Friday, March 30, 2018

Sermon -- Good Friday (March 30, 2018)

In the second part of the Triduum, Good Friday, we focused on the seven words from the cross.  While there was a brief homily following each word, I am posting just two.

The First Word -- Luke 23:26-34

     Jesus' prayer sounds strange: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  The soldiers who were on crucifixion detail were fully aware of their assigned task, and they carried it out dutifully.  They did not know that they were putting to death the Lord of glory.  Their ignorance, however, did not excuse them from their sins.
     The Psalms teach us to pray, “Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” (Psalm 19:12)  It is a prayer that ought to alarm us.  By it, we are reminded that we sin and we are not even aware that we are offending God and our neighbor.  Our sinful nature has blinded us so that we do not even recognize some of our faults.  Others might be wounded by ours sins, but we don't see it.  We are too absorbed in our thoughts and schedules.  We can walk over other people and not even know it.
     What's more is that we are also victims of our age and our culture.  We have blind spots so that we accept as normal what God speaks against.  If I knew what those things were, I would urge you to repent of them.  But as I said, they are blind spots.  We don't see them.  But ignorance is no excuse.  God does not give us a free pass because our culture has influenced us or because we do not know better.  We are still accountable to God for all sins, whether we do them intentionally or not, whether they are obvious or we are oblivious to them.
     But the Lord Jesus Christ has come to win forgiveness for every trespass, whether they are open sins or hidden faults.  Jesus shed his blood to atone for all sin and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
     The Lord calls us to repent of sins of commission—when we do what is evil, and from sins of omission—when we fail to do what is good.  The Lord exposes the evil we are to flee from, and he directs us to the good we are to do.  But it is hard to flee from hidden faults.  Fear not.  Jesus does not condemn you, nor does he leave you to wonder if you have made enough corrections to be saved.  Jesus acquits you from sins committed in anger, from sins committed in weakness, and even from sins committed in ignorance.
     “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  Jesus not only prays for forgiveness for the sinner, he provides it.

The Fifth Word -- John 19:28-29

     “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)  If you hunger and thirst for something, that means you don't have it.  You crave it because you need it.  
     Blessed are you if you hunger and thirst for righteousness—for that means you recognize you do not have it.  If you crave it, you also recognize that you need it.  And you do.  You need it if you are going to have life.
     The Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)  Jesus is the Righteous One who satisfies our need for righteousness.
     But at the cross, it was Jesus who thirsted.  Crucifixion drains its victim and saps the body, so Jesus thirsted.  Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)  Jesus craved not just a drink, he especially craved your salvation and your righteousness.  That is what brought him to earth.  That is what drove him to the cross.  That is what had him fulfilling even the most miniscule of prophecies.  What might seem irrelevant to us was necessary for Jesus.
     Jesus had celebrated the Passover with his apostles.  They partook of the lamb, the unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and the cups of wine.  Before they drank the final cup, however, they left the upper room.  For Jesus, the Passover had not been completed.  The final cup still had to be drunk.
     At the cross, the final cup was consumed.  Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)  The cup of God’s wrath was drained.  Every drop was consumed.  The Passover was now completed.  Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness.  And so now God is pleased.  And so now death passes over you.  And so now heaven is opened.
     Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6, paraphrase)

Issues Etc -- Pondering the Passion

If you are interested in a treasure trove of Holy Week meditation, check out the Issues, Etc. podcasts from this Holy Week.  There are a number of podcasts which will give you hours of interviews to listen to and consider. 

You can find Issues, Etc. here

I hope you can also find the time.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sermon -- Maundy Thursday (March 29, 2018)

HEBREWS 8:6-13


In the name + of Jesus.

