Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Easter (April 30, 2017)

LUKE 24:13-35


M:   Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:   He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     For the most part, false teachings and false hope have their origins from God's truth.  That should not surprise you.  When Satan speaks, he tries to sound like Jesus.  But Satan distorts God's word just a little bit.  The result is that it sounds right, but that God's people are led astray.
     For example, there are many churches which teach that the Bible contains God's word.  It sounds right.  When we hear, “The Bible contains God's word,” we would not respond, “No, it doesn't!”  But if we accept that the Bible contains God's word, the follow up question is: “What else does it contain?”  If there are parts of the Bible which are not God's word, we are left to wrestle with what is God's word and what is not.  The result is that we decide what is divine truth and what can be dismissed.  We end up telling God what his own word is.  So, a statement which sounds pretty good ultimately ends up being blasphemous.  We believe, teach, and confess that the Bible is God's word.  All Scripture is God breathed. (2 Timothy 3:16)  The whole Bible is God's word.  The whole Bible is true.  Therefore, we can trust all that the Bible has to say to us.  The true word gives true hope.
     The disciples who were on their way to Emmaus were grief stricken, and it is because they had put their faith in popular opinion instead of God's actual promises.  When Jesus asked them what had been going on which made them so sad, they summed up the weekend pretty well.  “Jesus of Nazareth [was] a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people....  [Our] chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” (Luke 24:19-21)  And they went on to describe the empty tomb and the message of the angels there.
     Their assessment of Jesus was accurate, but their hope in him was misplaced.  Cleopas and his friend were victims of their day.  The confessed, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)  They had hoped that Jesus would take up the throne of David, would restore David's kingdom, and bring back to Israel the power and glory which David had enjoyed.  They thought Jesus would be the source of a new and magnificent glory, but they were crushed when all their hopes for glory were crushed.
     Now, once again, much of what they said was true, but their hope was misplaced.  Jesus had, indeed, come to redeem Israel.  The Son of David has taken up his throne.  He does, indeed, bring a new and magnificent glory.  But Jesus had also declared, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)  The glory that Jesus brings is an everlasting kingdom, but we will not see that glory in this world.  It will come just as we confess: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (Nicene Creed)  The true word gives true hope.
     The Emmaus disciples were not alone in their misguided hopes.  We, too, hold to promises that God did not make.  We, too, look for glory which the Lord has not promised.  While God has made many amazing promises to us, those promises often cause us to assume others.  Does being Christians mean that life is easier and that you will not be bothered with problems?  If you have believed that, you have also been sorely disappointed.  We are sinners who live among sinners in a sinful world.  We will have problems with people who sin against us.  Our own sinfulness causes us to view people with suspicion, jealousy, or disgust.  Our own sins produce guilt and shame in us.  Our bodies suffer the effects of age, disease, sorrow, pain, and finally death.  Nowhere does God say you are immune from these things.  To think that being a Christian equals God pouring out material blessings on you means that your faith rests in promises God did not make—just as the Emmaus disciples did.  That will always lead to disappointment.  It may well cause you to believe that God is a liar because he has not produced.  Do not be deceived.  Not every pious sounding comment is based on God's word.  Satan mimics God, but still twists God's word.
     The true word gives true hope.  Does God promise blessings upon his people?  Yes.  Does God promise a collection of goods, friends, or smiles?  No.  If you have these, you can thank God for them, but he did not guarantee them to you, and he does not guarantee you will keep them.  If you want to be sure that your faith is resting on promises God has actually made, you had best read, learn, and study the Bible to know what those promises actually are.  Then Satan will not deceive you.  Only the true word gives true hope.
     That is why, when Jesus walked with the Emmaus disciples, he kept himself from being recognized by them.  They did not need to see the risen Savior; they needed to be reminded of the promises God had actually made.  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)  Only the true word will give true hope.  We do not have time to consider all that God had promised.  We have Bible classes for that.  But we will consider one promise.
     The patriarch Job had confessed: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)  If we have a Redeemer, then it must cost him something to redeem us from our captors.  It is sin, death, and the devil which has laid a claim on all mankind.  The devil claims.  Sin controls us.  And death marks us all.  But we have a Redeemer!  And every blood sacrifice offered from the time of Abel to the time of Jesus testifies that it is the bloody death of a substitute which is the payment for the sins of man.  Therefore, our Redeemer poured out his blood and willingly laid down his life to be the ransom price which has purchased and won us from our captors.  We have a Redeemer, and the cost for him to redeem us was the life of our immortal God.  Thanks to Jesus' innocent sufferings and death, thanks to the bloody death of your substitute, you are free from your sins.  You have been released from Satan's claim.  And the grave cannot have you.  You have been marked for eternal life, not eternal death.
     But Job's confession was not, “I know that my Redeemer will die.”  Job confessed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)  If the Redeemer lives, and if he is to stand upon the earth on the Last Day even after he has paid the full price for our ransom, then he must overcome death.  Then he must be risen!  And just as God has promised it, so Jesus Christ has fulfilled it.  Your Redeemer lives, and he lives to assure you of your forgiveness, to keep you free from Satan's grasp, and to deliver you from the grave to life everlasting.  The true word gives you true hope.
     Only after Jesus reminded the Emmaus disciples of his promises did he finally make himself known to them.  And their joy increased all the more.  The Redeemer lives, and we are his redeemed!  The true word gives you true hope.
     Satan will always mimic the true word and try to lead you astray.  Your defense against him is the true word of God which will never lie to you or lead you astray.  That word, on the contrary, will strengthen you, comfort you, and encourage you.  It will fill you with godly desires and produce in you good deeds.  This word is why God's church gathers every Sunday.  This is why your church offers Bible classes, Catechism instruction, and Sunday School.  Satan would prefer you fill your week with other activities.  He will even tell you that the other activities will produce a full and happy life.  There is a degree of truth in that.  There usually is when Satan speaks.  You might enjoy an early round of golf, a leisurely breakfast, or an extra hour of sleep.  These are not evil.  But your Lord summons you to hear his word which delivers to you a good, God-pleasing, and everlasting life.  If you know and stand on his promises, you will be neither deceived nor disappointed; you will be secure.  And you will be saved.  For only his true word can give you true hope.

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pastors' Conference -- St. Jacob, Grass Lake, Michigan

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, the pastors of the WELS congregations met in the countryside north of Grass Lake, MI at St. Jacob Evangelical Lutheran Church.  St. Jacob is one of the oldest Lutheran congregations in Michigan, dating back to 1841.  Here are a few photos of the church which, as far as I can tell from the church history page, dates back to 1853.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 23, 2017)

