory is revealed through the Holy Scriptures.  It is the only way we can be sure of God's will, God's promises, and God's salvation.  If you rely on anything besides this, you will be deceived.
     As obvious as that sounds, we still prefer our own senses and feelings to God's word.  We want some kind of visible proof that God approves of us.  While it is true that God blesses us with all we have, it is not true that those blessings are the measure of God's love.  A long life is not proof of God's love.  A large bank account and a pretty house are not evidence of God's favor.  The size of a congregation or how fast it is growing are no guarantee of faithfulness.  These are all things we can see and measure, but they do not prove anything good or bad.  If they did, what do you tell the Christian family who mourns their teen who was killed in a car accident?  What do you tell a Christian family who stresses over unemployment or who loses everything in a house fire?  What do you tell Jesus in John 6 when his sermon drives away the crowds and he is left with a congregation of twelve?  God's love is not something which is measured, it is something which God reveals in his word.
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory in his word.  God reveals all he wants us to know in his word.  Therefore, we take that word to heart.  We do not get to overrule God because we feel differently.  Your sinful nature will always crave what is contrary to God's word.  Just because it feels good does not mean God says it is good.  And just because it seems right to you does not mean God says it is right.  God tells you what is good and right, and he does not change is mind for you.  God's mercy never sanctions our sins.  God's grace never overthrows his own word.  If God's word shows that all people are sinners, it is not because God is mean.  It is because all people are sinners.  God is not concerned about your feelings when he reveals this; he is concerned about your salvation.    Repent, and believe the good news.
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory.  St. Matthew proclaims his “Behold!” so that we know what to pay attention to.  Behold: The Father appeared in the cloud to declare his word.  His word?  Behold: The voice declared, “This is my Son.  Listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5)  Behold: Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus.  What did they discuss?  Jesus' journey to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die for sinners.  Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory through his word, and that word reveals God's love, God's mercy, and God's salvation for sinners.
     Behold!  Jesus of Nazareth is the very Son of God, but he did not come to flaunt his glory.  He came to die a wretched death under God's wrath.  He came to suffer accusations from enemies, rejection from clergy, abandonment by friends, and condemnation from his Father.  None of it looks good.  “As one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)  Jesus was crucified in utter humility and shame.  Far from glorious, Jesus appeared powerless and pathetic.
     But this is why you cannot trust what you see or feel.  Instead, you listen to the word which reveals the Lord's glory.  Though Jesus hung on the cross in shame, the word of the Lord tells you why he was there: “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)  The Son of God bore our shame and endured our damnation.  The Lord delivered us from death and hell by taking it from us and suffering it in our place.  This was not obvious even to the people who were witnessing it.  Some wept for Jesus because of the torment he wrongly suffered.  Most others mocked him because he had claimed to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But only the word of the Lord reveals exactly what was going on that day—that the Son of God was paying for the sins of all mankind.  He died for you so that you are forgiven.  God's favor rests on you—not because you feel it and not because you see something going right in your life that proves it.
     Behold!  The Lord reveals his glory in his word: Jesus Christ has cleansed you by his holy, precious blood and has redeemed you by his innocent sufferings and death.  Now you belong to Jesus Christ and are marked for everlasting life in the glories of heaven.  And that remains true no matter what you might endure on earth.  Feelings come and go.  What you see can deceive you.  But your Lord does not lie to you.  His decree stands firm no matter what.  Behold!  That is what God wants you to pay attention to.  That is where God reveals his glory.
     St. Peter was right about one thing: It was good to be there and to see the glory of the Lord.  But the three apostles were not to talk about it until Jesus rose from the dead.  Then, when Jesus attained the glory of one who has redeemed mankind and conquered death, then they would proclaim the revelation we ponder today.  The transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory to come.  For us, it is a glimpse of the glory that we are waiting to see.  But until we see it, we live by faith, not by sight.  And since faith comes by hearing, we cling to that word.  That is why it is good for us to be here—to have our hearts comforted, our sins forgiven, and our faith strengthened.  For the moment, we hear the word and believe.  Soon, we will see Jesus in his glory and marvel forever.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Something from ... Augustine on God's grace to help us in our need


          Actually, TWO things from Augustine (354 - 430), Bishop of Hippo.  Both emphasize our utter dependence upon God to aid us in our Christian life.  The first mentions God's grace to help us overcome temptation.  The second mentions God's grace to work in us to do good works.  Even in our Christian living, faith is useless unless God grants us the strength to live and act according to his will.  Therefore, we flee to God's word and sacraments again and again so that the Lord will strengthen and keep us in the true Christian faith unto life everlasting.

