Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sermon -- 14th Sunday after Pentecost (August 26, 2018)



In the name + of Jesus.

     This reading from Ephesians is hard, but for all the wrong reasons.  In this reading, St. Paul declares God's design for marriage.  It is simple enough: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church...  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...” (Ephesians 5:22-23,25)  The language is straight forward.  A man and a woman each have their own roles in the marriage bond.  Each is to serve the other in those roles.  What is hard is that wives are better at hearing what their husbands are supposed to be, and husbands are better at hearing what God instructs of wives.  Both are interested in the other fulfilling their roles and are not nearly as invested in their own.  This creates strife, as each one not only struggles to fulfill his or her own role, but also judges how the other is failing to measure up.
     The other issue with this reading is that we often give our attention to the wrong word.    Chances are the word which made your eyes pop open a bit was the word, “Submit.”  You may have even cringed when you heard it.  Americans don't submit.  And if we have to, we make it clear that we don't like it.  But the word which should grab your attention is not “submit.”  It is this one: “mystery.”  When the Lord chooses to reveal a mystery to us, we do well to pay attention to it and ponder it often.
     As he writes about the roles of husbands and wives, St. Paul concludes the whole matter with this comment: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32)  What is the mystery?  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)  The Lord Jesus Christ has betrothed himself to the Church.  God became a man, making himself one of us.  He has bound himself to mankind in order to make mankind his own.  God and man are one flesh in Jesus Christ.  He joined himself to us, and he joined us to himself.  We enjoy this blessed union by grace.
     When a man chooses to marry a woman, it is because he finds something about her that is attractive, endearing, and beautiful.  Jesus chose us to be his own, but he did not choose us because we are pure.  He did not love us because we were so beautiful or so obedient.  Our lives are not pretty.  We have not submitted to God's word and followed his commands.  We convince ourselves that happiness and fulfillment come by grasping at what God forbids—just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.  With those sinful attitudes, we still reject God's instruction. 
     Consider what God says to married couples.  “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)  Women recoil at this, thinking that God wants them to be doormats for their husbands to walk all over.  Women reply, “Submit to him!?  What about me?  What do I get out of this?”  Men are no different and no better.  This is what the Lord says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...” (Ephesians 5:25)  The husband is to sacrifice himself for the good of his wife and his family.  He is to spend his entire life saying, “No” to his sinful nature.  Sinful hearts will not put up with that.  Men ask, “Give myself completely?!  What about me?  What do I get out of this?”  So, both refuse to submit God's instruction because each is interested in self-preservation and personal gain.  This love has strings attached, and it is usually revoked if it is not satisfied.  For the sinful heart loves itself first and foremost.  Repent.
     But God's love is not sinful.  It is pure.  It seeks your good.  It does what is best for you and gives only what is good for you.  Therefore, Jesus did not betroth himself to you because you are pure or beautiful or even good.  Rather, Jesus loves you because he is good.  In becoming a man, Jesus took his place with us.  He became one flesh with us and took up our cause.
     If a woman enters marriage bringing with her a large debt from college loans and credit cards, the man who chooses to marry her assumes the responsibility for her debt.  He makes it his own and bears responsibility to pay it off.  We owe God our willful obedience, and we have defaulted on this.  We cannot even begin to make the payment on our sins.  When Jesus Christ betrothed himself to us, he assumed the responsibility for our debt.  He made himself one flesh with us in order to pay for our guilt with his innocent blood.  He submitted himself to crucifixion—dying a cursed death so that we would be pardoned for our sins.  The debt has been paid.  You are free and clear of all charges.
     We enjoy a blessed union, by grace.  The Lord has joined himself to you in order to take away all of your sins from you.  At the same time, the Lord Jesus has joined you to himself so that all that is his is now yours.  By his innocent blood, he cleanses you by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. (Ephesians 5:26-27)  The Lord Jesus has arrayed you in a robe of his righteousness so that you are pure, innocent, and beautiful in his sight.  He gives you his name so that you know you are his.  He provides for your needs.  He protects you from sin, death, and the devil.  He guarantees your place at the heavenly wedding banquet.  For you are not merely a guest in heaven.  Rather, you are united to Christ in a blessed union.  The two have become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)
      In this way, husbands ought to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.  If you are one flesh with her, if you have given her your name, then you care for her, sacrifice for her, protect her, provide for her, and cherish her above every earthly gift that God gives you.  For, love does not seek what it can get out of someone.  Rather, love devotes itself to giving, to serving, and to seeking the best for the other. 
     This is what wives are submit to—willingly receiving these good things from their husbands.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (Ephesians 5:23)  The Church is not shamed or degraded in any way by submitting to Christ.  On the contrary, this is how the Church receives her good things.  By submitting to Christ, the Church receives her glory, honor, and salvation.  Christ is the head and the Lord of the Church, but he is no tyrant.  He is not abusive, but gentle.  He is not fickle with his love, but faithful.  For, even when we come back to him with our sins, he speaks tenderly with forgiveness, assurance, and encouragement.  In Jesus, you remain unblemished, pure, endearing, and beautiful.  For, Jesus does not despise his betrothed.  His love endures forever.
     We enjoy a blessed union by grace.  And the Lord has designed marital unions to reflect that love and service among husbands and wives.  Although husbands and wives do not have pure and perfect love and there are no perfect marriages on earth, they can still be good.  They still receive God's blessing.  Husbands and wives continue to say, “No,” to their sinful desires.  They forgive each other for their sins, and they submit themselves to God's will in order to seek the good of the other. 
     We enjoy a blessed union, by grace.  While our love will never be perfect on this side of heaven, Jesus' love is.  His love has worked for our good and has gained our place at the heavenly wedding feast.  For, the Lord loves his Church.  And he will rejoice over her for all eternity, just as the Church rejoices in the Lord and eagerly looks for her Groom to return.  Until then, we get to taste the feast which our Lord has prepared for our good.  By it, he nourishes and cherishes his body so that we persevere to the end.  This is a profound mystery, and we do well to ponder it; for the Lord bestows endless joys through it.