JOHN 20:19-31


M:         Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Gospel lesson for today may be rather disappointing for you.  Jesus appeared to his apostles in the upper room where he had feasted with them just a few days earlier.  He proclaimed peace to his fearful disciples, and he showed them the wounds he had sustained in order to redeem them from sin, death, and the devil.  Thomas was not there that first Sunday.  He heard the news from his fellow apostles.  Perhaps he had also heard the report of the women who had gone to the tomb.  He could have heard it from everyone; I don't think it would have mattered.  Thomas was not content with reports or witnesses.  Some things you just have to see for yourself.
     So Thomas claimed: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)  Thomas made a demand he had no right to make.  It is like us demanding, “I will not believe God's promises unless my grandmother recovers from her stroke,” or, “I will not believe God really loves me unless I land this job.”  It is foolish—actually, dangerous—to make such demands of God and to dictate to God how he must prove himself to you.  Thomas did make such a demand.  He demanded to see Jesus himself, to touch his body, and to inspect his wounds.  Only then would Thomas believe that Jesus had risen, bodily, from the grave.  In doing so, he was playing with hell-fire.  Jesus did not owe Thomas a special appearance.  Nevertheless, Jesus mercifully granted it, allowing Thomas to inspect the wounds he insisted upon seeing.
     Now the reason this Gospel might be a little disappointing to you is because, while Jesus did grant Thomas this appearance, he has not done this for you.  No matter how persistent or adamant you might get in appealing for such an appearance, you will not get one.  But it does not mean that you have lost out on anything.  On the contrary, Jesus bestows a blessing upon you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
     More than that, the prayer of the day reminds us that our Lord does, indeed, come to us.  Hear the prayer again: O risen Lord, you came to your disciples and took away their fears with your word of peace.  Come to us also by word and sacrament, and banish our fears with the comforting assurance of your abiding presence; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Jesus has not short-changed you because he has not come to you in person.  Jesus does come to you, but you must look for Jesus only where he tells you he will be.  Jesus comes to you with all of his blessings, his mercy, and his salvation in the word and the sacraments.
     The payment for your sins was made at the cross on Mt. Calvary.  Your forgiveness and salvation were guaranteed with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Peace is proclaimed by the risen Savior because he redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil by giving up his life for you.  Peace is assured to you by the Savior because he is risen from the dead.  But if you travel to Israel and take photos of Mt. Calvary, you will not find forgiveness there.  If you visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and even see the newly restored slab on which Jesus' body was laid and from which he was raised to life, you will not find salvation there.  Forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation are given not by seeing Jesus or the historical places connected to his work of redemption; they are given in the word of God and the sacraments.  The blessing of salvation is not bestowed merely by what you see and feel, but by the faith God gives in his word.  Therefore, Jesus declares, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
     The Lord Jesus did not appear to the disciples who were locked in the upper room just to enhance the message of the angels at the tomb, “He is risen!”  Their word could have and should have stood on its own.  Jesus appeared to his disciples for a greater reason.  First was Jesus' message: “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  While the disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews, they probably were afraid to see Jesus too.  It was not just Thomas who was skeptical.  None of the disciples were expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.  The last time most of them had seen Jesus, they were running away from him as he was being arrested.  They had not been as faithful as they had boasted.  No doubt, they were plagued with guilt.
     But Jesus came to them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)  And while they marveled and inspected the wounds which were inflicted on Jesus to pay for their sins, Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:21)  He did not come to bawl them out.  He was not angry.  And he did not regret going to the cross to pay for their sins.  Instead, he proclaimed peace to people who were not as faithful as they should have been.
     He still does.  Jesus Christ has set us apart to serve him, to follow God's word, and to love our neighbor.  We have not done as well as we ought.  Our commitment to God's word gets shaky when the world notices that living according to God's word sets us apart.  We have believed that life is too hard to adhere to every part of God's word, and that we are too important to have to stop to help our neighbor with his problems.  Our words and actions have cause others to mock God's name because we have not acted as even unbelievers know we are supposed to act.  When we recognize how much we have failed our God, we expect God's word to be harsh.  We are certain that our Lord will rub our noses in our shame.  We are inclined to stay away from him as Adam and Eve did in the Garden, or like frightened disciples locked in an upper room.  We are not surprised that God would be disappointed in us.  We are disappointed in ourselves, too.
     But Jesus has not come to put you to greater shame.  He does not regret the wounds he incurred for you, and he is not angry with you.  His peace goes out to you.  And he has even commissioned sinners to go and proclaim it.  To those disciples whose guilt was covered, Jesus said, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23)  
     While you know that Jesus suffered and died and rose again for your salvation, the blessings of Jesus' work are delivered to you through the words of absolution.  The Lord knows that you need to hear these words again and again.  Since Satan will never quit reminding you of your guilt and accusing you of your sin, you will always need to hear Jesus speaking through his ministers, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  These words are spoken in the stead of Christ—“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)  These words are spoken with the authority of Christ—“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:23)  These words do not merely impart information; they actually bestow on you the forgiveness Jesus won for you.
     You do not need to envy Thomas who got to touch Jesus' wounds and see the side from which flowed blood and water.  The water which has been poured on you has cleansed you from all sin.  The blood which was shed is given to you for the forgiveness of yours.  The word of the Lord absolves you of all guilt.  You have the word of Jesus whose blessing rests upon you: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)  Thomas has not received any forgiveness which is greater or salvation which is better than you have been given.  Blessed are you—not for what you have seen, but for the faith you have been given which saves you.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sermon -- HVL Chapel (April 19, 2017)

This was preached at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, Michigan.

ACTS 13:16a,26-33

Righteousness Fulfilled

In the name + of Jesus.

     The apostle Paul and Barnabas traveled to modern day Turkey, to several cities in Galatia to proclaim the good news of salvation which was accomplished by Jesus.  At each town, their first stop was the local synagogue.  They went to see their fellow Jews who had gathered on the Sabbath to read the Scriptures and sing the Psalms.  They were not introducing new and unusual ideas to these Jews.  On the contrary, they declared:  “We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus….” (Acts 13:32-33)  In other words, Paul and Barnabas were proclaiming to them, “What you have been reading about in Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms all these years, Sabbath after Sabbath—these are no longer promises.  They have been fulfilled.  Everything has been fulfilled as God promised through Jesus of Nazareth.  God’s amazing grace has been demonstrated.  Jesus, who was crucified for sinners, is risen.  Righteousness has been fulfilled.
     It should not be a surprise that the first place Paul and Barnabas went to proclaim the gospel was to church.  But notice how they proclaim God’s salvation to the people.  It was not just an idea.  Paul and Barnabas spoke of God’s promises from the earliest days of the world’s history up to the present day.  God had followed through on everything he said he would do.  He did not forsake the world which had sinned against him.  God loves what he has created, and he acted to redeem it so that we would not all perish.  God’s promises were made by grace, and God graciously fulfilled them.
     Also notice that God’s salvation was not done in theory.  It was done in history.  The sufferings and death of Jesus were historical facts.  It took place in Jerusalem.  Real men who were among the leaders of the Jews demanded Jesus’ death.  They delivered him over to Pontius Pilate, who was serving as the Roman governor over the province of Judea.  And Pilate had Jesus crucified.  Crucifixions were not done in secret, either.  These gruesome executions were made highly visible in well-traveled areas so that people would see those who had defied Roman rule and would be dissuaded from rebelling themselves.  The message Paul and Barnabas proclaimed could be verified.  And just as all of these actions were verifiable history, so also then God’s grace was verifiable.
     Now, this is not merely a history lesson for you.  It is comfort for sinners.  Your sins are real, and your guilt is real.  Some days you are bothered by your sin and guilt more than others, but you always know that these things are real.  And if you aren’t sure, ask the people you’ve sinned against.  They will assure you that your sins were mean, painful, and not easy to get over.  You bear grudges, too, right?  That’s because someone sinned against you.  That sin was real.  It was wrong.  And even when you try to do better, you still find that you do the things you promised yourself you would never do again.  You will continue to fight against your own sinful nature for the rest of your life.  When you fall into sin, that doesn’t mean you should quit trying to fight against temptation because it is hopeless.  It means that your sins are real.  Your death, whenever it should come, is real.  And if you want to find relief from these frustrations and fears, then you need a Savior who is not imaginary and whose love is real.
     Paul and Barnabas proclaim that Savior to you.  The grace is amazing not because it is a neat idea, but because it is real.  The sufferings and death of Jesus has paid for all of your sins.  Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that God has accepted that payment for you.  It is also proof that death and the grave are temporary things for you.  Since Jesus has risen from the dead, so will you.  And once again, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was not merely an idea.  It is a historical event.  St. Paul declared: God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. (Acts 13:30-31)  It is a verifiable moment in history, witnessed by hundreds of people.  Many of those people suffered persecution, torture, and violent deaths because they declared what they witnessed.  They did not retract their testimony.  They stood firm on what they witnessed.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead—who was seen, heard, and touched by those who witnessed his resurrection.
     God’s amazing grace is now for you, too.  We have the eyewitness accounts to assure us that God’s grace is real.  God’s forgiveness of your sin and guilt is real.  Your salvation is real, your eternal life is real, and your resurrection from the dead is real.  Your resurrection has yet to be fulfilled, but as surely as Jesus lives, so shall you.  And the Lord has delivered his salvation to you not by imagination, but by real things.  You were splashed in the waters of baptism to have Jesus’ salvation poured upon you to cleanse you of all sin and mark you as Jesus’ redeemed.  You go to God’s altar to consume bread and wine, under which you take Jesus’ body and blood and ingest God’s salvation.  God works through real things because his blessings and grace and salvation are real.
     We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus. (Acts 13:32-33)  It has all been fulfilled for real.  The good news is real.  Your salvation is real.  God’s grace is real, and it is amazing.

