Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sermon -- 7th Sunday of Easter (May 28, 2017)

JOHN 17:1-26


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

In the name + of Jesus.

We are all familiar with the Lord's Prayer.  What we call the Lord's Prayer is the prayer which our Lord Jesus taught us to pray.  But the entire 17th chapter of John's gospel is the prayer the Lord actually prayed for us.  The Lord's Prayer is recorded in John 17.
     The most familiar title for Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.  Christ is from the Greek word meaning, “Anointed One.”  In the Old Testament, people were anointed as they entered God-ordained offices.  Aaron was anointed as high priest.  David was anointed King.  Elisha was anointed to be prophet.  Jesus of Nazareth was anointed to fulfill all three of those offices.
     John 17 highlights Jesus' work as our great high priest.  Jesus, our great high priest, intercedes for us.  The first petition of our great high priest's intercession is that God would be glorified through him: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:1-3)
     This is not some egotistical plea.  Jesus does not pray for us simply to gawk at him and his majesty.  The reason we might think that Jesus' petition is egotistical is because that is how sinners think.  Our goal in life is to look good.  So we embellish our stories to make ourselves more impressive than we are.  We lie to cover up our faults and pin the blame for our mess-ups on others.  We brag about how we have taken advantage of other people or belittled someone, and we expect our friends to congratulate us on how bold or smart we are.  We want others to bask in the glory we think we have.
    Jesus does not think or act this way.  Jesus prays that we would see God's glory—which is that he loves and saves sinners.  He prays that our guilt would be transferred to him so that he can suffer what we deserve.  He prays so that he can go forward to suffer shame, to be falsely accused, wrongly condemned, painfully executed, and condemned by his Father for sins he did not commit.  As our great high priest, Jesus makes the sin offering which appeases God's wrath and atones for our sin.  Jesus IS that offering, the Lamb of God slain for sinners.  At the same time, Jesus prays that the Father would give us the credit for the works he did, and that, for his sake, the Father would regard us as blameless and, therefore, eligible for heaven.  Jesus, our great high priests, intercedes for us that this glory would be known to us.
     Jesus, our great high priests, intercedes for us.  The second petition of Jesus' prayer is for his apostles.  While Jesus was with them, he taught them and preserved them from any real harm.  After he ascended into heaven, Jesus would no longer be in the world.  The apostles would remain.  They were charged with proclaiming all that Jesus said and did to redeem mankind from sin and death and to deliver us to life and salvation.  They had witnessed Jesus' works and works, and they declared it through preaching and writing.  While you cherish this message, many do not.  Jesus was hated for preaching it.  The apostles, who went forth in Jesus' name with Jesus' authority, would face that hatred too.  Most of them would be martyred for it.
     Jesus, our great high priest, interceded.  He prayed for the apostles: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:14-15)  The hatred the apostles would face did not excuse them from serving in this world.  They were commissioned to preach the Gospel, and Jesus prayed for them that they would do what they were given to do.
     The Lord has given you vocations, too.  The Lord does not pluck you out of this sinful world and excuse you from living and serving here.  The Lord calls you to serve your neighbor.  Through the vocations the Lord has given you, you get to demonstrate the love of Christ through patience, kindness, and charity.  You get to do good to your fellow man by providing honest work.  You also confess your faith as you have opportunity, knowing that people need salvation more than anything else you can give them.