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

Friday, August 24, 2018

Sermon -- Funeral of Larry L. Luedeman (August 24, 2018)

For the Christian Funeral of 
+ Larry L. Luedeman +
(August 15, 1938 - August 21, 2018)



In the name + of Jesus.

     Larry Luedeman is not the man he once was.  He was born into this world on August 15, 1938.  And he came into this world as all people do—a sinner.  From the moment he drew his first breath, he was on a journey which would end with his final breath.  His parents knew that.  So, they had him baptized into Jesus Christ.  By means of that baptism, the Triune God made him new.  The heavenly Father declared Larry to be a child of God.  The Lord Jesus cleansed him of all sin and clothed him in garments of salvation.  The Holy Spirit came to dwell in his heart, making him a new creation—one who was destined to live forever.  Behold!  It was all new.
     And as it is with all people, so it was for Larry.  He grew up, grew wiser, grew stronger, and grew taller.  Real tall, in fact.  Taller than most.  He got married.  Besides blessing him and Irene with almost 60 years of marriage, God also blessed him and Irene with children.  Many children, in fact.  More than most.
     I am sure that you all have fond memories of Larry—whether as husband, father, or grandfather.  And I am sure your stories are better than mine.  I have only known Larry for about 10 years.  For seven of those years, he was dealing with the after affects of a stroke.  Clearly, Larry was not the man he once was.  I remember him before his stroke being eager to engage in lively conversation.  That changed, and it got worse.  Although he did not talk much, he was still good at listening to the word of God.  The promises he knew throughout his life were sustaining him to the end of life.  His body may have been failing him, but God's was not.
     On August 21, 2018, the end of life in this world came.  He was not the man he once was.  He was not as robust.  He was not belting out hymns.  He was not as jovial or as energetic.  He was not even comfortable.  It is hard to see a loved one like that.  You remember him from his better years.  You remember the stories.  You have the memories.  And you grieve that he is not the man he once was.
     But this is not the end of his story.  Larry Luedeman had become a new creation at his baptism.  He was marked as a child of God.  He was given promises, and God is faithful to those promises.  St. John gave us a glimpse of the promises yet to be fulfilled.  Behold!  It will all be new.  St. John saw a new heaven and a new earth—a new home which will not be marred by hardships, by heartaches, or by any difficulties.  But the best part of this new heaven and new earth is who will be there.  This is what St. John recorded: I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3)
     Behold!  It will all be new.  Larry's dwelling is no longer among sinful people in a corrupt world.  The saints of God will be gathered together, and God himself will be there with them.  Although God is with us and is our God now, we do not see him except by faith.  We believe he is with us because he says so.  He dwells within his believers.  His promises sustain you.  His Spirit comforts you.  But when he makes all things new, we will not live by faith.  We will see our Lord.  We will be with our Immanuel, and he will be with us.
     One of the bitter parts of death is losing one who is so dear to you.  When you lose a parent, you lose a part of your home.  All of you who are Larry & Irene's sons and daughters are grown and have established your own homes.  You have your own jobs, families, and responsibilities—most of which have taken you away from here.  But there is something comforting about coming back to your parents.  You may be frustrated at your job.  People may say nasty things about you.  You may be stressed out with your obligations.  You may even be at your wits' end with life.  But when you come to be with your parents, you are welcomed by people who love you without strings attached.  You do not have to pretend to be nice to them, and you know that they are not pretending to love you.  Your world may be a disaster, but your parents' home is still a refuge.
     Jesus Christ has provided an even greater refuge for Larry.  “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)  The God who became man to redeem mankind has brought Larry to dwell with him.  Jesus—who suffered for our sins to take away our sins, he who died under God's curse to deliver us from that curse, he who conquered death in order to be our refuge in death—has gathered Larry to himself in heaven.  Jesus, Immanuel, is God with us; and he is Larry's Immanuel for all eternity.  He has brought Larry's soul to this new home--the perfect dwelling in God's holy presence.  Larry is not the man he once was.  For now, Larry no longer knows pain or the frustration of being unable to move.  He no longer knows what it is to shed tears or to grieve.  He sings with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  The Lord who saved him, who blessed him, who preserved him in the faith, and who loves him without strings attached, wants Larry to be with him forever.  And so, now he is.  Larry walks before the Lord, and the Lord dwells with him.  Behold!  It is all new.
     But there is still more.  Today, we lay the body of Larry Luedeman to rest.  It is not the body he once had; for it has aged, grown weak, suffered badly in health, and has finally given out.  But the Lord has plans for this body.  Jesus announced them to St. John: He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)  
    Behold!  It will all be new.  Death has not had the last word.  For Jesus, who overcame death, has purchased and won Larry from death.  Death does not own Larry Luedeman; Jesus does.  And therefore, on the Last Day, Jesus will raise this body from the grave, and behold!  It will all be new.  This body which has succumbed to death will be raised up, living and glorious.  It will be incorruptible—which means that all effects of his stroke, heart attack, and any sickness or disease will be forever gone.  It will be imperishable—which means he will never know frailty, weakness, or death.  It will be holy—which means he will be set apart for the Lord's glory and able to live in the presence of God forevermore.  Behold!  It will all be new, and it will forever be new.
     Larry Luedeman will not be the man he once was.  He will be risen.  He will be glorified.  He will be without sin, without pain, without sorrow, without death, and without end.  And just as he was the Lord's redeemed throughout his life, so he will be for all eternity.  Jesus is his Immanuel.  Jesus makes him a partaker of his glory forevermore.  And that will never get old.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Something from ... Luther: Regarding the hope of the resurrection

In his commentary about the patriarch Enoch from Genesis 5, Martin Luther encouraged us to take to heart the fact that Enoch was taken to heaven.  He not only did not suffer a bodily death, but he was also taken into heaven in his fleshly body.  Flesh and blood were taken into heaven, revealing that flesh and blood men will, indeed, enter heaven and dwell there.  This proclaims the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting from the earliest chapters of the Bible.

