Thursday, November 30, 2017

HVL Chapel -- Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle (November 29, 2017)

The Feast of St. Andrew is actually on November 30, but a scheduling conflict transferred the date to November 29 where it was preached at Huron Valley Lutheran High School in Westland, MI.

JOHN 1:35-42


In the name + of Jesus.

Many ideas for this chapel were gleaned from Rev. William Weedon, chaplain for the international center of the LC-MS, formerly pastor at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hamel, IL.

     St. Andrew was a fisherman, but he was also a godly man.  St. Andrew did what godly men do—he went to church.  Andrew's church, however, was not some Gothic cathedral.  It wasn't even a mud hut.  Andrew went into the wilderness by the Jordan River.  That is where is church was, because that is where God's prophet was.  John the Baptist was preaching by the Jordan River, preparing the way for the Lord.  Andrew was eager to see the kingdom of God, and so he became a disciple of John the Baptist.
     Throughout the Old Testament, God sent prophets who proclaimed that the Messiah was coming.  Through Adam, and Noah, and Abraham, and David, and Isaiah, and Malachi, the Lord kept pointing people to the Messiah.  Finally, John the Baptist was able not merely to point to the future, but to stretch out his finger and declare: “That one!  Behold!  The Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)  And at the end of John's finger was a man, Jesus of Nazareth.
     There are billions of people in the world who worship “God” in one form or another.  But in all those religions, God remains abstract.  He is a concept who is described, but he is never seen.  You can never know where God is to be found.  It is up to each worshiper to find some way to tap into God.  Even for those who claim that they have some divine insight, you don't know for sure if God was actually found where such prophets or gurus say.  Man's meditation upon God—no matter how deep it seems or pious it sounds—is not God's word to man.  It is only man's word about God.   And while it is true that God is everywhere (he is omnipresent), that does not help you know if God is for you or against you.  For example, if God is everywhere, then he is also in a bonfire.  But God is not for you in a bonfire. 
     John the Baptist's message changed all of that: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)  Andrew did not see a concept.  He saw a man, Jesus.  Andrew saw a real person who is God in the flesh.  Andrew saw God who had come in humble form so that he could dwell among humble sinners.  Andrew saw not merely “God with us” (Immanuel), he saw God for us.  He sought God where God would be found, in Jesus.
     It is no different for you.  You, like Andrew, seek the kingdom of God.  You, like Andrew, are not saved by a concept.  You cannot stay away from church and think that you are saved by your pious thoughts.  Seek God where he will be found.  God and his salvation are only found in a man who is also eternal God.  You are saved by Jesus Christ.  He is a real Savior.  Jesus does not save fake sinners, only real sinners.  Therefore, Jesus became a flesh-and-blood Savior for flesh-and-blood sinners.  Jesus is the Lamb of God, which means that he is an unblemished sacrifice for you.  Your real guilt was laid on a real Savior.  He suffered real torment under God's righteous anger.  He endured a real brutal death on a solid wooden cross.  His body was slain for you.  His blood was shed for you.  And his corpse was laid in a tomb to remove the real terror of death for you.  And then, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.  You do not believe in a concept which rose from the grave; you believe in a man who rose from the grave to live in glory forever.  Just as Andrew was pointed to a man to be his Savior, so also Andrew witnessed a man who conquered death for sinners.  Therefore, your forgiveness is real.  God's favor is real.  Your resurrection from the dead, though a future event, is real.  Just as Jesus does not save fake sinners, so Jesus does not bestow a fake salvation.
     Now, unlike Andrew, you do not see Jesus face to face.  I can't point you to a man in this room and say, “Follow him.  That is your Savior.”  Nevertheless, we seek God where he will be found.  Jesus tells us where to find him.  He points us to the Scriptures and declares, “It is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)  He points us to the baptismal font and says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:39)  He points us to the altar and summons, “Eat.  Drink.  This is my body and my blood, for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28; cf also Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25)  Here, God is at work for you.  Here, the Savior applies his mercies to you.  Here, you find God's forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  They do not come through your imagination.  You do not have to grope about to find God in these things.  God comes to you in real, tangible ways to forgive, to comfort, and to save.  We seek God where he will be found.
     John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?”  And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and you will see.”  So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. (John 1:35-39)  
     Andrew and the other disciple wanted one simple thing—to be with Jesus.  It is how we are going to spend our eternity, with the man who is God, the man who came to dwell with sinful men so that sinful men would be forgiven and dwell with God.  Jesus is where we find God who loves us, saves us, blesses us, and is for us.  Therefore, just as Andrew did, we do well to seek God where he will be found.  We go to church.  We stay with Jesus.  We hear his word.  We partake in the sacraments.  This is where God brings his kingdom to us.  This is where God is for us.  We seek God where he will be found

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of End Time: Christ the King (November 26, 2017)