     That does not mean that people will appreciate it.  Some will be rude and abusive.  Some may mock you.  Some may even become violent.  Jesus, your great high priest, intercedes for you—not that you will be delivered from problems.  Jesus prays that you will be kept from the evil one.  As hard as it may be to endure insults, false accusations, theft, or bodily harm, these will not destroy your salvation or remove God's mercy from you.  Your real enemy is the devil who seeks to lure you out of the kingdom of God.
     The devil would have you believe that if you must suffer for being a Christian, then it is not worth being a Christian.  He cites your problems as evidence that God does not love you and is not faithful to you.  Jesus intercedes for you that you will be kept from the evil one.  Jesus keeps you safe through his word so that you will recognize that God is faithful to you, loves you, and will set you forever free from all pain and problems.  This is what Jesus ultimately prays for when he says, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)
     Jesus, our great high priest, intercedes for us.  His third petition is for you.  Jesus prays: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you...” (John 17:20-21)  Jesus has established one Church, and he desires that we all be united in it.  Sadly, the devil has sown seeds of false doctrine, and they have taken root in the Church.  Our Lord is grieved that the Christian Church is fractured by them.  Christians are not excited about it either.  That is why we are tempted to fix the schisms and forge unity.  However, whenever people want to establish unity, it is done by negotiation and compromise.  When world leaders make treaties, each side sits down and takes turns giving up some of his interests.  After compromise, each side agrees to a treaty with neither leader getting what he wants.  And as soon as circumstances change, those treaties are nullified and new ones are drafted.  This is why it is not man's job to create unity in the church.  If it were, we would have to determine which parts of God's word are negotiable, alterable, or could be ignored.  And when the winds of popular opinion shift, we would be forced to renegotiate terms of unity again.  This is not what Jesus prays for at all.
     Jesus, our great high priest, intercedes, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you...” (John 17:21).  Since it is God's kingdom and God's word, it is our Lord alone who establishes unity.  Jesus unites us with himself through the Scriptures.  He conforms our hearts to his word.  If the whole world insists that God's Word is scientifically wrong or socially offensive, we still take our stand with the Lord.  When God's Word shows us that we are wrong, we humbly acknowledge that the Lord is right.  We repent, purge ourselves of our sinful behavior, and flee to Christ for his mercy.
     Jesus, our great high priest, intercedes for us.  Jesus prays for unity of the Church.  We will probably not see that on this side of heaven.  But do not fear.  You are not saved by a denomination.  No church body ever died for you.  Only Jesus Christ has suffered and died to take away your sins.  Only Jesus Christ has words that save.  Only Jesus Christ will bring you out of this world to the perfect Church in heaven.  And there, the prayers will be answered.  We will all be united in perfect agreement with God's word and understanding of God's will.  We will all know the glory of God and dwell in it.  We will be forever free from the evil one.  If that is what you long for, then cling to God's word for your salvation.  Our Lord desires that for you.  He suffered and died to redeem you so that you would have it.  And he continues to intercede for you so that you will be preserved in the saving faith and brought to heavenly glory.