“If our Saviour had only said, Watch that you enter not into temptation, He would appear to have done nothing further than admonish man's will; but since He added the words, and pray, He showed that God helps us not to enter into temptation.” (Augustine, Selections from “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 9)

“Wherefore no man ought, even when he begins to possess good merits, to attribute them to himself, but to God, who is thus addressed by the Psalmist: Be Thou my  helper, forsake me not.  But saying, Forsake me not, he shows that if he were to be forsaken, he is unable of himself to do any good thing.” (Augustine, Selections from “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 13)

Pastors' Conference

On Monday, February 20 and Tuesday, February 21, there was a conference for pastors and teachers at St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church in Adrian.  Here are some photos of the church.  Enjoy.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Worship Notes regarding the Lenten Season

Worship Notes regarding the Lenten Season

Forty Days and Forty Nights
Throughout the Bible, the number 40 is associated with a time of testing or repentance (e.g., 40 days and nights of the rains falling at the Flood, 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness to the Promised Land, 40 days of Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness, 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension, et al.).  Therefore, the Church has adopted a Lenten season of 40 days prior to Easter.  Incidentally, the word “Lenten” comes from an Old English word lencten which means “to lengthen,” as in, the day light hours are lengthening.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  It is “Ash” Wednesday because of the Church’s custom to put the mark of the cross on the head of the worshipers with ashes.  These ashes are a reminder that we are going to die one day.  As the ashes are applied, the pastor proclaims to each person:  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return,” a paraphrase of Genesis 3:19.
This reminder is awkward and uncomfortable.  But sin and death ought to make us feel awkward and uncomfortable.  Such a grave reminder of our sinfulness and mortality is a proper way to begin the Lenten season.  These forty days are a time of penitence and reflection.  While the whole life of a Christian is to be one of repentance, the Lenten season especially focuses us on our need for repentance.

A “Fast” Season
Fasting is a practice that has long been observed by God’s people, going well back into Old Testament times.  In fact, our Lord seems to expect that we will do it.  In Matthew 6:16, he states, “When you fast…”, not “IF you fast.”
Fasting goes hand in hand with repentance (Psalm 35:13; Jonah 3:7-9) and with prayer (Esther 4:15,16).  Fasting is a ceremony by which we express our repentance in a physical manner.  It is depriving ourselves of something physical to focus on the spiritual.  It is praying with the body.
Fasting also trains our bodies and souls.  We discipline our flesh to teach it that it is not to control us.  We deny ourselves in those parts of our lives in which we are most prone to temptation.  When you intentionally deprive your soul of what it wants, it has to get by without.  Why is that important?  Your desires, uncontrolled, give in to temptation. They lead you into sin. Uncontrolled desires make idols of what your soul wants: desiring excess food is gluttony; desiring extravagant clothing or cars or d├ęcor is greed; desiring a man or woman outside of marriage is adultery.  Desiring anything outside of God’s order makes you an idolater.
Most commonly, fasting involves denying oneself at mealtime.  It does not necessarily mean total abstention from food.  Rather, meals are scaled back.  Instead of eating three full meals a day, one eats the equivalent of about 1 ½ meals.  The time that one would have spent eating is then devoted to prayer and meditation.  The money that one saves can be given to the poor or to a charity.  You could also fast in a way that addresses a temptation or weakness that is particular to you.  Think about what tempts you, and limit your exposure.  If shopping is your weakness, no shopping sprees or comfort purchases during Lent. Too much time wasted on the internet, or visiting sites you shouldn’t be? Only use it at work or when someone else is with you. If you need encouragement, counsel, or more ideas talk with your pastor.
Fasting from these areas of weakness will heighten your sensitivity to them.  It allows you to train yourself to put these cravings to death.  And it enables you to enjoy the festival times all the more.
Should you choose to observe this discipline, do not feel that you have to go all out.  Perhaps you will limit your fasting to just Wednesdays and Fridays, as Christians traditionally did throughout the year.  Or instead of scaling all the way back to 1 ½ meals, perhaps you will simply omit one of the meals, as well as snacking in between.  In any case, fasting is not something we do to seek reward from our Lord.  It is a way that we can more intently focus on our Lord, to meditate, and to pray.

Note: Sundays are never fast days, so go ahead and enjoy the good gifts of creation to their fullest on these days!  Also, expectant or nursing mothers, children, and the ill are never expected to fast from food, but to provide the nourishment their bodies need.