O WN is the Greek phrase, "He who is."
ACTS 4:1-12


In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Peter did not waste any words getting to the point.  When the temple leaders began to interrogate Peter and John because of their preaching, Peter declared, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Peter did not say that Jesus is a nice man or a good teacher.  Peter did not suggest that Jesus is one of many preachers who speaks about eternal life.  Peter did not say that all religions eventually lead to the same place.  Peter did not leave room for any of that.  Neither did Jesus.  The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is consistent and insistent: We are saved by Christ alone.  There is no other Savior.  There is no other God.  There is no other way to be saved.  There is no other source of forgiveness.  This is it.  We are saved by Christ alone.
     The Bible makes bold claims about salvation.  The Bible is also very particular about who God is.  From the prophet Isaiah we heard, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45:5)  It is not enough that we acknowledge there is “a god.”  That confession is almost meaningless.  It is only slightly better than atheism.  Atheists reject any notion of God, and there is a simple reason for it.  Atheists do not want to be accountable to anyone. 
     But if God is real, then whatever he has to say matters.  If God is real, then he is the source of everything that exists. If God is the source of all things, then he has the right to say how all things should run.  In other words, he sets the rules for what is good and what is evil.  To reject God is to reject his word and his commands.  While some consider this freeing, it is actually a death sentence.  If you insist you are not accountable to God, that does not mean God is no longer there or that his word no longer applies.  It is like telling the police officer who pulls you over, “I reject the speed limit, and I reject your authority.  Therefore, I will just go my own way.”  You know that traffic stop will not end well for you.  It will go from bad to worse.  It will be much worse for those who reject God.  You are accountable to God no matter what you think about him.
     Now, to simply acknowledge that there is “a god” does no more than let you pick and choose what set of rules you will follow.  While that may sound convenient, it finally makes you your own god.  It means you get to pick and choose what you think is good and evil.  This may make sense in your head, but it does not work if other people adopt the same attitude.  Others will conclude that it is evil that you have better possessions, more friends, or higher praise.  They will deem it good to knock you down a few pegs, or to steal or destroy your goods, or to sully your good name.  They will regard this as good because it evens the playing field.  So if it is wrong for others to decide for themselves what is good or evil, you are also wrong for doing so.  It may seem good to you to lie to make yourself look better, but you are wrong.  It is evil.  It may seem right to despise people who have more or who seek aid from you because you have more and because they are in need, but  you are wrong.  It is evil.  It may seem brilliant to think that your opinions are equal to God's, but you are wrong.  It is evil.  It is not merely atheists who want to avoid accountability to God.  We do it too.  Repent.
     There is some truth to the statement, “All religions eventually lead to the same place.”  They all lead to hell, because there is no Savior in any of them.  If God is to be taken seriously, then his word matters.  If his word matters, then he will hold us accountable for our obedience to it.  If God is righteous, then he will judge fairly.  And if God knows all things and judges us fairly, he must damn us and all people; for all are sinners.
     This is what the Lord says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45:5)  God does not share his glory, power, or judgment with anyone.  Therefore, when Jesus of Nazareth preached, his claims were undeniably bold.  Jesus did not merely talk about a way to heaven.  He declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  Jesus did not merely speak of eternal life.  He declared, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)  What the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah: “There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me” (Isaiah 45:21), Jesus of Nazareth declared of himself.  In fact, Jesus was either bold or blasphemous.  So, Jesus is either God or he is a wretched liar.  There is no middle ground here.
     If Jesus is our Savior, how does he save?  Peter and John answered that when they were being interrogated by the priests at the temple.  The apostles of Jesus were working with the authority of Jesus when they healed a lame man at the temple.  Just as Jesus had restored health to many sick and diseased, so Peter and John did.  Jesus came with healing because he had come to reverse everything that had been corrupted by sin.  The reason people suffer sorrow, shame, grief, and guilt is because sin has corrupted us all.  Jesus came to save us from all of that.
     We are saved by Christ alone.  Jesus did far more than bring hope to the crippled; he gives hope to the dying and even to those who would be damned.  For Jesus not only has compassion on the sick, he has mercy on everyone who has been corrupted by sin.  Jesus has taken our shame and guilt from us.  All that would condemn us has been transferred to Jesus who has accepted every charge and accusation which has stood against us.  And that is why Jesus went to the cross.  Jesus died under the curse which our sins have brought.  Jesus died in shame for our shame. 
     We are saved by Christ alone.  But Jesus is not just some nice guy who said he would take the hit for the human race.  It does not work that way.  You cannot pay for my sins, and I cannot pay for yours.  The Bible assures us, “No man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life.” (Psalm 49:7)  God cannot accept a corrupt sacrifice for you.  Therefore, God himself has stepped in to ransom you.  The Lord alone is a Savior; and so the Lord saves you.
     Jesus is the Lord God in the flesh.  As a man in the flesh, he suffered and died for all sinful flesh.  But as the Lord God, his sacrifice is the perfect payment for all mankind.  That is why Christ crucified is the focus of our preaching.  Jesus did not live and die for himself; he lived and died for sinners to pay for your sins, to acquit you of all charges, and to remove God's wrath from you forever.  He does not command you to fix your life to be saved; he takes away your sins so that you are saved.  We are saved by Christ alone.  Apart from him there is no Savior.
     Peter and John healed a crippled man at the temple, they did not take credit for it.  Rather, they declared, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.” (Acts 4:10)  While it is true that Jesus suffered and died for sinners, it is also true that Jesus of Nazareth is risen from the dead.  That is how we know his sufferings and death actually has paid for our sins.  Death had claimed Jesus as its victim for our sins, but Jesus lives.  Death could not overcome Jesus; instead Jesus has overcome death.  He paid for all our sins, so he lives to declare that our sins are paid for now and forever.  No one else has conquered the grave, and that is why no one else can promise the resurrection to everlasting life.  Since no other teacher or prophet or religion can make these promises, they all end up going to the same place eventually—to hell.  But not so with Jesus Christ. 
     We are saved by Christ alone.  While it is true that there is no other Savior, it is also true that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all.  No one else can assure you that your guilt has been removed and your shame has been covered.  That is why “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  
     There is one God before whom we are all accountable.  His word stands.  Although that word shows us that we are sinners, we are not damned sinners.  God is not hostile toward sinners, only unbelievers.  Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and is baptized into his name, however, is saved.  God's word also reveals our only Savior from our sins—Jesus Christ.  He alone rescues us from the guilt of our sin, from the terror of the grave, and from the flames of hell.  Jesus alone has conquered death and makes us children of the resurrection.  Jesus alone lives to impart the forgiveness he won for sinners.  Jesus alone is our Lord and Savior.  There is no other.  We are saved by Christ alone.