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Lutheran Satire -- Greatest Conspiracy Ever

Something from Lutheran Satire on the resurrection of Jesus.

Many critics regard the resurrection and the apostles' preaching the resurrection to be a conspiracy theory invented by the Church to oppress people.  Lutheran Satire ponders the idea of the conspiracy.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon -- Easter Sunday (April 16, 2017)

MATTHEW 28:1-10


In the name + of Jesus.

M:         Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     There has never been a happy walk to a cemetery.  Even if you are someone who visits historic cemeteries, you go because you find it interesting, not because it makes you happy to know that these people had died.  Death is evil because life is good.  Even when life is hard, life is still good and a gift from God.  When people resort to suicide, they are not looking to escape life, just its hardships.  No matter how death comes—whether peacefully or violently, whether it is expected or comes suddenly—it always produces fear, sorrow, grief, and regret.  Death is a cruel enemy to all mankind.  We grieve over loved ones who are among its victims, and we all will suffer its mortal blow.
     The women who had been friends with Jesus made their unhappy walk to Jesus' tomb early Sunday morning.  Their sense of duty compelled them to complete the care of Jesus' body which had been buried in a hurry in the final moments of Friday.  When they approached the tomb, they expected to find the corpse of their beloved teacher and friend.   The women were shocked to find the stone rolled away from the tomb's entrance.  They were shocked to see an angel sitting there.  And they were all the more shocked by the angel's announcement: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead...” (Matthew 28:5-7)
     “He has risen.” (Matthew 28:6)  Those are the key words.  The message of the angel was not merely, “He is not here.”  That was the news which the Jewish leaders feared would be broadcast by Jesus' disciples.  They had even taken steps to prevent it.  The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.'  Therefore, order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62-64)  The guard was posted, not that the apostles proved to be any threat.  They were hiding in fear.  It did not matter.  The apostles did not try to steal Jesus' body.  The guards could not contain Jesus' body.  The women did not find Jesus' body.  The angel rolled the stone away to show that Jesus' tomb was empty.  The message was then proclaimed: “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)
     Jesus Christ has risen.  The body which was dead and buried is risen.  Jesus lives.  His body is revived.  His whole person is restored.  The man is risen from the dead.  The grave could not keep him.  Death had to give Jesus back, and it cannot have him again.  Jesus of Nazareth lives and reigns, forever holding victory over the grave, just as he said.
     Now, if the Easter message stopped here, we probably would not celebrate it.  Our Easter greeting would be, “Christ is risen!”  “Well, good for him.”  To know that Jesus of Nazareth has overcome death might fill us with some faint hope that we could overcome it too.  But we know that we will not.  For, this word of the Lord is true: It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)  You may skate through life without ever having to face any real consequences for your sinful behavior, but that does not mean that you are unaccountable.  Even if you've not suffered much for your sins, others have suffered from them.  Sins hurt.  They leave emotional scars.  Your friends may overlook your sins.  They may even congratulate you and laugh with you about them, but the Lord does not.  The Lord, who gave you your life, will assess it when you die.  And just as you cannot escape death, neither can you escape the Lord's judgment.
     Sin has brought death into the world.  It has corrupted body and soul, mind and heart.  From our sinful hearts come selfish actions, lying words, and thoughts which we are too ashamed to admit we have—although some are bold (or is it foolish?) enough to post these things on Facebook and Twitter.  The sin that resides in us also takes its toll on our bodies.  Sin brings pain and disease, aging and aching.  The body breaks down and finally dies.  It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)  The grave demands you because you are guilty.  Your soul returns to God who judges you according to his holy standards.  You cannot escape the grave or the judgment.
     In his love for you, God sent a Savior.  Jesus Christ is your refuge from sin, through death, and in the judgment.  Your sin was paid for by Jesus' sufferings and death on Mt. Calvary.  Your judgment was taken by Jesus for you.  The Lord became man in order to suffer and die for all the sins that men have committed.  The curse for every sin was delivered on Jesus at the cross.  And since Jesus bore all guilt, he died and was buried.  The grave received its due.
     But the unhappy walk to Jesus' grave on Easter was changed by the angel's words: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6)  Jesus, who has borne your sin and died your death, is risen!  He lives, and that means that the payment for sins is sufficient.  He is your refuge from sin.  Jesus Christ is risen, and that means that he holds the keys to death and the grave.  Jesus Christ is risen, and that means that the grave must give back those who belong to Jesus.  He is your refuge through death.
     Jesus Christ is risen!  He did not just redeem your soul.  God never designed you to be a bodiless soul which floats around on clouds in heaven.  When you die, your soul will separated from your body.  It will return to God who will judge you.  But your judgment is in: You are forgiven.  Jesus Christ declares you righteous, for he has taken all guilt from you.  He is your refuge in the judgment.  Therefore, the departed souls of our fellow Christians enjoy the peace and the glories of heaven.  But they do not remain spirits.  That is not what God created us to be.
     Jesus Christ became a body and soul man to redeem you completely.  The bodies, therefore, which we bury will be raised up again.  The grave must give back what it has claimed, for Jesus is Lord of life and death.  Though our path to the cemetery will never be happy, it is not without hope either.  We bury our fellow Christians knowing that the grave will not keep them forever.  We bury their bodies knowing that they will be raised up completely renewed and restored.  The body of our Lord departed from his grave, and so he will summon us up from ours.  Body and soul will be reunited forever.  The soul will be perfected, eagerly desiring to do God's will and perfectly capable of actually doing it.  And the body will be perfected, delivered forever from aching and aging, from pain and disease, and from skin rashes, frost bite, and mosquito bites.
     Jesus Christ is risen.  And he is risen for us.  Because he lives, we too shall live.  Because his body has conquered death, we too will share in his victory.  Because he lives and reigns forever, he will bring us to live and reign with him.  And just as Jesus has not abandoned his body or shed his humanity, so will we, body and soul, receive all the joys and glories and peace of heaven.
     Jesus Christ is risen!  He has taken the sting out of death.  Though death will come, Jesus will come for the dead, and the grave must give us back.  On the Last Day he will raise up all the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.  Then you will be reunited with the saints who have died.  Then the Church will forever be united at the heavenly feast.  Then we will live in the glory which our Father has always desired us to know and to have.  And then, our praise and our confession will continue, even as we confess it now:
M:         Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Sermon -- Easter Dawn (April 16, 2017)

EXODUS 14:10 – 15:1


In the name + of Jesus.

