Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Return to Grace -- a 2nd showing!

We had shown the new Luther movie (a documentary, really), A Return to Grace, about a week ago.  It sold out, and more sounded interested in attending it.  So, it will be shown again!

On Thursday, April 20 at 7:30 PM, A Return To Grace will be shown again, and once again, it will be at the AMC 20 in Livonia.  Tickets need to be pre-ordered.  To do that, go here:

The deadline for the minimum number of tickets needed to have this movie go is April 13.  Place your orders soon!

A trailer can be seen here (scroll down to see it):

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 26, 2017)

MATTHEW 20:17-28


In the name + of Jesus.

     James and John asked a bold question of Jesus.  They knew that the kingdom of God was entering this world through Jesus.  And of course, a kingdom means power and glory.  James and John had their mother approach Jesus to ask on their behalf.  Perhaps Jesus would be more appeased by a mother's request.  And they had good reason to think that they could get what they asked for.  If Jesus was about to establish a kingdom, the twelve apostles were his closest confidants.  What's more, James and John were in the most privileged inner circle—witnessing Jesus raise the daughter of Jairus and seeing Jesus transfigured on the mountain.  It made perfect sense.  But just to make sure there would be no doubts, James and John put in their applications, and they were smart enough to submit them first.  The mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and ... said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)
     When the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. (Matthew 20:24)  The anger of the other ten apostles was not entirely righteous.  While they certainly thought, “I can't believe how conniving and arrogant those two are!”, there must have also been thoughts of, “I wanted Jesus to give me a position of glory, honor, and power.  Why didn't I get to Jesus first?” After all, these apostles had a tendency to debate amongst themselves which one of them was the greatest.  Now, James and John were seeking to get that title for themselves.
     Jesus' immediate response to the mother's request was blunt.  It was not directed to Zebedee's wife, but to Zebedee's sons: “You do not know what you are asking.” (Matthew 20:22)  Not just James and John, but all of the apostles, had a worldly idea of greatness and glory.  They had envisioned themselves ruling over the church, perhaps even the world.  They thought that prominence in the kingdom of God meant personal glory and honor.  Jesus crushes these ideas.  Glory in the kingdom does not come through exerting oneself, but through emptying oneself.
     Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave....” (Matthew 20:25-27)  Glory comes through selfless service.
     Our sinful nature fights this.  We understand the allure of worldly power and glory, and we are drawn to it.  We want to be celebrated.  We want to be heralded as experts.  We want others to serve us, to pay for our drinks, to step out of our way, and to re-tweet our opinions.  When we hear Jesus say that we are to be servants and slaves, we go into self-preservation mode.  We do not see any advantage in serving selflessly.  If we serve, we hope to get something out of it—accolades from people, or at least a reward from God.  The world considers selfless service to be foolish.  Selfless service means that people will take advantage of you.  It means that you will devote time, energy, concern, and money on people who will never pay you back, who might not care, and who might criticize you for your efforts.  And yet, this is the kind of selfless service that Jesus calls us to.  Glory comes through selfless service.
     If you bristle as such selfless service, all it shows you is that you are not like God.  None of us is.  Consider Jesus, the Son of Man (who) came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)  Jesus did not come to serve us because he owed it to us.  Jesus laid down his life for people who rightly deserve death.  Jesus suffered damnation for people who have earned a place in hell.  We can't even boast that Jesus did this for us because he knew we would return the favor or pay it forward.  We still sin against the Lord.  We have not proven our worth.  Jesus set us free from our sins, knowing that we might run right back to them.  Nevertheless, Jesus gave his life as a ransom for our sins, and not only ours but for the sins of the whole world.
     Jesus paid the price of sin for all—for sinners who try hard not to sin but still fail, and for sinners who delight in their sins and will never give them up; for people who rejoice that their sins are forgiven, and for those who reject the payment and will perish anyway.  The world considers this a foolish waste.  The great leaders of this world would weigh their options, count the cost, and determine who they can afford to save and who is not worth it.  They certainly do not exhaust their resources for rebels.  But Jesus graciously covers the cost for all people.  Jesus selflessly served so that you would be rescued from death and delivered to eternal life.
     Glory comes through selfless service.  This is the precise reason Jesus came.  He told his disciples so.  As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Matthew 20:17-19)  That is where God reveals his glory to you.  Now, it is true that God is glorious no matter what.  If God had not created the heavens and the earth, he would still be glorious.  God is holy, all-powerful, and awesome.  But that does not save anybody from their sins.  Only God's mercy does that.  That mercy is not revealed in dazzling displays of power, but in Jesus dying a bitter death in weakness and shame.  That is the payment for sins.  That is where Jesus was treated as sinners deserve so that sinners would not be treated according to their sins.  This is how you have been delivered from a shameful death and marked for glory in life everlasting.  Glory comes through selfless service.
     James and John had sought glory for themselves.  Jesus replied, “You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22)   In their jockeying for greater prestige, James and John boasted, “We can.”  Jesus could have replied a second time, “You don't know what you are asking.”  They did not really get how glory comes in the kingdom of God.  Still, Jesus assured them, “You will drink my cup...” (Matthew 20:23)  They would learn what it is to serve selflessly for sinners, to suffer ridicule and loss, to give graciously only to have that grace despised and abused, and finally to die in Jesus' name.  The world treated them with shame and contempt.  They lived and died in weakness and humility.  Their glory was reserved for heaven.
     And so it remains for all Christians.  Glory comes through selfless service.  You will probably feel that living for Jesus is thankless, and even useless.  For a godly and faithful life, you will be mocked and maligned.  For confessing God's truth, you will be called a liar and a hypocrite.  For giving generously to the needs of others, you will be conned and called a fool.  And the only reason you will do these things is because your Lord transforms you to be more like him.  You, too, will drink from the cup which Jesus was given.
     But your glory will not come from how much you endure or accomplish for the name of Jesus.  Your glory comes through Jesus who endured, accomplished, and served selflessly for you.  He continues to serve you, and his mercy continues to cover your sins.  The cup he gives you now is the cup of blessing by which you ingest the forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  Your life may not appear to be that glorious now, but the glory you are looking for does not come in this world.  It comes in the next.  That glory is yours through Jesus who gave himself selflessly and completely for you so that you would be his completely and eternally.