     The old covenant between God and his people was very straight forward: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today...” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)  The Lord had promised incredible blessing and continual favor upon Israel.  He promised to be their God, and he was pleased to call Israel his people.  However, the old covenant was flawed—but not because God was incapable of keeping his promises or unwilling to do it.  It was flawed because of one word: “If.”  If the Israelites would serve him exclusively, they would forever be the Lord's people.  If the Israelites devoted themselves fully to the word of the Lord, he would continually bless them.  There would be peace, comfort, and blessing if Israel would be faithful to the Lord.  If.
     When God blessed Israel so that life was cozy and cushy, Israel quickly forgot about the Lord.  They turned aside to selfish pursuits.  They deceived themselves with their worship rites which became empty gestures to God.  Only when the Lord gave them over to their enemies or afflicted them with problems did they return to the Lord.  You might think you would do better under the old covenant and collect all the blessings God promises.  But you and I are no better.  The old covenant does not prove how much good we should expect; it proves how much we are not good.  If you devote yourself to doing all the good God demands, you will discover that even with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, you can't do it.  If only our minds and our motives were not corrupted by sin.  If only our sinful weakness would not be our downfall again.  If only.  If.
     The old covenant reveals our sinfulness to us.  It does not bring blessing; it results in a curse.  Therefore, God resolved to establish a new covenant through his Son, Jesus.  But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)  The first thing we recognize is that the new covenant is not a conditional covenant.  It is not based on laws that we have to keep in order to get God's blessing.  It is based on better promises.  In fact, it is based completely on God's promises.  God had promised that he will do all the work to establish his covenant.  And since God does all the work, it will not fail.  There will be no “if's” attached to it.  It will be complete and perfect and flawless.
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  Since Jesus is both God and man, he is able to represent both parties in the covenant.  As man, Jesus stands in for us.  He keeps God's Law with his holy, innocent life.  God's Law is good, and it shows us what a good person does.  Since Jesus has kept all of God's Law, it shows that Jesus is good.  In fact, flawless.  When Jesus stood on trial before the Jewish courts, no one could find fault with him.  When Jesus stood in the Roman court, many accusations were hurled at Jesus.  But none stuck.  Pilate announced Jesus' innocence no less than four times.  But even more than that, God the Father found no fault in his own Son.  This man lived the perfect obedient life which God demands.  But since Jesus is true God, that innocence is rendered on behalf of all mankind.  For, Jesus did not live for his own gain, but for yours.
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  Throughout the Old Testament, every covenant was ratified by blood.  Animals were severed and the parties in the covenant passed through the blood trail to confirm the covenant between them.  Jesus, who is both God and man, ratified this covenant by his own blood.  The man, Jesus, was nailed to a cross where he shed his blood as one who is cursed for failing to keep the Law.  As man, Jesus died under God's curse for sinners.  But as God, Jesus' bloody death counts for all people.  The innocent blood which Jesus shed answers for all our sins.  Therefore, all your sins are covered.  All your guilt is blotted out. 
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  There are no “if's” attached to this covenant so that you would ever have to doubt whether you have kept up your end of it.  There are no conditions.  You cannot fail and mess it up.  The writer to the Hebrews quoted the prophet Jeremiah to show that this was always God's plan.  “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Hebrews 8:10-11)  
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  In this new covenant, the Lord creates in you a clean heart which has been purified in Jesus' blood.  He renews a right spirit within you which God enlightens and directs.  When the Lord declares, “They shall not teach, ... saying, ‘Know the Lord’” (Hebrews 8:11), that does not mean we no longer need to devote ourselves to the word of the Lord.  People who stop hearing the word of the Lord end up being deceived because they end up crafting a god which appeals to them and agrees with them.  Their worship becomes an empty gesture to an imaginary god.  Just as a builder needs to keep on looking at his plans to get his building right, so also we need to keep on hearing the word of the Lord to be sure we are focusing ourselves on the true God.  The word of the Lord is necessary so we can know the Lord.  That is where the Lord reveals who he is, what he desires, and what he does.  Because God has given you his word, you know the Lord.  He is Jesus, God in the flesh.  He has established the new covenant by his innocent life and sacrificial death.  He pledges, “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)  These are the works of our Great High Priest, and these are the terms of the new covenant.
     One of the major festivals under the old covenant was the Passover.  It was an annual reminder that the Lord is the God who saves his people.  Israelite families would feast together and remember that the blood of the lamb caused the angel to pass over their homes.  By the blood of the lamb, death did not come to them.  Many generations of Israelites knew that deliverance only as a story.  They had not participated in that deliverance; they could only reminisce. 
     Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, served as the mediator of the new covenant.  It is no mere remembrance.  This feast is the new covenant.  By partaking in it, we receive all the benefits our Lord won for us.  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)  We do not reenact a meal.  We feast on the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  In this way, we participate in the body which bore our sin and in the blood which purifies us from all unrighteousness.  We ingest the promise of God: “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12)  
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, is mediator of the new covenant.  In this new covenant, Jesus does all the work: He pays for our sins.  Jesus makes all the promises: He pardons our offenses.  Jesus Christ does not put God's covenant into question with the word “If.”  He makes God's covenant a sure declaration.  He punctuates God's promises with “Amen!” and ratifies it with his precious blood.

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Private Confession & Absolution (Today, 6:00-8:00 PM)


On Monday, March 26 (THAT'S TODAY!) from 6:00-8:00 PM, you are able to make use of Private Confession & Absolution to acknowledge the sins that grieve you and to be absolved of them.  Why do this?  Luther's Small Catechism answers this way:

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

There is no need to schedule an appointment for today.  Come when you like.  The pastor will be prepared to explain the rite further to you and to absolve you of all guilt.

Palm Sunday leftovers

Yesterday's palms.

Next year's ashes.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sermon -- 6th Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday (March 25, 2018)

MARK 11:1-10


In the name + of Jesus.

