Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sermon -- Holy Trinity (May 27, 2018)

JOHN 3:1-17


In the name + of Jesus.

     When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, he was prepared to debate religion.  Nicodemus was a rabbi, and so was Jesus.  Nicodemus was looking to trade insights with Jesus, to talk about God.  Jesus was not interested in talking “about God.”  The fact is, God was sitting right in front of Nicodemus, and Nicodemus did not see it.  Jesus explained why: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)  As knowledgeable as Nicodemus was about religion, that was not enough for him to see the kingdom of God.  The truth of God's word had to be made known to him so that his confession would be true. 
     It has been said that religion is one topic you should not discuss with people.  But that's not because people don't care; it is because everyone seeks to fervently defend their idea of God.  Everyone worships a god in one fashion or another.  Martin Luther wrote, “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” (par. 3, First Commandment, Luther's Large Catechism)  Whether your trust is in the Triune God, in money, in scientific discovery, or in your own wit and wisdom, there is something you trust above everything else.  Even atheists have their own god; for they put their trust in something, even if it is themselves. 
     One of the devil's great lies is that all religions are basically the same, or that every confession of God is valid.  It is remarkable how many people say that, but it is ridiculous.  It is not even honest.  For instance, Muslims and Christians do not have the same god.  If you think it is scandalous to say so, it is probably because you have been conditioned to believe that telling someone from another religion that they are wrong is equivalent to hating them or wanting to kill them.  Muslims reject the teaching that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They acknowledge a different god; it is honest for us to say so.  If you tell a first grader that 1+1=3 is wrong, that doesn't mean you hate her even though she may burst into tears.  It is not evil to correct her.  If we tell a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, or any other religion that they worship a false god, it is not because we hate them.  But to say that it is all the same is a lie.  More than that, to say that what you believe doesn't matter is like a pharmacist giving you an unlabeled bottle of pills and saying, “It doesn't matter; medicine is medicine.  It's all the same.”  But it does matter!  If you take the wrong medicine, it can kill you.  If these differences matter in earthly things, they matter all the more in heavenly things. 
     When we confess our faith in God, we speak of what we know.  More accurately, we speak of what has been made known to us.  Just as Nicodemus had to be enlightened to see the kingdom of God, so did we.  Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)  When fallen mankind ponders who God is and what he is like, he invents a god who is like himself.  The Greeks had many gods, each pigeon-holed into a certain area of influence.  Beyond that, they were pretty much useless.  What's more, the Greek gods were all flawed.  They could be manipulated and fooled to do what men wanted.  Allah, the god of the Muslims is touted as almighty, glorious, majestic, and holy, but ultimately he wants nothing to do with people.  Even in eternal life, Allah dwells off in the distance.  You would only see the glow of his glory, but Allah does not want to be with people.
     But the point is not to mock people for their gods.  You and I like to craft God in our own image, too, assuming God would think, act, and be like us.  The fact is, no one would invent the God who is revealed in the Bible.  God is omniscient.  No one invents a god who knows the desires and thoughts in you which you hope no one ever discovers.  God is omnipresent.  No one invents a god from whom you cannot escape to do something in secret.  We would not even invent a God who is merciful as the Lord is.  If we regard someone as an enemy, we want God to smite him.  We do not want to be told that there is mercy for people who shoot up schools, who abuse their children, who deal drugs, who cut us off in traffic, or who steal our parking space.  God is not like us. 
     We speak of what we know, or what has been made known to us.  There is one God.  One God is three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is not reasoned out, but revealed.  Just as I do not get to assign characteristics to you, and you do not get to tell me what I like and don't like, so we do not get to make God as we want him to be.  God reveals himself as he is.  We do not believe it because it appeals to our reason, emotion, or matches our personality.  We believe it because God has made it known to us.  We confess what God has revealed.  We speak of what we know.
     When people make their confession about their god, whoever it is, they usually say that God is loving.  We would not necessarily disagree.  1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.”  But how does God prove or demonstrate his love?  Once again, this is where Christianity parts ways with all other religions.  It is not all the same.  It matters, because if you believe in a false god, it will kill you.
     Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the way God makes himself known most vividly.  He said, “God so loved the world...” (John 3:16), that is, 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)  God the Father loves his creation.  He does not want anyone to perish, so he sent his Son.  And God the Son became a man so that in his flesh, he would take on the sins of the world and suffer and die as sinners deserve.  Jesus perished at the cross so that you would not perish because of your sins, but would rather be pardoned of them.  This forgiveness was applied to you when you were baptized into the name of the Triune God.  For this is what the Lord says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)  But you have been born again of water and the Spirit.  The waters of baptism have cleansed you of every evil, even the sins you want to keep hidden.  The Lord has taken them from you too.  And the unclean spirit which was in you has been driven out.  The Holy Spirit dwells in you now and enlightens you to see the mercy of God.  And so you will not perish because of your unbelief, but the Holy Spirit has created saving faith within you.
     While the Bible reveals many characteristics of God, the name into which we were baptized is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  These are family names.  They speak of family relationships.  You have been brought into the family of God, and you even now bear the family name.  You are not merely knowledgeable about God as Nicodemus was.  You are not merely acquainted with some concept of God, like people who confess a god which is strikingly similar to themselves.  You are children of the heavenly Father.  You are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit makes his home with you.  And since you are in the family of God, you are also heirs of the glorious kingdom.  The mansions of heaven are yours.
     Martin Luther gave us a good definition for God.  “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” (par. 3, First Commandment, Luther's Large Catechism)  We trust in the Triune God for all the blessings we receive, and we call on his name in days of trouble and sorrow.  But Luther also urged us not only to remember who God is, he also has urged us to remember who we are.  Every morning and every evening, he calls on us to bless ourselves with the sign of the holy cross, saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.”  This is the name by which God has made himself known to us.  It is the name that marks us so that we are known by God as his beloved, redeemed, and sanctified children.  And it is the name by which we will be delivered to the everlasting presence of the God who loves us.