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers – Sermon #1 (March 22, 2017)

MARK 14:32-38

...When You Face Temptations.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Simon Peter and the apostles all made great boasts about their faithfulness.  In the safety of the upper room, it was easy to do.  Jesus had warned them: “You will all fall away, for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'” (Mark 14:27; Zechariah 13:7)  The disciples had the words of the prophet, and they had the admonition of Jesus.  If they had taken both divine words seriously, they would have entered the evening with much more humility and vigilance.  But in the safety of the upper room, it was easy to boast of their allegiance.  Peter said to (Jesus), “Even though they all fall away, I will not.  And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”  But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”  And they all said the same. (Mark 14:29-31)  They would all be faithful.  They were sure of it.  Their spirit was willing, even zealous.  In the upper room, among friends, in safety, it was easy to make great boasts.  Boasting is easy; producing is not.
     We are no different.  If you have gone through the Rite of Confirmation, you have vowed that you would be faithful and suffer all things, even death, rather than turn away from Jesus.  Those promises were sincere when they were made—just as the apostles were sincere in the upper room.  The spirit was willing, even zealous.  But boasting is easy; producing is not.  When trials press hard, when temptations are relentless, when faithful service becomes inconvenient, when there is actually something to lose for having allegiance to Jesus, then it is hard.  Then the flesh proves that it is weak.
     A few hours after Jesus' warnings, the disciples faced arrest in Gethsemane.  A little later, Peter was identified as one of Jesus' followers in the courtyard of Caiaphas with soldiers around him.  Arrest and flogging and death became real possibilities.  When the cost became real, the boasting went mute, the allegiance shriveled, and faithfulness died.  The disciples fled.  Peter distanced himself from even knowing Jesus.  The flesh proved itself to be weak, afraid, and unfaithful.
     The temptations you face reveal two things about you.  First, they reveal what your sinful nature likes.  Temptations are always attractive.  You are not tempted to do what repulses you.  You are tempted to do what appeals to you, even though you know it is wrong.  We all have our weaknesses, and the devil knows them.  Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour you, and he will continue to attack where he knows you are prone to sin.  Second, temptations will also reveal what you fear.  You will give into temptation because you fear what you might lose if you fight against it.  You might fear losing friends, so you go into sin with them.  You might fear losing the praise of the world, and so you go along with the worldly attitudes so that a room full of people will not turn against you.  You might fear losing your money, and so you scheme or cheat or despise those in need so it will not cost you anything.  While we may be willing to do God's will, our flesh is weak and afraid and corrupt.  The flesh has a different will, and it is all too willing to concede God's will for its own comfort and convenience.  Repent.
     Repent, and turn to Jesus when you face temptations.  He tells you: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)  Jesus calls on you to keep watch because your enemy is always seeking to draw you into sin.  If you know your weakness, that is good.  Then you can be vigilant against your enemy, knowing where he is most likely to attack.  But Jesus also calls on you to pray.  Merely being vigilant is not enough to overcome your enemy.  You need your Lord's strength for that.  Jesus is your strength in the hour of temptation.  Satan knows that he cannot overcome Jesus because Jesus has overcome him.  When you remain in Christ, you remain safe.
     Repent and turn to Jesus when you face temptations.  For Jesus is the Valiant One who fights for us.  Although Satan is the strong man who has held us captive and still seeks to overcome us with temptations, Jesus is the stronger man who has overcome Satan and delivered us from him.  But when you pay attention to Jesus in Gethsemane, you will notice that the battle was not easy.  Jesus knew that he would suffer a mortal blow in the battle.  He would suffer anguish and sorrow, desertion and betrayal, lashes and bruises, brutality and finally horrid execution for us.  Although Jesus knew all things are possible for his Father to do—including that he could possibly provide another way to save mankind—Jesus did not reject what had to be done for us, no matter what it cost him.
     Jesus' temptation was to refuse the cup and avoid the cross.  After all, he did not owe us this.  However, the solution was not to escape, but to seek strength to receive the cup of the Lord's wrath and consume it for us.  Jesus prayed so that he would do what was given him to do: to take up the cross and be condemned for us—the Righteous One taking our place so that the guilty would be pardoned.  Jesus called on his Father to strengthen him so that he would do the will of his Father, no matter how painful, inconvenient, or unfair it would be for him.  Jesus prayed to overcome the devil and to fulfill the love of God.  Therefore, Jesus did not regard it repulsive to suffer and die for sinners.  He served us and saved us willingly.
      We repent and turn to Jesus when we face temptations.  We repent and turn to Jesus when we fall into temptation.  He is a refuge for sinners; for Jesus' body has taken the blows for all of our sins.  In him, we are spared and we are safe.  Jesus' blood has been shed to atone for us.  In him, we are cleansed and made blameless.  Jesus has consumed the cup of God's wrath and has appeased him.  Therefore, we flee to his altar where the body and blood of Jesus are given for our blessing and forgiveness.  We feast on Jesus who transforms us and our will so that we become repulsed by the devil's temptations.  He makes our hearts clean.  He strengthens and renews our spirits so that we love and pursue righteousness.  And he even mortifies our sinful flesh by giving us a cross to bear, even making us willing to suffer.  For we find it repulsive to turn from our Lord, but not to suffer for his name.
     When our days are finally done and Jesus delivers us from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant, Jesus will at last make our willing spirits perfect and our weak flesh glorious.  Until that day, we will continue to repent and turn to Jesus.  We remain vigilant against our enemy and diligent in seeking God's strength.  Jesus is our strength against temptations.   He is our refuge against Satan.  He is the one who conquers, who comforts, and is our confidence for our salvation.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 19, 2017)