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

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Private Confession and Absolution scheduled for December 2

A Pastoral Concern – Private Confession and Absolution

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 regular schedule.
     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 Saturday, December 2, 8:00-10:00 AM.  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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sermon -- Thanksgiving Eve (November 22, 2017)

JOB 1:20-21


In the name + of Jesus.

     The hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God,” was written by a Lutheran pastor named Martin Rinkart.  The upbeat nature of this hymn might lead us to think that Pastor Rinkart enjoyed peace and prosperity throughout his life.  We might envision him as a 21st century American enjoying an easy life in the suburbs.  That is not even close to Pastor Rinkart's life.
     Pastor Rinkart wrote this hymn during the Thirty Years' War in Germany.  The land was ravaged by armies which confiscated food and valuables, destroyed towns and farms, and killed many.  After the armies left, communities had to deal with famine, plague, and even more death.  Throughout the course of the Thirty Years' War, Pastor Rinkart ended up burying nearly 4,500 people, including many co-workers and his own wife.  As scarce as food and clothing were in Germany, and as much as he struggled to provide for his own family, Pastor Rinkart still managed to aid others who were afflicted.  In the midst of the Thirty Years' War, Pastor Rinkart penned the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”  While war regularly threatened and surrounded his city, Pastor Rinkart still urged his church to sing thanks to God for “countless gifts of love.”
     The suffering of Pastor Rinkart pales in comparison to the patriarch Job.  Job had been an exceedingly rich man and a faithful disciple of the Lord.  Satan challenged Job's allegiance to God.  Satan said, “Does Job fear God for no reason?  Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”  And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.” (Job 1:9-12)  
     In just one day, Job had taken from him all his cattle, all his flocks, all his herds, and all his servants.  Each disaster left one survivor who reported the bad news.  Finally, one more servant arrived and reported: “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:18-19)  
     No matter how bad the worst day of your life was, this was way worse.  Job had lost all his wealth and all his children.  Job's response?  Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:20-21)
     Satan was convinced that Job was faithful to God only because God had been so good to Job.  He argued that, if God removed Job's blessings, Job would turn from God.  One of the reasons we find this story appealing to us is because we like to Satan get it so wrong.  But the fact of the matter is Satan is usually right about this.  Satan knows the minds of sinful mankind, and he preys upon it.  He knows that we often regard God as good because he is good to us.  But when God withdraws blessings, we assess blame rather than give praise.
     We celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of every harvest season, and we all have large, sumptuous meals that we are looking forward to.  We have nice houses, easy transportation, many options for clothing, food, and entertainment, and most of us have probably made plans to add to our inventory with some Black Friday deals.  This is why even unbelievers like Thanksgiving.  God has poured out so much on us that we can confess half of what Job said: “The LORD gave...; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
     The Psalm teaches us to sing: Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. (Psalm 136:1)  But why is he good?  Is it only because he is good to me?  When Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey, was God good?  Was the Lord good when you got hit with bad news or lost money?  Was the Lord good during sickness—and if so, was it only because you got better?  This is exactly what Satan expects us to believe—that God is good only when he is good to me. 
     Job's confession is true no matter what: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)  Even when the Lord takes things away from you, he is good.  For the Lord's goodness is not to be measured by wealth, health, home, safety, or any worldly gain.  Satan teaches us to fear, love, and trust in these things above all, which is why we are so shaken when they are lost.  Therefore, the Lord is especially good when he takes them away from us—for he is removing the idols that we do not want to give up.
     Now, it is true.  The Lord has given you all you have; and the Lord gave abundantly to you, just as he gave to Job.  That was God's choice, and so you can receive and use his gifts with gratitude.  But it is also God's choice when he takes away what he gives.  In Job's case, it happened tragically in one day.  In your case, the Lord may withdraw his blessings over years.  It happens to all people.  Eyesight fades.  Hearing grows weak.  Agility and balance fail.  The mind forgets.  Loved ones die.  God withdraws everything until he finally takes away your heart beat.  Whether you lose your blessings over time or all of a sudden, Job's words remain true: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return.” (Job 1:21)  
     Blessed be the name of the Lord.  No matter how hard we work to build up our little kingdoms in this world, we will never keep what we collect.  Nor can we earn a place in God's eternal kingdom.  But just as he does with all of our possessions, God is pleased to give us his kingdom as well.  Jesus's kingdom is not about a collection of possessions.  Rather, Jesus owned nothing but the garments he wore to the cross.  And then, they were stripped off of him.  Even the tomb Jesus was placed in was borrowed.  Jesus demonstrated a perfect detachment from this world.  He did not hoard goods, but used all that he had for his basic needs and then for the good of others. 
     Blessed be the name of the Lord.  Jesus wrapped himself in our guilt and bore the penalty for our love for money, love for this world, and love for ourselves.  His innocent death is given in exchange for our sinful lives.   For though we enter and depart from this world naked, the Lord has been pleased to clothe us in garments of salvation.  This righteousness is what Jesus covers us in so that we appear before God as good and perfect.
     Blessed be the name of the Lord.  He has given you the kingdom, and that is one thing which he will not take away from you.  Instead, his mercy endures forever.  He does not back off on his promises to you.  These will stand no matter what.  If you lose your wealth, you still have the riches of God's grace.  If your health fails you, you still have a resurrection to life everlasting.  If your friends turn their backs on you, God remains faithful.  If the world falls apart, the kingdom of our God endures forever.  If your life is suddenly overcome with grief, pain, and loss in the likes of Job or Pastor Martin Rinkart, you still have God's love, grace, and mercy.  The Lord God will eventually take away all that you have been given in this life, but he will never remove his promises.
     O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures forever. (Psalm 136:1)  His mercy is where the Lord proves that he is good, no matter what.  There will certainly come a point in your life when you will make your confession with Job: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away.” (Job 1:20-21)  Even then, you will remain clothed in garments of salvation.  Even then, the Lord is good.  Even in the face of bitter grief or the cold grave, you will still have all you need.  And therefore, you will be able to complete Job's confession: Blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:21)   