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

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sermon -- Pentecost (May 20, 2018)

NOTE:  This sermon was preached on a day when four teens observed the Rite of Confirmation.

JOHN 14:25-27


In the name + of Jesus.

     In just a few moments, you four teens will be observing the Rite of Confirmation.  You will be confessing your faith, which we have studied intently for the past several years.  You are, by no means, done with the word of God.  But our studies enable you to make your confirmation vows in a confident and informed manner.  Perhaps the most alarming question in the Rite of Confirmation is this one: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”
     I suppose people might think that question means: Are you willing to die a martyr's bloody death for your Christian faith?  Our Lord has let his people confess their faith with their blood in the past, and in some parts of the world, currently.  Odds are, you won't have to; but I don't know what the future holds, either.  But one thing is for sure: You are going to die at some point.  And at your deathbed, the only thing that will bring you peace are the promises your Savior has made to you.  Those matter more than the promise you make today.  I pray that you will be faithful to your confirmation vows, just as I pray that those who sit behind you will remain faithful to theirs vows, too.  But our comfort and our peace will always be from the promises Jesus has made to us.
     Jesus spoke to his apostles the night before he was crucified.  He told them that he would be leaving them soon, and he commissioned the apostles to be his witnesses to the world.  That commission not only included preaching, but also writing the words and works of Jesus in the Gospels so that forgiveness, peace, and salvation would be made known to future generations.  These words make us mindful of Jesus Christ and his peace.
     Now, if you recall from the Gospels, there are a number of times when these disciples said to Jesus, “Could you explain the parable to us.”  Or you might recall Jesus chastising them, “You of little faith, do you still not understand?”  These kinds of comments are a bit unnerving.  If the apostles did not always understand Jesus' teachings when he was with them, can we really trust that they remembered his words after his ascension?  You were assigned memory work for Catechism Class.  I had you memorize the Three Articles of the Apostles' Creed three years in a row.  How well could you recite them right now?  How well do you think the people sitting behind you would do years after their catechism instruction?
     If you have concerns about the memory of the apostles and, therefore, the record of Jesus' words and works in the Gospels, Jesus alleviates your fears and concerns.  He told them, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26)  
     The Spirit made these apostles mindful of Christ—all he did, all he said, and all the blessings he won for us by his life, death, and resurrection.  The Holy Spirit also worked through the apostles in their preaching and their writing so that we have the words and works of Jesus recorded accurately and truthfully.  Though Jesus did and said other things which are not recorded in the Gospels, the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the words which he wants us to have.  These are what we need for direction, for correction, for comfort, for encouragement, and for salvation.  The Spirit makes you mindful of Christ through them.
     Through the Scriptures, we also receive the blessing which Jesus gave to his apostles: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)  Jesus gives you his Holy Spirit who gives you peace.  But he does not give as the world gives.
      You teens are entering a time of your life when you will discover that the world offers countless distractions and pleasures.  Some are good.  Some are harmless.  Some are destructive.  You will be promised that worldly pursuits and pleasures will give you all you need, and that these will make you happy.  It is a lie.  To be fair, worldly pleasures and pursuits may give you a moment of happiness.  If you give into greed, you may get more money.  But no one on his deathbed wished he had a larger bank account.  If you give into lust, you may get a moment's pleasure.  But it will be followed by the pain of being used or the shame of using another for your own pleasure.  If you learn to manipulate people, you will get them to perform for you.  But your momentary triumph will cost you long-term friendships.  No matter what blessings you get in this world, they are slowly lost over time.  That is the best the world can give.  For a moment, it might seem like a pretty good deal.  But that is all you get—a moment.  In the end, you lose everything—worst of all, your soul.  Beware.  It happens far more easily than you think.
     But the Spirit makes you mindful of Christ who says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)  Jesus gives you an enduring peace.  It is not lost when you lose friends or possessions.  It is not taken away when life gets hard.  It does not shatter when your world falls apart.  The peace that Jesus gives was secured by his sufferings, death, and resurrection.  By his sufferings and death, Jesus has taken away your sin.  No matter what you have done, Jesus' holy, precious blood washes it away.  His innocence covers over your shame.  He pardons every offense.  And the Savior who went into death to pay for your sins also conquered death by his resurrection.  Jesus, who has redeemed you and made you a child of God, will also deliver you from the grave.  He grants you eternal life.  Nothing can erase Jesus' sufferings and death.  Nothing nullifies his resurrection.  Therefore, nothing can take your peace away from you.  Even amidst tears, you still have Jesus' promises.  Even when your world is falling apart, Jesus' promises remain rock solid.  Jesus still has his Holy Spirit dwell in you to comfort and sustain you.
     Jesus gave his Holy Spirit to the apostles so that they would proclaim the works of Jesus which has secured your peace.  The Church gathers to hear those words again and again because we will always need that comfort and assurance.  Granted, much of what you hear in sermons will not be new information.  That's why people are tempted to think that Confirmation is like graduating from religion.  After years of studying the catechism, you have learned quite a bit.  But Christians do not go to church just to gain knowledge.  We go to be strengthened and sustained in the true Christian faith.  We go to hear the words of Jesus and to receive the Holy Spirit's gifts.  It is like a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary.  A man buys his wife a card and writes a note expressing his love for his wife.  No woman looks at those words and shrugs, “Yeah, well, I already knew that.”  She is grateful for his words and cherishes them.  Many women will even keep that card—not because it was news, but because it is an expression of their love and commitment to each other.
     The Holy Spirit still comes through the words which he inspired the prophets and aposltes to write.  Chances are, you will still discover things in God's word which you have not recognized before.  But we come to hear our Lord's love for us, and to respond to him with our confession and with our praises.  The Holy Spirit makes you mindful of Christ.  He sustains and keeps you in the faith by that word—whether it is preached or whether it is added to the sacrament.  A faith that is not fed will die.  But a faith that is fed will keep Christ's peace.  A faith that is fed will remain steadfast.  It will persevere through trials and temptations.  It will suffer all things, even death.  And it will preserve you through death to a joyful resurrection.
     Dear friends in Christ, and especially you catechumens who are about to be confirmed, God is on your side.  Jesus bestows his peace upon you.  The Holy Spirit is working to keep you for time and eternity in God's care.  These blessings are given each week from this pulpit.  They are fed to you from this altar.  They sustains you whenever you read the Scriptures in your own private devotion.  In this way, you will be faithful to your confirmation vow.  In this way, the Holy Spirit will keep you mindful of Christ.  And in this way, you will be assured that Christ is always mindful of you.