JOHN 9:1-7,13-17,34-39


In the name + of Jesus.

     We are not good judges of things, no matter how much we think we are.  We assume we know the whole story.  We assume we know all the facts, and that the facts we know are correct.  And then we try to figure out why bad things happen.  Many people assume that karma explains much of the bad that goes on in our lives.  But God does not work by karma.  God is not looking to get even with you.  The reason people are so willing to accept that God works by karma—that God repays you with something bad because of something bad you have done—is because we all know we have done bad things.  So we start to believe that every stubbed toe, every paper cut, and every car accident is because of karma—because God needs to get even with us.
     Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39)  Those who think they can see why God does things are blind.  They don't know.  They live by assumptions and guesses.  If you want to know what God has done regarding all the bad things you have done, Jesus enlightens you.  Jesus did not come to earth to get even with you.  Jesus came to take your sins and guilt from you.  Jesus accepted the blame for every bad deed, every foul word, and every jealous thought you have had, and he carried it to the cross to receive the penalty due for them.  At the cross, Jesus accepted all of God's wrath and curse for every sin committed.  The punishment for your sins is not that you slam your finger in a door or smack your head on the corner of a cabinet; it is that Jesus had a crown of thorns on his head and his wrists nailed to a cross where he suffered and died for you.  So, God is not angry with you; he loves you.  And God is not getting even with you.  If your sins are forgiven, there is no reason for revenge or settling scores.  Your sins are pardoned.  That is God's judgment.  You are not blind to that, because God has revealed it to you.
     Still, the idea of karma appeals to people.  Jesus' disciples seemed to think that God worked by karma.  They saw at the gate of a temple a blind man begging for alms, so they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-3)
     Now, to be sure, sometimes we suffer the consequences of our sins and the connection is not hard to make.  If you smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, do not be surprised if you get lung cancer or emphysema.  But sometimes bad things happen for no apparent reason.  When we try to make judgments about those reasons, we are blindly guessing at why these things happened.  We think we see, but we don't.  We don't know.  We assume.  We guess.  And we are often wrong.  The reason is this: because we live in a sinful, broken world, and we also are sinful and broken.  When the disciples wondered why the man they saw was born blind, Jesus revealed the answer in his case: “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)  
     Jesus opens our eyes to see God's salvation.  And so Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind.  He spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva.  Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (John 9:6-7)   The first time God ever played in the dirt, he made Adam.  He formed a perfect man and gave him life.  Jesus repeats the creative process, giving sight to the blind man and restoring what was broken.  Jesus opens your eyes to see that his salvation is more than just the forgiveness of your sins.  As significant as it is that your guilt has been removed from you, Jesus does more.  Jesus removes every trace of sin.  He reconciles us to his Father, and he restores what sin has corrupted and marred.  When Jesus delivers us from this world, we know that we will be found to be worthy of eternal life; for Jesus has removed all sin from us.  And we will find that our bodies will be glorified with perfection.  In heaven, there will be no corrective lenses or hearing aids, no wheelchairs, no prescription drugs, and not even Kleenex.  All things broken will be restored.  All the redeemed will be perfected.  And all joys will be everlasting.
     Jesus opens our eyes to see God's salvation.  Unfortunately, the Pharisees would not see it.  Even though they knew Jesus had healed this man, they found no joy in it.  They interrogated the man several times.  They did not delight in hearing of God's goodness; rather, they were looking to collect evidence against Jesus.  Jesus had not honored their customs because he had made mud and healed on the Sabbath.  The blind man, however, was overjoyed that God's salvation had touched him.  Finally, when the man confessed, “He is a prophet” (John 9:17), they excommunicated him.
     Jesus opens our eyes to see God's salvation.  The Pharisees remained hardened and blinded to it.  And they hated and banished anyone who saw Jesus as the Savior.  Jesus found the man who had been blind and assured him that being expelled from a building did not mean he had been expelled from the kingdom of God.  He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  He—who had not actually seen Jesus until just this moment—answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.”  He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35-38)   The man who was blind had his eyes opened not just to see Jesus' face, but to see Jesus as the one who redeems sinners, who reconciles God and men, and who restores all things.
     Jesus opens our eyes to see God's salvation, too.  He opens our eyes to know that our Father in heaven is good and merciful at all times, no matter what our senses tell us.  Jesus' disciples had wondered who had sinned—either the man or his parents—that he was born blind.  Likewise, the Pharisees, who did not even seem to know the man's name, were convinced he had been guilty of some horrendous sins because of his blind condition.  That is what we may perceive.  And chances are even the blind man had wondered over the years what he had done to deserve his blindness.  We probably feel the same way when we are struck with hardships.  We may also conclude that God is getting even with us because of our sins.  And that is why we are not good judges of such things.
     Jesus opens our eyes to see God's salvation.  Jesus reveals that our Father in heaven is good and merciful to us, no matter what would suggest otherwise.  God's goodness and mercy do not mean that we will be spared from hardship, sorrow, or pain.  Remember, this world is broken.  Bad things happen, even to Christians.  But even in the midst of bad things, we have this promise: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)  You may not know how it works for your good, but God's promise is that it does.  And your good and merciful Father in heaven remains good and merciful to you.  This is God's revelation so that you can see God's goodness and salvation are always yours.
     God's judgment is not according to karma; it is according to Jesus Christ who has taken all of God's wrath from you.  If God chooses to discipline you, it is to teach you not to love a broken, sinful world, but to long for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  It is then that the sinners who have been reconciled to God will finally be completely free from all the effects of sin.  For the redeemed, all things will be renewed.  All things will be restored.  All things will be right.  These are the blessings we long for, and this is the salvation Jesus supplies.  Jesus opens our eyes to see God's them.

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lutheran Satire: St. Patrick. Come on, Patrick!

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, and an excellent instruction on the doctrine of the Trinity. 
This never gets old.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Lent (March 12, 2017)