Since we have this hope--seen not only in Enoch, but also in Elijah and especially in our Lord Jesus Christ--we can face our death all the more confidently.  What's more, we can despise this world because of its corruption and because whatever joys it promises are momentary.  Our hope and our focus is a life that is perfect and eternal.  We shall fix our eyes on that!  We will receive that perfect, eternal life at the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day.  For, this is what God had created us to be, and it is what our Lord became in order to redeem us entirely from death and to give us life to the full.  Just as our risen, flesh-and-blood Savior has ascended into heaven, so shall we. 

Death is done.  Heaven is open.  Christ be praised.

Now, Luther:

          "Should we not, therefore, long for the future things and hate these present ones?  It was not, as in the case of the patriarchs, Enoch or Abel who revealed to us the hope of a better life; it was Christ Himself, the Prince and Author of life.  Therefore we should courageously despise life and the world, and wholeheartedly aspire to the future glory of eternal life.
          "It is here that we realize how great is the weakness of the flesh, which burns with desire and love of the present things but feels no joy about the certainty of the future life.  For how can that be anything but certain of which we have so many witnesses: Abel, Enoch, Elijah, nay, even the very Head and First Fruits of those who rise again, Christ (1 Cor. 15:20)?  Therefore the Epicureans are most deserving of the hatred of God and of men.  Also deserving of our hatred is our own flesh, which often incites us, too, to Epicureanism, when we give ourselves up wholly to temproal cares and so smugly disregard the eternal blessings.
          "Therefore these words must be noted and carefully impressed on our hearts: that Enoch was taken away and received, not but some patriarch, not by an angel, but by God Himself.  This was the comfort which made death bearable for the holy patriarchs so that they departed this life with joy.  Even at that time, before He had been revealed, they saw that the Seed which had been promised them was waging war with Satan and had crushed his head in the instance of Enoch.  They had the same hope for themselves and for all their descendants who believed; and they despised death with the utmost unconcern, as if it were not death but a sleep from which they would awake to eternal life.  For death is not death for those who believe; it is a sleep.  When the terror, the sting, and the power of death (1 Cor. 15:55-56) are lacking, it cannot be called death.  Therefore the greater the faith is, the weaker death is; but the smaller faith is, the bitterer death is." (Luther's Works: American Edition, Volume 1, pages 348-349)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Vacation 2018 -- Arizona & Utah, part 5

The title of this final entry is mislabeled a bit.  We did not spend any time in either Arizona or Utah, but since that has been the title of this journey (and its main focus), I will keep the title here. 

We were in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin before our final drive to Michigan.  We had rolled into South Dakota on Saturday, June 16, and made a quick trip to Custer State Park to see the bison herd.  Then we went to Crazy Horse Monument at night to see the light show.  Instead, we saw low cloud cover in the rain.

We returned to our Custer KOA campsite for a cool, rainy night.  This was a far cry from the weather in Phoenix and Utah.  On Sunday, we got up and knew we had to make tracks.  We took down our wet camper and went to see Mt. Rushmore.  Peter had been wanting to see this since Kindergarten.  The "wow" factor was pretty low since the rain and clouds dominated our view.  We took pictures right after we had gotten there--which was a good thing since the clouds covered it shortly afterwards.  It was also very chilly (50 degrees or so), so we joined all the other tourists in the gift shop.  Peter's long-deliberated choice of a souvenir was a stuffed bison.  He named it "Jim" after Jim Halpert from The Office.

Our stay at Mt. Rushmore was brief, which was just as well since we had a lot of driving to do to get to Minnesota.  We began the drive through the Black Hills to get to I-90 near Rapid City.  Since it was so wet, we had skipped breakfast at the campground and promised to take the kids out to eat at some restaurant.  It was also Fathers' Day, so we ended up having to wait about an hour for seating.  Nevertheless, hunger must be satisfied, so we waited it out.  It also improved our moods.

From there, we drove all day Sunday across South Dakota and into Minnesota.  We got to New Ulm and drove to Flandrau State Park to set up the camper in the dark.  I was happy to get the camper up since it had been wet when we took it down.  As it turned out, we had rain all night in New Ulm, so drying out would have to wait.

We moved Faith into her apartment on Monday, June 18.  Philip had requested a walking tour of the Martin Luther College campus since he has intentions to be a pastor.  We visited the Chapel of the Christ and later took a trip to the Campus Store.  We had hoped to take a Schells Brewery tour, but we did laundry instead.  Oh yes, we know how to entertain our children!  We went to church at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church on Monday night, and talked to our kids about how Laura and I went there together when Laura was at Dr. Martin Luther College and I came to visit her.  Some stories we tell just to prove that we are old. 

We bid farewell to Faith on Tuesday, June 19.  Then we drove to Wisconsin, planning to stay in Sheboygan with my parents.  Blow out #4 happened on I-90/I-94 just south of Tomah, WI.  This wsa the worst of the blow outs because it took place on the driver's side.  The freeway was three lanes wide, and the traffic never stopped coming.  I pulled over as far as possible and put a little angle on the camper to give myself a little (emphasis on little) shelter from the on-coming traffic.  Eventually, I just took the attitude, "Well, if I die, I die.  I can't think of traffic if I actually want to get this camper tire changed."  God blessed our efforts.  No one was killed, and we got back on the road.  We dropped off Caleb to see someone in Manitowoc, and then made it to Sheboygan about 8 PM or so.  (Caleb was dropped off later.)  We also got to pop up the camper so that it could finally dry out after several rainy days and nights.

Our stay in Sbeboygan was brief.  We left the next morning, ready to get settled back home.  The last day of the trip, Wednesday, June 20, was pretty uneventful (thankfully!).  We got back home in the evening and decided most of our unpacking and settling could take place the next day.  We thanked God for our travels and that we got back safely.  Whatever glitches we had faced amounted to inconvenience, but they were never a threat to life or limb.

Of course, reviewing these photos makes me want to go on vacation again.  Shrug.

Below are photos from the last leg of the trip.

This is the best view we could get of Mt. Rushmore before the clouds came in to hide everything. 
At least the gift shop was nice.

Peter and hsi new friend, Jim. (Caleb also got one and named him Dwight.)

Philip by the Luther statue at Martin Luther College.

Faith's new apartment.