     It is common for people to long for the good ol' days.  Society was nicer.  People were happier.  The weather was better.  The food was healthier.  And money purchased more than it does now.  Even people in the Church long for the good ol' days.  We long for the days when there were not so many divisions in the church, when the Gospel was boldly preached and people were converted to the Christian faith in mass numbers.  We long for the days when the Church's leaders were neither corrupt nor immoral, and when the Church did not have to contend with hypocrites or heretics. 
     There are two problems with longing for the good ol' days.  First, it is pointless to pine for days that are gone.  You can't bring them back.  Besides, the Lord has been pleased to have you alive here and now.  These are the days you live in—both to enjoy the good things, because there are always good things, and to endure the bad things, because bad things never go away. 
     The other problem is that the good ol' days never happened, at least not like you think they did.  As time goes by, our minds filter out the hard times and we recall the past being better than it was.  There has never been an era that has been free from problems.  The world has been corrupt since the Garden of Eden, producing thorns and thistles in the lives of all people.  Sometimes those thorns poked harder and the thistles scratched deeper than others, but they have never been rooted out of this world, not even in the good ol' days.  Nor has the Church known some golden age when everything was right.  It has always had to struggle and to battle.  It has always been the Church Militant.  Sin has affected every part of life, and the calendar year has not made a difference.
     When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people cheered his arrival because they longed for the good ol' days.  Part of their enthusiasm was because of the miraculous signs Jesus had done.  But the cries of the crowd give us the main reason for their cheers.  Many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.  And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:8-10)  
     “Hosanna to the Son of David!” was the cry on Palm Sunday.  The Israelites longed for the good ol' days of King David.  Even though they had not seen those days, they knew the stories.  David was the king who established Israel as a major player on the world scene.  David was a great warrior who had conquered the enemies around Israel and held them in subjection.  Once those nations were conquered, Israel dwelt in peace.  Under King David, Israel enjoyed a period of prosperity and prestige.  The people in Jesus' day were eager “the coming kingdom of our father David,” (Mark 11:10)  They wanted to have the good ol' days back.
     They also remembered a promise.  This is what the Lord had said to David through the prophet Nathan: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13)  It was as if the Lord had guaranteed that the good ol' days would not only come back, but that once they did, they would last forever.  Therefore, the people greeted Jesus by laying down their garments on the path so that his mount would not touch the ground.  They waved their palm branches in victory.  And they shouted and sang: “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)  
     Hosanna to the Son of David!  “Hosanna!” means, “Lord, save us!”  It is certainly an appropriate prayer, and it is certainly directed to the right one.  For, the name “Yeshua” means, “The Lord saves.”  It is Jesus' name.  It is Jesus' identity.  And it is Jesus' purpose for coming.  He is the Lord who saves.  But the question is this: Saved from what?  The people who greeted Jesus uttered the right prayer to the right person, but many of them longed to be saved from the wrong things. 
     Are your prayers like theirs?  Do you long for the good ol' days because you have somehow convinced yourself that life was better then, and you want to have the better life now?  Are your greatest concerns that money is tight, or that you have doubts about your health, your safety, and your future?  While it is good to bring those concerns to the Lord in prayer, they are not your greatest problem.  Whoever has had money, health, comfort, and security has not escaped death.  Those things won't save you.  Heaven and hell are not determined by money, health, safety, or ease.  These do, however, reveal what matters to our hearts.  Repent.  The only thing that damns you is that long for these things more than Christ.  Outside of Christ and his kingdom there is only sin, death, and damnation.  That is what we need to be saved from. 
     Therefore we cry, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  Jesus does not come to bring some nostalgic reproduction of the good ol' days where things will be happy for a while.  The Son of David has come to establish an everlasting kingdom.  He has come to take your sin and guilt away from you so that you will not be condemned because of your love for money, because you trust in safety and security, or because you fear a loss of health.  That is why when Jesus entered Jerusalem to establish his kingdom, he did not overthrown the governments of King Herod or Pontius Pilate.  He did not hand out money or magic elixirs to cure every ill.  Jesus came to suffer and to be slain.  Jesus made himself the sin offering which puts an end to your sin.  By setting you free from your sin, Jesus delivers you into his kingdom in which you receive forgiveness of sins and salvation.  Forgiveness delivers you from every curse of sin.  And salvation will finally deliver you into a heavenly kingdom forever free from all worry, pain, or struggle.
     Hosanna to the Son of David!  Jesus is the Lord who saves you and brings you into his kingdom of grace, and will deliver you into the kingdom of heavenly glory.  And to strengthen and keep you in the true faith until that day, Jesus answers your songs of Hosanna by coming to you in bread and wine to deliver the gifts of his kingdom to you already now.  Hosanna to the Son of David!  He takes the throne of David and lives and reigns over a kingdom that endures forever. 
     When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the crowds greeted him by waving palms in a procession of victory.  They had hoped to see the good ol' days return to Israel.    But Jesus brings a much better kingdom and a much more enduring glory.  St. John caught a glimpse of that glory in his Revelation.  After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)  Those in heaven don't worry about money or health or crime or pain or sorrow.  They are totally focused on Jesus who is the source of all good things.  He is the Lord who saves and who makes all things well.  Therefore, the Church today is totally focused on Jesus, and for the same reason.  The victorious waving of palm branches is not a nostalgic memory of better days.  This is a taste of the days to come—the glorious kingdom where it is everlasting day.  It is the final answer to our prayer, “Hosanna!”  And it is the kingdom our Lord gives to us.  For he is our Yeshua.  He is our Lord, and he saves us for our eternal good.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Worship Notes: The Triduum (March 29 - April 1)


The enormous significance of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection has always been the central focus of Christian worship.  Prior to the fourth century, Easter Day itself included all three emphases, but thereafter they were distributed over three days of special observance, which Augustine called “the most holy Triduum of the crucified, buried, and risen Lord.”  These days have long been understood as the climax of the Church’s year.

Since the last half of the 20th century, Lutherans have been rediscovering the richness of the ancient Triduum (pronounced TRIH-doo-um) and adapting the traditional services associated with it for use in Evangelical-Lutheran worship.  In keeping with their origins, the Triduum services are closely connected with one another.   We observe the Triduum as a single service that extends over the “three holy days.”

Thursday, March 29 -- 7:00 PM
        The theme of Maundy Thursday, best expressed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. John, is the novum mandatum or “new command” of Jesus that his disciples “love one another.”  The institution of the Lord’s Supper sets forth the depth of Jesus’ love and gives power to the Church to live out his command.  For the Triduum, Maundy Thursday marks the end of Lent proper.  The service begins with the sermon and an exhortation regarding the end of Lent.  This unusual arrangement allows the minister to explain the meaning of the Sacrament and the liturgical actions that are to take place so that they may proceed uninterruptedly and vividly from this evening through Good Friday to the Easter Vigil.  The action of ceremonially stripping the altar prepares the chancel and the congregation for Good Friday.

Friday, March 30 -- 7:00 PM
As the middle service of the Triduum, Good Friday is prepared for by Maundy Thursday.  In turn, it leads into the Easter Vigil.  The absence of a benediction the previous evening and again on Good Friday underscores the connectedness of the Triduum service.  Good Friday is not a “funeral” for Jesus, but an austere celebration of the Lamb and his sacrifice.  The bare altar, symbolic of Christ, is the focus along with a large, rough finished wood cross. 
The Service of the Seven Words is a service that reviews the seven times in which Jesus spoke at his crucifixion.  Each reading is interspersed with silence for meditation, prayers, and hymns.  The Service of the Seven Words is intended as the primary Good Friday service and his historically been observed sometime during the “hours of the cross,” between noon and three o’clock.  It may also be used in place of the Service of Darkness (Tenebrae) as an evening service, as is the case at Good Shepherd.