     Exodus chapter 15 consists mainly of a song of praise by the Israelites.  We heard the first line in the song earlier: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1)  Israel rejoiced and put their praise to music.  They sang of the Lord's deliverance, and the conquering of their enemies.
     I suppose some might consider it morbid to sing so jubilantly about the mass death of people and animals.  To appreciate why Israel sang with such jubilation, understand who was delivered and why.  Israel was the Lord's chosen people—chosen to be the people through whom the Savior would come into the world.  To brutally oppress and to put to death this nation was to attack God's promise, God's Christ, and salvation.  Therefore, the Lord commanded the powers of Egypt to let his chosen people go.
     But Pharaoh was stubborn.  He did not heed the word of the Lord.  He would not give up his conquered prize.  After a series of plagues capped by the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh ordered the Israelites to leave Egypt.  However, stubborn Pharaoh changed his mind.  He was not willing to let his conquered prize go free.  He mounted his armies and chased them down.  He penned them in—Egypt's army behind and the Red Sea in front.
     The Lord commanded Moses to hold up his staff so that the Red Sea would be divided.  Israel, then, escaped their enemy by walking on dry ground through walls of water.  Stubborn Pharaoh ordered his armies to pursue Israel, only to see them buried in the waters that returned to their place.  In this way, Israel won a battle which they did not even fight.  Their enemy was destroyed.  Israel was forever free from them.  The promise, the work, and the victory were the Lord's.  The benefits he gave to his chosen people, Israel.  Victory came through water.
     Thus, God's promise remained firm.  The Lord's Christ would come.  The enemies of God's people were destroyed.  They could not thwart God's salvation and mercy.  This was worthy of singing and jubilant praise.  “The horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1)  Victory comes through water.
     This victory at the Red Sea foreshadows all that Jesus has done for you.  Your enemies—sin, death, and the devil—are stubborn.  They do not want to let you go, and you cannot set yourself free from them.  You were Satan's conquered prize.  Therefore, Jesus acts for you.  He has paid for your sins.  He has given himself into death.  He has even let Satan strike his heal.  But today, we celebrate that Jesus is risen.  Sin and death have been left for dead.  Satan is crushed underfoot.  You have been liberated by a battle which you did not fight.
     The benefits of Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection have been given to you in your baptism.  Victory comes through water which drowns the sinner and raises you anew as a saint.  The devil's grip on you is released.  The grave cannot keep you, for you are God's chosen people—set apart from a dying world, set apart for eternal life, set apart for godly living, and set apart as evidence of God's mercy.
     The death of your enemies means your eternal life.  Therefore, it is right to sing and rejoice and to celebrate a victory that you did nothing to win, but which Jesus gives you gladly and freely.  “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously.” (Exodus 15:1)  The enemies of God have been drowned.  Victory comes through water.  God's people are forever free.

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sermon -- Good Friday (April 14, 2017)

JOHN 19:28-30

He And He Alone Finished Your Salvation.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The final words of Jesus which John records for us should give us no end of comfort.  These words can be in our hearts every time we confess our sins.  They should definitely be in our minds when we are dying.  “It is finished.” (John 19:30)  Jesus' life which was lived in holy obedience to all of God's commandments on our behalf was complete.  Jesus' sufferings under God's curse for our disobedience to God's Commandments was complete.  Jesus' death, the death of the Son of God on behalf of all of the people in the world, was the complete payment for sin.  Forgiveness has been purchased in full.  Death gets its fill.  There is no more.
     It is finished.  There are no strings attached.  There are no conditions still to be met.  There is no asterisk next to the Greek word, tetelestai.  It is finished.  Or even better, “It has been finished.”  The perfect tense of the verb means that the action has been accomplished, but the effects of the action are still going on.  It is like saying, “Sergio Garcia has won the Masters.”  The victory took place last Sunday, but Sergio Garcia is still the victor.  The verb tetelestai is saying, “The perfect life under God's Law has been lived.  Its benefits are yours.  The cursed death under God's wrath has been died.  Its benefits are yours.  Your sins are forgiven.  The payment was done at the cross, and the payment still covers you today.”
     That payment was made by Jesus' sufferings and death at Calvary almost 2,000 years ago.  The benefits of Jesus' sufferings and death are applied through the word preached and the absolution proclaimed.  The benefits are administered in the waters of baptism where sins are washed away.  The benefits are given in the Lord's Supper where the sheep are fed and nourished and strengthened by their Shepherd.  And when Jesus' gifts are given, “It is finished.”  There are no acts of penance that must still be completed.  There are no good deeds which improve your standing or your chances.  There is nothing that God leaves in your hands.  If there were still something undone, something which God left for you to complete, that would cast the matter right back into doubt, at best—or despair, at worst.  But there is no unfinished business.  There are no installments that still need to be paid.  It is finished.  It has been finished.  Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone finished your salvation.
     Sinners find no end of comfort in Jesus' statement—which is good because we never stop being sinners.  Being baptized does not give you an excuse to neglect God's law.  Being baptized has set you apart as God's child to do God's will.  And still, we prove ourselves to be sinners.  No matter how much we resolve to do better, we still fail to do the good we promise we will do.  No matter how much we promise to have patience with our neighbor, we still mock him.  No matter how often we insist we will not be jealous at the success of others, we are still resentful that the good news of others was not our good news.  We do not pray for some people because we have deemed them unworthy.  When other people get in our way or take our time, we get annoyed.  We do not consider that they are barely getting by with the burdens they are carrying.  We limit our pity to ourselves.  Sin clings to us, and we cannot shake it off with our resolve or with promises no matter how sincere they are.  We do not fail because we don't try hard enough; we fail because we are sinners.
     Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone finished your salvation.  The prophet Isaiah had foretold what the death of Jesus was for: The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)  And it was the will of the Lord to crush him; …his soul makes an offering for guilt. (Isaiah 53:10)  God does not overlook sin.  Instead, he gives his Son to pay for it.  And the payment is complete.  Jesus said so when he died.  “It is finished.  It has been finished.” (John 19:30)  The payment has been made.  The word tetelestai was often used in the market place when someone owed on a debt.  But when the final payment was made, the merchant would state tetelestai.  The debt has been paid in full.  That is what Jesus said from the cross.  The full payment has been made.  The results still stand.  When you repent, you see that Jesus remains ever merciful, and that his death remains the offering which removes your iniquity and covers over your guilt.  Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone has finished your salvation.
     Jesus' words will continue to comfort you, especially when you face your own death.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and so we are all going to die.  But Jesus is the one who has taken the horror out of death for us.  Jesus did that by suffering the horrors of death for us.  The Lord (had) laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6), and so the condemnation for our sins was laid upon him as well.  Jesus did not avoid the cross.  He willingly went to die there for us and to be damned for us.  The agony of crucifixion, as horrible as it is, is nothing compared to the torments of hell which Jesus had to suffer for us.  This is what sins deserve.  And Jesus took that punishment for us.  He suffered all punishment for all mankind—all of it.
     And so, death will come for you, but damnation will not.  God's wrath has been taken from you.  When his angels come for you at your last breath, you will open your eyes to see a loving and merciful Father.  Your judgment has already been proclaimed to you.  You are forgiven.  The wrath of God is done.  It is finished.  Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone finished your salvation.
     After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30)  That last phrase is meaningful.  Jesus gave up his spirit.  He is not like us.  We fight for life and hang on with all that we have left.  That is understandable.  Life is a gift from God and it is good.  That is why we make doctors visits, take medicine, get exercise, and eat right.  We don't want to die.  We want to live as last as long as possible.
     But regarding the death of Jesus, St. John writes, “He gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)  The verb is active.  Jesus actively handed his life over into death, completely in control.  It is as if Jesus were saying, “Death, you demand payment for sin.  Here it is.  I give myself for it.  Grave, you claim the guilty?  Here I am, bearing the guilt for all mankind.  And now you have had your fill.  For the Son of God will go here on behalf of all mankind.”  And so death has received its ransom.  The debt of sin has been paid.  There is nothing more that needs to be done.  It is finished.  It has been finished.  And it remains complete.
     Repent and turn to Jesus.  He and he alone has finished your salvation.  He and he alone takes away all sin and guilt.  He and he alone has absorbed all of God's wrath.  He and he alone grants you a blessed death.  He and he alone is the way to eternal life.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (April 13, 2017)