Saying Good-bye to Grandma and Grandpa Schroeder

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 19, 2018)



In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul begins this section of his letter to the Ephesians with this instruction: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)  The word translated “walk” could have been better translated “conduct yourself.”  It has to do with the way you live your life—your behavior, your mindset, your morals, and your faith. 
     Most people would not argue with St. Paul when he encourages us to be wise in the way we conduct ourselves.  Many problems come because they are self-inflicted.  You pay the price for careless words, for a haughty attitude, for showing up late for work, or for spending more than you can afford.  The opposite is true, too: Many blessings come because we are self-disciplined.  If you want to avoid fines and court appearances, be careful to obey the law.  If you want to avoid pregnancy outside of marriage or even the fear that it might happen, remain chaste until you are married.  If you want to have a strong family, then worship together, eat meals together, put your cell phones away and talk to each other.  Devoting yourself to these things is wise for avoiding problems and enjoying blessings. 
     While conducting yourself with good manners and a strong morality is good and useful, these are not the essence of the Christian faith.  Mormons and Muslims are polite and have strong morals.  That means they stay out of jail and have a decent reputation with others.  But they reject what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ and, therefore, sadly, they live outside of salvation.  No matter how much praise a person may receive for being friendly, upstanding, honest, and moral, without faith it is impossible to please [God]. (Hebrews 11:6)  We are not saved because we are more friendly, more upstanding, more honest, or more moral than Muslims, Mormons, or anyone else.  We are not saved because Jesus gives us better commandments than other religions.  Salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ.  For Jesus alone supplies the righteousness we need to stand before God.  Jesus alone takes away every blotch of sin that effects us.  Jesus alone gives us his Holy Spirit who makes us a new creation and who fills us with a godly spirit.  We live Spirit-filled lives, by grace.
     While we are saved by grace, and while saving faith is a gift of God, our salvation and our faith can be lost.  The Spirit who dwells in us can be grieved and even evicted.  That is the reason St. Paul instructs us as he does.  Again, he writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)  
     The evils that come with each day are not limited to violence, drunkenness, lies, and perversion.  Granted, we see these things constantly.  But we are not forced to join in with the world and practice these things.  Rather than practicing evil, we often fail to do what is good by neglecting God's word and our faith.  Faith is a gift of God.  St. Paul reminds us how God delivered that gift to us: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)  Faith was given to us through God's word.  That word was applied to you in baptism, making it a water of life and rebirth.  That word was preached from a pulpit.  It was taught to you by your parents in your home or by teachers in Sunday School.  That word is how God created faith in your heart and gave you his Holy Spirit.  It is also how he keeps the Spirit in you.  Faith comes by hearing.  If you want to remain in the faith, then you devote yourself to the word of God.  This is how you make the best use of the time. 
     We live Spirit-filled lives, by grace.  In order to keep on living Spirit-filled lives, the Spirit must keep on filling you.  The Holy Spirit strengthens and sustains us through God's word.  The main place we hear God's word is in church.  We hear how God loves us and sent his Son to win our salvation.  We hear how Jesus supplies the holiness we need, and how Jesus removes the sin that damns.  The word is added to bread and wine so that, by eating and drinking, we receive the body and blood of Jesus which strengthens and keeps us in the one true faith.  Christ's minister delivers the word which absolves us of sin, and puts God's name on us as we depart.  This is how God gives us the blessings he reveals in his word.  The word supplies what God promises.  And the Spirit comes to us, sustains us in God's kingdom, and turns our hearts to love and to do the commands of God.
     I have no doubt that you all want your family and friends to receive the same peace, comfort, and salvation that you have.  Sadly, we usually just assume that they do.  Since we like them, God must like them.  Since we have known God's truth since infancy, they must know it too.  But no one is saved because we like them or because they are related to a Christian.  We are saved by faith in Jesus.  Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.  To make the best use of the time you have in this world in sustaining your own faith, in bringing friends to know Jesus' salvation, and in raising your own children to be in God's kingdom, then God's word is the highest priority.  Is it not appalling when parents let their children decide if they want to come to church anymore?  What other part of life do parents let their children stop doing if they don't want to anymore?  “If you don't feel like going to school anymore, you don't have to.  You can stop eating your vegetables if you don't like them.  You don't need to shower anymore if you'd rather not.”  We would never allow that. 
     If parents act like church is optional, children will learn that God's word is not important, and they will opt out.  If you want to see your children in heaven, then bring them to church.  It is not to be considered optional, but essential and sacred.  It is viewed as the place where God delivers his gifts of forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation.  It is where the Holy Spirit works to protect us from the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.  It is where God's mercy is proclaimed and delivered.  It is how the Spirit keeps us living Spirit-filled lives.
     At the Divine Service, Jesus serves us with what we need for life, faith, and salvation.  St. Paul notes how we also serve each other in these Divine Services.  He writes, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...” (Ephesians 5:18-20)  We join our voices to honor God with our songs.  But our hymns are not merely praise.  That is to say, we do not merely tell God what we think about him.  Nor do we take turns to tell each other: “This is what God means to me”—as if the Bible has a unique meaning to each of us or we all have our own personal Jesus.  Rather, as the family of God, we join in the confession of the Church.  We honor God by proclaiming what God has done for us.  God's saving work is true for every one of us.  God's promises are proclaimed in song for the encouragement and instruction of one another.
     This is why our hymns matter.  The Holy Spirit does not come by me telling you of my opinions or how much I love Jesus.  That only tells you about me.  The Holy Spirit comes only through God's words and promises.  Therefore, when we address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, those songs proclaim God's words and works.  The Holy Spirit comes through God's word to comfort you in these evil days, to direct you with God's wisdom, and to lead you to cherish God's will.
     “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)  The Lord Jesus has invested himself in our time so that we would have our eternity with him.  Therefore, our joy both here and hereafter is to hear our Savior's voice proclaim his mercy upon us.  We, in turn, join our voices with the saints and angels to declare the glory of God.  For, it is truly good and right that we should give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)  

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Lutheran Satire: Best Conspiracy Ever

At our Sunday Night Bible Series last night, we discussed the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus.  Since an empty tomb proves only that there is no one in it (Dr. Maier quipped, "An empty tomb does not prove the resurrection, but you can't have a decent resurrection without one."), we considered other evidence.  