A Season of Passion
During the Lenten season, the Christian Church generally increases the opportunities Christians have to pray and to hear the word.  On the Wednesday evenings (7:00 PM) throughout Lent following Ash Wednesday, Good Shepherd offers Lenten Vespers (an evening prayer service, from the Latin vespera, meaning “evening”).  The focus of Lenten Vespers is the Passion of our Lord.  The word Passion is derived from the Latin word passio which means “suffering.”  The Lord’s passion (zeal) to redeem us drove him to his Passion (suffering) for us.  At each Vespers, we will hear a portion of our Savior’s Passion, beginning with the Last Supper and concluding with the death and burial of our Lord.  This year (2017), we will read through the Passion of our Lord from the Gospel according to St. Matthew.  (In other years, the Passion readings are from the Gospels according to St. Mark or St. Luke.)
It should also be noted that, on Good Friday, the Passion of our Lord is read in its entirety from the Gospel according to St. John.

Little Easters
If you count the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, you will get more than forty days.  The reason is that the Sundays in Lent are not counted.  They are Sundays in Lent, not Sundays of Lent.  The focus on these Sundays continues to be the words and works of Jesus, our Messiah, who battles and conquers sin, death, and Satan for us.  While the Lent is a penitential season, the Sundays in Lent are feast days and serve as “little Easters” even within the season of Lent.

Farewell to Alleluia
While Sundays are little Easters, we do not forget that we are in Lent.  To reflect the penitential nature of the season, we mute the joy and praise in our Divine Services.  This is noticed mainly by the omission of the Gloria in Excelsis (Glory to God in the Highest) and the Alleluias.  We also remove the flowers from the altar during Lent.  As we continue to make our way closer to Holy Week, our fast intensifies.  We will notice that organ music is restricted to the support of congregational singing.  The Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father) is removed from the Psalms.  Paintings, statues, and icons are either removed or veiled.  The season becomes more somber as we get closer to the cross, until finally on Good Friday, the altar has been completely stripped.
These omissions are a fast for our eyes and ears.  Perhaps it will seem awkward to be missing these things, but that is the point.  Lent is a penitential season; therefore, our celebration is muted.  But it all heightens the joy and festivity of Easter Sunday when all of the beauty, the music, and the ceremonies are returned to the Church.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, and the Alleluia’s break forth in abundance as we join in worship to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and rejoice in the forgiveness and salvation he brings us.

A Prayerful and Penitential Lent
One more practice you may want to consider this Lenten season is making use of Private Confession and Absolution.  This is a rite in which the penitent can hear in a very personal manner the voice of Jesus declaring through his minister, “I forgive you.”  The order of Private Confession and Absolution has been made available at the bulletin board so that you can be familiar with it before you come to your pastor.  The pastor would be pleased to walk through the rite with you to help you understand the how’s and the why’s.  Confession teaches us to recognize our sins, and the Absolution allows us to hear Christ proclaim his forgiveness for those sins that grieve us and torment us.  You may contact the pastor to schedule Private Confession and Absolution.