1 CORINTHIANS 11:23-28

...And Receive A Special 
Assurance Of Your Forgiveness

In the name + of Jesus.

          For centuries, Israelite families celebrated the Passover festival.  It was an annual reminder of the Lord's deliverance from their bondage in Egypt.  Though the Lord commanded Pharaoh to let the Israelite nation depart from his land, Pharaoh did not fear or honor the Lord.
          Therefore, the Lord sent numerous plagues to demonstrate to Pharaoh just how powerless he was.  Still, Pharaoh stubbornly refused to hear the word of the Lord.  Finally, the last plague was the plague on the firstborn.  Every firstborn in Egypt would be put to death, whether man or animal.  The Lord, however, provided deliverance for Israel.  Each household was to take a lamb and slaughter it.  The blood of the lamb would be smeared on their door posts.  And when the angel of death saw the blood, he would pass over those Israelite homes.
     At midnight, the angel went throughout Egypt, putting to death each firstborn.  While the Egyptian homes were filled with death and grief, the Israelite homes were filled with feasting and joy.  The Israelite families feasted on the lamb which was slain for their deliverance.  The blood of the lamb marked their homes and saved them.  The Lord delivered Israel from death and from bondage.
     That ceremony was to be repeated annually to remind Israel of the Lord's deliverance.  It was, however, just a reminder.  The angel did not annually come to put anyone to death.  Lazy or negligent Israelites were not in danger of an untimely grave if they did not celebrate the Passover.  Still, to forsake the Passover was to despise God's salvation.  Those who did not participate did not care that the Lord had delivered them.  And those who despised God's deliverance in the past would also not look forward to the Lamb of God whose bloody sacrifice would once and for all deliver man from death and slavery.
     Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, celebrated the Passover with his disciples.  On that night, Jesus did not merely celebrate the Lord's deliverance of the past.  Jesus re-purposed this feast to be a celebration of the Lord's everlasting deliverance from sin and death.  Unlike the Old Testament Passover celebrations which recalled God's deliverance, this New Testament in Jesus' blood would actually bestow God's deliverance to all who partake in the feast.
     Therefore, this new testament in Jesus' blood has always been a central feature in Christian worship.  When St. Paul established a new congregation in Corinth, he wasted no time in telling these new Christians how the Lord bestows forgiveness upon the penitent.  Paul wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)  The Lord's Supper is not merely to remember Jesus' meal with his disciples.  It is a proclamation of his sacrificial death.  And it is more.  This feast gives the benefits of Jesus' sufferings and death.  The body and blood which were given into death for sinners is given to sinners for the forgiveness of their sins.
     At the first Passover, the Israelites were feasting while death was going on all around them.  It was the blood of the slain lamb which had delivered them from death.  Death also surrounds us.  People go about their lives—eating and drinking, working and playing, talking about weather, politics, and sports.  Some are morally decent; some are crooked and crude.  But if the blood of the Lamb does not mark them, death will seize them and it will not let them go.  If one is not marked by the blood of the Lamb, he is marked by sin and, therefore, marked for damnation.  If a man does not crave this salvation, it is because his sins don't grieve him.  If he does not hunger for this feast, it is because he is satisfied to feed on worldly goods.  And if he does not yearn for Jesus' gifts, he will perish without them.
     That is why St. Paul urges us not to take this sacrament lightly.  He writes, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28)  You do not need to worry if people in the world don't crave this sacrament.  You can only answer for yourself.  Therefore we are right to examine ourselves; for, we have not attained perfection either.  We are still drawn to selfish pleasures.  We dedicate our efforts to gaining more money and we dedicate that money to ourselves.  In order to be accepted by worldly people, we learn to accept worldly attitudes and opinions.  We still crave the wrong things.  There is no salvation in these.  Examine yourselves, and recognize that sin still dwells in you.  When you recognize your guilt, repent.  Forsake your sins; for you cannot feast both on God's holy things and on wickedness.  And when you grieve over your sin, repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.  Flee to this altar where those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied.  That is how you worthily receive it.
     Repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.  The Lord Jesus does not present his forgiveness to you by your imagination.  Just as Jesus submitted his flesh and blood into a real death for your sins, so Jesus gives you his true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  He does not summon you to this altar for the sake of reenactment.  This is not a Passion Play.  The words of institution proclaim what Jesus gives you: “This is my body, which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)  Here is the body and blood of Jesus.  It was given into death to pay for your sins.  It is given to you for the forgiveness of sins.  The body which bore your guilt now alleviates you of all guilt.  The blood which was shed for your iniquity now marks you so that death and judgment pass over you.  These blessings are not merely remembered; they are given.  Just as your sins are real, so Jesus here gives you real forgiveness.  Just as death is real, so Jesus here gives you real deliverance from a cursed death to life everlasting.  Repent and turn to Jesus for a special assurance of your forgiveness.
     The Israelites joined together with a feast to remember that the Lord had delivered his people from death and bondage.  The Church meets regularly to feast in order to continue to receive the Lord's mercy and salvation.  While the world around us is dying, God's people gather together for the food that gives eternal life.  We do this in remembrance of Jesus.  We remember that our Lord was crucified and risen and that he gives us his crucified and risen body and blood for our forgiveness.  And we rejoice that our Lord remembers us.  He gives us real forgiveness through real elements so that we can be assured that God's mercy, love, and grace are really ours.