JOHN 4:5-26


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord Jesus is not predictable.  He does not do what we think he should do.  His disciples learned that lesson in a Samaritan village called Sychar.  The woman whom Jesus met at the well learned it, too.
     Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north.  Passing through Samaria was not the usual path.  It was the easier and quicker path, but it was avoided.  Samaritans were a Jewish-Gentile mixed race.  They were half-breeds with false worship.  Rather than going to Mount Zion where the temple was, the Samaritans had adopted their own mountain, Mt. Gerizim, for their worship.  For these reasons, devout Jews despised Samaritans and usually avoided them altogether.
     Jesus, however, took the shortcut through Samaria.  He was tired, so he took a rest on the covering of a well while his disciples went to buy food.  In the heat of high noon, a woman came from the city to draw water.  This woman was alone, and for good reason.  She was the town hussy.  The townsfolk avoided her in disgust.  She avoided them in her shame.  She wanted to get her water and quietly disappear back into town.  But Jesus is not predictable.  He did what was shocking.  This Jewish man addressed a Samaritan woman.  The straight-and-narrow Rabbi spoke to the woman with loose morals—not to berate her, but to ask her for a favor!
     Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:7,9-10)  Then later he added this: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
     Jesus had this woman intrigued.  What Jesus was offering meant that she would never again have longings that were constantly leaving her empty.  This woman had sought happiness and fulfillment from a number of different sources, and she always came up lacking.  She was tired of the drudgery of the daily trips for water.  She thought that a man might bring stability to her life.  She had been through five husbands already.  She did not even bother marrying the sixth man in her life.  As hard as she tried to make her life full, she was still empty, still longing for peace, joy, and something substantial.
     We may live in a different time and culture, but you still probably know the emptiness and frustration that this woman had.  Day after day, you show up for work and do your job.  You come home and do your chores.  You collect a check and you pay bills.  It is monotonous, and it seems meaningless.  You wonder: Is this really all there is?  You try to find fulfillment in amusements or fantasies.  But amusements don't last and fantasies are never real.  We believe our lives are miserable or meaningless because of someone posted a neat photo on Facebook.  We are convinced that our lives should be fantastic and that we are too important to be bored.  We are trying to find joy and fulfillment in the wrong places, just like the Samaritan woman.  Her days were full, but her life was empty.  This world will never provide comfort or peace or assurance.
     Jesus alone satisfies our longings.  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)  The woman instantly longed for the living water which Jesus had to give.  She yearned for greater comfort, for lasting peace, and for continual refreshment.
     One more thing we learn about this woman—she was religious.  Once she perceived that Jesus was a prophet, she wanted to debate religion with him.  She wanted Jesus to acknowledge that her way of worship was as good as any other.  She shares much in common with people today.  Most people are interested in religion.  Most people have ideas about who God is and what God should be.  Jesus addressed the woman's concern: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)  
     Jesus alone satisfies our longings.  He first noted that we do not get to approach God as we choose.  We do not get to make God what we want him to be.  God reveals himself to us.  God speaks to us; we respond to him.  And God comes to us in the words of the Holy Bible.  For that is the only truth there is.  To worship God in spirit and in truth means that we hear his truth and take it to heart.  Then only can we know who God is and what he wants.  Then only can we order our lives according to what is true and put our faith in promises which are true.  Then only will our faith rest on something substantial and not on wishful thinking or our pretend lives.  Only when we hear God's truth will we know Jesus who satisfies our longings.
     Jesus alone satisfies our longings.  He knows all that we crave.  He knows our needs.  And he satisfies them.  The peace that Jesus gives is that you are forgiven of all your sins.  You don't have to pretend your life is perfect or that you have a handle on it all.  You do not have to carry around shame and guilt any longer.  For, Jesus Christ has taken up your guilt upon himself.  He was put under God's judgment for you.  He stood condemned for all your sins, no matter what they were.  The charges against you have been put upon Jesus, and he died a shameful death on a cross for you.  That is where your sins were dealt with.  You don't have to pretend about your sin and shame.  Here is God's truth: You are forgiven.
     Jesus alone satisfies our longings.  He gives us the comfort of knowing that we are forever loved by God.  Jesus shows us that our God is a good and merciful Father.  And if the Father is good and merciful, then we know that whatever he gives us is for our good.  The Father has given you the blessings he deems are best for you.  He has given you your vocation that you may honor him with your skills and ambitions and in turn serve your neighbor in his need.  Even if your job is boring, your chores are monotonous, and your marriage is not a Disney fairy tale, know that the Lord is pleased to put you where you are and to give you what you have.  It is for God's honor and your neighbor's good.  And God is pleased by your service because he delights in you.  Even if the people of Sychar forever branded the woman at the well as the town tramp, Jesus gave her a different, and in fact an eternal, identity—forgiven and beloved child of God.  It was not a pretend identity.  It was God's truth.  It is for you, too.
     Jesus alone satisfies our longings.  And he continues to refresh us with his words and promises.  He is not bored with you.  He continues to pour out his mercy on you, to encourage you in your struggles, and to console you in your difficulties.  For, your life rests in Christ alone whose words provide an unbreakable joy, and whose promises point you to an eternity without pain or problems.
     Jesus alone satisfies our longings.  So, what is it that you long for?  A life without shame, guilt, or regret?  A body without aches, weakness, or disease?  A family without strife or sarcasm or separation?  A world without terror or tension or trouble?  Relief from grief over death and fear of the grave?  Dear Christians, Jesus alone satisfies our longings.  The world may fantasize over these things; we merely wait for them.  Jesus alone supplies them.  Jesus alone assures them.