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

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Prayer for Mothers' Day


O Almighty God, who did send forth your Son to be born of a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and who by His holy incarnation did in truth cause her to be the very Mother of God, thereby crowning and honoring all motherhood, grant your perpetual favor and blessing upon all of our mothers, that they in turn may be a blessing to all their children. Bless the memory of those of our mothers who have passed on from this vale of tears, and leave us not comfortless. Grant also to the Holy Christian Church, which is the Mother of us all, prosperity in faithfulness, that we through her pure milk of the Word may gain everlasting joy, through the Son of Mary, your only Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Sermon -- Ascension, transferred (May 13, 2018)

LUKE 24:44-53


In the name + of Jesus.

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

     The Church has confessed it since it actually happened: “He ascended into heaven.”  Jesus appeared to the disciples for forty days after his resurrection and spoke about the kingdom of God.  Those appearances were often surprising, as Jesus suddenly showed up.  Then Jesus suddenly departed, no longer visible to his disciples.  But on the fortieth day after Easter, Jesus' departure was different.  He was visibly lifted up from the earth until he was hidden by a cloud.  Or, as the Apostles' Creed says, “He ascended into heaven.”
     People often speak about loved ones going to heaven, or that we ourselves expect to go to heaven.  As common as that expression is, I think it can be badly misunderstood.  I suspect that many people think heaven is where all dead people go, whether they were Christians or not.  Think about it yourself.  When you hear that someone has gone to heaven, what do you think is going on?  Is it that someone is floating on a cloud with a harp?  Is it just that they are pain-free?  Even Christians may have a pretty fuzzy idea about what it means that we go to heaven. 
     What's worse is that we are prone to accept the common belief that everyone goes to heaven.  It sounds too mean that anyone should go to hell.  It makes God seem mean and cruel.  We all confess that God is love and that he is a Savior.  It is easy to declare, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  It is harder for us to quote just two verses later: “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God,” (John 3:18), that is, unbelievers go to hell.  People argue that sending someone to hell forever is not fair.  And since we want people to view God as fair, we shy away from saying God sends people to hell.
     If we fail to emphasize that God is holy, his word is not taken seriously.  People don't want to be alerted to their guilt; they want to be told there is no reason to feel guilty.  They don't want forgiveness; they want free-reign.  Since God does not negotiate with sinners, men hate God's word and rage against it.  If we try to proclaim God's word in a way that suits the taste of sinful men, then it is no longer God's word.  Repent.  God has given us his word to believe and to proclaim.  He does not need us to serve as his editor or to apologize for him.  The fact is that all people are sinners.  All deserve God's wrath.  All have earned the curse.  If we pray that God would be fair, it does not mean that we all go to heaven.  It means that all people go to hell.  For, no one is innocent.
     But God does not treat us as our sins deserve.  It is Jesus Christ who was treated as our sins deserve.  That is how God reveals his love to sinners.  Jesus reminded his disciples: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)  It is what the Lord foretold.  It is what Jesus has fulfilled.  And it is what the apostles had witnessed.  It was true sufferings and death which turned away real divine wrath.  It was a real resurrection which brings true forgiveness of guilt.  Forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation come only by faith in Jesus.  Apart from Jesus there is no forgiveness, no life, and no salvation.
     When Jesus had told the apostles that he would be leaving them, they were grieved.  More than anything, they wanted to be with Jesus.  They recognized that with Jesus is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  They did not want Jesus to leave them.  They wanted to be with Jesus.