The behavior of the apostles changed from timid to bold, especially as each one of them faced persecution, beatings, imprisonment, exile, and martyrdom for the sake of the testimony they gave of Jesus' resurrection.  Would they really fabricate a resurrection story and suffer so much for a lie?  Is the founding of the Christian faith, based on the resurrection of Jesus, one big scam?  Lutheran Satire gives us some insight to this line of thinking!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sermon -- 12th Sunday after Pentecost (August 12, 2018)

EPHESIANS 4:25 – 5:2


In the name + of Jesus.

     These verses from Ephesians could be summed up rather simply.  You can take them to mean, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39); or you could even take it one step higher and quote Jesus who said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)  Jesus wants the perfect, selfless love he has for us to be demonstrated among each other too.  “For we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25)  We are to be reconciled to each other.  We are to strive for each other's good.  We are to build each other up, by grace.
     If there is one phrase in here that sounds bizarre, it is this one: “Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)  The fact is that we are all sinners.  Given enough time, we will prove it by sinning against one another.  We each have our own agendas, and we get absorbed in them.  As a result, we either belittle or ignore the needs and concerns of others.  It puts a strain on relationships—colleagues, family, and fellow members of the church.  And when you are sinned against, you will become angry.
     Our Lord knows what it is to be angry.  As much as we think of Jesus as a friend of sinners and as one who loved even the outcasts, he had more personality than a plush toy.  Jesus grew angry.  When the priests had allowed the temple to be turned into a stockyard, Jesus angrily drove out the money changers and sellers of animals.  After frequent attempts to call the Pharisees to repent of their self-righteousness, Jesus finally devoted Matthew chapter 23 to stern judgment against them.  Even Jesus' apostles did not escape his anger.  When mothers were bringing their toddlers to Jesus, the disciples shooed them away, as if to say, “No, no.  Jesus is too important to be bothered by them.”  But Jesus became indignant with them.  He rebuked his disciples and summoned the children to come to him.  Jesus grew angry over sinful assumptions, stubborn pride, and selfish ambitions, but he did not sin in his anger.  Zeal for God's house, God's truth, and God's mercy consumed him.  Jesus' anger was directed at anyone who stood in the way of these things being given to others.
     You and I, however, do not have such pure motives in our anger.  When we we feel the sting of someone's sin against us, we are not motivated by love for the one who has sinned against us.  We do not want reconciliation, but revenge.  We tell others how we were wronged.  Whether our story is accurate or enhanced, we enlist friends to despise the person who wronged us—thereby wronging that person.  Rather than reconcile, we divide.  Rather than build up, we destroy.  Our anger usually turns to sin.  It brings harm to others, and often to ourselves as well.  And it gives the devil an opportunity to lead us into even greater sins.  Repent.
     Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27)  St. Paul reminds us that sins which are left to fester will not go away or get better.  They are like a tick on your leg.  It is a problem that must be dealt with and removed, because once it burrows in, it does greater damage.  Husbands and wives probably know this better than anyone.  When they have a disagreement about something, they may try to pretend it does not matter.  They ignore their issues and their feelings.  But the anger and resentment build until they are having an all-out shouting match about where the toothpaste gets squeezed or which way the toilet paper should hang on the roll.  Finally, neither can breathe right without the other finding fault.  Their sins against God and each other continue to mount.  And while they may want to be reconciled, they would much rather be right.  It happens similarly in friendships and in congregations.
     Holding on to grudges may make you feel superior, but grudges do not cure anything.  Grudges keep the wound open.  Worse, grudges destroy.  They give an opportunity to the devil to seize us.  They grieve the Holy Spirit.  A sinful spirit and the Holy Spirit cannot dwell together in the same heart.  If we allow our sins to fester, take root, and harden us, the Holy Spirit will finally have to depart—for it means that we love our anger and our sin more than we love our neighbor and more than the Lord who calls us to forgive, to seek the good of others, and to build each other up.  Sin that is not dealt with destroys much more than friendships and marriages; it destroys faith.  Repent.
     Dear Christian friends, we are all sinners, but we are also all joined together into one body.  Jesus did not join us to his body because we are justified in our anger.  On the contrary, Jesus has every right to be angry with us for our sinful self-importance.  Jesus could tear us down for exalting ourselves, and he would be right to do so.  But rather than execute his righteous judgment, Jesus seeks our reconciliation.  Rather then destroy us, Jesus seeks to build us up.  Jesus came into this world with an agenda—to save sinners.  Jesus made you his top priority.  Jesus saved you from God's righteous anger.  He humbled himself to exalt you.  He was destroyed to save you.  Jesus took the cup of God's wrath and consumed every last drop.  Jesus prayed over the agony in Gethsemane, and was consumed by this agony at Golgotha.  But even as Jesus suffered in innocence and was punished for sins he did not commit, he did not sin.  He did not get angry that he had to endure this for you.  He does not get angry that you now because you continue to need forgiveness from him.  Jesus' love for you is constant.  He does not hold a grudge, and he does not seek revenge.  He forgives all your sins.  He reconciles you to the Father.  He seeks your highest good.
     Jesus has brought you into his Church, which is his body.  And he has joined you to others whom he has labored to save.  To Jesus, these others are as precious as you are.  For, they have been purchased by his innocent blood.  And that innocent blood is given to each of us to strengthen and keep us in the body together.  The cup which our Lord gives to us now is the cup of blessing, given for our good.  By it, Jesus builds us up—in faith to him and in love for one another.  For, it is by this grace that we are motivated to love each other, as St. Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
     We build each other up, by grace.  For we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)  If part of your body was in pain, you would not want to dismember that part of your body.  You would want to seek relief for the pain so that your body would be sound again.  In the same way, you should not be willing to cut off those whom God has joined to you.  If one has sinned against you, love will seek his good.  You may put the best construction on his words and actions.  For, you don't know if his thoughts are consumed with an ailing brother or with a lost job.  If someone sins against you, they need your prayers more than your anger.  On the other hand, love may require you to correct him.  It is not loving to say, “Well, my neighbor has stolen from me.  I suppose he needs it more than I do, so I will not bother him about this.”  It is not love to let someone become hardened in his sin.  Love demands that we seek each other's good.  And that includes upholding God's word to him.  It is not love to let your fellow member violate the Commandments and to stand by as if it does not matter.  Love will seek to reconcile your neighbor to God and then to each other.  The body of Christ is not built up by ignoring each other's sins, but by the Lord absolving us of what is wicked and directing us to what is good.  The body is built up by the mercies and grace of Christ alone.
     We build each other up, by grace.  We uphold Jesus Christ to each other as the one who has saved us from our sin and from every emotion that comes from our sins.  We uphold Christ by acting toward another as little christs.  We seek each other's good with our words and actions.  We put away falsehood for truth.  We put off anger for compassion.  We forsake revenge for reconciliation.  And we empty ourselves for the building up of each other.  In this way, you become imitators of God, as beloved children. (Ephesians 5:2)  In this way, you honor your God, even as you reflect his love for one another.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Vacation 2018 -- Arizona & Utah, part 4