Sunday, April 1 -- 7:30 AM

The climax of the Triduum comes in the Vigil of Easter, a service of watching and waiting which utilizes prayer, Scripture, and hymns.  The Vigil is composed of four parts.

        I. The Service of Light focuses on the Paschal Candle, the representation of the unconquered life of Christ.

        II. The Service of Lessons uses Old Testament texts that foreshadowed our deliverance and rescue by Jesus.

        III. The Service of Holy Baptism emphasizes our baptismal connection to the crucified and risen Christ.

        IV. The Service of Holy Communion proclaims the risen Savior and our blessed reconciliation to God.

In the ancient Church, the Vigil began on Saturday and continued through to Easter Dawn.  It was at dawn that the cry rang out: “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!”  We honor the spirit of the Vigil, beginning our Easter Vigil at an early hour on Easter Sunday.  With the service of Easter Dawn, we conclude the Triduum.  Our Festival celebration is held at our regular hour of Divine Service, at 10:00 AM.

        May the Lord bless us as we observe these “three holy days,” the Triduum.

        SERVICE NOTES:  
        1)  While the Triduum is designed to be one connected services over three days, each part still stands on its own.  So, if you are only able to make it for part of the Triduum, you will not feel lost, as if missing Maundy Thursday means that Good Friday will make no sense.
        2)  You may find it valuable to come ten minutes prior to each portion of the Triduum to read through the bulletin and acquaint yourself with the service.  This is also a good time to prepare for worship by prayer and meditation.
        3)  If you need to have a conversation with someone, please restrict that to the fellowship hall.  The chapel will be reserved as a quiet space for prayer and meditation before and after each service.  While this is a laudable practice throughout the church year, it is especially necessary since pre-service and post-service music has been suspended for the final weeks of Lent.

        Our regular Easter Festival Service will be Sunday, April 1 at 10:00 AM.  You may also join us for Easter Breakfast at 8:45 AM.  Please let us know if we can expect you at: 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sermon -- Lenten Vespers – Sermon #2 (March 21, 2018)

Note: This sermon was also preached at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Belleville, MI on March 7 and at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Plymouth, MI on March 14.

HEBREWS 10:19-25


In the name + of Jesus.

     When the Lord appeared to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, he thundered his commands to them.  The commandments were prefaced with this word: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)  This preface reminded the Israelites of two things.  It reminded them of who the Lord was—their Redeemer and Savior.  The Lord conquered the enemies of Israel, granted them life and freedom, and bestowed on them blessing and favor.  It also reminded the Israelites of who they were.  They were God's holy people—set apart by the Lord for his glory, his honor, and his purposes.  They were a nation of priests whose lives were dedicated to the service of the Lord in all that they did.
     But now, this is what the Lord says to you, his redeemed: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people...” (1 Peter 2:9-10)  You are God's holy people.  You have been set apart from sin by the blood of Christ.  You have been set apart from death and all that will perish by your risen and living Savior.  You have been set apart for God's honor, God's glory, and God's purposes in all that you do.  Jesus, your great high priest, has made you priests.  And your priestly work is not limited to what you do in church; for you bear God's name at all times and in everything you do.  Whatever vocation it is, whatever God has given you to do—this is crowned with honor.  Your service to the Lord is holy, pure, and pleasing; for you are his holy priests.
     If that all sounds too good to be true, it is probably because you and your works do not look that significant or sacred.  Many people might insist that your works are not any different or appear any better than the works of unbelievers.  It probably looks that way to you, too.  You go to work on time.  You put in an honest day.  You work hard at doing your job well.  But other people do the same thing.  It is what is expected of you; it is what you expect of others.  You might even know unbelievers who work harder and are smarter.  You might think that their work provides a greater benefit to mankind than yours does.  You might know unbelievers who are more rewarded for their labors and more generous with their income.  And you wonder, “How could my works be any more God-pleasing than theirs?  They even seem to do more than me.” 
     If you feel that your work does not measure up as sacred, it is also probably because you know your own heart.  There are days when you despise the people you work for and work with.  We all have days when we would rather be lazy than responsible, or when we would like to tell our boss or client, “You are lucky you are getting this much out of me today.”  And there are too many days when we think, “I hate dealing with other people.”  It is easy to wonder: “How can my service be holy and God-pleasing when I am reluctant to do it and am bitter about it?”  Our best labors prove themselves to be filthy rags.  We know that the service we give and the labors we do are far from perfect.  Since they are soiled with sin, they deserve God's wrath instead of reward.
     But Jesus, our Great High Priest, does not present us before his Father as those who are covered in the filth of sin.  Instead, since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:21-22)  Jesus shed his blood to purify you from all unrighteousness.  You have been baptized into Christ; therefore, you are now clothed with Christ.  Through the sacrifice of your Great High Priest, you have been set apart to be God's own people.  While neither you nor your works may look extra special to anyone, they are sacred before the Lord.  For, your consciences have been cleansed from evil.  Your bodies have purified by the redeeming blood of Jesus.  You have been stripped of your filthy rags and have been clothed in robes of righteousness.  Your sins do not condemn you; and even your less-than-perfect works are blessed by God so that they do benefit others and so that God is pleased with them. 
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, has made us priests.  Therefore, we serve our Lord in whatever it is that we do.  And God is pleased with us, because Jesus Christ has made us pleasing to the Lord.  Jesus, our Great High Priest, has given us works to do for his honor.  Therefore, all our works are honorable—whether they are recognized or ignored, whether they are rewarding or mundane.  Just as we now bear his name, so the works we do are done in his name.  As his priests, we represent our Lord before the people we serve and bring honor to our Lord.
     The Lord had reminded the Israelites that he is the God who had saved them.  After he reminded them how they were saved, the Lord went on to declare what they were saved for.  He gave them the commandments by which they were to live for the glory of God and for the good of their neighbor.  You are no different.  Jesus, your Great High Priest, has made you priests.  Therefore, let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works... (Hebrews 10:24)  This is what the Lord has set us apart for.  We should fear and love God that we devote ourselves to these works.  We honor the Lord by loving and serving the neighbor he has given us.  We serve in our vocations, doing the works God has given us to do.  And we serve with the confidence that our works are pleasing since the blood of Jesus Christ makes us pleasing to the Lord.
     Still, we continue to need our Great High Priest.  If we need to encourage one another to love and good works, we need our Savior's encouragement all the more.  Our comfort is not going to be that we have done enough works or that our works are done well enough.  We know better.  But rather than become discouraged, we flee to Jesus.  He is the great High Priest who continually purifies us from all unrighteousness and who continually nourishes us in the faith.  For, we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, (Hebrews 10:19-20)  Jesus, our Great High Priest, has made us holy priests.  Therefore, we get to enter into the Holy of Holies to receive the body and blood of Jesus for our good, so that God continues to declare us good, and so that God keeps on working in us to do good. 
     Jesus, our Great High Priest, makes us priests.  He reminds us who we are—his redeemed who have been set apart for God's glory, God's honor, and God's purposes.  But we find our joy and comfort when Jesus reminds us who he is—our Redeemer whose blood has cleansed us, our Great High Priest who lives to intercede for us, and our Lord who opens heaven to us.  We delight in being his priests who serve him; and we live because he is the Great High Priest who serves and saves us.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (March 18, 2018)