May God bless you this Lenten season as you prepare to celebrate the joys of Easter.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sermon -- 7th Sunday after Epiphany (February 19, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  That is what Jesus told us.  It is fact, and it should provide limitless comfort to every Christian.  It means that you don't need to fear that you have not believed sincerely enough or perfectly enough.  It means that you don't have to worry that you have exceeded some limit by sinning too often to too egregiously.  It means that you have been forgiven of your sins—all of them.  It means that you have been brought into the kingdom of God by God himself.  It means that you have been covered in Jesus' righteous obedience, and that you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It means that God has saved you and has marked you as his for now and eternity.  This is the covenant God has made with you in your baptism.  You are God's temple with Jesus Christ as the solid foundation.
      “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  It is fact.  But it does not mean that whatever you believe or does not matter.  It is true that Jesus saves you, but it is also true that you can do and believe things which will rob you of the salvation and blessings Jesus gives you.  Scripture gives many warnings about giving into sin and about being deceived by false teachers.  We ought to take those warnings seriously.
     St. Paul wrote, “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.” (1 Corinthians 3:17)  That includes if we do it to ourselves.  Therefore, St. Paul gives us this instruction: Let each one take care how he builds upon (the foundation).  For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (1 Corinthians 3:10-13)
     You are the temple of God.  That matters.  How you build on the foundation on which God put you, that matters too—just like many of the habits we learn matter.  Parents spend years making their children eat vegetables.  They ignore the moans of children who would rather each chocolate, jello, or ice cream than their vegetables.  Parents insist, “Eat them.  It's good for you.”  Now, it's true: if all you have to eat is chocolate, jello, and ice cream, these have enough calories to sustain a human life.  But you can't keep eating these and expect to be healthy, or to live as long.  Eventually, a poor diet will take its toll.
     It is the same for our faith.  Couples who cohabit and have children outside of marriage may end up getting married and having a long, happy married life together.  A high-functioning alcoholic can hold on to a job for a while.  The man who cheats other people may be jovial enough to keep his friends from disowning him.  But eventually, such people will suffer.  What's more serious is when God's word exposes their sin and they ignore it.  They go on sinning, and sin takes root.  Faith eventually dies.  It may happen that faith dies off before the person does.  If so, he will find himself outside the kingdom of God.  You would be a fool to take chances with this.  If you welcome sin or false teaching to take a place in your life, you building what is wicked on a foundation which is holy.  God cannot bless this.  It can only result in destruction to oneself.  Repent.
     It is almost certain that you will discover that you have not built as well on your faith as you could have.  For example, you may have believed that the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” is in the Bible.  But when you discover that it is not, you are bothered by it.  Now, having such a misunderstanding about the Bible is not going to send you to hell; but neither is it harmless.  When you discover this, you might be disturbed that you believed the wrong thing or that your memory distorted what God actually said.  Such discovery is a good thing.  It is like discovering the roof on your house is bad and needs to be replaced.  You'd rather that the problem did not exist, but discovering the problem allows you to replace a bad roof with a better one.  Christians continue to grow in the word so that we are not misled by faulty understanding or misguided faith.  And when we discover that we did not quite have it right, we are grateful that we can replace a poor understanding with a solid one.  Let each one take care how he builds upon (the foundation). (1 Corinthians 3:10)  This is why we have Bible classes—so you can build on the foundation, which is Jesus Christ.  The Lord gave us the Bible so that we can spend our lives growing in it and having these discoveries so that the Lord can bless us through them.
     You are the temple of God.  The reason you continue to build on the foundation is because it matters.  It means that you are growing and getting more mature in your Christian faith.  It means that you rest more securely in God's peace, that you strive more zealously for godly living, and that you stand more firmly on God's truth.  By his word and sacraments, God continues to build and strengthen and keep you in the true faith until life everlasting.
     Now, for as much as you strive to grow in the faith, to pursue godly living, and to build on the foundation, your comfort and your hope is not that you have built a faith which is so strong and produced enough works that God saves you by them.  First of all, it is God who grows us; we either take or forfeit the opportunities to grow.  But no one is saved based on how strong his faith is.  You are saved because the Lord has founded you on Jesus Christ.
     You are God's temple.  And your comfort and joy are this: Your Savior does not treat you as people who should have done better or should have known better but didn't.  You have a God who loves you and who unites himself with you.  Jesus united himself with us in order to take up our sins and suffer the fate we deserved.  He who is holy died for us who should have known better, believed better, and done better.  He has assumed our guilt, and he credits us with his holiness.  He became man so that he would consume God's wrath for us and so that God's favor would rest on us.
     This is why you have a rock solid foundation for your faith.  We still have our struggles and weaknesses.  Our knowledge is not perfect.  Our faith still is plagued with doubts.  Our works are imperfect and reluctant.  But Jesus Christ has secured your salvation.  Your sins are fully forgiven.  Your guilt is completely pardoned.  Your death has been undone by Jesus' resurrection. Your place in God's kingdom is confirmed.  Jesus has done it all for you, and so it has been done perfectly.
     Your place in God's kingdom is not something that will happen one day.  You rest on that foundation now.  You are the temple of God.  The temple is where the Lord dwells with his people.  And now, the Lord has taken up his dwelling in you.  For this is what the Lord says: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)  Through baptism, you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:39), marking you as a child of God now and for eternity.  It is God who works in you to believe his word, and it is God who works in you to produce the works he desires and delights in.  For, your God loves you, dwells in you, and transforms you.
     The day will come when we will put aside these mortal temples and die.  If, on that day, you should suffer loss from the way you built on the foundation, fear not.  Whatever is imperfect in you will be purified and perfected—knowledge, will, attitude, and actions.  But you yourself will not be lost.  You are saved—not by how sincerely you believe or by how perfect your works are.  You are saved by Jesus Christ on whom your have been founded.  You have been founded on Jesus Christ.  You are God's temple.  That is what makes your salvation rock solid.