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Holy Week

This year, we will once again observe the Triduum (Latin for "the Three Days").  The Triduum is a connective service that links together Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Dawn.  While the service is regarded as one connective service, you will not feel lost if you are only able to attend a portion or two of it.  You may, however, want to arrive at church about 10 minutes early to look through the part of the service we will be doing to become familiar with it.  It will also be a good time to meditate and to pray.  Worshipers, please respect all who come early so that they may peacefully prepare to worship.

Here is the schedule for Holy Week:

Maundy Thursday 
        Thursday, April 13, 7:00 PM

Good Friday 
        Friday, April 14, 7:00 PM  

Easter Dawn
        Sunday, April 16, 7:30 AM  

Easter Breakfast
        Sunday, April 16, 8:45 - 9:45 AM

Easter Festival Service 
        Sunday, April 16, 10:00 AM    

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday (April 9, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Zechariah had foretold: “Behold, your king is coming to you....” (Zechariah 9:9)  If the King came to your town, it was a monumental event.  It is something that Americans really don't understand.  When the president comes to our city, we are not that excited.  We are annoyed that the president's motorcade messes up the traffic.  Many people won't care what the president has to say.  Some will go to protest.  Americans can show up to a presidential speech and hold up signs that say, “The President is an idiot!”  If you did that, you would expect that nothing serious would happen to you, and you would be outraged if it did.  But that is not what it is like to live under a king, and Americans will never really be able to grasp this.
     If you lived in a true monarchy, you would probably never see your king.  A king would not have to answer to you or take questions from the media.  The king would not need to defend himself.  He would put an end to his critics and protesters.  And if you held up a sign that read, “The King is an idiot,” you would never be heard from again.  When a king comes, his subjects fall to their knees in humble obedience, or they will be regarded as rebels and be executed.  So, while there would be some excitement about a king coming to one's town, there would also be some fear.
     Zechariah dispels the fears.  He summons Jerusalem: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)  The king does not come with war horses or armies.  He does not come to destroy or avenge.  He is not angry, and he does not even appear threatening.  He comes for the good of the people he serves.  And in fact, when he comes to Jerusalem for the Passover, your king comes to suffer and to save.
     Just as Americans are inclined not to fear their leaders, so we are not inclined to fear Jesus either.  We are quick to criticize our Lord, as if he owes us answers for the way he rules the universe, that he should defend himself to us, and that he should be open to our criticisms of him.  We challenge God's love, power, and wisdom.  “If God were so loving, why does he let wars and disease happen?”  Such questions presume that God is not loving, or wise, or powerful, or any of them.  We even believe that we would do better at being God than God is.
     Repent.  For we cannot run our own houses without stress, let alone the universe.  We lack the patience to deal with our loved ones well.  Rather than have compassion for others, we get angry because their problems inconvenience us.  No matter how angry you might get with God, remember that we did not create him.  He created us.  Therefore, he is not accountable to us for the life we have; we are accountable to him.  He who created life also directs how it is to be lived, and his word stands firm.
     St. Paul wrote, Christ Jesus…was in the form of God. (Philippians 2:6)  Or to say it more plainly: Jesus Christ is God.  He is rightly the King of the Universe.  But he did not come to earth to exact his vengeance on all who have rebelled against him, who protest his reign, or who defy his word.  Kings do that, but not your king.  Your king comes to suffer and to save.
      Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)  Jesus did not enter our world to make people grovel before him and to demand the honor he deserves.  He did not even flaunt his divine power.  Whenever Jesus did a miracle, it was not to show off; it was to be merciful to diseased and dying and desperate sinners.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem to the cries of “Hosanna!”, it was not to challenge King Herod or to overthrow Pontius Pilate.  Jesus came as a slave, carrying out the orders that God the Father had given him to do.  He came to die.
     Your king came to suffer and to save.  Jesus came to save the very people who have rebelled against him, who criticize his rule, who protest his word, and who think he is an idiot.  Jesus came to proclaim mercy to people who wanted him to shut up.  Jesus came to suffer for people who wanted to harm him.  He came to die for people who wished he were dead.  Kings don't die for their subjects; kings make subjects die for them.  But Jesus came to receive God's curse for people who have earned that curse by their disobedience.  Jesus Christ became a man in order to take mankind's place under the curse of the law, which also meant having to die a shameful, cursed death on the cross.  He did not do this because he owes you.  The almighty God emptied himself to be weak in order to die for you.  He willingly suffered for his subjects, and gave himself into death so that they would live.  Your king comes to suffer and to save.
     “Therefore” (Philippians 2:9), St. Paul writes.  Therefore, because Jesus has been obedient to his Father....  Therefore, because Jesus has redeemed you by his sacrificial death....  Therefore, because Jesus has suffered and saved you, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)  Therefore, there is no greater man than this man, because salvation is found only in this man, Jesus.  He is the man who died for you and now is risen.  This man conquered death for all mankind.  He lives and reigns over everything.  And just as Jesus has come to suffer and to save you, so also now he lives and reigns for you.
     Therefore, Jesus Christ is King.  He reigns supreme.  As King, he owes you nothing, and yet he gives you all good gifts.  He is not accountable to you, and yet he reveals his will to you in his word.  All that Jesus does, he does for you and your salvation.  He puts a cross on you to mortify your sinful flesh so that your flesh will not seize control of you again.  He disciplines you so that you will not love this world but will rather long for the kingdom of God.  He comforts you in your fears and frustrations, and he instills you with joy no matter how deep your grief.  Jesus Christ is King, but he is your King.  Jesus Christ is Lord, but he is Lord for you.  He who suffered and saved you lives and reigns for you.
     It is right to be on your knees in his presence—not to cower before him, but to receive good things from him.  That is why you kneel at this altar—to receive his body and blood for your forgiveness and salvation.  It is right to confess his name—for those who confess his name are the ones who are marked by his name and are, therefore, saved.  The day will come when all will confess that he is Lord, whether they want to or not.  They will have no choice, because Jesus will not appear in weakness, but in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords.  But you will not bristle at such a confession.  It is our joy already to honor Jesus as Lord, King, and Savior.  That is because your king has come to suffer and to save you.  Jesus is King for you.  Jesus is Lord for you.  He lives and reigns and does all things for you.

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Luther Movie -- 2nd Screening

NEW LUTHER MOVIE-- A 2nd Screening!

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:

  In order for the screening to actually take place, we will need to sell 90 tickets by April 13.  Tickets will be $10 each.  The previous screening was eventually sold out, so please act quickly when you get the chance to order your tickets.  Also, consider bringing a friend to this screening.  This is, perhaps, the least threatening way of introducing someone to the Lutheran church.

          To see the trailer, click here.  (You will have to scroll down to get to the trailer.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sermon -- Mid-Week Lent 2 (April 5, 2017)

This sermon was preached at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Plymouth, Michigan.

LUKE 23:35-42

...He Holds The Key To Heaven.

In the name + of Jesus.