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sermon -- For the Funeral of Janet Reising (May 25, 2017)

PHILIPPIANS 3:20 – 4:1


In the name + of Jesus.

     Janet Reising was born into this world on January 13, 1938.  She was born again of water and the word shortly thereafter.  Her parents saw to it that she was baptized because they knew that this day was coming.  Just as each of us has a birthday, so also each of us has a day on which our citizenship on earth comes to an end.  And while this is true and it is common, it is certainly not easy—especially for those who grieve the loss of their loved ones.
     It is hard to absorb when your dear wife, dear mother, and dear friend has been reduced to photographs and memories.  No doubt, you will be looking at those photos and reliving the memories over and over again, and you will remember with fondness so many stories about Janet.  That is a blessing—to have memories to cherish because she was so kind and so loving to you throughout all the time God was pleased to grant you with her.
     God granted Janet over 79 years of citizenship on this earth.  And while she got to enjoy many blessings, Janet also knew her share of hardships.  She tended to her ailing and dying father.  She had the pain of burying her daughter, Katherine.  She saw Huntington's Disease and dementia take its toll on her in her later years.  Her heart knew grief.  Her body knew frailty.  But her faith remained strong in the midst of the struggles and stresses of life because God remained faithful to her.
     Janet got to enjoy about eight decades of life on earth.  I suppose we could console ourselves saying, “She lived a good long life.”  Still, you would rather have her here.  Richard, I'm sure that you want another 58 years of marriage with her.  Children and grandchildren, I am sure you would like more Christmases, Easters, birthdays, and so on.  I was hoping to have at least one more visit with her.  She was always so welcoming and so eager to hear God's promises again.  But God, in his wisdom and mercy, decided that Janet's citizenship on earth would come to its end on Saturday, May 20, 2017.
     Nevertheless, it is not right to say that Janet's life is cut short.  Her time on earth has ended, but not her life.  Through Jesus, her life in God's kingdom endures forever.  St. Paul reminds all who believe and are baptized: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)  Our Savior gives Janet a glorious citizenship.
     Janet had a Savior who left the glories of heaven to come to a difficult and deadly world.  Jesus came to serve people and to cure them of their various diseases.  In one instance, he came upon a man who sat at a pool named Bethesda.  Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6)  The paralyzed man was hoping that Jesus would help him slide down into the therapeutic waters of the pool.  Jesus had something greater in mind.  Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” (John 5:8-9)  This is the perfect healing that Jesus brought to lowly, diseased, and disabled bodies.  He came to restore all things.
     Of course, healthy people go to their graves, too.  A cure for Huntington's Disease would not have delivered Janet from death.  Sin marks us all for the grave.  If you want to be free from death, you must be free of sin.  Therefore, the Savior came to remove our sin from us.  Jesus lowered himself not just to take on human flesh, but especially to take into his flesh all of our sin.  He stepped down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized for sinners, absorbing all our sin into himself.  He carried all our infirmities and diseases, and he bore all of our iniquities and disgrace.  The cross is where Jesus endured what we deserve for our sin.  The cross is where Jesus put an end to God's wrath upon us and the damnation that we deserve.  Jesus was forsaken by his heavenly Father so that we could be brought into his kingdom.  All of Jesus' work was applied to Janet when she was baptized.  Just as at his baptism, Jesus took all of Janet's sin and made it his, so also at her baptism, Jesus took his righteousness and made it hers.  She was cleansed of all sin.  She was adopted into God's family.  She was made an heir of the heavenly kingdom.  She was made a child of the resurrection.  There is nothing that takes that away from her—not Huntington's, not dementia, not even death.
     Our Savior gives Janet a glorious citizenship.  Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)  The Savior who went into death for our sins also conquered death to declare us forgiven.  Jesus has overcome death.  His body revived from the grave, never to die again.  Now Jesus reigns gloriously, and death must answer to him.  Jesus' command over death means that he will raise up the dead from their graves.  While Janet's soul already enjoys life with her Savior, her body awaits the resurrection to life everlasting.  On the Last Day, Janet will be raised up from her grave. Jesus will transform her lowly body into a glorious body, just like Jesus' risen body.  Just as Jesus' word gave life back to the limbs of the paralyzed man at Bethesda, so his word will give Janet a body that will never again be effected by death, or Huntington's Disease, or dementia, or allergies, or muscle cramps, or even sniffles.  She will be forever free from sin or any problems that result from sin.  Our Savior gives Janet a glorious citizenship in heaven.
     Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)  The confidence that Janet had through faith in God's promises is your comfort today.  And it is your confidence for your own future glory.  Stand firm in the promises God makes to you, because those promises always stand even in the saddest of days.  Death could not overcome Jesus; death cannot overrule Jesus' promises.  Therefore, not even death can separate Janet from his love for her.  On the Last Day, Jesus will come again.  The grave will give Janet back to you.  All who believe and are baptized will live forever with the Lord.  For our citizenship is in heaven.  Our hope is in the Lord.  And our Savior will deliver us to glory everlasting.

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 21, 2017)