     The Church longs for this even now.  The point of eternal life is not that will be in heaven.  It is that we will be with Jesus.  When you consider how heaven is depicted in St. John's Revelation, we do not hear about people floating on clouds, lounging on the beach, or playing golf.  John saw everything there focused on Jesus.  He is on the center of the throne, and all the people are with him, surrounding him.  That is why the Church meets together today: We want to be with Jesus.  We want to hear his word.  We want to be comforted by his promises and guided by his truth.  We want peace, joy, and comfort which cannot be shaken or lost.
     You might get the idea that being with Jesus is pretty much impossible.  “He ascended into heaven.”  But our confession continues: “He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  The right hand of God is wherever God is at work, especially when God is working salvation.  So, if Jesus is at the right hand of God, Jesus is where God is and especially where he is working to save.  In other words, Jesus is with his Church which meets in his name to hear his word and receive his sacraments.  Jesus is here with us as we meet.  And Jesus is with you always, for you are always his.  There is no place you can go where his mercy, forgiveness, and promises are not upon you.  Jesus ascended to heaven so that he would be with you on earth.  Far from abandoning you, he is with you always.
     This is also why we are blessed whenever we partake in Holy Communion.  We are not reenacting a meal that Jesus had with his apostles.  Jesus, who fills all things, is also on our altars.  We do not feast on a dead Jesus or a pretend Jesus.  We feast on the living, exalted body and blood of Jesus.  The body and blood which conquered death are given to us for our own salvation.  No matter what Christian altar you are at, there is the right hand of God; there is Jesus there with his body and blood.  Wherever his word is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered, there is Jesus with his people to save, to bless, to comfort, and to forgive.  Rather than have us go to one place on earth where we might get a glimpse of Jesus or a moment of his time, Jesus ascended into heaven so that he would be with us on earth whenever and wherever we may be.
     Since we are Christ's people, we will also follow the path which Jesus took.  He became flesh so that he could bear in his body the curse of our sins.  The body which was laid in a grave rose from the dead.  And the man, Jesus, ascended to dwell at God's right hand.  So also, even though we will go to the grave, we too will rise.  These bodies will be raised up holy and glorious.  In our flesh, we will be taken to the glories of heaven.  The point is not that we will float on clouds or play harps.  The point is that we will be with Jesus.  For, thanks to Jesus, man now has a dwelling place with God.  And, thanks to Jesus, we will dwell with the Lord forevermore—God with man, and man with God. 
     Our prayer is that no one would go to hell.  Thanks to Jesus, no one should have to.  He is not mean or cruel; he is the loving Savior.  Whoever believes and is baptized into him shall be saved.  Jesus has given us the task of letting this salvation be known.  “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations...” (Luke 24:46-47)  Those who receive this word will rejoice in it.  They will long to be with Jesus who loves sinners and saves them.  Those who despise this word may have plans to go to heaven.  But it is strange that they would desire to go to a place which centers on Jesus whom they reject and whose word they despise. 
     But not so for us.  We long to be with Jesus.  And Jesus longs to be with us.  Jesus ascended into heaven so that he would be with us on earth.  And so we continue to gather here in his name, because Jesus is here to bless us, to forgive us, and to save us.  We join in the heavenly meal where Jesus feeds us, strengthens us, and sustains us.  It is a moment where heaven touches earth.  It is a rehearsal for the worship that will come in the mansions of heaven.  For, the goal of the Christian faith is not to be in some nebulous place; it is to be with Jesus.  And Jesus' desire is to be with us.