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of End Time—Saints Triumphant (November 19, 2017)

MATTHEW 25:1-13


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord Jesus has given a command to his Church to preach the Gospel to all creation because the Lord does not want people to perish in their sins.  Rather, he wants all to repent, believe the good news, and be saved.  The parable today, however, is not a warning to the lost.  It is a warning for the Church. 
     The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. (Matthew 25:1)  Since the bridal attendants are virgins, they are pure.  They have all the appearance of being godly people who will receive a place at the wedding feast.  Unfortunately, not all who appear godly will be saved.  Five of the virgins were foolish.  They were invited to the wedding banquet.  They knew that the bridegroom was coming.  With so much planning and so much anticipation, being unprepared was inexcusable.  Wedding feasts back in Jesus' day could last up to a week.  During that week, the bride would wait at her home.  The groom would come to get her, and they would make a procession back to the house of the groom where all the guests would feast and rejoice.  For whatever reason, the bridegroom was delayed.  He came at an inconvenient hour.  So when the cry went out that the bridegroom was coming, all the virgins awoke to tend to their lamps.  Only then did the five foolish virgins realize that they were not prepared.  Only when it was too late did it matter to them.
     This parable is a warning to the Church.  It concludes with Jesus' admonition: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)  More literally, Jesus' command is to keep on keeping watch.  Jesus was speaking to believers.  We know that Jesus is going to return for judgment and to gather his redeemed for the wedding feast of heaven.  We confess regularly that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Therefore, for God's people to be caught unprepared is inexcusable.  Jesus warns us so that we do not find ourselves unprepared on that day.  Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.
     The five foolish virgins had forewarning.  They knew the bridegroom was coming.  But when he came, they did not have oil for their lamps to join in the procession.  So the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ (Matthew 25:8-9)  The point is not that the wise were unwilling to share.  The point is that we are all responsible for ourselves.  I cannot believe for you, and you cannot believe for me.  Our love for our children will not save them.  God alone supplies this salvation and the faith to receive it.  So, even though the five virgins had all the appearance of purity when the groom came, they were not prepared.  This is the way it will be for many who call themselves Christians.  There are many who are baptized and confirmed and morally decent who will find to their horror that they are not going to enter the wedding feast of the Lamb.
     It is not that people go off and turn to a life of crime.  Nor do they suddenly get some spiritual amnesia and forget everything about Jesus.  If they were on Jeopardy, they could still ace the Bible category.  Rather, they just stopped going to church, hearing the word of the Lord, confessing their sins, and receiving the Lord's Supper.  They became lazy or distracted or wanted to be amused by other things.  Sundays become a day for family time, sports, sleeping in, brunch, and so on.  These are not wicked things.  We don't call people to repent for sleep, eating, sports, or family time.  And do you know what such people discover?  That their lives don't really change that much.  They are not struck down by lightning.  They don't lose their jobs.  Their friends still like them and support them.  Their marriages do not automatically collapse.  So, they deduce that life without Jesus and his word is no worse than life with it.  In fact, some will argue that life without Jesus is better because they can devote the extra time, money, and energy to make themselves comfortable in this world.  Like the five foolish virgins, many will only consider the word of the Lord important once they are shut out of the kingdom.  Beware; this warning is for the Church so that we will not perish.
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  Now, if Jesus is your Savior, that means he saves you from something.  And he does.  The five wise virgins did not do a very good job keeping watch either.  They grew tired, lazy, and weak.  They, too, fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom.  Still, when the bridegroom comes, they do not panic.  They trim their lamps so that they can welcome him with joy.
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  You know what it is to grow tired and lazy while waiting for Jesus.  We daily battle temptations and sins, and it gets wearisome.  Our sinful weakness gets the better of us and we return to sins of habit.  We are also encouraged to be lazy in our watchfulness when we see many people who, while still calling themselves Christians, have no real use for the Lord, his word, and his Church.  And they do not seem to suffer for it at all.
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  Your Savior has come for you to deliver you from the sins which would condemn you.  He took on himself all of our guilt and submitted himself to all of God's wrath.  If all God's wrath has been poured upon Jesus, there is nothing left for you but blessing and mercy.  That blessing is not given to you just because you think thoughts about Jesus.  God's blessing, mercy, and salvation are to be proclaimed.  And that is why we gather here.  By the proclamation of the word, Jesus saves you.  He reveals and bestows forgiveness through the word which is proclaimed.  He attaches his word to baptism, to holy communion, and to absolution.  By these, he bestows salvation and blessing upon sinners.  This is the reason we gather for chruch each week—to receive God's blessings.  Here, we find comfort and peace as we await Christ's return.  This is how we keep on keeping watch. 
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  He who suffered and died to save you from sin and guilt and from any condemnation is risen.  Jesus conquered death to save you from the grave.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, death must answer to him.  Because you are Christ's, you participate in Jesus' victory.  On the Last Day when Jesus returns, the grave will have to give you back and you will live.  Jesus is your Savior from death and the grave. 
     Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  After his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you.  And if he has gone to prepare a place for you, he will come back to take you to be with him where he is.  Keep on keeping watch; for your Savior is coming.  He saves you not only from guilt and shame in this world, he also saves you from the world itself.  When the Groom comes for his Church, Jesus will deliver you out of a world of sorrow, pain, heartache, frustation, and wickedness.  Jesus will set you forever free from all of the griefs you have come to know in this world.  He will bring you to a place in heaven which will be peaceful, perfect, and permanent.  This is the wedding feast of the Lamb in which there will be great joy, great feasting, great company, and endless peace.  Jesus paid a great price to secure his Church for this, and he desires that you remain wise for salvation so that you will be with him forever.  So keep on keeping watch.  Your Savior is coming.  And he comes to bring you everlasting salvation.