JOHN 14:15-21


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     For the last number of Sundays, we have heard portions of Jesus' discourse to his disciples in the upper room where he had instituted the Lord's Supper.  Jesus was preparing his disciples for life in the kingdom of God after he would ascend into heaven.  Although Jesus would not be visible to them, that does not mean that he would abandon them.  And even though he is not visible to you, Jesus has not forsaken you either.  He has promised his Church: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)  He keeps that promise by sending his Holy Spirit to you.
     Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth....” (John 14:16)  Perhaps “Helper” is not the best translation for that word; but then again, I don't know if English has a good one.  Some translations chose not to translate the word at all.  They transliterate the Greek to English, giving us the word “Paraclete”—not that this is any more helpful.  The word “Helper” means that Holy Spirit is literally “the one who is called to your side.”  He is at your side to encourage, to comfort, to guide and direct, to enlighten, to intercede, and to be your advocate in all circumstances of life.  While no English word can convey all of that, Jesus assures you of this: The Holy Spirit always serves for your good.
     Jesus promises “another Helper,” (John 14:16, emphasis added) because the Holy Spirit reveals what Jesus says and does for you and confirms Jesus' words and work in you.  The Holy Spirit reveals the Word made flesh only through the word of God whenever it is proclaimed in words and administered in the sacraments.  It is through this word that Jesus is manifested to you as the one whom the Father sent to set you free from your sins and to deliver you from death.  It is through this word that Jesus comes to you to bless you and to save you, to guard and keep you.  It is through the word—proclaimed by voice or administered with water or bread and wine—that the Holy Spirit gives new life in God's kingdom, strengthens your faith in his promises, and sustains your love for the Lord and his word of truth.
     Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given to you.  This is the very reason you come to church.  You do not come to church to learn new things.  Now, that may well happen, and I hope you continue to learn new things when you read and study your Bible.  But that is not the reason we come to church.  How many of you, when you came to church on Easter Sunday, came because you want to see how the story turned out?  You already knew!  Jesus is risen!  In fact, most of what you hear on Sundays you already know.  You know Jesus lived a holy life and died an innocent death on a cross.  You know Jesus is risen from the dead, and that he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  You may learn new things.  You may be fascinated to learn that Jacob and Esau were twins, that the judge Ehud was a lefty, or that Bethlehem means “house of bread.”  Such facts may be new and interesting to you, but those don't save you.
     So, why do you come to church?  Because here, Jesus manifests himself to you.  You do not come to merely learn facts about Jesus' sufferings, death, and resurrection; you come to receive the gifts Jesus won for you by his sufferings, death, and resurrection.  You do not come here to do something special for God.  You come because here, God serves you.  God supplies you with mercy, blessing, and salvation.  Here, God comforts you by forgiving all your sins.  Here, God assures you that death cannot really harm you.  Here, your heavenly Father puts his name on you and calls you his beloved child and an heir of eternal glory.  Here, God works in you so that you continue to pursue godly living, to love to your spouse, to serve your children, and to have compassion on your fellow man—whether friend or foe.
     Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given you.  Jesus declared, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  To hear it said this way, it sounds as if the Christian faith is all about obedience.  If that were the case, we would all have to ask: How well do I keep the Commandments?  Certainly not as well as God commands me to.  For that matter, not even as well as I want to!  So, if keeping the commandments is proof of my love for the Lord, I have to admit that my love for the Lord is pretty poor.  Some might even wonder if they are really Christians because they do not live as good as they should.
     While it is God's will that we obey his Commandments, Jesus' words are a bit broader than that.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) This is not “keep” in the sense of obey, although that is included in it; it is “keep” in the sense of guard, protect, or observe.  It is, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep, or guard, it.” (Luke 11:28)  Since you love Jesus, you will guard and preserve his word, because that word alone can save and comfort you.  People who don't come to hear God's word preached or receive his sacraments don't love this word because they don't think they need it.  They say they are too busy, which sounds like a noble excuse.  But let's rephrase that excuse to call it what it is: “I have better things to do.”  You know better; therefore guard what has been given to you.  You know you are a sinner who is going to die.  And you know that Jesus alone takes away all your sins, covers your guilt, and delivers you from death.  And you know that, through the Gospel—and only through the Gospel—Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to strengthen and keep you in the true faith so that your sins will never condemn you, so that death will not hold you, and so that you will not perish because you were too busy to receive the Lord's gifts.  Since you love Jesus, guard what he has given you by flocking to it again and again.
     Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  Love for Jesus means that we will take his words to heart and will fight to preserve it.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus met many people who challenged his word.  They tried to make Jesus backtrack or change his teachings because they exposed their sins or hurt their feelings.  Jesus, of course, never backed down or changed anything.  The Word stood firm.  You and I are not Jesus.  We still get challenged, and we get stumped.  Sometimes, we back off in fear.  Other times, we are stupefied, not knowing what to say.  And we are tempted to think that, since we don't know how to answer, we must be wrong.  In these cases, recognize that you have not mastered God's word.  Flee back to it where you are guarded and kept safe.  Although you may not have the strength or wisdom to fend off every attack, Jesus does.  He forgives you when you demonstrate your weakness.  And he guides you in word of truth.  You may, indeed, learn new things when you flee back to his word.  You will grow in your understanding of God's truth.  Most importantly, you will be kept safe by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you and keeps you in God's kingdom.  This is how you guard what has been given to you by the Lord.
     This is what life in the kingdom of God has been like since Jesus ascended into heaven.  If you want Jesus to manifest himself to you, then come to where he reveals and delivers his salvation to you.  Here, the Holy Spirit is given and sustained in you to help, to guide, to comfort, to admonish, and to encourage you throughout your life.  You have not been left as orphans; for you are God's children.  He gives you all you need, and he gives it abundantly.  Since you are the Lord's beloved redeemed, you love him.  And since you love Jesus, guard what has been given to you—for this saves you.