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Epiphany (February 12, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     Something I have toyed with but haven't done, and probably never will, is to send out an announcement in our congregation's weekly update which states: “This Sunday, there will be a significant announcement made in church.  Make sure you are present to hear it.”  If I did that, we would probably have a pretty good turn with people buzzing about what this major announcement might be.  Then, as promised, the significant announcement would be made: “God our heavenly Father has been merciful to us and has given his only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Therefore, as a called servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.”
     One reason I would not send out an e-mail to tease you about a significant announcement is because it is not right to manipulate people into coming to church.  Christians know why they are coming to church.  The sheep love to hear their Shepherd's voice.  They should not need to be tricked into doing so.  Another reason I would not send out an e-mail like that is because I fear the reaction I might get.  “THAT'S the significant announcement?  What's so great about that?!  We hear that every week!”  Even if it were not said out loud, I suspect that some would be thinking it.
     If you have been raised in the Christian Church and have known the gospel from infancy, one of the temptations you face is to think that the forgiveness of sins is no big deal.  After all, it IS proclaimed week after week.  You know it is true, and you have known it your whole life.  Nevertheless, there is no greater announcement that you will ever hear than that God loves and forgives and saves sinners.  And God is so gracious that he will have that announcement repeated to sinners next week, and the next, and even at the Day of Judgment!  Be sure that you do not confuse something that is given so generously with something that has no value.  God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom.
     If we think of God's forgiveness lightly, it is because we no longer take our sins that seriously.  Now, some sins we still find repulsive and wicked.  Those are the ones that usually make the news.  They are violent, criminal, or particularly cruel deeds.  But for the most part, the sins we are guilty of are pretty common.  Since we all do the same things, we want to think that they are not so bad.  Some even conclude that God takes our sins way too seriously and should just learn to get over them.
     When you were growing up, would you have dared to defy your parents' rules and then tell them, “Oh, just get over it”?  If you did, you probably saw levels of anger you never knew your parents were capable of showing.  Now, even if our sins are common, could we dare turn to God and say, “Yeah, we have broken your Commandments.  Everyone does this.  Get over it!”?  We would rightly expect God's righteous anger to come down on us heavy.  Whoever tells someone to get over sins is certainly not the one who has been sinned against.  If the one who slanders your daughter on Facebook told you, “Oh, just get over it!” would you?  If the crook who stole your identity said, “Get over it,” would you?  To think lightly of our sins is to tell God, “Oh, get over it,” or it is to believe that God would not actually carry out the threats he has made.  If either one of those is true, then your place in the kingdom of God is in grave danger.  Repent.
     You might not think it is gracious of God to reveal how totally corrupt we are in our sins.  But if God did not reveal it, we would never believe it.  Most people believe they are good people, even when they do wicked things.  But God reveals our sins so that we long to be saved from them.  Our conscience tells us that we are not worthy to be saved, and that is true.  The guilty deserve punishment.  But God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom to you: God loves, forgiveness, and saves sinners.
     As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined...”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)  Worldly wisdom teaches you to dismiss your guilt, but God graciously delivers you from the psychological and emotional gymnastics you would have to resort to to deny your guilt.  Instead, God's Spirit graciously reveals the Savior who delivers you from all guilt and punishment.
     Jesus of Nazareth came to remove your guilt from you.  He comes to reveal God's love, God's mercy, and God's salvation to sinners.  The experts and scholars of his day did not see it.  They would not acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord of glory.  But God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom to you—that the Lord himself came to be your Savior.  The Son of God came to suffer and die for the children of men.  As God, he bears the guilt of the whole world.  He delivers you from your sin and death.  The wisdom of this world tells you that you must do something, sacrifice something, or win something to appease God.  What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined is that God himself acts to save you.  Jesus suffers and dies for you.  He finds you in your miserable guilt.  He cleanses you from all impurity.  He directs the wrath of God to himself, suffers a cursed death in your place, and removes the terror of the grave for you.  This salvation is not common knowledge; it is divine revelation.  God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom.
     Once again, do not confuse something that is given so generously with something that has no value.  Many of you have known this all your life—to the point where you might actually be bored with the news that God loves, forgives, and saves sinners.  But please understand the blessings you have also lived under your whole life.  You have always known peace and joy your whole life long.  Even when the bitterness of death has invaded your life, it has not shattered your peace.  You do not have to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope, because your expectation remains.  God's peace has not been broken—even by death—because Jesus still lives and reigns and makes you a victor over death.  If you have had doubts about your place in God's kingdom because your life has been marked with flaws and failures, God's promises have never let you drop to despair.  While he calls you to serve him and your neighbor, he also reminds you that your place in his kingdom is not confirmed by how much good you do and it is not wiped out by your regrets.  Your place in his kingdom is confirmed by Jesus Christ.  He has done all the work to save you, and so you can be sure that you are, indeed, saved.
     What's more, his mercies are new every morning.  While we can grow weary of doing good, the Lord never wearies of showing mercy and upholding his promises and consoling and encouraging his people.  We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)  God's peace and joy are evident to you.  This has greater value than the world can offer.  While it is evident to you, it is not obvious to the world.  It is God's gracious wisdom, revealed to you by God's gracious Spirit.
     God's gracious Spirit reveals God's gracious wisdom.  This wisdom is revealed in the Scriptures.  It shows you God's faithful love to you, and it encourages your faithful love to him.  It bestows upon you peace, joy, and comfort in all situations.  The world and its wisdom are doomed to pass away.  And all that you own is going to pass away too.  When that happens, when all things are gone, the only thing you will have left is God's word which will never pass away.  And it is all you need.  It is your comfort through life and your hope for the life to come.  God loves, forgives, and saves sinners.  And that means that God loves, forgives, and saves you.