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Luther Lecture Series continues

Our next segment of the Luther Lecture series takes place on Sunday, November 19 at 6:00 PM.  

This Sunday's Luther Lecture will focus on the Thirty Years War, battles between Roman Catholic and Lutheran princes and territories.  

These Luther Lectures are intended to be interactive discussions as well as informational.  Desserts will be served, and door prizes will be given.  All are welcome. 

If you are willing to provide a dessert for the evening, it will be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of End Time: Last Judgment (November 12, 2017)

MATTHEW 25:31-46


In the name + of Jesus.

     If you have ever had a conversation with anyone who told you, “My Jesus would never send anyone to hell,” you can tell them that their Jesus is a fraud.  Some try to reduce the Lord to a fuzzy plush toy.  The Bible does not know any god like that, not even the false gods.  The prophet Nahum reminds us that the Lord is not harmless, nor is he one to be toyed with.  Nahum wrote, “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.  The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.” (Nahum 1:2-3)  This is a God who judges, and he will damn the guilty.  And if Jesus is Lord, this means him.
     The Christian Church confesses week after week that Jesus “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” (Apostles' Creed)  There is a day of Judgment when the Lord will declare to all the world who his redeemed people are.  Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32)  Jesus will come to judge all nations—whether living or dead, great or small, famous or anonymous.  At this judgment, the Lord will bring his redeemed to heaven, but all others he will condemn to hell. 
     To the righteous, Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)  Then he will proceed to speak of the good which is credited to the righteous.  What is remarkable is the response of the righteous.  They will not say, “That sounds about right.”  They will not boast that they were better or accomplished more.  In fact, the righteous are fully aware that we do not deserve praise from God.  We strive for holiness, but we know that we are not holy.  We are aware of the times we turned a blind eye to those in need or showed people scorn rather than mercy.  That is why the righteous respond, “When did we do these things?”  The righteous do not boast about anything in the Lord's presence or asked to be judged based on their own merits.
     The reason we do not take pride in our works is because we know that even the best we do for the Lord is tainted.  We apply to ourselves the words of Isaiah the prophet: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6)  Even the best we have to offer has been corrupted by sin; and God cannot be pleased with anything that is sinful.
     Our hope is not in our merits or efforts.  That is why the righteous do not appeal to them.  Rather, our hope is in the name of the Lord.  The righteous judge is our righteousness.  Jesus has removed every stain of sin from us.  The blood Jesus shed is what purifies us from every sin.  He not only gave his holy, innocent life as a sin offering for us.  He also clothed us in that holy innocence.  He wrapped us in a garment of salvation and gave us credit for his merits.  That is what saves us.  The righteous judge is our righteousness.  That is why we can be confident of God's judgment upon us.  Our righteousness comes from Jesus and not from ourselves.
     By contrast, the wicked demand to know why God would regard them as wicked.  When Jesus condemns them for their lack of good works, the wicked want to know, “When did we not do these things?”  Now to be fair, there are many unbelievers in this world who are nice, generous, and charitable.  They may even be able to boast that they have done more good in this world than you have.  But remember what God says about the righteous acts of sinners: “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6)  God cannot be pleased with sin and wickedness.  Outside of Christ there is no righteousness.  Outside of Jesus Christ, there is only sin and wickedness.  Nevertheless, the wicked want credit for what they perceive to be good works.  They want to be rewarded for their merits.  But Jesus does not and will not accept their works.  No man shall boast on Judgment Day he has earned a place in God's glorious kingdom.  It is by grace you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ.  There is no other way.  The curse remains on all who are outside of Jesus.  Outside of Jesus, there is only death and damnation.
     If people want to insist that God would never send anyone to hell, it is probably because people would rather deny the horrors of hell than flee from them.  Even Christians get uneasy speaking about Judgment Day and the end of the world.  Some of the imagery that our Lord uses is unsettling.  But you, dear Christians, need not fear.  The prophet Nahum warned us, “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.  The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.” (Nahum 1:2-3)  But the prophet Nahum also declared: “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.” (Nahum 1:7)  
     The Lord Jesus Christ is your refuge in the judgment.  The righteous judge is our righteousness.  He takes away all sin and guilt from you.  If these are gone, then God's anger is removed from you as well.  Jesus purifies you and clothes you in his own righteousness.  If you are holy and blameless in God's sight, then he must be pleased with you.  And he is.  Judgment Day has no fear for those who already know their verdict; and you do.  You are pardoned of all guilt.  You are Christ's redeemed.  You are marked for eternal life.
     When the Last Day comes, you will be gathered before your Lord and Savior, and you will hear him say: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)  You will inherit the kingdom.  Now, you know how an inheritance works.  What do you have to do to inherit something?  Nothing!  Inheritances are not earned; they are given.  Someone who knows you and loves you writes your name into a will.  He bequethes to you something that he owned.  You do nothing to get it; it is simply given.
     Of course, you know how the rest of it works, too.  To get your inheritance, someone has to die.  And someone has.  Jesus suffered and died for you.  His innocent life was given on behalf of sinners.  We don't need to work on resumes, trying to convince God why he has to let us into his heavenly kingdom.  Jesus Christ has won this glorious kingdom for us.  The righteous judge is our righteousness. 
     Jesus Christ has written your name into the Book of Life.  He who suffered and died for you knows you and loves you.  He has recorded your name in his blood to make you a child of God.  And if you are a child of God, you are an heir of his kingdom.  Jesus who suffered and died for you is risen.  He lives and ascended to heaven to prepare a place for you in God's heavenly kingdom.  And since he has gone to prepare a place for you, he will come back to bring you to be with him.  That day is Judgment Day.  If you still fear that day, then flee to Jesus. He is your refuge from God's wrath.  He is your righteousness in God's presence.  He is your Advocate, your Defense, and your Savior.  He comes to you now to bring you forgiveness and blessing.  And he will come again to bring you to the kingdom which God has prepared for you since the foundation of the world.