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sermon -- For the Wedding of Jerry Fix & Ruth Gonzalez (May 20, 2017)

GENESIS 2:18-25


In the name + of Jesus.

     Throughout the days of creation, the Lord surveyed all that he was making.  We read about Lord's assessment over and over again: “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25)  However, after he had created the man, the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)  God's design is not for a man and a woman to go it alone.  Some can and do, but most men and women crave the companionship of marital union.  God was pleased to unite both of you in marriage before, and it was good.  But the course of life found each of you alone again.  And now God has been pleased to bring you together, each for the second time, as husband and wife.  And this, too, is good.
     So that we would know what God intends for a husband and wife, the Lord points to the perfect union of Jesus Christ who is the Groom and his Bride, the Church.  Holy Scripture tells us: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives....” (Ephesians 5:25-28)  
     Everything Jesus did was for the good of his Bride, the Church, even though we are not good.  We all have flaws and blemishes.  We are marred by sin and scarred by guilt.  Our lives are not pretty.  We live with the shame of people who have forsaken our Lord and chased after what God forbids to find our thrills.  We may be able to hide our shame from each other, but Jesus sees us for what we are.
     We do not deserve the love and affection that Jesus shows us.  But then again, Jesus does not love us or care for us because we are worthy.  Jesus loves us because he is love.  Jesus cares for us because he is compassion.  He chose you not because he needs you, but because he loves you.  Therefore, Jesus did everything to remove every stain of sin from our record.  Jesus did not spare anything for her.  He suffered for the sins we had committed and died bearing the curse we deserve.  Though holy baptism, Jesus clothed you in his own righteousness so that you stand before him without spot, wrinkle, or blemish.  In Christ, you are beautiful and blameless.  And God sees that it is good.
     Jerry, this is how you get to love your bride.  You do all things to exalt and honor her.  Like Jesus does for his Church, you do not focus on faults of your bride, but you get to serve her with love and compassion.  You give yourself to her for her good.  And you share the joy that Adam had when he was first joined to his bride: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh....” (Genesis 2:23)
     Just as Scripture speaks to husbands, so it also speak to wives.  “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (Ephesians 5:22-23)  Now, Americans bristle at the word submit.  If God had told husbands, “Do whatever you want to your wife,” you might have good reason to bristle—although I don't think you would agree to marry a man you don't trust or respect.  But what God tells the man is to lay down his life for his wife, as Christ loved the Church.  To the wife, the Lord says, “Submit to that.”  If you submit to your husband, then you are willingly submitting to a man who will love you as Christ loves the Church.
     The Church submits to Christ in order to receive all good things from him.  Jesus has taken up all that is yours—your sin and the cursed death that accompanies it.  In turn, Jesus has given the Church all that is his.  His righteousness is yours.  His resurrection is yours.  His kingdom is yours.  His mercy, grace, and salvation are yours.  By submitting to Jesus, you receive all these things from him.  Likewise, Ruth, by submitting to your husband, all that is Jerry's is yours.  You get to receive all good things from him.  And God sees that it is good.
     When God first created a bride for Adam, he did not simply summon her into being as he did with all other parts of creation.  God had crafted Adam from the dust of the ground, but the woman he took from Adam's rib.  She was not to be someone for him to walk over, but someone who would be near and dear to his heart.  The bride received her life from the man's side.  In the same way, our Lord Jesus went to the cross to win his bride.  The dowry was his life.  When Jesus died, a Roman soldier ran his sword into Jesus' side, bringing forth a sudden flow of blood and water.  Jesus' Bride receives her life from what comes from his side.  The water of baptism has cleansed you and covered you with garments of salvation.  His blood is given in the Lord's Supper to keep you holy, to nurture you in godly living, and to keep you faithful to your heavenly Groom forever.  By these, he also works in you to sustain your love and faithfulness to each other.  And God sees that it is good.
     The love which the Lord has shown you, you now will strive to show one another.  Though you are not perfect and you will sin against one another, you also know what it is to be forgiven.  The love which Jesus bestows on you will work in you so that you will forgive each other, serve each other, find contentment in each other, and be faithful to each other.  This is the joy which the Lord intends for husbands and wives, which dimly reflects the joy between Christ, the Groom, and his Bride, the Church.
     The Lord, in his wisdom, saw that it was not good that you two remained alone.  The Savior who loves you has been pleased to bind you together today.  God sees it, and bless it; and it is very good.