JOHN 12:20-33


In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus Christ said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)  With these words, Jesus highlights that being his is hard work.  It is not hard to be saved; Jesus does the work there.  But serving the Lord is hard because we all have a sinful nature which hates doing what the Lord says is good and right and God-pleasing.  Doing the right thing is usually the hard thing.
     It is easier to cheat than it is to put in the work, to study hard, and to earn an honest grade.  It is easier to cover your tracks by lying than it is to take responsibility for your actions and suffer the consequences for them.  Criminals try to make big money quick through theft.  It is much harder to get an honest job and to scrape and save to earn your living.  Doing the right thing is usually the hard thing.
     Even our Lord Jesus Christ recognized that the right thing was the hard thing.  The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  But in the face of that hour, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled.  And what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27)  Jesus knew that the suffering and dying for our sins would be hard.  In fact, the devil tempted him greatly about this both in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane just hours before his arrest.  And the devil's temptation would not be hard to imagine.  “Jesus, why did you leave heavenly glory to come to earth for these people?  Why didn't you stay and let them have what they deserve?  They have not kept your commandments.  Many will never care that you would suffer the consequences in their place.  The high priest, Caiaphas, not only won't care, he will cheer your death.  Jesus, even the ones who will worship you and follow you won't keep your commandments.  They will still sin and rebel.  Why suffer the torment of crucifixion and damnation for them?”  Satan's temptation was compelling because it was true.  Satan did not make it easy for Jesus to go to the cross for sinners like us.  But Jesus chose to do the hard thing.  It is the purpose for which he was sent.  The hour had come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and it was at this hour that Jesus revealed God's glory.  It is the way he saves us.
     Therefore, Jesus' prayer was not that his way be made easy.  Jesus' prayer was that he would be faithful at this hour and that everything would be fulfilled by him.  That prayer was summed up in these words: “Father, glorify your name.”  Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:28)  The Father had revealed his glory before in delivering the Israelites out of Egypt.  In doing that, the Lord revealed himself as the God who saves his people from their slavery, destroys their enemies in the waters, and brings them to the Land of the Promise.  But God would glorify his name again.  The Son of Man would be glorified in delivering you out of your slavery to sin.  He would destroy sin and death in the waters of baptism.  And he will finally bring you into the heavenly homeland he has promised to you.  The glory of God is not that he is holy and almighty.  It is true that he is those things, but no one is saved by them.  God's glory is revealed in this: He loves and saves sinners.  This is the whole reason Jesus came.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  And his glory is manifested in his sufferings and death for you.
     Jesus described how that glory would be proclaimed: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:31-33)  Though the world will be condemned, you are delivered from it.  Though Satan claims the world as his own because it is corrupt and its people are rebels, he has been driven out of you.  He has no right to you.  Jesus has claimed you.  Jesus indicated how he would do this: He would be lifted up.  That means he would not be stoned to death according to Jewish Law, or beheaded like John the Baptist.  Jesus would be hoisted up on a cross where he would be on public display to the world.  Jesus would be crucified on main road at the Passover where Jews from all around the world would be there to see it.  Jesus' death would be no secret so that the love and mercy of God would be no secret.  In Christ, the sins of the world are paid for.  In Christ, the holy blood is poured out to purify you of all unrighteousness.  In Jesus Christ, God declares his love for the world.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified in that he pays the price for your sins, covers your guilt, and bestows upon you his own innocence.
     Jesus Christ came to this hour for this purpose.  He came to suffer and die for the benefit of all.  Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)  Jesus' died for sinners, and you are the fruits of Jesus' labors.  You have been snatched out of death and have been given new life.  You are free from the condemnation of sin and free to do the good works God has given you to do.  You have been set free from the fear of death and are now free to live in the confidence of eternal life.  You are even free to serve the Lord in joy.  For, there is no terror of wondering how much work is enough or what work is good enough.
     Jesus promises, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26)  And this is where it gets hard again.  While you want to serve the Lord, there is always a part of you—your sinful nature—that will give you every excuse not to.  Your sinful nature will try to convince you that you can follow Jesus without actually keeping his word.  As long as you are comfortable and happy, that overrules anything God has to say.  Or your sinful nature will encourage you to sin all the more, because, “What good is forgiveness of sins if you don't take advantage of it?”  In doing so, you learn to love your sins and to despise God rather than fear and love him above all things.  Or your sinful nature convinces you that it is too hard to fight against sin, and that it is easier to do nothing instead of doing good.  Of course, that is true.  It is hard to fight against your sinful inclinations.  It is hard to do good when no one seems to appreciate it. 
     Repent.  And if your sinful nature gets the better of you, keep on repenting.  Fight, and keep on fighting.  Strive for good, and keep on striving.  The right thing is usually the hard thing to do.  If you struggle to avoid sin and to do good, that is okay.  The fact that you struggle shows your faith is living and eager to serve Christ.  It proves that God is at work in you to do good.  It also proves that you need to continue to run to Jesus as your refuge against the enemies who still want you back.  And Jesus will continue to strengthen you, sustain you, and preserve you; for his love and mercy for you remain constant.
     Among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip...and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:20-21)  The reply they got from Jesus was this: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23)  If you want to see Jesus, and if you want to know his glory, it is found in his weakness and suffering.  His glory is found in his shameful death.  By these, he saves you from all that would condemn you.  And while he calls you to follow him and to do the hard work of fighting against your sin and striving to do good, he is also the one who preserves you in the faith so that you will receive honor and glory from the Father.  For, the glory of the Lord is not that he tells sinners what to do; it is that he tells sinners what he has done for them.  The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  You are the evidence of his glory; for he has taken away your sins and grants you a place in everlasting glory.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lutheran Satire: St. Patrick