     He was a dead man, and he knew it.  And he knew that he deserved it.
     He remembered God's Commandments, which he had memorized as a youth, and he recognized that he was guilty of breaking them.  He remembered that God said it was his place to avenge.  He remembered that God would be his judge, and he recognized that God had him dead to rights, that soon he would be dead, and that soon he would be facing the God whose Law he had broken.  Caesar's court could only sentence him to the grave.  God's court could banish him to hell.  He remembered the Law.  He recognized his guilt.  He repented and turned to Jesus.
     That criminal confessed his sin.  In his rebuke to his fellow criminal, he acknowledged  his crimes and the justice of his punishment: “We indeed (are being punished) justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” (Luke 23:40)  He did not pretend to be anything he was not.  He was a dead man.  He was a condemned man.  So, a vile sinner acknowledged that he was a vile sinner.  But he was not a hopeless sinner.  He repented and turned to Jesus.
     This dying man turned his attention to the man dying next to him.  He had heard every word of mockery and derision which the crowd hurled at Jesus, but he also recognized that everything the people had said about Jesus was true.  The penitent criminal not only knew Jesus had done all that they had said, he also believed that Jesus would do all that his mockers said he would.  The penitent criminal saw in Jesus the one who had saved others but would not save himself.  He saw in Jesus the one who was the Son of the living God, but would not come down from the cross until his lifeless body was taken down.  He saw the Christ who was anointed to save sinners—sinners who deserve to die, sinners like him.  And so the dead man repented and turned to Jesus.  “Jesus, remember me....” (Luke 23:41)  For Jesus holds the key to heaven.
     “Jesus, remember me....” (Luke 23:41)  When God remembers, God saves.  God remembers his mercy, and so he does not treat sinners as their sins deserve.  God remembers his compassion, and so he delivers us by consuming God's wrath for us.  God remembers his promises, and so he crushes the serpent's head and destroys his power.  God remembers his grace, and so he brings back into Paradise the ones who had been cast out of it.  When God remembers, God saves.  The penitent criminal confessed that Jesus is the King of an everlasting kingdom.  He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  (Luke 23:41)  If Jesus is the King of Israel, then he holds the throne of David.  If Jesus enters a kingdom, then he must live if he is going to reign.  If Jesus lives, it is because he will overcome the death he is dying.  And if Jesus overcomes death, then he holds the key to heaven.
     Repent and turn to Jesus.  He holds the key to heaven.  He is the one who sets you free from sin and death.  If you treat these lightly, it is because your sin and death are not always apparent to you.  Because of this, it is easy to fool ourselves that everything is fine.  Our lives do not have a clear, specific deadline like a work day, a project, or the New Year's Eve ball drop.  Just as no one knows the day and hour of Judgment Day, neither do we know the day and hour of our death, our personal judgment day.  And so, we fool ourselves into thinking that we have no reason to fear our God.
     We are pretty pleased with our lives, and we don't feel bad about our sins.  We are not like the criminal who was pierced to a cross where the charges against him were posted over his head.  We can keep most sins hidden.  Grudges can be disguised by phony smiles.  Slander is whispered behind someone's back.  We share our prejudices with like-minded people so that we can commend each other's wicked and hateful thoughts.  As long as no one exposes us, we are pleased and convinced that all is well.  But this is what the Lord says: “Death and Destruction lie open before the LORD—how much more the hearts of men!” (Proverbs 15:11, NIV (c) 1984)  Though your sins are not posted above your head for the world to see, they are known by the Lord.  There is no point in pretending to be what you are not.  We are all dying, condemned men.  We all deserve it.  We are sinners who are right to confess that we are sinners.
     Repent, and turn to Jesus.  For, he holds the key to heaven.  Therefore, our penitential prayer is the same as the penitent criminal at Jesus' side: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:41)  For, when God remembers, he saves.
     Lord, remember.  Remember your mercy and love – that you came to deliver sinners.  Lord, remember.  Remember that we have no excuses, no justification, no answers.  And without you, we have no hope.  Remember that you did not deny any charge filed against you, but accepted all guilt for all sins.  You suffered the consequences for our sins.  You were publicly put to shame for the sins we have tried to hide, and your death was on full display in order to declare that you have paid the price for all sinners.
     Repent and turn to Jesus, for he holds the key to heaven.  Repent and plead, “Jesus, remember me.” (Luke 23:41)  Jesus, remember your promises, your payment, and your peace.  And he does.  Jesus became flesh and blood to ransom all of us who are flesh and blood.  Jesus came because mankind was expelled from Eden because of sin.  Therefore, Jesus atoned for this by being forsaken by the Father for us.  Jesus has taken away the sin that separates us from the Father and banishes us from Eden.  Jesus is the way back to the Father and to the bliss of Eden.  He holds the key to heaven.
     Therefore, Jesus makes his promise: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42)  Paradise comes from a Persian word which refers to a garden.  If we are with Jesus in Paradise, it means that Eden has been restored.  It means that sin and death are done away with.  It means that man is reconciled to God.  It means that Jesus enters his kingdom.  He lives and reigns forever, and he makes all things new.  What's more, he remembers you.  He remembers your baptism and the covenant which marked you as his.  He remembers his covenant when he summons you to feast on his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  He remembers his mercy and love.  And when God remembers, he saves.
     Repent and turn to Jesus, for he holds the key to heaven.  Paradise is open.  Eden is restored.  Sin and death are done.  The Lord Jesus remembers.  He saves.  And he delivers dead men to everlasting life.

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

A Pastoral Concern -- Cohabiting without Marriage

God's design for marriage is very straight forward -- one man and one woman unite for a life-long union.  Any variation of this format defies God's word.

This particular post spring boards from a blog post from Gene Edward Veith here.

While God's word is the standard that determines right and wrong, a study (see the link for Veith's blog) also demonstrates that defying God's word under the excuse that it is more convenient or that marriage is merely a matter of bureaucratic paperwork is not in the best interest of husband, wife, and child(ren).  To this world, this is ground breaking material.  To adherents of the Bible, this is not surprising.

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled... (Hebrews 13:4)  God not only tells us what marriage is designed to be and that it is good, but he also blesses those who heed his word.  Again, to the world it is ground breaking; to the Christian it is not a surprise.  Instead, it is cherished.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Pastoral Concern – Private Confession and Absolution will be April 10

Offered Monday, April 10, 7:00-9:00 PM.

When Lutherans hear someone speak of Private Confession and Absolution, the response is usually a knee-jerk, "That's Roman Catholic!"  Though that may be a common perception, the perception is because either it was taught wrongly or understood wrongly.  Consider what the Lutheran Confessions teach about Private Confession and Absolution.

Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession.  For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible.  "Who can discern his errors?" (Psalm 19:12) -- Augsburg Confession, Article XI

What is Confession?
     Answer: Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven by this.
What sins should we confess?
     Answer: Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those that we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer.  But before the confessor we should confess only those sins that we know and feel in our hearts. -- Luther's Small Catechism, Part V

These are basic confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  They are catholic, insofar as they are Christian.  But they are not Roman, insofar as the penitent is not obligated to orally confess every sin in order to be forgiven of it and insofar as one's forgiveness is not dependent upon some action on the part of the penitent.  The forgiveness is based on Jesus' sufferings and death for the penitent who has been baptized into his name.

Since the practice of Private Confession and Absolution is a Lutheran practice, it would be good for Lutherans to practice it.  It is good for the penitent who is grieved by a particular sin to confess it so that he can hear Christ say through the mouth of his minister: "I forgive you."  It would be good for the one who is burdened to be relieved of his burden by Holy Absolution.  It would be good for this practice, though foreign to many in my corner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to be restored.  And so it will be.