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

For your amusement ... The Coffee Song by Frank Sinatra

It's coffee.  It's Frank Sinatra.

What more could you want?

And why have I only learned of this song today??????

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sermon -- 1st Sunday in Lent (March 5, 2017)

MATTHEW 4:1-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:11)  Immediately after Jesus was baptized, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and after the Father had declared, “This is my beloved Son,” (Matthew 3:17) Jesus went into the wilderness.  The purpose: to be tempted by the devil.  And the devil wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to destroy God's work.
     The devil had not wasted any time back in the Garden of Eden either.  As soon as the Lord had formed the man and the woman, given them a home with every blessing they needed to live, and had told Adam and Eve that loving and thankful living would be shown by not eating from that one tree, the devil came to them.  Adam and Eve had no reason to doubt that God loved them and would provide for them.  They were not in a wilderness.  Yet, the devil cast the seeds of doubt.  “God knows that when you eat of (the tree) you eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)  Rather than live for years in faithful obedience, the devil presented the fast track to glory.  They chose the easy way—or so they thought.  But the easy way resulted in sin and guilt, in shame and regret, and finally in death.
     We are no better with handling temptation than Adam and Eve were.  By faith in Jesus, you have been made children of the Most High God.  Satan devotes his energy to destroying God's work in you.  Satan dangles each temptation before us, presenting us with the easy way to get what we want.  Swindling is easier than weeks of hard work.  Lying is easier than bearing responsibility for your actions.  It is easier to join in with slander than to defend the one being slandered.  It is easier to seek revenge than to forgive.  It is easier to give into your sinful desires than to fight against them.  And giving in to what is easier often gets you exactly what you want—for the moment anyway.  But the easy way never satisfies.  Sin always wants more.  And the easy way still results in  sin and guilt, in shame and regret, and finally in death.
     When we give in to temptation, we still choose the easy way.  We find reasons to excuse our sin: I was tired.  I was scared.  I was worried it wouldn't get done right.  This was quicker.  This was cheaper.  If we are honest, we mean easier.  Doing what is sinful is usually the easier option.  Fighting against temptation or suffering for doing what is right is hard.  Bearing the cross is never comfortable or easy.  And we don't like to bear a cross.  We want what is easy and smooth.  But beware.  This is what the Lord says: “The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)  The devil will always lead you down the wrong path, and he makes it very easy to do.  Often the easiest thing to do is simply to do nothing—to neglect prayer, to stop coming to God's house, to stop listening to the parts of God's word which make you feel bad, and to stop fighting your sinful inclinations.  And the excuses are equally easy—I've got better things to do.  Repent.
     After Jesus was baptized, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:11)  The devil offered Jesus the easy way out.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, (Jesus) was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Matthew 4:2-3)  If you are the Son of God, you should not have to deny yourself anything.  You have the power to turn stone to bread.  You are the Maker of heaven and earth; it should serve you.  Do what is easy.  Who would know?  Who would care?  But Jesus did not give way to temptation.  Even though it meant suffering, even though it was inconvenient, Jesus remained obedient.  Jesus does the hard work to save us.