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Reformation 500 -- Luther Lecture Series


2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Lutheran Reformation.  Like him or hate him, Martin Luther has left an imprint on the Christian Church.  What moved Luther to do what he did?  Why do his life life and confession still matter today?  Good Shepherd will be hosting a series of discussions about Luther throughout 2017.

Our next session will be THIS SUNDAY (February 12) at 6:00 PM.  This is intended to be an interactive discussion as well as informational.  The topic for February will be “Life in a Monastery.”  Desserts will be served, and door prizes (yes, plural!) will be given.  All are welcome.

        For future reference, the schedule for the remainder of the lectures, conducted on Sundays at 6:00 PM, is:

February 12 Life in a Monastery

March 12         Purgatory

April 9              Luther Changes His Approach

May 7 God's Word Comes Out of Hiding

June 11         Sola Gratia – By Grace Alone

July 9 Sola Fide – By Faith Alone

August 13 Sola Scriptura – By Scripture Alone

September 10 Luther and Christian Worship

October 8 Luther and Bible Interpretation

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Pastoral Concern -- Cohabitation versus Marriage and its results

Here's an interesting article about cohabiting versus marriage and the subsequent results for the children which result from it.

Now, I may be more eager to believe it because it agrees with what Scripture says regarding marriage.  On the other hand, this does not vindicate God's design for marriage.  God vindicates himself.  And his word is clear: "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, ESV)  In other words, the marriage bed is a good thing, and sex within marriage is pure.  Outside of marriage, sex is "immoral," "adulterous," and "defiled."  This is God's judgment of it.  We ignore and defy God and his word at our own peril.

What's more, the article above states that studies now prove that children born outside of marriage are raised in homes that are not as stable and that it has a negative effect on children.  Better for the children is that a husband and wife be married, commit themselves to one another, and serve as dutiful parents who love and discipline their children.

It is as if God were on to something when he designed marriage, sex, and child-rearing in the order he does!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl Party -- 2017

Like I said, Super Bowl Party -- 2017.

Patriots fans celebrate a most improbable comeback.

The only two winners of the board: 
Andrew -- 1st quarter and final score; Jeanette -- 2nd and 3rd quarter.

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Epiphany (February 5, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