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (May 14, 2017)

JOHN 14:1-12


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     Although today is Mothers' Day, the Gospel lesson focuses on God the Father.  There is a slight connection to be made.  Fathers and mothers are a dim reflection of the way God the Father loves and cares for us.  God gave you your life through your father and mother.  When you were born, you were God's gift to them.  Likewise, your parents were God's gifts to you.  Fathers and mothers are the means by which God provides and protects, cares for and corrects children.  To honor your father and mother is to honor God the Father who has given them to you.  And to love and obey your father and mother is to be thankful for them.
     Still, no father or mother is perfect.  Parents may be proud of their children, but they also may shed tears over times they wish they had done things better.  Parents sin against their children, losing patience or becoming embittered as the children go off to play while parents fill out tax forms or fold laundry.  Children sin against their parents by not rolling their eyes when they are told to do chores or by thinking the mark of becoming an independent adult is to be sarcastic to one's parents.  God intends family relationships to be a joy.  Sin turns them into a battle of wills; and there are often casualties.  But what sin rips apart, God is able to restore.  Jesus first forgives mothers and fathers, sons and daughters for their sins.  Then he teaches each to forgive one another and so that families are reconciled, so that rifts can be restored, and so that wounds can be healed.
     The vocation of father and mother is but a dim reflection of the way our Father in heaven serves us.  Jesus shows us the Father.  Unlike the love of earthly parents, the Father's love for you is perfect.  His love is constant and immeasurable.  And he does not play favorites.  Day after day, our Father in heaven provides daily bread to all mankind whether they love him or despise him, whether they honor him or ignore him.
     Even though the Father loves what he has created, people are often afraid of God.  God the Father has given us life, and he has given us commandments for how he wants us to live our life.  But we do not obey his commandments.  We are often annoyed by them.  And we dismiss God's threats, almost daring God to call us to account.  We have acted the same way toward our own parents.  They set the rules of the house, but in our younger years, we thought they were stupid.  So, we defied the rules, almost daring our parents to punish us.  But when we defied those rules, we did not want to see our parents.  We knew how angry they were going to be, and we knew we deserved the punishment we had coming.  Just as our parents are a dim reflection of God's care for us, so also their justified anger is a dim reflection of God's wrath.  We are right to be afraid of God when we rebel against his word.  No matter how much we pretend not to care about God's commandments or his threats, we have our quiet moments when we are terrified of God.  That's because we know we deserve punishment for our disobedience.
     Jesus shows us the Father so that we do not remain afraid of him.  Jesus said..., “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. … The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:9-11)  Jesus shows us the Father.  Jesus does not do or say anything that differs from the thoughts and desires of God the Father.  The Father loves what he has created.  But that means so much more than providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, etc....  The Father's love is demonstrated by this: God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)  
     God the Father has been pleased to redeem sinners so that they would not be forever cut off from him.  While the Father's wrath does indeed stand against those who have sinned against him, the Father sent his Son to stand in the place of sinners.  Jesus suffered  God's wrath, take our punishment, and died a cursed death for us so that we could be forgiven of our sins and received back into God's family.  This is the way that God loved the world.  This is the way that the Father loves you.  If you have seen Jesus at work, if you have heard Jesus' words of mercy, and if you have known and believed in Jesus' work of salvation, then you have seen the Father.  Jesus shows us the Father.  He loves and redeems what he has created.
     Our Lord Jesus Christ on the night he was betrayed spoke to his disciples about returning to his Father in heaven.  Jesus assured them that he was not abandoning them.  Rather, he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father's house so that they could dwell together forever.  Then Jesus assured them, “You know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:4-6)  Jesus is the way to the Father, and there is no other.
     Jesus shows us the Father.  He shows us that the Father is most merciful and loving.  He is the one who rejoices when the prodigal son comes home.  He does not hold a grudge against us, but gives us an honored position as a child in his family.  He does not withhold blessings from us, but restores us to full heirs of his kingdom.  He accepts Jesus' innocent sufferings and death as a guilt offering.  That sacrifice satisfies God's anger and is the full payment for all our sins.  There is no more payment that needs to be made.  Nothing else delivers from death and hell, and nothing more delivers you, either.
     Jesus shows us the Father.  Jesus shows us that we are his children.  As his children, you will strive to honor your Father with the godly lives he desires,  But you do not need to live in constant suspense, wondering if your life is good enough to make God happy with you.  You are his beloved and redeemed child.  He wants you to dwell with him for all eternity.  Of course he is pleased with you!  Jesus, who cleanses you of all sin and presents you holy and blameless to his Father, shows you that your Father loves you.
     Therefore, Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)  The Father who created you wants you to dwell with him forever.   The Father sent his Son to deliver you from sin and death, and the Son will come again to deliver you to the glories of heaven.  The Father wants you to dwell in his house so that he will always give you his gifts, comfort you with his mercy, bestow his peace, and restore all things to you forever.
     Jesus shows us the Father.  That love is dimly reflected in the love that mothers and fathers show their children.  And while it is true that no parent is perfect, it is also true that God blesses children through the care and concern of their parents.  By father and mother, we are shown love, disciplined, fed, encouraged, and comforted.  You receive this and more from your Father in heaven.  From the Father, you receive these things perfectly and permanently.  Jesus shows us how great the Father's love for us is.  He has made us his children, and he has marked us for heaven.