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Ascension Day Services

Ascension Day is Thursday, May 10.  Since this festival always lands on a Thursday, the 40th day after Easter, it is often neglected.  However, this is the festival which recognizes Jesus ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God, and enables him to fulfill his promise that he will be with us always, even to the end of the world.  While Good Shepherd will not be having a service on May 10 you can attend...

St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church (17810 Farmington Road), Livonia – 6:30 PM service.

St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church (1343 Penniman Ave), Plymouth – 7:00 PM service.

        NOTE:  While Good Shepherd will not observe Ascension Day on Thursday, we will be transferring the festival to Sunday, May 13.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sermon -- 6th Sunday of Easter (May 6, 2018)

JOHN 15:9-17


In the name + of Jesus.

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

     One of the earliest creeds of the Christian Church was rather simple: “Jesus is Lord.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)  If you have grown up in the Christian Church, that creed does not sound too impressive; certainly not controversial.  In the days of the apostles during the Roman Empire, that creed was considered treasonous.  The creed of the Roman Empire was, “Caesar is Lord.”  That meant that Caesar was sovereign.  Caesar's word was supreme.  For some, it meant that Caesar was divine.  Christians refused to make this confession.  For many, it cost them their lives.  But the Christians would not make any concessions to their faith for the sake of Caesar.  While they would honor and obey him as emperor, Caesar was most definitely not “Lord.”  The Christians zealously held on to their creed, “Jesus is Lord,” which meant that Jesus is sovereign.  Jesus' word is supreme.  Jesus is divine.  Jesus is Jehovah who created heaven and earth, who parted the Red Sea, who became flesh to live and die in order to redeem sinners, and who is risen and lives forever.
     When Jesus spoke to his apostles on Maundy Thursday, just hours before he went to the cross, he gave them a new command.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  Jesus did not follow up his command with a threat, saying, “Remember: I am Lord; you are my subjects.  If you don't keep my commands, you will pay the price and face my divine wrath.”  Now, he could have said that.  He would have had every right.  But Jesus did not flaunt the fact that he is Lord.  Instead, he said something which is much more endearing and comforting: “You are my friends...” (John 15:14)  Jesus' words to his apostles are also intended for you.  Jesus is pleased to call you friends.
     Now, when you and I chose our friends, we base our friendships on common interests, common opinions, and other similarities.  While we might know people who have different interests and contrary opinions, we usually choose not to spend too much time with them.  Even if we call them friends, we do not give them as much time, care, or conversation as we do with the ones we call our true friends.
     Jesus is pleased to call you his friend.  But you are not his friends because he finds you so loveable or deserving of his friendship.  Our interests conflict with his will.  Our opinions are at odds with his word.  Although we are willing to confess, “Jesus is Lord,” with our mouths, our actions testify that we have a different master.  Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But we see our neighbor with his problems and reply, “There's a reason they call them YOUR problems.”  Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,”  We consider it a noble achievement that we tolerate someone else.  But to sacrifice for one whom we find annoying?  We answer with a resounding, “No!”  You cannot say, “Jesus is Lord,” and “No, I won't do what you say.”  Only one of those is true.  Lords are to be obeyed, not defied.  Repent. 
     You will not find a verse in the Bible which says, “God so tolerated the world....”  God loved the world, and he demonstrated that love by sending his Son into the world to remove everything from you that he would find offensive and objectionable.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  But it is even more than that.  The Bible declares, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:10)  Jesus' love is shown in that he does all things for our good—not because we are loveable, but because he is loving.  Therefore, he suffered for sins that he did not commit.  He took the curse that he did not deserve.  He laid down his life for our good—to take away our transgressions and to secure our place in God's kingdom.  You are not merely subjects of the king who are to obey or pay the price.  Jesus is pleased to call you his friends, which means he has also converted your will so that you are more and more willing to live as it pleases him.  He has made you a friend of God.  Therefore, you recognize that God's word is good, that God's ways are right, and that God's love should be seen in your words and actions.
     Jesus is pleased to call you friends.  Jesus shows you that friendship by doing everything for your good.  He says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)  Jesus has made us his friends through his word, and Jesus keeps us as friends through his word.  Everything Jesus has revealed from his Father he has revealed for our good.  If that word convicts you of sin, Jesus does this for your good so that you will repent and not perish in your sins.  If his word corrects you, Jesus does this for your good so that you will not stray from the faith and lose his salvation.  And of course, Jesus continues to speak tenderly to you with his promises—comforting you, encouraging you, and assuring you that he is your good and faithful friend in good days and in bad.  Jesus is pleased to call you his friend.
     So, when Jesus gives a new command, it is not as a drill sergeant barking out orders to his underlings.  It is a friend who directs his friends to be like him.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  Just as Jesus poured out love upon the world—whether those whom he claims as friends or those who remain his enemies, so he wants us to pour out such love upon others.  You do not do this because others are so loveable.  Some people make it very hard to love them.  They are obnoxious, rude, or crooked.  Some are even your enemies.  You do not love them because they deserve it or because you might gain something out of them.  You don't even love them so that they might believe.  Our prayer is that they would, but if that is the only reason you love people, then you will tire of them very quickly when they do not respond like you want them to.  Jesus has called on us to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)  That means we seek the good of others and help them in their need.  And we do this simply because this is what Jesus has given us to do.
     Jesus is pleased to call you friends.  He has made his word known to you and shown you the heart of the heavenly Father.  Since you recognize the Father's loving heart is good, Jesus calls you to have the same loving heart for all, and especially for those who belong to the family of God.  These are your brothers and sisters, recipients of the same divine mercy, heirs of the same glorious promise, and objects of the Lord's affections.
     The Lord Jesus Christ does not merely put up with you and all of your quirks, your odd sense of humor, and your favorite style of music and clothing.  The Lord Jesus loves you.  When he redeemed you, it was because he wants to spend his eternity with you—to talk with you, to laugh with you, and to feast with you.  Jesus became the friend of sinners to bring them into his family so that they would be his for all eternity.  He did this for your fellow members.  He did this for you.  Since Jesus has so loved us in this way, even forgiving our sins against him, so we also ought to love one another.  For love comes from God.  And now, we are his.  Therefore, let love also come from us.