Thursday, June 14 was dedicated to Zion National Park.  While I had usually cracked the whip and gotten people out of bed early to get to the national parks before the long lines arrived, this morning I let people sleep in a little bit (but not that late).  It was probably about 9 AM by the time we got to Zion.  We paid for street parking outside the park since parking in Zion is very limited.  Then we walked into the park to wait for the bus which would take us to one of nine stops throughout the park.  By the time we got there, the wait for a bus was 45 minutes already.

We went all the way to the end of the line to Temple of Sinawava where we took the Riverside Walk.  Although it was going to be a rather hot day (100 degrees), our walk was rather comfortable since it was in the morning and especially since we were shaded by the tall cliffs.  Although the path continued through the river, we were not equipped for it, so we returned to the bus for another stop.

We trickled back to the front of the park, making several stops along the way.  However, the heat had really ramped up and we were no longer able to enjoy shady hikes.  So, our hikes were pretty short.  We did manage to find as many water stations as possible and regularly kept filling up our water bottles.

We returned to our campground for another brief swim and got to bed, resting up for several days of long driving toward Minnesota.  Side note: Each trip into a national park (Grand Canyon and Zion) involved some major shuffling and re-shuffling of Faith's stuff.  We had loaded a good portion of her belongings into the back of our Traverse.  But we did not want to pay double entering the national park with two cars.  So, we would empty out the Traverse into the camper before we left, and then had to repackage the Traverse after we got back so that we could go to bed.  We also had to do this when we drove through Custer State park on Saturday, June 16.  Thankfully, we never broke anything.

On Friday, we experienced blow out #3 in Utah.  Since we only had the one spare, a tire change meant no spares, so getting a replacement became a priority.  We found a Wal-Mart which not only would mount a new camper tire for us, but they also had mounted wheels for sale.  So we got a replacement tire mounted and a new wheel purchased.  For the first time on this trip, we finally had two spares (which is standard for us on our trips).  While waiting for the tire to be mounted, we enjoyed our picnic lunch in the Payson, Utah Wal-Mart parking lot.

We later found out that most of our blowouts were our own fault.  We talked to a sales rep at General RV in Wixom after our trip.  When he heard that we had four blow outs on our trip, he had asked how fast we were driving.  Apparently, we were supposed to be driving about 60-65 miles per hour with our pop-up.  Any faster creates too much heat for the tires and they eventually give out faster than they are designed for.  But when the speed limit on the interstate in Utah is 80 miles per hour, how you do not drive 80?  Well, you do -- and then you change a flat.

Another glitch was when Faith got separated from us at Salt Lake City.  I had passed a car heading up to the exit for I-80, and Faith dutifully followed me.  Unfortunately, while I was able to move over in time for the exit, she wasn't.  Cell phones to the rescue!  She got turned around and caught up to us by the time we hit the border for Wyoming.  I had ended up driving slower so that Faith could catch up to us and, by accident, I ended up driving for that stretch at a speed we were supposed to be going all along.

We had our most memorable gas fill-up at Rock Springs, Wyoming.  Pulling in, I saw that someone had put a garbage can by the pump.  Annoying, but it can be moved easily enough.  After pre-paying, I began to pump.  I paid about $1 for what seemed to be only air.  Then the gas was finally getting to the tank.  But Laura noticed that gas was spraying out of the hose.  THAT's why the garbage can was put there.  Perhaps the yellow baggie over the pump hanlde would have been a better warning system.  We alerted the attendant (who said they were never told about the leak by garbage-can-man), moved to a different pump, and did not explode.  The last one was the most important.

By Friday night, we had crossed about half of Wyoming.  We travelled until it was pretty much dark, set up camp at the Rawlins KOA, and had no ambition to get supper going.  So, to Denny's we went.  Caleb had his eye on an all-you-can-eat pancake special.  He was interested in the challenge, but it was only for breakfast.  We toyed with the idea of coming back to see what Caleb could do with that, but decided that putting on the miles was more important.

Saturday was more and more driving--east to Laramie and Cheyenne, and then north to get to the Black Hills.  We found a KOA near Custer, and after setting up, went to Custer State Park to see the bison herd.  We found them--hundreds of them--and drove into the herd to see them up close.  We also got to see a few antelope while we were driving through.  We determined that we need to come back to the Black Hills and make that its own specific vacation.  There are too many things to see (Sylvan Lake, I will get to you yet!), and not enough time to see them.

Our evening ended at the Crazy Horse Monument.  We had hoped to see the light show which is projected onto the monument, but the clouds and the rain rolled in and covered the monument entirely.  So, we left and headed off to bed for a rainy night.

Photos from June 14-16 are below.

Riverside Walk. The sillouhette by the river is Faith.

The closer monolith is Angel's Landing.  The back right is the Great White Throne.

Caleb is there to give it some scale.

The Patriarchs--from left to right: Abrhaam, Isaac, and Jacob.