Because it is St. Patrick's Day, we remember St. Patrick. At least, this is how I remember him:

This never gets old.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 11, 2018)

NUMBERS 21:4-9


In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord had been good to Israel.  When they were held in slavery in Egypt, the Lord acted on Israel's behalf.  He led Israel out of Egypt and Israel celebrated a victory over their enemy in which they never even used a weapon.  The Lord daily provided them with food that they did not grow.  Even though Israel never dug a well, the Lord provided them with enough water for a whole nation and their flocks and herds.  The Lord had been good to Israel.
     Israel, however, was not good to the Lord.  Although they were getting closer to the Promised Land, they had had it.  And the people became impatient on the way.  And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”  Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. (Numbers 21:4-6)
     Now, to be fair, the Israelites had a much harder life than you and I have.  They were homeless, wandering around in a wasteland for years.  They had been promised a fertile land, but it had been decades since they left Egypt to get there.  Granted, their banishment to the wilderness was their own fault, but it was still hard.  They were wholly dependent upon God, and that was illustrated every day by the Lord's gracious provision of manna and water.
     By contrast, our main concerns are often how we are going to pay for the luxuries and extras we have.  We have concerns over health and wellness.  Each of us also has personal struggles and private demons that haunt us.  But merely surviving is not a concern.  Nevertheless, we launch out complaints toward the Lord because we are convinced that life should be better, easier, happier.
     Because of Israel's complaining, the Lord sent venomous serpents among them.  The snakes injected their venom into the Israelite people.  Suddenly, Israel's concern was not for better food or more comfortable lodging; they were concerned about impending death.  The concern was real, as people were watching fathers and mothers, sons and daughters dying.  The Lord used this plague to refocus Israel's attention.  Israel's complaints turned into cries for mercy.  They yearned for the Lord to be their Savior.
     When our lives are afflicted by tragedies, we sometimes blame God.  Sometimes we blame the devil.  I don't know if it is helpful for us to figure out who to blame.  I suppose we do it so that we know where to direct our anger.  But this is what the Lord says: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)  Even if the devil is behind the tragedy that strikes you, the Lord makes this promise to you: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28)  God uses even the evils in your life for your good.  One of the lessons he teaches by sending tragedy your way is the same lesson he taught the Israelites who were being bitten by vipers: He teaches you to cry out to the Lord for mercy.  When you pray, “Deliver us from evil,” you recognize that the Lord is the only source for deliverance and salvation.  And if the Lord uses tragedy to teach you to pray for his mercy and deliverance more fervently, then he uses evil for your highest good.
     Still, merely begging for mercy does not supply it.  Therefore, the Lord did not let the Israelites suffer without any hope.  The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you.  Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people.  And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” (Numbers 21:7-8)  
     The Israelites cried for mercy.  The Lord extended his mercy to them.  He gave them something specific to look upon, and then he attached a promise to it: If you want to live, look to the one which is lifted up.  Israel's prayer was that the Lord take the snakes away.  If you look closely, nowhere does it say that the Lord took them away.  As far as we know, the plague of serpents persisted for a while.  If so, the Lord used them to drive home the point that they were dependent upon the Lord for mercy and for life.  But even if the serpents continued to bite, the Lord's promise remained: If you want to live, look to the one who is lifted up.  As long as the bronze serpent was lifted up, the promise of life was attached to it.  It was not the removal of the serpents which saved them; it was the promise.  And the Lord was true to his promise.  If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:9)
     And so it is for you.  Your problems may have to call out to God for mercy and deliverance.  Like the Israelites, your prayer is that the Lord would take your problems away.  That is understandable.  But God may not take your problem or your struggle away.  If that problem or struggle focuses you to yearn for God's mercy all the more, then God uses it for a good purpose.  But your problems and struggles can never remove God's mercy and promises from you.  God does not save you by taking your problems away; he saves you through a promise.  As it was in the wilderness, so it is for you in the suburbs: God attaches his promise to something specific.
     Jesus tells you what that is: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  (John 3:14-15)  If you want to live, look to the one who has been lifted up.  Jesus takes away from you all that would cause you to perish.  The only problem you have which would send you to hell is your sin.  Cancer or a car accident may send you to your grave, but they cannot damn you.  The sin which would condemn you, the venom from the ancient serpent, Jesus has taken away from you.  He removes the curse from you by taking it into himself.  Then he was lifted up off of the earth, hoisted up on a cross, where his sufferings and death were visibly proclaimed to the world.  There, God displayed his mercy and salvation.  There, God's promises were visibly made known.  And those promises stand no matter what your problems and struggles are.  God may not take those away from you; but he never removes his promises from you.
     If you want to live, look to the one who has been lifted up.  Then flee to where God promises he will bestow his salvation to you.  Jesus does not bestow forgiveness, new life, and salvation by us merely looking as crosses and crucifixes.  To be sure, art work, images, and icons may keep us mindful of what Jesus has done for us.  But just as crying out for mercy does not give it, so also just looking at or thinking of images of Jesus does not give salvation.  Jesus summons us to preaching and to sacraments for that.  This is what the Lord says: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)  That word is attached to water for the washing away of sin.  That word is attached to bread and wine where you can participate in the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.  If you want to live, you look to the one who has been lifted up.  Then flee to the place where he promises his mercy and salvation are granted—in the word which is preached and in the sacraments which are administered.
     While word and sacrament may not rid you of your struggles and problems, they do deliver you from sin, death, and the devil.  The word and the sacraments deliver Christ to you, and only he will keep you from perishing.  So, if you want to live, look to Christ who was lifted up for you.  And then flee to the altar where the body and blood of Christ are lifted up in blessing and then given to you for blessing.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Last of Basketball