     As you know, Satan does not let up easily.  He urged Jesus to cast himself off the top of the temple.  Then he quoted the Psalms: “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)  Since Jesus is the Son of God, then God the Father should have his back.  It would have been easy for Jesus to command his angels to serve him.  After all, the angels do God's bidding.  But the Son of Man did not come to be served.  Jesus came to serve us in our needs.  Jesus came to do the hard work of being a man who lived under God's law and with the same struggles that we also have in our humanity.  Jesus lived in a world of stubbed toes, scratchy clothing, and aching muscles.  He did not come to be pampered as the Son of God.  He would live a hard life as the Son of Man.  He would not challenge his Father's promises.  He would not misappropriate Bible passages and expect God to do as he expected.  He would not call on his angels now or later in Gethsemane when he was being arrested.  Jesus would not forsake obedience to his Father.  Jesus overcame this temptation and did the hard work to save us.
     Jesus was fully aware of the hard road ahead.  He knew that he not only had to overcome every temptation and give his Father perfect obedience, he also knew that he would suffer and die for our disobedience.  Jesus had come to suffer injustice.  He would be charged for sins he did not commit and pay the price he did not owe.  He would accept hellish torment for the sins of others, of us.  In fact, he would suffer for sinners who would never care, who would go on sinning without apology.  He would suffer and die for us who keep coming back to him with apologies for falling into temptation again.  For falling into the same temptations again and again.  You know how much patience you have for people who keep doing the same stupid things over and over again.  And yet, Jesus not only has to witness our sinful weakness, he has to suffer and die for them!  Jesus knew that the road he was on would finally lead him to the cross where he would suffer and die for the weak, for the lazy, for people who would be seduced down the easy road again, and for people who want nothing but the easy road.  Jesus was committed to doing the hard work to save us.
     Satan offered Jesus an easier way.  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)  There was an easier way to glory.  There was a way to avoid suffering and death for people who would fail him.  Satan was right about this: Jesus did not owe this to any of us, and he should not feel obligated to go through with it.  Jesus could honor Satan as the prince of this world and let him keep the sinners for himself; Jesus could return to his heavenly glory without shedding a drop of blood or taking a punch.  It was a win-win situation for Jesus and for Satan.
     But Jesus did not come to do the easy thing.  Jesus came to do the hard work to save us.  Jesus pushed Satan away.  He scorned the devil's temptations.  He would not avoid the cross, the pain, the curse, and the hell, because his love for you is far greater.  His love for you compelled Jesus to do the hard work of overcoming temptations for you.  His love for his Father's will compelled him to take the hard road to the cross to redeem you.  Jesus did the hard work to save you.
     Now you are called upon to take up your cross, to fight against the temptations that still come to you, and to devote yourself to a righteous life.  This is no easy task.  Your sinful flesh will hate every bit of it.  Life in the Church Militant will always be hard.  But it is not hopeless.  And it need not even be scary.  Your hope, your comfort, and your strength in your daily struggle is and remains Jesus.  You cling to his word, by which alone you shall live.  You flee to God for mercy rather than testing its limits.  You worship the Lord and serve him alone.  But your joy and your comfort is that Jesus lives to serve you.  Though you still have hard work to do, it is not the hard work of salvation.  That is done.  Jesus did all the heavy lifting and hard work to guarantee that.  He has overcome Satan and has saved you.