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Something from ... Augustine on faith and good works

Martin Luther found much in St. Augustine's writings that he liked, especially since Augustine confirmed for Luther what he himself was finding as he read the Bible.  Luther was never interested in starting a new church or even a sect within the church.  Lutherans have always insisted that we are the church catholic.  We have not invented anything.  We believe, teach, and confess what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed.  The Augsburg Confession takes great pains to say as much.

Here is a comment from Augustine regarding the relationship between faith and works.  While Lutherans confess that we are saved by faith alone apart from works (Romans 3:28), we also insist that faith is never alone (James 2:14-17).  Faith produces good works.  It is not our works that save, however.  It is faith in Jesus Christ who has done all the works for us that saves.  Whatever works we do are purified in Christ.  All our righteousness--our status and the works that the Holy Spirit works in us--comes through Jesus.

So, Augustine was a Lutheran.  Or, Lutherans are Augustinian in this regard.  Or both are Christian, holding to the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Or both are catholic, standing with the Church in its faithful teaching of Scripture.  

“Not that he denied good works, or emptied them of their value, when he says that God renders to every man according to his works; Romans 2:6 but because works proceed from faith, and not faith from works.  Therefore it is from Him that we have works of righteousness, from whom comes also faith itself, concerning which it is written, The just shall live by faith. Habakkuk 2:4” (Augustine, Selections from “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 17)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sermon -- 1st Sunday of End Time—Reformation (November 5, 2017)

JOHN 8:31-36


In the name + of Jesus.