Private Confession and Absolution has always been available to all members by appointment.  (I am guessing that has been a pretty good secret.)  In order for this practice to be restored and perhaps put to better use, there will be dates on the calendar set aside for anyone who would like to drop in and make use of this means of grace.  These will be set up about 4 times per year.  Private Confession and Absolution will still be available by appointment in addition to these scheduled times.

It is anticipated that Private Confession and Absolution will roughly follow this schedule, adjusted as necessary.
     The Saturday before or on Epiphany (Epiphany is always January 6)
     The Saturday before Palm Sunday
     The Saturday after Labor Day weekend
     The Saturday after Thanksgiving weekend (should coincide with the 1st Saturday in Advent)

The next scheduled date and time for Private Confession and Absolution will be Monday, April 10, 7:00-9:00 PM.  Appointments are not necessary.  You need only drop in.  All participation is voluntary, as Absolution cannot be forced upon anyone.

Of course, this will be new to pretty much any member who decides to make use of it.  If you happen to come in, the pastor will walk through the rite with you and explain the various parts of it, especially including the "private" part, namely, that this confession is to Christ and, therefore, remains his business alone.  The pastor will not report any confession or even the names of those who come for confession.  Finally, the point of this is not for a pastor to learn everyone's dirty, little secrets.  (His life is easier if he remains ignorant.  But God's people do not call a pastor to be ignorant; they call him to absolve in the name of Jesus.)  The point is for the guilty and the grieved to find relief and receive forgiveness, or absolution.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (April 2, 2017)

JOHN 11:17-45


In the name + of Jesus.

    If you have ever gotten the phone call, you will never forget the feeling.  A close relative on the other end of the line says, “Your loved one is dead.”  You may have begun to cry immediately.  Perhaps you said nothing, just trying to wrap your mind around it all.  Your loved one who had taken care of you or whom you took care of—that loved one is gone.  There will be no more conversations, no more laughing jags, no more memories.  Your blood runs cold.  Your mind goes numb.  Your emotions pour out of you in tears.  And you will never forget the feeling of getting that phone call.
     Jesus did not get a phone call in Galilee.  A messenger came to him from Martha and Mary in Bethany: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:3)  Jesus knew what this meant.  Urgent messages don't get sent for sniffles or for a fever.  Lazarus was dying, and Jesus knew it.  Jesus even knew that Lazarus had died even before he left for Bethany.  Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Martha went out to meet Jesus and said to him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:17,21)  
     Jesus was well known for healing the illnesses and disabilities of strangers.  Martha was sure that Jesus would have healed the illness of a friend.  Whether Martha had heard the stories or not I don't know, but Jesus had also raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus and the young man from Nain.  Here was the catch—those had just died.  They were not even buried yet.  Lazarus had been in the grave four days.  His body was already decaying.  Martha and Mary had accepted the finality of death.  There was nothing left to do for them but cry and grieve and mourn.
     That is all death allows any of us to do.  We know it is coming for us and for our loved ones, but we have no answers for it.  We use medicine and make healthy choices to try to prolong life as much as possible, because life is good.   But every life comes to an end.  Even if someone dies peacefully at an old age, their mourners still recognize that it is tragic.
     Jesus was not immune to these emotions when death struck his friend.  Lazarus was not some nameless face in the crowd.  Lazarus was the man who had Jesus lodge with him and his sisters when he visited Jerusalem.  Jesus feasted with him, spoke with him, and laughed with him.  Death severed that friendship.  While it is true that Christians look forward to the blessed reunion of saints in heaven, that does not erase the scars that death leaves behind when death so cruelly rips apart family and friends.  So, when Jesus stopped at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, Jesus wept. (John 11:35)  
     The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  That is why death marks and snatches all people; for, all are sinners.  Sin makes its marks on us throughout our lives too.  Our death makes us aware of our sin and guilt because we fear the judgment that follows death.  But even the death of loved ones makes us aware of our shame and regret.  When a loved one dies, we are filled with regret because we did not love our loved ones the way we should have.  We were sarcastic, impatient, and self-absorbed.  Once a loved one dies, we have no more chances to make amends for our poor behavior or to put aside the grudge.  We cannot atone for our sins against our loved ones or the God who gave them to us.  This is all part of the pain of death.
     Then after death, we face the sentence for our eternal judgment.  Just as sin cuts us off from life and marks us for death, so our sin cuts us off from God and marks us for everlasting death.  There was nothing Lazarus could do to save himself from the grave.  And he certainly could not fix his condition once he was dead.  So also there is nothing we can do to prevent our own death, and there is nothing we can do to fix our sinful condition and the judgment we deserve.
     Jesus had not come to Bethany just to console Martha and Mary in their distress.  He came to do what no man could do—provide a remedy for death and victory over the grave.  He even restores the dead.  Jesus assured Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23)  Through her tears, Martha made a good confession: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24)  Jesus revealed to her that a more immediate solution was at hand.  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)  
     Now, this is not simply a matter of God doing what only God can do.  Certainly, God who gives life can also restore it as he pleases, such as he did on a few occasions in the Old Testament.  But now we have a man, Jesus, who claims and exercises authority over death and the grave.  He does this by removing every blotch of sin and every smear of guilt from you.  Jesus took all that is yours and made it his.  Jesus took every sin from you.  He made himself accountable for the wages of all our sins.  This man gave himself into death and the grave for all mankind.  This man paid the price for us so that we will be free from all the charges against us.  This man was sentenced so that mankind will be set free.
     But Jesus lives.  This man has overcome the grave.  This man has taken away our guilt.  This man has robbed the grave of its power.  This man gives this everlasting victory to all who believe in him.  He even restores the dead.  He promises, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)  Though your body will stay in the grave for a while, your soul shall live with Jesus.  The grave does not have the last laugh.  Just as it had to give up Jesus' body, so it will give up yours.  And no longer will there be any mark of sin or death upon you.
     That is the promise that Jesus made to Martha at Lazarus' tomb.  And to show that his promises are not just empty, happy words, Jesus demonstrated his authority.  After Jesus had prayed to his heavenly Father, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)  Death had to obey, because it knew its master.  He even restores the dead.  The man, Jesus, gave life to the dead man.  Though the man's ears were dead, he heeded Jesus' words.  Though the man's lungs were dead, they breathed new life.  Though the man's legs were dead, he walked out of his grave.  And even though Lazarus' body had already begun to decay, Jesus restored it to full life.  It was not just to the residents of Bethany that Jesus had declared, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44); Jesus also gave that order to death.  Since death was undone, it had to let Lazarus go.  He even restores the dead.
     You may never forget the feeling of getting that terrible phone call about the death of a loved one; but never forget the promise of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)  By faith in Jesus, you have received the victory Jesus has won for you.  Sin-marked bodies will go to the grave, but Jesus will raise you up anew, in fact, better than new.  You will be raised up glorified and incorruptible, free from sin and guilt, free from shame and regret, free from death and hell, free from all pain and sorrow forevermore.
     He even restores the dead.  All who believe in Jesus Christ will live.  We will all enjoy the blessed reunion of the saints who have gone before us.  We will once again converse with each other, feast with each other, and laugh together.  Death will be done.  Mankind will live because of the Son of Man.  And we will live with our Savior forevermore.  For, he even restores the dead.

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