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

New Luther Movie -- "A Return to Grace"

Do you want to see a movie?  

A new Luther movie entitled, "A Return to Grace" will be shown at the AMC 20 in Livonia on Thursday, March 23 at 7:30 PM. 

 Tickets must be purchased in advance.  To do that, go to this link:

You may also want to check out the trailer.

Early reviews say that it is very well done.  Join us!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Good Shepherd -- Progressive Dinner

Back on Saturday, March 25, members of Good Shepherd gathered together for Progressive Dinner.  We met at one home for appetizers and the main course, and then progressed to another for desserts.  Below is a photo of the main course.  Unfortunately, I had not thought to take a photo of the Casemer's infamous "Mega-Den" (trademarked????) at our second stop.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sermon -- Ash Wednesday (March 1, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     The sermon for Ash Wednesday is based on Psalm 51, which we chanted to open our Lenten season.  There are two verses in Hebrew which generally get overlooked and even omitted when we read Psalm 51.  They are: “To the choirmaster.  A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” (Heading in ESV; vv 1-2 in the Hebrew)  This heading gives us the background to Psalm 51.  It refers to the sin which plagued David his whole life long, and it is the forgiveness of this sin which moved David to compose several Psalms.
     While David's adulterous affair and murderous cover-up left him crushed with guilt, David also acknowledged that this sin did not spring up from a momentary lapse of judgment.  Like David's sins, many of our own grievous, life-altering sins are the result of one regrettable moment—some alcohol-induced idea; some supposedly reckless flirting which gets stoked into a full-blown affair; some jealous thought which boils over into an onslaught of nasty and cruel words.  Though a sinful act may occur in a moment, its consequences may last a lifetime; but sins do not spring up out of thin air.  Likewise, David knew that his sin did not come from out of nowhere.  And he confessed it to be so.
     David pleaded: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love...  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:1,3-5)  
     Sin is always lurking in the human heart.  David acknowledged, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being....” (Psalm 51:6)  But his heart was not guided by truth.  It was full of deceit and self-gratifying sin.  We are no different.  From the moment we are conceived, we have inherited the nature of our father, Adam.  No one has to teach a child to sin.  Put one toy in a crib with two children and see what happens.  And though we grow older, read books, study hard, and get degrees, we never improve.  Put two people in a marital union, and you see half of them end in divorce.  Put yourself in the back of a long line in the store and see how much love you have for the person at the check out who needs a price check on bag of fruit.  Your spite rises up from your spiteful, sinful heart.  We never get any better.  Like David, we are sinners.
     “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.” (Psalm 51:1)  If we treat our sins lightly, it is because we fail to remember what David confesses: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight....” (Psalm 51:4)  Perhaps it is astounding to hear David's confession be so limited.  David sinned against Bathsheba by stealing her from her husband and violating her.  David sinned against Uriah by arranging to have him killed to cover up his sin.  David sinned against Uriah's family, forcing them to bury a loved one in a needless death.  David sinned against Israel by deceiving them and sullied the throne.  And yet David confessed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight....” (Psalm 51:4)  While sins often hurt others, every sin is rebellion against God.  Sin despises the neighbor God has given us.  Sin despises God's gifts as we covet what God has not given us.  Sin despises God himself who loves us and calls us to respond with love, but we turn against him.  Every sin is rebellion, destructive, and damning.