Blown Tire # 3 out of 4.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Something from ... Luther re: Relying on God's Word

One of the reasons Martin Luther was so fervent, even belligerent, in his teaching and preaching is because he had spent a good part of his life in fear and doubt.  He wanted to be sure God loved him and was merciful to him.  He wanted to know that he was, indeed, saved.  But how could he know?  Where could he turn for assurance?  Sadly, the church of his youth pointed him to many different directions.  But fear and doubt were not ended.

When Luther discovered God had made promises which put an end to his doubts and fears and which gave assurance of God's mercy, love, and salvation, Luther developed a great disdain for all of those other places where he had been told to find them.  Since they did not have God's word attached to them, they were useless.  Worse, they were damning.  That is why Luther preached so strongly against them.  He did not want anyone else to endure the fear and doubt which had plagued him so much.

In speaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Luther noted that the tree killed and cursed only because of the word attached to it.  Likewise, the sacraments are only effective because of the word which is attached to them.  If we desire God's love, mercy, and salvation, we flee to where God says that we will find them.  Any other direction is wrong.  And trusting in practices, feelings, or anything that does not have God's promises attached to them actually brings a curse--for they are idolatry, no matter how religious those things appear.

From Luther:
          "It is certain that the tree did not have this power by its nature but only through the efficacy of the Word.  In the same way also the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not kill because its fruits were poisonous and destructive, but because a word or kind of label had been attached to it with the warning written on it: 'On whatever day you eat from this tree, you will surely die.' ... The tree was not poisonous; but, as we said above at great length, it was a tree of divine worship, for man to bear witenss through his obedience that he knew, honored, and feared his God.
          "Therefore the Word must always be taken into consideration and honored as that by which God takes hold of and, as it were, clothes the creatures; and a difference must be made between the creature and the Word.  In the Sacrament of the Altar there are bread and wine; in Baptism there is water.  These are creatures, but creatures apprehended by the Word.  As long as the creature is apprehended by the Word, so long it is and does what the Word promises.  ...
          "Always consider here whether God has added His command and promise.  If there is no promise and command of God, decide at once that it is idolatry and a desecration of the name of God. ...  But do not concern yourself with prayers, with examples, or even with the intention.  Consider only whether there is a promise and a command; for this is what imparts to the creatures a new power beyond that power which they have through their nature." (Luther's Works: American Edition, Vol. 1, pages 226-229)

Monday, August 6, 2018

2018 Vacation -- Arizona & Utah, part 3

On Sunday, June 9--one week after we left--we went to Emmaus Evangelical Lutheran Church where Pastor Else (ELL-see) preached the gospel and fed us with the body and blood of Christ.  We also enjoyed his Bible Class on Revelation.  (They had just started the series.)  After the late service, the congregation of Emmaus held a special Farewell for Faith.  Although she filled in as an emergency teacher for 1-2 grades, she had apparently made a lot of wonderful connections with the people there.  And I know she will miss them, too.

After that, we went to our hotel (Faith's apartment was emptied of all furniture) and spend the afternoon there.  I took a four hour nap.  I guess the time on the road had caught up with me.  Caleb, Philip, and Peter enjoyed the pool.  After Sunday-Monday's efforts to have oil changes and last minute clean up of Faith's apartment, we departed shortly after noon on Monday.  North to Flagstaff, and then to the Williams, AZ KOA campground.

Flat tire #2 happened just as we were coming to the campground.  Also, a bone-headed move by me was mercifully spared of serious consequences.  Caleb helped again with the tire changing job.  The result of me not doing everything (for which I should be grateful, right?) is that I had skipped something on my mental checklist.  I tightened the lugnuts while the tire was in the air, but failed to tighten them completely once the tire was back on the ground.  We drove with the wobbly tire (Caleb said it look bad as he and Faith rode in her car behind us) for about one mile.  Then, at the KOA, I actually did tighten the lugnuts appropriately.  There was no real damage to see, but we were probably one more mile away from losing that tire and wrecking the bolts on the axle.  God's mercy overruled my negligence (for which I AM especially grateful).

On Tuesday, we went to Grand Canyon National Park, mainlly spending the day hiking along the South Rim from the Visitors Center to Grand Canyon Village.  We all took lots of photos.  Some are below.

On Wednesday, I got up early to the tire place in Williams to get our blown-out camper tire replaced.  While there, the tire guy let me know that we were destined for a blow out on our Traverse really soon.  I knew that the tire was in need of replacement, but I was hoping to get back home before we took care of it.  When he told me that he could see the steel of the steel-belted radials, I decided that I did not want to risk a blow out in the middle of the northern Arizona desert, MILES from anywhere.  (And from what he told me, the blow out was not merely a risk; it was inevitable.)  So, after we broke camp, we travelled to Flagstaff and got new tires for the Traverse.  It was not an expense we had planned on, but it was absolutely necesssary.  And obviously, we made it home, so it was a good call.  While we sat waiting for the tires (and the Firestone guys in Flagstaff were outstsanding in getting us taken care of quickly!), we met a Dutch couple who was travelling throughout the western US.  It was really nice visiting with them, and they were thoroughly enjoying the USA.  They were also surprised how far we had travelled from Detroit.  (When we are outside of Michigan, we are from Detroit.  It is just easier than trying to tell anyone where Novi is.)

After leaving Flagstaff, we travelled north and then west through Arizona on US Highway 89, then ALT US Highway 89, and finally on Arizona State Highway 389.  We passed through some rugged, yet beautiful, country.  We stopped at Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River.  Late in the afternoon, we finally entered Utah.  After passing through Hurricane, UT, we made our way to the St. George KOA campground, which is actually a bit north of St. George, UT.  After lounging for a little bit with the putt-putt golf course and the pool table in the rec center--air-conditioned rec center!--we went to bed to rest up for Zion National Park the next day.

Photos of June 9-12 are below.

Faith's Farewell at Emmaus Lutheran School.

Pastor Else (pronounced ELL-see) had nice words to say about Faith.

Faith, leaving her apartment for the last time.  Good-bye, Phoenix.  On to Minnesotra!

There are too many photos from the Grand Canyon.  Here are a few.

Laura, Faith, Caleb. Philip, and Peter are in the middle, dwarfed by the size of the Canyon behind them.

Yep, it's big.

The Colorado River, taken from the Navajo Bridge in northern Arizona.