     How do you know you are saved?  Chances are, even if you have been raised in the Christian church, this question has haunted you at some point.  If you know that you are saved, you have all comfort, joy, peace, and encouragement.  If you have ever had doubts, there is no greater fear.
     So, how do you know you are saved?  This is the very question which plagued Martin Luther.  He was raised in the Church and was a good catholic boy.  He took God's word seriously.  He tried to order his life according to God's Commandments.  But he knew that he had not achieved the obedience God demands of all people.  He tried, but he knew God's judgment stood against him.  He had done what is evil, and he had failed to do what is good.  For this, he knew he had earned God's punishment both now and in eternity.  He felt acutely the words of Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)  Luther was chained to his sin, and he could not escape it.
     So, Luther decided to enter a monastery.  Becoming a monk certainly seemed like a pious, holy thing to do.  The monks spent all day praying and worshiping.  They had to be closer to God than others.  But Luther did not find any peace there.  For all of his devotion, Martin Luther still could not be sure he was saved.  He was still a sinner.  Not even becoming a monk could change that.  So, Luther tried to demonstrate his sorrow for his sins.  He whipped himself until he bled.  He slept outside in the cold.  He fasted until he fainted from hunger.  He put dried peas in his shoes.  He tortured himself to try to earn God's mercy.  But there was still no comfort, no assurance, and no salvation.
     Eventually, Luther's teachers decided he should lecture on books of the Bible at the new university in Wittenberg.  Despite Luther's protests, he went.  He read the Bible and prepared for his lectures.  In his reading, Luther discovered something.  Yes, God is righteous and demand that we be righteous, holy, and obedient.  And God does condemn all who fail to do this.  But God also reveals a righteousness which does not come from our efforts.  This righteousness comes from Jesus Christ to all who believe in him.  The Scriptures proclaim that Jesus Christ came to save sinners from guilt, from death, from hell, and from the devil's torment.
     Jesus had declared, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  The truth of God's love and mercy is revealed in Scripture alone.  The Scriptures are where God promised a Savior to sinners as soon as sin entered into the world.  The Scriptures are where God promised that he would send a perfect sacrifice which would be our substitute under God's judgment.  God had promised through the prophets, “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)  Salvation is assured by Scripture alone.  For in the Scriptures, we have God's promise that he will save sinners.
     God was faithful to his promise.  God came in the flesh to be the Savior of the world.  That is why Jesus claims, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  Jesus is true God, and he points us to his own words and promises.  Salvation is assured through Scripture alone.  St. John the Baptist declared the truth about Jesus.  He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  Jesus is the propitiation (or, atoning sacrifice) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  By taking your sins from you, Jesus has set you free.  You are free from God's wrath.  You are free from any damning judgment.  You are free from hell.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, you will be set free from the grave.  You will rise from the dead to live forever.  These are God's promises to you, all fulfilled by Jesus.  Jesus lived in perfect obedience for you to supply the righteousness you need.  Jesus suffered and died under God's judgment for your unrighteousness so that it is taken away from you.  Then Jesus rose from the dead to show that his payment for your sins is certain.  The Son of God, indeed, sets you free from sin, death, and the devil.  These are not just ideas about God's love for you.  These are God's works for you and God's promises to you.  “God so loved the world,” which means that God loved the world in this way: “He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  Salvation is assured through Scripture alone.
     In the days of Martin Luther, not many people knew the Scriptures.  The Bible was not written for the common man to read.  It was written in Latin, and so only the learned could read it.  The common people were at the mercy of the Church or their local priest to proclaim what the Lord says.  No doubt, people wondered: “How do I know that this is what God says?  How do I know the priest is right?  How do I know the Church is right?”  Unfortunately, the priest and the Church were not always right.  People were taught that forgiveness and salvation were only delivered through the workings of the priest who ultimately got his authority from the Pope.  One of the ways people were told they could find freedom from their sins was through the purchase of a papal indulgence.  For a fee—“a contribution to Christ's Church” sounds better—a Christian could be granted a papal indulgence which told the Christian that he would be free from the punishment of sins in purgatory.  He had the Pope's word on it.  In fact, these indulgences could even set relatives free from punishment.  What heartless soul would let his parents and grandparents languish in puragory if he could gain their freedom?
     It was this practice in particular that prompted Martin Luther to draft his 95 Theses which sparked the entire Lutheran Reformation.  Luther came up with 95 statements to challenge what the Church was doing.  Rather than to through 95 ways to be sure of salvation, let's limit ourselves to one.  Consider the Gospel again today.  This is what the Lord says in the Scriptures: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)  Jesus does not refer you to indulgences.  Jesus does not suggest that the Church will invent new and exciting ways to impart salvation.  Jesus points you to himself and his words.  Jesus is your Savior; for he has done all the work to save you.  And Jesus promises to those who abide in his word: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)  It is faith in Jesus' words and promises which set you free from sin, death, and the devil.  Salvation is assured through Scripture alone. 
     While you can still get indulgences from the Roman Catholic Church today, they don't seem to get much attention in America.  That does not mean American Christians are immune to seeking assurance in the wrong places.  Ask someone, “How do you know you are saved?” and some will answer, “I know it because I feel it in my heart.”  So, what happens if you don't feel saved anymore?  If you are ever in a hospital bed and have quiet hours to think, the devil will be there to remind you of your sins.  It will be the one time the devil will not lie to you.  He will simply remind you of what you have thought, said, and done.  You will know he is right.  And you will not feel saved.  You will feel the sting of Jesus' words: “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever. “ (John 8:34-35)  So, now what?  Are you saved?  If you are counting on your own feelings to find assurance, you will be crippled by fear.
     Still others will claim, “The Lord speaks to me.  That is how I know I am saved.”  That sounds especially pious and holy.  But here is an important question: How do you know it is God who speaks to you?  Is it because you like it?  Because it flatters you?  Because it agrees with what you already think?  Understand this and mark it well: There is no way you can know God speaks to you unless it comes from the Scriptures.  Martin Luther thought it was pious and holy to become a monk.  He found no assurance of salvation there.  So also with you, if you are turning to your feelings, your sincerity, your actions, or anywhere else other than the Scriptures, you have no assurance of salvation.  In fact, if you do these things, you are turning away from the only place where God says anything to you.
     Salvation is assured through Scripture alone.  That is where God delivers his promises, bestows his mercy, grants forgiveness, and saves sinners.  Our Lord has also been pleased to attach that word to water and makes this promise: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  He attaches his word to bread and wine and declares, “This is my body, which is given for you.” (Luke 22:19)  “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood...which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)  He even attaches his promise to men who speak in his name: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:22-23)  This is where Lord forgives sins and saves sinners.  Jesus does not refer you to any other place.  It is not so because I say so, because some Church Council said so, or because the Pope said so.  It is so because God has said so, and he recorded it in the Scriptures so that you can know it is so.
     Therefore, salvation is assured in Scripture alone.  This is where God has given his word so that you can know what God has done, what God has promised, and what God gives you.  If you know this, you have all comfort, joy, peace, and encouragement. God has revealed and recorded all of these things so that you can have all comfort, joy, peace, and encouragement.  Jesus wants you to know and abide in his word.  If you do, you will be forever free from sin, death, and the devil.  His word is the only way you know you are saved.

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lutherfest 500 -- What a day it was!

Lutherfest 500 was almost a week ago--Saturday, October 28.  It was a great day.  So, first, some acknowledgements.  Then, at the bottom, some photos.

First of all, a big THANK YOU to all who gave of their time, efforts, and resources to plan, prepare, and perform at our Lutherfest 500 celebration.  There were practically no glitches to speak of, and there were LOTS of compliments about the event.  

Thank you to all who had made phone calls and obtained information for us, particularly in the early months of planning.  Even though some of the planning ideas had to be scrapped, it was essential for us to know what we could or could not do.  We do not consider the phone calls for pricing a waste of time even though some of our plans did not work out (the tent, for example).  Thank you to all who helped in this process.

Thank you to Kari for being our web-mistress and continuing in her service even after their family moved to Georgia.  We wish you could have been here for the event.

Thank you to all who contributed to the decorations around the school.  People enjoyed the festive atmosphere.  Thank you to Gary's Catering of Wixom for their great food.  Thank you to Die Dorfmusikanten for providing the music.  I wish I could have spent more time in the gym enjoying it.

Thank you to the characters and tour guides on the Reformation Walk.  This was vastly more popular than we ever thought it would be.  Even though we had scheduled only four times for the tour, the characters did their presentations about TEN times total.  Thank you for your extra efforts.

Thanks also to Becky and her team of seamstresses for making the characters much more authentic.

Thanks to Carol and her team of artists for the murals.  They were eye-popping and added a great deal to the decorations.