      If you ever want to engage in an interesting conversation, ask a friend what he or she thinks the church should be preaching and teaching.  It doesn't matter if your friend is a Christian or not.  Either way, their answers might intrigue you.
     Some think the church should be talking about the hot topics of the day—immigration, poverty, health care, protesting, human trafficking, and so on.  Some would go so far as to have their pastor turn the New York Times into the sermon text followed by pastoral commentary.  Even if you cite our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 58:5-9a) to prove that God is concerned about social issues, then also understand that God has never given the church the job of fixing the world.  The Lord has commanded you to love your neighbor, but not to save the world.  More likely, people want the church to address specific difficulties in their lives.  Sermons should be about How To have a better marriage.  How To raise well-behaved children.  How To be wise about finances.  How To lose weight.  How To respond to road rage.  How To deal with idiots at work, and so on.
     To be fair, all of these How To's do serve a purpose in this life.  I don't blame anyone for wanting a better marriage, well-behaved children, a healthier lifestyle, or a happier work place.  That's why there are so many How To resources.  I had heard a story recently about a woman and her husband who built their own house themselves using YouTube videos.  How To pour a foundation.  How To shingle the roof.  How To install electrical wiring and so on.  Some of you might consider that fascinating; others won't care.  That is part of the problem with How To sermons: They are so specific that they only apply to a few.  Single people don't want to hear about better marriages.  Children don't care about retirement strategies.  But the main problem is this: There is no forgiveness in any of it.  Atheists can have good marriages.  Muslims can have well-behaved children.  Hindus can teach you how to plan for retirement.  Agnostics can build their own homes.  How To videos can help all of them do it.  There is nothing inherently Christian about any of this.
     That is why, when St. Paul first arrived in Corinth, he did not preach How To sermons.  St. Paul reminded them: I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)  That is where you find forgiveness.  That is where salvation is delivered to you.  That is where the Lord creates new life.  Therefore, it is what matters, and it is what the Church is dedicated to.  We preach Christ crucified.
     Sadly, it is a message which many don't care for.  Unbelievers do not believe they need to be saved from anything.  They might want to know How To do things better, but they recognize that they don't need Jesus to read a book to their children or vacuum the carpeting once in a while.  It is far more distressing to hear Christians say they have moved beyond the message of Jesus Christ.  “We know about Jesus.  We know about forgiveness.  So give me something I can use.  Help me live better.”  In other words, we are done with Jesus.  We only care about our lives right now.
     Certainly you realize that your lives are filled with problems because you are sinners.  Perfect people don't have marriage problems.  Sinners do.  Children misbehave because they are sinners.  Parents lose patience with them because the parents are sinners.    Single people envy the companionship of marriage, and married people envy the freedom of single people.  Because of our sinful condition, we are discontent, impatient, selfish, greedy, envious, and still convinced that we are not that bad.  There is not a How To video in the world which will fix that.  What's more, because of your sinful condition, you are going to die someday.  How To videos may make your life comfortable.  Life hacks may be time-savers.  But they will not prevent you from dying; and they will not save you.
     Therefore, St. Paul kept his focus: I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)  He said, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom...” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4)  St. Paul did try to dazzle the Corinthians with deep arguments or fancy rhetoric.  St. Paul simply warned sinners that their guilt was real, that their problems resulted from sin, that their death was deserved, and that their only hope to be delivered from this was Jesus.
     St. Paul did not proclaim a Jesus who taught them How To make life better and easier.   He did not present Jesus as a teacher of morals.  The Greeks already had Aristotle, Plato, and Aesop.  Their philosophy, no matter how profound, has never forgiven anyone.  Instead, St. Paul preached a single message in simple words to all mankind: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)  
     We preach Christ crucified.  We do not preach a Jesus who tells you to How To be better, How To be happy, or How To do anything for that matter.  We preach Jesus who was crucified.  That alone saves you.  Jesus' crucifixion is not about How To do anything.  It is about Jesus doing all the work.  Jesus does not tell you how to excuse yourself for your guilt or reason it away; he takes your guilt away from you.  He takes from you the guilt of your discontent, your greed, your selfishness, your envy, and your lack of patience.  He takes from you your sins against your family, friends, and strangers.  He makes your guilt his own.  He makes your curse his own.  He makes your death his own.  Jesus takes it all away from you, and then is crucified for you.  This is what pays for your sin and saves you.
     We preach Christ crucified.  It is his work which saves us.  It is his gifts which deliver salvation to us.  Baptism is not about what you do; it is Jesus cleansing you of all impurity.  Holy Communion is not about what you do; it is Jesus who feeds you the holy food for the forgiveness of your sins.  If anyone says, “We know about Jesus.  We know about forgiveness.  So give me something I can use in my daily life,” he fails to understand that faith is not just for the moment you die.  Faith in Jesus Christ and him crucified is what makes you a child of God now.  While Jesus' work secures your eternal life, his work also works in you now.
     We preach a crucified Jesus who loves us and is merciful to us despite our sins against him and our fellow man.  Jesus does not love us because we are nice back to him.  He loves us and serves us and saves us because he is compassionate and sees we need it.  He teaches us to crucify our own sinful desires and to serve others because they need it.  The love that Christ has for the Church moves husbands to love their wives accordingly.  The way the Church submits to Christ to receive his good things is what motivates wives to submit to their husbands.  Your co-worker probably doesn't deserve your kindness, but you give it all the same because she needs it.  Jesus' loving promises show you that you are right to trust in him rather than your retirement plan or government program for all that is good.  He teaches us to love what is good because he is good.  He teaches us to hate what is evil because sin destroys others and brings death and damnation.  He reminds us that sin is the enemy, not our fellow man.  Jesus' love for poor, miserable sinners is why you also love the poor, the miserable, the depressed, the lonely, and the outcasts.  You do not let your light shine so that you can receive praise.  You let your light shine because that's what light does.  The only way you will be able to let your light shine in the world is if the Light of the World dwells in you and shines through you.
     How To videos may make life a little easier for a while.  They can teach you how to refinish a dresser, improve your golf swing, or even how to build a house, but they will not save you.  Therefore, we preach Christ crucified.  It is the only message which gives relief to the guilty, consolation to the hurting, and life to the dying.