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

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Pastor's Daily Prayer (Part 13 of 13)

The Pastor's Daily Prayer
(paragraph 13 of 13)

The following paragraph comes from the Pastor's Daily Prayer from The Lutheran Agenda (c) 1941.  It has been slightly edited (thee's and thou's to you and yours) to make it sound a bit less archaic; nonetheless, some archaic terms have been retained for the sake of endearment of the original version.

Hear me, most merciful God, in these my humble requests, which I offer up to you in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end.  Amen.

As with all prayers, we pray as children of the heavenly Father, adopted into his family by the work of Jesus and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We pray that God will do his will, that we be included in that will, and that our will conform to his.  No matter what, we trust that our Father in heaven will do what is best for his Church and for us as individuals in his Church.  While we recognize that God does not owe us anything, we trust that our Father in heaven remains good and merciful.  We hold God to his promises, which honors him since we believe he is not lying to us in his promises, but that he will do exactly what he has said.  

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Pastor's Daily Prayer (Part 12 of 13)

The Pastor's Daily Prayer
(paragraph 12 of 13)

The following paragraph comes from the Pastor's Daily Prayer from The Lutheran Agenda (c) 1941.  It has been slightly edited (thee's and thou's to you and yours) to make it sound a bit less archaic; nonetheless, some archaic terms have been retained for the sake of endearment of the original version.

Grant also health and prosperity to all that are in authority in our country, especially the President and Congress of the United States, the Governor and Legislature of this State, and to all Judges and Magistrates. Endue them with grace to rule after your good pleasure, to the maintenance of righteousness and to the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 

I consider it a disturbing state of affairs that this petition is a cause of offense for so many Christians.  Sadly, I think that too many Christians equate the Christian faith with a party platform, or believe that those who are members of a particular party cannot really be Christians.  Let this be clear: The kingdom of God is not a political party!

I have been rebuked for saying prayers for our political leaders.  Consider this petition, which we offer in church on a few occasions each year:
M: Preserve our nation in justice and honor, that we may lead peaceable lives of integrity. Grant health and favor to all who bear office in our land, especially to President ________ (name), Governor _________ (name), the Mayor of Novi, and all those who make, administer, and judge our laws, and help them serve all citizens according to your holy will:
C: Hear us, good Lord.

Yes, I add the names that belong in those blanks.  Over the past 20+ years, I have prayed for President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, and now President Trump.  Unfortunately, some feel that some of these presidents are not worthy of our prayers.  But what does the petition above pray for?  "Grace to rule after your good pleasure, the maintenance of righteousness and the hindrance and punishment of wickedness."  Who would refuse to pray for these?  As the prayer notes, the fulfillment of these petitions only serves our own good.