The senior year of high school guarantees that we will come across a whole series of lasts.  This Friday (March 9) proved to have several lasts, although it turns out that we missed a few other lasts on Wednesday too.

We had hoped to see Caleb's last regular season game at Nouvel on Friday, March 3.  But a heavy snow made that impossible.  MLS lost a closely contested game, 69-64.

But then playoffs started this past week.  The Michigan Lutheran Seminary Cardinals faced the Vulcans of Vassar and won 50-41.  Laura got to see that one, but Catechism Class kept me at home.  That victory set up a Wednesday game.  Mid-week Lenten Vespers had me going in the opposite direction, to St. Paul's in Belleville.  Laura was at church in Good Shepherd, so we both missed the Wednesday contest against Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy.  MLS won handily, 78-35.

Philip told us that Caleb played quite a bit against SASA, scoring in double digits.  Philip suggested 14 points.  That victory set up a rematch against Nouvel Catholic Central of Saginaw on Friday, March 9.  Finally, we could get to a game!

But then we found out that Caleb sprained his ankle at the practice on Thursday night.  He attended the game on crutches.  MLS lost to Nouvel in the District Championship game, 54-48.  MLS was what they were all season--a decent defensive team who turned the ball over way too often on offense and missed too many free throws.  Had they cleaned up those errors, they would have likely won.

As it turns out, Caleb's last game was on crutches.  The last game in which he participated was the victory over SASA in which he scored quite a few points.  I have always tried to mark the last shot, but little did we know Caleb's last shot would be Wednesday.  I did not get the photo, but I would like to think he made it.

Meanwhile, his last trip off the floor for his high school career was sadly on cruchtes.  He has finished his hgh school basketball career, and we were there to give him hugs after it was over.

The lasts are hard, especially when you did not realize the last time happened and you were not aware of it.  We had fun watching Caleb and his teammates for years.  Thankfully, the memories will last.

The last game:
Pre-game prayer.

Caleb was still able to offer encouragement to his team during introductions.

The last walk off.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Basketball, at last

I have been negligent in posting anything about the basketball season this year.  I don't feel like we have gotten to many games this year for various reasons.  (Maybe not including a JV schedule makes a difference there.)  Still, it has been a season where we have enjoyed watching the MLS Cardinals play, though at times it has also been frustrating.  Perhaps that perfectly explains the near-.500 record.

On the upside, MLS has entered the post-season and has already won the first game of Districts against Vassar, 50-41.  On Wednesday, they will face Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy (aka, SASA).  Unfortunately, I was not able to be there on Monday and will not be there on Wednesday due to my schedule.  I hope they win so that Friday's game for the District Championship will happen.  That one I can see.  Go Cardinals!