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Aaron So Far -- The God of the Bible

Below is a neat and brief Bible study about who the God of the Bible is.

A friend of mine, Aaron Frey, has begun a new endeavor called "Aaron So Far."  Check out the video.  If you find it worth while, you may also wish to support Aaron so that he can produce more videos in the future.  You will find a link to a gofundme page at the end of the video.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good Shepherd in the Spring

In case you had missed it, the tulips and the crab apple tree were all in bloom at once.  The blooms are pretty much gone now, but for a few days, we got to enjoy this:

You can decide for yourself if the dandelions enhance this or detract from it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (May 7, 2017)

JOHN 10:1-10


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

In the name + of Jesus.

     In Jesus’ day, shepherds were a familiar occupation.  Although being a shepherd was not an honored profession, it was a necessary one.  It was common for families to have sheep.  Sheep provided your winter clothing and, if necessary, food.  Few families owned many sheep, but most families owned a few.  A shepherd was given charge over the sheep from a combination of households.  Multiple flocks would be kept in a large sheep pen.  Every morning, the shepherd would go to the sheep pen to call out the flock under his care.  The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice, and only the sheep from that shepherd’s flock would come out of the pen to follow their shepherd.  He would then lead them to the place where the flock would find grass and water.  There were always predators to be concerned about, but as long as the sheep stayed near their shepherd, they were safe.  And in order to keep the flock near him, the shepherd continually spoke to the sheep.
     Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He has spoken to you words which not only comfort you, but also save you.  By his word, Jesus reveals God’s everlasting mercy.   By his word, Jesus give eternal life to all who believe his word.  Jesus is the door through which you enter into the kingdom of God.  And he is the shepherd who keeps you close to him and gives you peace in a world where many enemies long to seize you and destroy you.
     The shepherd speaks to the sheep, and the sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  Of course, that also means that the sheep will keep on listening to the shepherd’s voice.  There are many other voices which sound attractive to us.  Perhaps you have heard that voice which says, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just so long as you believe.”  And similar to that is this: “All religions are basically the same.”  When you are talking with other people, it sounds very tolerant, open-minded, and loving to say these things.  It promotes a sense of acceptance and gives a feeling of unity.  All people, no matter what they believe, like such words.  But let me ask you: Are these the words of Jesus?  Does Jesus ever say, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just so long as you believe”?  Or would Jesus really say, “All religions are basically the same”?  That is not Jesus’ voice.  It is a common sentiment, and it is what people want to hear, but it is not the voice of your Shepherd.  Jesus assures you that doctrine matters and that false doctrine kills.  If it didn't matter, Jesus would never have warned of thieves and robbers.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  Every time your shepherd speaks to you, he is speaking for your eternal well-being.  For that reason, not everything Jesus says sounds nice.  When a sheep sees something that looks good, he will wander off to get it.  The shepherd knows that leaving his side means danger for the sheep.  So, the shepherd will pull out his staff and give the sheep a knock on its side to pull it back.  When the Lord gives us a knock on the side, we will not like it.  We don’t want to hear a rebuke or a call to repent.  Our pride gets hurt.  Our feelings get hurt.  We would rather pursue that craving that gives us a thrill or makes our life happier.  We even have friends who tell us to go for it.  Our friends don’t care if we give ourselves into sin.  They just want us to be happy now, even if that means ignoring Jesus.  But the Good Shepherd does not leave you to wander away.  He continues to speak to you.  And if he has to knock you on the side and call you to repent, he is not doing it because he is mean, or even because he is angry.  He is doing it because he loves you.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  And the shepherd delights to comfort, care for, and protect the sheep.  In the shepherd Psalm, King David wrote what we still confess: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Psalm 23:5)  You will notice that he does not say that the shepherd makes the enemies go away.  Sin, death, and the devil will always surround us, and they will not leave us alone.  Since we are sheep, we have no defense against them.  No matter how strong or how smart you are, you cannot overcome your enemies.  You still commit sins.  The devil still taunts you with temptations and accuses you of your guilt.  And death will finally claim us.