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sermon -- Chapel at Huron Valley Lutheran HS, Westland (February 1, 2017)

From chapel at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, Michigan.

JEREMIAH 5:20-24


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord rules by his word.  When God created the heavens and the earth, he simply summoned things into being.  God said, “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  It was so because God said so.  And it continued through each day of creation as God summoned into being the dry ground, the plants, the sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals.  Everything came into being by God's word.
     Likewise, everything in creation continues to run by God's command.  Following the Flood, the Lord promised to Noah, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)  It is not only a promise of God, it is a command to the creation that God has made.  The world produces its harvest throughout its seasons because the Lord has decreed it to be so.  The earth continues on its orbit through each year and spins on its axis for each 24 hour cycle because the Lord has decreed it to be so.  The Lord rules by his word, and nature obeys his commands.
     Jeremiah made reference to God's commands in our reading.  I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it. (Jeremiah 5:22)  The Lord has decreed that the rivers, lakes, and oceans are not free to go beyond what he has commanded.  No matter how hard the waves batter the shore, the Lord draws the line as to how far they can go. Granted, the Lord sends an occasional tsunami.  Then we see the shocking footage of ocean waters violently pour across the shore and devastate the land.  The reason it is news is because it is unusual.  Tsunamis do not normally happen.  God sends them to remind us that this is a broken world and that we must flee to him for refuge.  But on a normal summer's day, you do not take your life in your hands when you go to the beach.  The tides follow their schedules.  The waves stop at the shore.  Nature remembers its God.
     When God created the heavens and earth, he simply summoned all things into being by his word.  There was an exception to that form of creation.  The man and the woman were not simply summoned into being.  God carefully, personally crafted the man from the ground and the woman from the man's rib.  And while God loved and blessed all of his creation, it was only to mankind that God gave special blessing.  All of creation glorifies the God who made it, but God gave people a way that they could personally honor and glorify him.  He gave them commands by which they would honor him with obedience and by which they would serve one another in love.
     And though the waves obey God's commands, people do not.  Adam and Eve ate from the tree which God had commanded them not to eat.  We are no better.  We are also called to honor God by obeying his commandments.  You don't get to credit yourself because you have not eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  That is not the command that God has given you.  You are to love your neighbor as yourself, and even love and pray for your enemies.  Once again, we want to credit ourselves for works which are merely hypothetical.  “I would be welcoming to the refugees coming to America.  I would be such a good friend to the Downs Syndrome kid I saw on that TV show.”  But we are not even that kind to the people we actually do see and live with day after day.  We are cruel to classmates.  We bicker with family members.  We do not even love our loved ones very well.  And in failing to love those closest to us, we fail to honor God who has been pleased to give them to us.  Nature remembers its God and serves him.  We have not.
     Declare this in the house of Jacob; proclaim it in Judah: “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.  Do you not fear me? declares the Lord.  Do you not tremble before me?" (Jeremiah 5:20-22)  The God who controls seas and storms and seasons will certainly enforce his commands.
     The Lord rules by his word.  While the forces of nature fill us with awe, and while they warn us that God is not to be trifled with, they do not save either.  So, in order to save us, the Word became flesh.  God revealed his compassion in a man.  And though Jesus did demonstrate his control over nature—calming the storm, walking on the sea, multiplying the loaves, and healing diseases—none of those things saved either.  The Word became flesh in order to deliver us from God's wrath and death.  Jesus, who did keep the Commandments and honor his Father, exchanged his perfect obedience for our sins.  Then he gave his body up to beating and flogging, to nails and spear, and finally to death.  He prayed for his enemies and died for them, for us.
     When Jesus died, nature responded.  The sun refused to give its light as Jesus endured the abandonment of his Father.  The earth quaked when the giver of life gave up his life.  Jesus was placed into the earth for burial, but then another earthquake announced that sin and death had been overcome.  Jesus is risen.  He lives and gives new life.  Creation would be restored to his perfect order.  Sinners would be delivered from sin and death.  The earth will give up its dead, and all who believe the word of the Lord will be raised to inherit eternal life in a perfect new world with perfect, glorious bodies.  We will dwell together in perfect agreement with God's word and will, and we will love one another with perfect kindness.
     The Lord God loves what he has created, and so he has acted to redeem it.  Sinners are forgiven through Jesus' innocent sufferings and death.  Death is overcome through Jesus' resurrection.  One more time, on the Last Day, Jesus will bring forth people from the dust of the earth to live.  And even creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)  
     It is good and right to remember the Lord and to heed his word.  For in it, we find our salvation.  But the amazing grace is this: that God remembers us.

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