     Our solution for sin and guilt the same as David's: cover-up.  Now, if your goal is simply to fool others, then concealing your sins may work.  David's cover-up may have fooled some in Jerusalem.  His household servants may have played along and pretended not to know of David's sins.  But God was not fooled, and God does not play along with our games.  Likewise, we may think we can conceal our sins by denying our guilt, by insisting that we are not that bad, or by hoping that no one discovers our secrets.  Your friends may play along and pretend you are innocent.  Even if you both know better, you both may prefer to believe the lie.  But even if you fool others, nothing is hidden before God.
     This is what the Lord says: Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)  If you want to find relief for your heart and comfort for your soul, concealing your guilt will never work.  David's conscience did not remain silent.  His guilt was crushing.  His spirit was broken.  It was not until God sent the prophet Nathan that David stopped hiding his sins.  Nathan did not manipulate David.  He just told him the truth: The Lord knows your sins, and he holds you accountable.  Once David had his guilt exposed, he stopped hiding.  He stopped pretending.  He acknowledged the facts: He was guilty.  “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight....” (Psalm 51:4)  
     Tonight, you are marked with death.  Your ashes visibly declare that you are dust and to dust you will return.  Being marked with ashes, however, is useless unless you rend your heart, confess your sins, and forsake them.  We acknowledge the facts: our hearts are not clean; our spirits are not right; we have sinned and done what is evil in God's sight.
     David did not wallow in fear and pity, and neither do we.  We plead: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.” (Psalm 51:1)  If you plead for mercy, you are in no position to bargain for anything.  If you plead for mercy, you know you are dead to rights and don't deserve any.  But our cry for mercy always hangs on this: “according to your steadfast love.” (Psalm 51:1)  We hold God to his promises.  We cry out for our Savior.  We plead that God will do the work, that he will cleanse us from guilt, that he will purge us from sin, and that he will make us a new creation.  We plead: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.” (Psalm 51:1)  And he does.
     The love of God is steadfast; for the Lord planned our salvation even before he created the heavens and the earth.  When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, the Lord remained steadfast in his love—he promised the Savior who would pay for their guilt, destroy the devil's work, and reconcile mankind to himself.  Although David's sin was destructive to Uriah, Bathsheba, his nation, and his throne, the Lord's love remained steadfast.  The Lord washed David clean, created in him a new heart and a right spirit, and restored the joy of salvation to him.  Even though we are guilty and demonstrate our weaknesses with daily sins, the Lord has not turned his love away from us.  His love remains steadfast.  His mercy endures.  And he forgives us.
     “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.” (Psalm 51:1)  The Lord reveals his steadfast love in the sufferings and death of his Son, Jesus.  The Father's mercy upon us moved him to send his Son to receive the blows, the curse, and the death for us.  It is not that the Father simply dropped the charges against us; the charges were transferred to his only begotten Son.  The Lord has been merciful to you, but Jesus Christ has received what you have earned.  The steadfast love of the Son moved him to carry your sin and guilt to the cross.  The holy blood which Jesus shed on the cross he shed for you.  That blood answers for you.  That blood atones for your rebellion.  That blood cleanses you of every impurity.  The steadfast love of the Spirit moves him to make you a new creation in Jesus' blood.  He has driven out the unclean, unbelieving spirit and has created in you a clean heart and a right spirit.
     “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.” (Psalm 51:1)  And he does.  The Lord does not treat you according to your sins and weakness, but according to his steadfast love.  That love, poured upon you and in you by the blood of Jesus, continues to strengthen and sustain you.  It moves you to forsake your sins, and it restores to you the joy of knowing that your sins are removed from you.  You do not need to work on any cover-up for your sin anymore.  The blood of Jesus Christ covers you.  Your guilt is blotted out.  
     “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.” (Psalm 51:1)  And he does.  Therefore, there is joy in the midst of the ashes.  Dust and ashes will be raised to life.  Salvation stands firm.  For his love remains steadfast, and his mercy endures forever.

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