Landscape in nothern Arizona on State Highway 389.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sermon -- 11th Sunday after Pentecost (August 5, 2018)



In the name + of Jesus.

     Christians are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so, and you don't need to apologize for it, because Jesus did say so.  To say we are different is not to say we are better.  We know better than that.  We confess what the Scriptures teach: There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22-23)  We are no better than anyone else; for we are sinners, just like everyone else.  But by acknowledging that you are a sinner, you are different.  You make confession of your sins, but not merely to acknowledge them.  Most people will say that much.  “Nobody's perfect.”  But that is not a confession; it is an excuse.  Your confession is not an excuse.  God is not pleased with our sins.  Neither are we. 
     We confess that we are by nature corrupt.  Our sinful nature displays itself when we do what is evil and fail to do what is good.  We confess that we deserve God's wrath for our sinful condition and our sinful deeds.  God does not find our sins acceptable.  We do not find them acceptable, either.  In fact, we want to be rid of them—forever. 
     God has rescued you from your sinful condition.  Jesus has come to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  In that way, you are not different, either.  God does not love a few.  God loves the world.  But “whoever believes and his baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)  These are the ones who benefit from Jesus' saving work.  Jesus suffered what you deserve so that you will not suffer for your sins.  Jesus died the cursed death at the cross so that you will have a blessed death.  Death does not mean hell; for Jesus overcame the grave by his resurrection.  He promises that you, too, will rise from the dead with a glorified body to live in glorious freedom forevermore.  You will not merely be free from aches and pains and sorrow, but you will be forever free from your sins, from shame, from regret, and from every other thing that vexes us because of sin.  Though “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), much of the world rejects God's love.  You are different.  By God's grace, you believe in Jesus.  You are baptized into him.  You are saved.
     Your salvation, however, is not limited to what will come down the road someday.  Jesus not only pardons your offenses, he has also rectified the very corruption in your nature sinful.  Jesus has renewed your very heart, mind, and soul from which all thoughts, words, and deeds arise.  In your baptism, your sinful nature was put to death with Jesus.  He drowned your Old Adam in the baptismal waters and he raised you up a new creation.  He has wrapped you in robes of righteousness so that you are holy and blameless before God, and he has renewed your heart and mind so that you are no longer devoted to this world, but rather you are focused on heavenly things.  This is not what you will be someday; it is what you are now.
     We are continually being renewed, by grace.  You are a new creation, and St. Paul urges you to live like one.  He writes: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Ephesians 4:17-19)  
     Our world has always been tolerant of evil, and even celebrates it.  If you go to a concert and the rock star boasts about his most recent sexual conquest, the audience will roar with approval.  Movies have trained us to cheer for the adulterous affair and feel good when the marriage gets destroyed.  Binge drinking is considered admirable.  Living together outside of marriage is considered wise.  And we build our own virtue in seeing the faults of others exposed.  In short, wickedness is common, it is commended, and it is celebrated.  If you play along, the world will praise you.
     But you are different.  God has enlightened you to see that this worldly thinking is futile.  The world promises happiness for giving into sensuality, for being greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:19)  Whatever gratification you may get does not last.  What does last is guilt, regret, shame, and the fear of the death you deserve for what you have done.  This world seeks to enforce its perverse values on us.  The pressure is great to give in to worldly ways.  It is expected of you, and you are mocked if you are different.  But you are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so.  You should not be ashamed for living like it.  And you surely don't need to apologize for it.  You have been set apart by Christ to be different.
     In our struggle to be faithful, and because of our weakness which results in giving into worldly pressures and pleasures, we need Jesus who continually renews us.  Day after day, we live a life of repentance.  Day after day, we flee to our Savior for mercy, comfort, and strength.  St. Paul reminds us that this daily renewal is not optional.  He writes, “You … were taught in (Christ) … to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:21-24)  
     We are continually renewed by grace.  The Lord renews our hearts and minds so that we agree with God's word.  What God calls evil, we recognize as evil and despise it.  We flee from it, and we root it out of our lives.  But it is more than that.  It also means that what God calls good we recognize is truly good, and we strive to do it.  This is what it means to put on the new self.
     If you had a garden full of weeds, you would rightly want to pull every weed out of it.  Weeds make for a useless garden.  However, after you uproot every weed, it doesn't mean you have a productive garden.  You would only have a plot of dirt.  To have a productive garden, you need to plant good seed and cultivate it.  You need to keep removing weeds and to keep on tending and watering the good seed so that it produces good, useful food.  In the same way, putting off the old self in repentance is only part of our daily life.  It is right to repent of sins, but we also need to put on the new self—to cultivate our lives with good works, and to labor to continue in them.  Our Catechism also teaches this.  In his explanation of the Commandments, Martin Luther teaches that God's will is both to avoid and to do good.  “We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.” (Small Catechism, Explanation of the 8th Commandment)
     We are continually renewed by grace.  Day by day, we return to our baptism to drown the Old Adam who desires what is sinful, and God raises us up anew.  This is how we put on the new self.  Day after day, the Lord assures us that we remain his redeemed and that we stand before the heavenly Father as holy and blameless.  He not only calls us holy and blameless, he also calls us to be holy and blameless.  In this, we struggle.  The Lord, however, does not grow tired of our weaknesses, or that we never live up to status of saints.  Instead, the Lord renews us.  He keeps us in his kingdom.  He encourages us to fight against sin and temptation.  He fills our hearts will a love for what is pure, what is noble, what is good, and what is pleasing to him. 
     We are continually renewed by grace.  We drown the Old Adam in repentance, and the Lord restores and renews us in his forgiveness.  By his word, he continues to conform us to the likeness of Christ.  He teaches us to love him and his word more deeply.  And as the Lord conforms you to Christ, he guides you to love what is good and to love your neighbor and to do good to him.  While the world may recognize that this makes you different, you recognize that it makes you more like Jesus.
     Christians are different.  You don't need to feel bad about saying so.  You should not be ashamed for living like it.  And you surely don't need to apologize for it.  You have been set apart by Christ to be different—set free from sin and death, and set free for a new life of good works and, finally, glory everlasting.

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