Thank you to Huron Valley Lutheran High School for agreeing to host this event and for giving us pretty much unlimited access to the building, amenities, and supplies.

Thank you to all who helped to promote this event.  We are estimating about 400 people made their way through HVL at some point throughout the day.

Thank you to all people who offered their time to work on the set-up, the Table of Duties for the various stations throughout the school on the festival day, and for helping convert the gymnasium from a festival ground to a worship place.

There are almost certainly some people we have overlooked or failed to mention by name who are also worthy of thanks.  Please forgive us if we have failed to mention you.  Your efforts are certainly appreciated.

Once again, there were LOTS of compliments about our Lutherfest 500 celebration.  This event could not have happened without all of the people who contributed, so those compliments are ultimately yours.

Finally, I hope that this event encouraged people to appreciate the Lutheran heritage that we have received and that people might be eager to learn more, to grow in their faith and understanding, and to be eager to evangelize with the Gospel we cherish.

Here are some photos from Lutherfest 500.

From the Kinder Platz.  We had anticipated a castle bouncy house to match the Reformation theme.
Once we found out that this is what we got, we quickly dubbed it the "Hello, Kitty my Rib" bouncy house.
("Kitty, my Rib" was a nickname Martin Luther had for his wife, Katie.)

Great food.  Great band.

Reformation Walk tour guides.

Reformation Walk stop #1 -- Hans & Margaretha Luther, parents of Martin Luther.

Reformation Walk stop #2 -- John Tetzel, seller of indulgences.

Reformation Walk stop #3 -- Martin Luther.

Reformation Walk stop #4 -- Elector Frederick the Wise, prince of Saxony.

Reformation Walk stop #5 -- Leonard Kopp, fish merchant who smuggled
Katharina von Bora and other nuns out of their abbey and delivered them to Luther.

Reformation Walk stop #6 -- Martin & Katie Luther in the Luther home in Wittenberg.

Reformation Walk stop #7 -- Frau Ursula Cotta, who took Martin Luther
into her home in Eisenach and encouraged his interest in music.

Reformation Walk stop #8 -- (Hans Lufft), printer, who also explained the significance of the Luther Rose.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Pastoral Concern regarding the Reformation

Guess what!  Lutherans are still heretics!

So says a group of priests who have issued a Fraternal Correction to Pope Francis who is rebuking him for his apparent sympathies for Martin Luther.  In fact, these priests are emphatic that the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church remain just as divided as ever.

Consider this description regarding how one is justified before God: 

The gospel does not teach that all sins will in fact be forgiven, nor that Christ alone experienced the ‘judgment’ or justice of God, leaving only mercy for the rest of mankind. While there is a ‘vicarious suffering’ of our Lord in order to expiate our sins, there is not a ‘vicarious punishment’, for Christ was made “sin for us” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21) and not a sinner. Out of divine love, and not as the object of God’s wrath, Christ offered the supreme sacrifice of salvation to reconcile us with God, taking upon himself only the consequences of our sins (cf. Gal. 3:13). Hence, so that we may be justified and saved, it is not sufficient to have faith that our sins have been removed by a supposed vicarious punishment; our justification lies in a conformity to our Saviour achieved by that faith which works through charity (cf. Gal. 5:6).

So, there you have it.  Justification in Roman theology is not by faith alone (for an opposing view, read Romans 3:28), but rather by our deeds of love which spring out of faith.

While the Lutheran Church has never denied that deeds of love will spring out of faith (we agree with Titus 2:14 among others), we also state that such deeds do not save us (we agree with Ephesians 2:8-9).  If justification comes by "a conformity to our Saviour achieved by that faith which works through charity," how is that working out for you?  How well have you conformed to Jesus?  How do you know the number of your deeds are enough?  Or that they are good enough?  Or that your works are done with a pure enough motive?  Or that God is sufficiently pleased with them?

We do not take any joy that the western Church, after 500 years of schism (to be fair, a better date for official schism would be 1530 when the Lutherans officially presented the Augsburg Confession), remains divided.  But the division is at the very heart of the Gospel--how a man is saved.  Though we do not take joy over the schism, we recognize that the Reformation was necessary, we still take our stand on the Gospel teaching as discovered and proclaimed by Martin Luther, we still insist that we are the church catholic which teaches and confesses the apostolic word, and we pray that the Lord of the Church will continue to send faithful Gospel preachers into the world so that people can be confident and comforted by salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, based on Scripture alone, and in Jesus Christ alone.

A Prayer for All Saints' Day

A Prayer for All Saints' Day

          In our liturgical tradition, we offer up a prayer of remembrance for those who have died in the Christian faith in the past year.  Traditionally, this is done on All Saints' Day, November 1.  However, Good Shepherd does not hold a service on All Saints' Day.  We transfer this prayer to the 3rd Sunday of End Time which will be on November 19 this year.  The 3rd Sunday of End Time is also known in our congregation as "Saints Triumphant." 
          Below is the prayer that we will use.  We will add the names of members, members' family, and members' friends once they have been submitted.  

          "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15)


Almighty God, today we recall with thanksgiving those saints who were taken from us in the Church Militant and carried by the angels to you and the Church Triumphant.  Especially, we give you praise for our departed family and friends who have gone before us in faith and all those who are in our hearts and minds this day:

(The names of those who are to be remembered are read.)

To these, you have granted eternal rest this past year.  We thank you for giving them new life in Christ while on this earth and for sustaining them in true and saving faith throughout their life.  We praise you for finally giving them the fulfillment of your promises of salvation and eternal life.  Strengthen and sustain us in this saving faith so that we may also join with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in joyful praise, peace, and rest forever; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Cong: Amen.