If someone is truly scandalized that the Church would pray for the leaders of one's country, their issue is not with the pastor, or even the leader for that matter.  It is with 1 Timothy 2:1-2 which says, "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."  If St. Paul can say this when his emperor was Nero, then certainly each Christian congregation should pray for their leaders.

Sermon -- HVL Chapel (May 2, 2018

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

ROMANS 7:14-23

He Helps Us With Our Struggle With Sin.

In the name + of Jesus.

     I will I could sin as much as I want to, but I can't.  Either you are thinking of me as a reprehensible person who can't wait to do what is evil, or you recognize that I would really rather never sin and have to deal with guilt, shame, and regret.  I wish I could sin as much as I want to—which is, not at all.  But I can't.
     We all know that we are supposed to do what is right.  God has made us a new creation.  He has created in us a clean heart and renewed in us a right spirit.  Therefore, we want to do what is right.  And we like to credit ourselves with this desire, even when it is only done in our heads.  Consider:
     When we hear the Christmas story, we often find a villain in it.  It comes with this phrase: “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)  We often think of some evil inn keeper, heartlessly snarling at Joseph and Mary while she is in full blown labor, and pointing them away from his Holiday Inn.  Well, for one thing, it did not really happen like that, but that image is often too good to pass up when we hear the Christmas story.  Besides making a villain out of this fictional inn keeper, we also tend to make heroes of ourselves.  It goes like this: “Well, if I had been there in Bethlehem at that time, I would have made sure that Joseph and Mary were taken care of.  I would have seen to it that Jesus would have been born in a comfortable room and that they had everything they needed.  And then I would have worshiped with the shepherds when they came.”  Most Christians feel this way  Even if they do not say it, they think it.  And, to be fair, I think that everyone who feels this way means it.
     Since you have been given a right spirit, you agree that these things are good.  So you agree with St. Paul and share his confession:  “I agree with the law, that it is good.  … For I have the desire to do what is right....  I delight in the law of God, in my inner being...” (Romans 7:16,18,22)
     Still, no matter how much you may boast about taking care of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Bethlehem, that is not what God has given you to do.  You weren't there.  But you are here.  And God has given you friends, family, loved ones, and others that you come into contact with throughout each week.  These are the ones whom God has given you to serve and love.  But what do you find about these people?  Are you as eager to love and serve them as you claim to be about loving and serving Jesus, Mary, and Joseph?  Chances are, you get angry with your friends and tell them off.  You are annoyed by your siblings and have no interest in helping them with their projects.  You are able to be polite to strangers, as long as they do not ask too much of you and go away quickly.  In other words, it seems to make sense when we tell people, “There's a reason they call them YOUR problems.”  Now, if you cannot show love to those who are your loved ones, what makes you think you would have been kind and generous to strangers in Bethlehem?
     As much as we delight in God's law and recognize that it is good, we also share St. Paul's confession about sins, because we know Paul's words are true.  We see it in our lives: “For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (Romans 7:15-21)  
     If you are struggling with sin and temptation, let me assure you: There is nothing unusual about you.  Even the Apostle Paul endured the same struggle, the same frustration, and the same weaknesses you have.  You are still a sinful being, and you still need a Savior.  You still need Jesus, and you will never out grow him.
     Good news!  Jesus is and remains forever your Savior.  He does not grow tired of you.  He does not regret suffering and dying for you.  Rather, he continues to give you his body and blood so that you will find forgiveness of your sins and strength for your faith.  He summons you to call upon him in the day of trouble and temptation so that he will aid you and help you when temptations come.  Your Savior is not one who barks orders at you or threatens you; he speaks tenderly to you.  He demonstrates love and mercy toward you so that you are always eager to hear him, follow him, and recognize that his word is good.  Even if that word shows you that you are not good, your comfort comes from the fact that Jesus supplies his goodness and innocence to you so that you remain holy and blameless before God.
     As long as we have this flesh on us, we will struggle with sin and temptation.  That struggle is good.  By it, you recognize that you should be striving for good, even though your sinful nature would prefer you don't.  As long as you are struggling, you have evidence that God is at work in you to will and to act according to his will.  This is life in the Church Militant.  And if you struggle, you are in the Church.
     But in the midst of our struggles, we still have a Savior who has paid for our sin for us, who has overcome temptation for us, and who will be with us to forgive, strengthen, comfort, and encourage us always, even to to the end of the age.  For, your status before God is not determined by how good you can be; it is found in Jesus who covers you with his righteousness and, therefore, also works all good in you.
     I hope that you are able to sin as much as you want to, which is never.  But you can't.  Nevertheless, in the midst of your struggles, you have Jesus who will strengthen you in your fight against sin, and who purifies you from all sin.