Anyway, you can check out the scores throughout the season yourself at M-Live (though some are missing).  Here are a few photos of Caleb and teammates throughout the season.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 4, 2018)

JOHN 2:13-22


In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus is commonly depicted as a smiling, friendly man who would never upset anyone.  I suppose we like that image of Jesus because he is our merciful Savior who dies on behalf of sinners rather than seeking to put sinners to death.  But Jesus has more personality than just being friendly.  Jesus speaks and acts boldly; for the battle of the kingdom of God against the kingdom of the devil is not a polite debate.  It is a battle for you and for your eternal well-being. 
     So, when Jesus preaches, “Repent!” it is not a polite request that you do better.  It is a command that you forsake your sins and to devote yourself to what is God-pleasing.  When Jesus drove out demons, he did not humbly ask that they depart.  He gave an authoritative word, and the demons came out with loud shrieks—because the devil is playing for keeps and does not want to lose anyone from his kingdom.  And when Jesus encountered Israel's leaders teaching people that God's favor is gained only by keeping a list of rules, he did not offer a correction, but blasted a condemnation at them.  He called them “Hypocrites!” and “Brood of vipers!”  Jesus was not worried about their feelings.  He was acting only to save souls, because Jesus is zealous for his church.
     When Jesus entered the temple around Passover time, he was outraged by what he saw.  Now to be fair, animals were always seen at the temple.  They had to be if they were to be slaughtered for sacrifice.  And money was also seen in the temple.  It had to be if the temple tax were being collected at the Passover.  However, the temple had lost its atmosphere as a place of sacrifices, worship, and prayer.  It had become an emporium.  And that spectacle was a great distraction from the worship which was supposed to be the focus of the temple.
     Jesus was zealous for his church.  Therefore, he put together a whip from the ropes he found among the animals and drove out the distractions.  The temple was never designed for business or trade.  It was not a place for money changers and exchange rates.  So Jesus, neither smiling nor friendly, scattered everything and cried out, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” (John 2:16)  Jesus was zealous for his church.
     You can understand why the Jewish leaders confronted Jesus about this.  They had a legitimate concern for the care of the temple.  They said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18)  Perhaps they missed the impact of Jesus' bold statement when he called the temple, “my Father's house.” (John 2:16)  That should have been all the authority Jesus needed to claim.  Nevertheless, the Jewish leaders demanded a sign from Jesus to prove himself. 
     They are not alone.  Sinners commonly ask the Lord for signs and demand that God prove himself.  Those demands usually sound like this: “If God really loves me, then he will take away my (fill in the blank) problem.”  This is not only demanding God prove himself.  It is worse.  It is an ultimatum in which we assign to God what specific task he had better perform.  Or, perhaps the challenge is not as personal.  Sometimes God is told to prove himself with demands like this: “If God were loving, why would he let there be so much pain in the world?”  The premise is that God is not loving—or certainly not as loving as I would be if I were in control.  And if God fails to perform up to my satisfaction, I get to stand in judgment of him and declare him unloving, incompetent, incapable, or ignorant.  This is a horrible turning of the tables.  It suggests that God is our creation and he must answer to our demands.  Imagine a child saying to his parents, “Your job is to feed me.  So if you really love me, you will take me out for steak.”  That attitude would result in the child dining on a bar of soap instead of a cut of meat.  To demand parents to prove their love like that is reprehensible.  To demand it of God is blasphemy.  Repent.
     The Jewish leaders in the temple demanded a sign from Jesus to prove himself.  Jesus gave them one.  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:19-21)  The temple in Jerusalem had been going through a renovation project for quite some time.  When the Jewish leaders heard Jesus' claim, they seem to have feared that Jesus was going to go from cleansing the temple to destroying it. 
     The temple is that place where the Lord had put his name.  It is where God dwelt with his people.  It is where God's sacrifices were made.  It is where God bestowed blessing and salvation.  Now, when we say that Jesus is zealous for his church, he is not zealous for a building.  Jesus is zealous to save people.  The temple that Jesus said would be destroyed is his own body.  Jesus is the true temple.  He is God who came in the flesh to dwell with his people.  He is God's sacrifice for atonement.  He is where God bestows blessing and salvation upon sinners.  If you want to see God prove his zeal for his church and his love for the world, you will find everything you are looking for in Jesus.
     God proves his love to all mankind in that he has made them and given them life.  He sustains each life by daily providing what we need to live—clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home.  Sometimes he even provides spouse, children, and animals.  God does this for all people, whether they serve him or despise him.  But for you, he has done even more.  The Lord is zealous for his church.  He is not willing to see us perish, even though we deserve it. 
     How zealous is the Lord for your salvation?  He took on human flesh so that he could submit himself to destruction at the hands of sinful men.  He bore the flogging, the spitting, the bruising, the bleeding, the nails, and the spear in his body.  More than that, he bore our sins in his body which was then consumed in God's wrath.  Your sins were transferred to Jesus, and he gave himself as the ransom price to set you free from them.  Though God had come to dwell with his people, the people sought his destruction and orchestrated his death.
     But Jesus' sign was not merely that he would die.  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  ...But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  (John 2:19,21)  Jesus rose from the grave on the third day.  His body lives as proof of God's love.  First, his resurrection proves that Jesus is who he says he is.  You can't fake a resurrection from the dead.  Jesus' death was overseen by Roman soldiers who were good at crucifying people.  The spear into Jesus' side was added for good measure.  But Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples to prove his victory over death.  That resurrection is also proof that God has forgiven your sins.  The death of Jesus was payment enough.  You are free from sin.  In Christ, you are victorious over death.  Jesus is the source of blessing and salvation.  He is the proof that God loves you.  Jesus is where the Lord makes his face shine upon you.
     The Lord is zealous for his church.  Jesus' death and resurrection do not guarantee that life will suddenly be easy or pain free.  But God does not prove that he loves you by making life easy or giving you more stuff.  Stuff gets lost, stolen, or worn out.  Life on earth gets harder as you get older.  Finally, it ends.  The Lord proves his love for you by taking away your guilt and making you children of the resurrection.  The Lord proves his love by granting you a place in heavenly glory which never perishes, spoils, or fades.  Health and wealth, possessions and popularity may come and go, but the mercy of the Lord endures forever.  This is what sustains us through this life and will bring us into the life to come.  The Lord has proven this by the sign he has given—the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The zeal of the Lord has accomplished this; for the Lord his zealous for his church, for you, and for your salvation.

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