     Sheep cannot escape their predators.  They do not outsmart them, they will not overpower them, and they cannot defend themselves.  If the sheep are to live, they need their shepherd.  And you have the Good Shepherd.  Jesus stood between you and your enemies.  He gave his body to be mauled by the evil predators so that they could not have you.  The Good Shepherd laid down his life to save the sheep.  As you know, a dead shepherd is not an effective shepherd.  But your Good Shepherd is not dead.  He is risen.  He lives to speak to you, and tells you that your sins are forgiven.  He lives to assure you that even though you walk through the shadow of death, you will rise to live just as he has.  He silences every accusation of the devil.  He has broken the fangs of the roaring lion, and he keeps you safe from all your enemies.  By his resurrection, Jesus has overcome all your enemies.  He lives to keep you safe from them all.
     The sheep hear their shepherd’s voice.  The enemies still surround you, but as long as you are with your shepherd, you are safe.  He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies.  Here, he feeds you his own body and blood which have paid for sin and conquered death.  By eating and drinking from his table, you receive his forgiveness and share in his salvation.  Here, you have peace and even rejoice in the midst of dangers.  The enemies can only watch as we feast with our Good Shepherd.
     The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:3-5)  The strange voices will always try to draw us away from Jesus.  That is why it is imperative that we keep on listening to Jesus.  The more we listen to Jesus, the better we will recognize his true word versus the word that tries to mimic his.  Those strange voices are very popular.  And we will not be popular for turning away from them.  But the seductive voices do not really care for you.  They may promise a moment’s pleasure and the world's praise.  They might even tell you that their way will provide you a good life.  But they cannot promise you an eternal life.  Any word apart from Jesus’ leads to death and slaughter.
     If you fear being seduced by a stranger’s voice, good!  That means you know that you need to be with Jesus.  We are all sheep who are dead meat if we do not stay near our shepherd.  While the world considers it an insult to be called a sheep, you and I rightly know our place.  We are defenseless, and we need our Good Shepherd if we are going to be saved from our enemies.  Jesus not only supplies us with a life of peace and comfort here in the presence of our enemies, he also promises, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  The day will come when Jesus will finally deliver us completely from all our enemies.  Jesus will take us from this world to the green pastures and quiet waters of heaven.  There, we will never have to fear temptation, endure frustrations, or face pain, sorrow, or death.  We will rest and feast with Jesus.  He will shepherd us and dwell with us.  And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Luther Lecture Series (Session 5)

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

Our next session will be THIS SUNDAY (May 7) at 6:00 PM.  This is intended to be an interactive discussion as well as informational.

        The topic for May is entitled, “God's Word Comes out of Hiding.”  Desserts will be served, and door prizes will be given.  All are welcome.

        For what it is worth, the rest of our schedule is as follows:

                    Sunday, June 11 -- Luther addresses errant teachings, part 1

                    Sunday, July 9  -- Luther addresses errant teachings, part 2

                    Sunday, August 13 -- Luther addresses errant teachings, part 3

                    Sunday, September 10 -- Luther and Christian Worship

                    Sunday, October 8 -- Luther and the Scriptures

        All sessions begin at 6:00 PM.  Our series will culminate with Lutherfest 500 which will be held at Huron Valley Lutheran High School on Saturday, October 28 and on Sunday, October 29.  For more information on Lutherfest 500, check out .