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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Pastor's Daily Prayer (Part 11 of 13)

The Pastor's Daily Prayer
(paragraph 11 of 13)

The following paragraph comes from the Pastor's Daily Prayer from The Lutheran Agenda (c) 1941.  It has been slightly edited (thee's and thou's to you and yours) to make it sound a bit less archaic; nonetheless, some archaic terms have been retained for the sake of endearment of the original version.

Keep and preserve our whole Synod, its teachers and officers, true to your word. Cause the work of our Synod to grow. Guard and protect all members of Synod against sinful ambitions, dissension, and indifference in doctrine and practice. Bless all our institutions of learning—our prep schools and area Lutheran high schools, our colleges, seminaries, and universities. Accompany all missionaries on their dangerous ways, and help them to perform their work. Gather the elect from all nations into your holy Christian Church, and bring them at last into your Church Triumphant in heaven. 

While the church I serve, Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church is an individual congregation which strives to serve God's people in Novi and the surrounding area, we are also blessed to be part of a synod.  Synod is from a pair of Greek words which mean "walk together."  We are privileged to be part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (aka, WELS) which walks together, united in confession and in ministry.  We work together to prepare people to be pastors and teachers who will serve in pulpits and classrooms around our synod.  This is hard and expensive work done at our synod-supported schools (e.g., Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Martin Luther College, Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Luther Preparatory School) and in our congregational-supported schools (e.g., Huron Valley Lutheran High School).  We join together to send missionaries into distant lands, and we support them while they are there with our offerings.  We work together to publish confessional Lutheran resources through Northwestern Publishing House for the benefit of our members, both on a congregational level (e.g., Sunday School, VBS, etc.) and on a personal level (e.g, devotional sources, theological writings, etc...).

As noble as these goals are, they are only worthwhile as long as the synod remain true to God's word.  The history of the Christian Church is replete with stories of God's people who were enticed away from the truth by false teaching with appealed to sinful ears, drifted away from the truth due to apathy among God's people, or who simply abandoned God's word in rebellion.  Hopefully, no synod or group is so arrogant to think that they are immune to repeating the past.  Rather, we pray fervently that God would keep us and our church faithful by his gracious care.

There is also a temptation for a synod to think that the synod itself is a reason for its existence.  We end up being focused on ourselves, practically in terror of anyone who is "not us."  For this, we repent and resolve to proclaim God's truth to others--whether in our neighborhoods or around the world; whether they are a familiar or a strange culture.  What good is having God's truth if we don't proclaim it?  And if people are going to hear it, we must go to them instead of waiting for them to, somehow, miraculously stumble into our church on a Sunday morning.  The lost sheep do not find the Good Shepherd; he goes to find them.  And since the Church is his voice, we go, seek, proclaim, and invite.  And we pray God will bless it.

As we do this, God will gather his elect.  We rejoice that God is pleased to do this through us.  And we pray that, at last, the Church that meets here on earth will be gathered to the Church Triumphant in heaven where we will all rejoice in God's glory and grace forever.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Pastor's Daily Prayer (Part 10 of 13)

The Pastor's Daily Prayer
(paragraph 10 of 13)

The following paragraph comes from the Pastor's Daily Prayer from The Lutheran Agenda (c) 1941.  It has been slightly edited (thee's and thou's to you and yours) to make it sound a bit less archaic; nonetheless, some archaic terms have been retained for the sake of endearment of the original version.

To your grace and mercy I also commend all my brothers in the office of the holy ministry. Arrest and suppress all discord and dissension. Give me a brotherly heart towards all and true humility, and help me to bear with patience their casual weakness or deficiencies. Grant that they also may act as true brothers toward me.

The pastor prays for his fellow pastors, particularly those of his own fellowship with whom he has the most contact and with whom he shares a common confession.  These are the pastors that I usually work with in my little corner of the world in the western suburbs of Detroit.  I suspect that they are all like me--plenty absorbed in their own parishes and responsibilities to think too much beyond that.  As a result, each of us can wallow in our own concerns and be oblivious to the various challenges that our brothers are enduring, whether those challenges are personal or congregational.

This petition keeps me mindful that my fellow pastors have their own various struggles, often unknown to me.  It also reminds me that I am partly responsible for our camaraderie.  We each have our own personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.  While we all may be comfortable enough with our own quirks, others may find them quite annoying.  We are tempted to deal with each other with eye rolls and reluctance rather than as brothers united in preaching God's word and defending the faith.  This prayer acknowledges those faults and weaknesses, seeks to overcome my own level of self-importance, strives bear the concerns of my brothers with encouragement, and prays that they also can put up with me.