Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sermon for 2/10/16: Ash Wednesday (Hymns Series)

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Jesus, I Will Ponder Now

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

You’ve heard this account before. In fact, you heard it this past Christmas Eve: how Adam and Eve listened to the seductive, sibilant whispers of the satanic serpent; how they disregarded the Word and command of God; how they wanted to be as knowledgeable as their heavenly Father; how they partook of the forbidden fruit. People talk about points in human history and how they changed everything—the invention of the printing press; the colonization of the New World; the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria; the assassination of President Kennedy; the day two airplanes were intentionally crashed into the World Trade Center. These were all pivotal points in the history of the world. And yet none of these events can be considered to be as pivotal to humanity, as game-changing, as the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. Everything changed. Man, who was created sinless, had sinned. Man, who had walked naked and unafraid with God, now covered himself and hid from God. Man, who was created to live forever, was now going to suffer, sicken, and die.

Like Adam and Eve, that sentence is our reality. In the past couple months, our congregation has seen its share of death. We’ve had three funerals to this point. We’ve had numerous members who have undergone surgery. We have members in the nursing home, some dealing with the failure of their bodies while others deal with the deterioration of their minds. That is our lot as children and heirs of Adam and Eve, and it is our lot as those who ourselves sin. You know that. You feel it every day. We all have our aches and pains, our coughs and sniffles, our fears and doubts—all of which are symptoms of the death that hangs over our heads as sinners. God said to Adam, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

You also know that God, in His great love and mercy, does not leave it at that. He had seen even before He had created the world, even from eternity, that the crown of His creation would fall into sin. He was prepared. He told His plan to the serpent, knowing there was nothing Satan could do to deny Him. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” It was simple. Satan had tempted and manipulated Eve; through Eve and her descendents—her Seed, the ultimate descendent, Jesus Christ—Satan would be overcome. The price of Adam and Eve’s sin, which was passed on to their children and all generations to follow, would be paid by a child of Eve. Sin would be overcome. Death would be defeated and would die. God’s children would not be called upon to pay the price of that sin. Though Adam and Eve have died, though their bodies have decayed, they will rise, nevermore to sin, nevermore to suffer, nevermore to die.

But what if those sins trouble you as you await the final fulfillment of that victory? Return again to the waters of Holy Baptism, where that victory on the cross, where that forgiveness, that life, that salvation have been given to you.

If my sins give me alarm
And my conscience grieve me,
Let Your cross my fear disarm;
Peace of conscience give me.
Help me see forgiveness won
By Your holy passion.
If for me He slays His Son,
God must have compassion!

Throughout the season of Lent, you will hear the account of the Seed of the woman. You will watch with the disciples as Jesus predicts His death. You will watch as those for whom Jesus has come will scheme and plot against Him. You will watch as He gives His body and blood to His disciples—and to us—for the forgiveness of sins. You will watch as He is betrayed into the hands of His enemies. You will watch as Jesus goes through a mockery of justice called a trial. You will watch and Jesus is nailed to the cross. You will watch as He suffers and dies. 

And you will ponder on these things. You will recall how Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve of a Savior to crush Satan’s head forever. You will remember how the spotless Lamb of God is sacrificed to be the Passover Feast for God’s people. You will see in Jesus the Suffering Servant, prophesied by Isaiah, who was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted,” paying our blood price. And you will rejoice in the great and gracious mercy and love of God, who gives you the gifts of forgiveness and salvation and eternal life, gifts which we do not deserve—gifts which He planned for you from before the foundation of the world, gifts which delights to give to you. As you rejoice in these gifts, let this be your prayer as you journey to the cross with Jesus:

Jesus, I will ponder now
On Your holy passion;
With Your Spirit me endow
For such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith
May the image cherish
Of Your suff'ring, pain, and death,
That I may not perish.

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

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Monday, February 08, 2016

HYMN: Lord Jesus Christ, Exalted

I've struggled with what to do with a hymn for Palmarum, the Sunday of the Passion, especially since the hymn I wrote for the First Sunday in Advent deals with the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem with palm fronds strewn before Him. So today I decided I'd run with the idea of the Passion (though with a little of the palm theme in there too), with the Epistle, Philippians 2:5-11, as my focus, with the Father exalting Jesus. So I wrote that instead. Let me know what you think, and give me the feedback I need and appreciate.

Lord Jesus Christ, Exalted

1. Lord Jesus Christ, exalted
Upon the holy cross,
By sinful men assaulted,
Foretold to suffer loss:
Speak peace to all the nations:
"My death is your salvation."
Your death has set me free.

2. Oh, grant that I may bless you,
Give thanks on bended knee,
And evermore confess You,
O Christ, eternally.
Though You are God most holy,
You took my flesh and, lowly,
You bore my sins for me.

3. When nations cry with malice,
Let me not be ashamed
Or show myself as callous
To own Your holy name,
For You, O Christ, have claimed me
And as Your own have named me
By blood and water poured.

4. O Son of God, forsaken
To bear my shame to death,
Oh, let me not be shaken,
But grant with every breath
That I with palms may meet you
And now and ever greet you,
O Jesus Christ, my Lord.

76 76 776
Occasion: Palmarum (The Sunday of the Passion)
Text: Philippians 2:5-11, Zechariah 9:9-12, Matthew 27

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Sermon for 2/7/16: Quinquagesima

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

If you will forgive me for saying so, it is a rather motley bunch that gathers here each week: hard businessman counting their pennies; youth of unshakeable confidence, counting their friends; theologians and academics, bent on fame and fortune, counting their books and degrees; money grubbers all around, counting their change, afraid the preacher will point out their greed and the needs of others; pastors counting heads; all of us, skilled sinners all! The world notices. Week after week we come.

The world sees that we come to this place built by our fathers each week, to pulpit and to Altar, to kneel in confession, to pray, and to sing. But the world does not see that we come mainly to listen, to eat and to drink, to commune with the Holy Trinity in the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of our souls. The world doesn’t realize that we come week after week to this rest stop on the road to Jerusalem for the Word and for the Sacrament. Week after week, our cries echo those of blind Bartimaeus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!” And no one can silence us, because Jesus is our Lord. He calls us to Himself in this sacred space, to the places He has promised to be: in water, in Word, in bread and wine. He picks us up, dusts us off, embraces us as His brothers and sisters, and removes again and again the scabs that have grown over their eyes. Week after week, until all prophecies, tongues, and knowledge cease, Love is made manifest in Christ in these gifts from above: the Word, Baptism, Holy Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, the liturgy, hymns, and on and on in all the things that God has given to us, that we might know and receive grace from Him.

The world certainly notices that, despite all this grace, we don’t really seem to improve much from week to week. We commit the same selfish sins over and over again. The only thing we seem to learn from our mistakes is how to better hide them. We are weak. We do not live as we should. Our love is shallow. We are not afraid to tell our co-workers what we think of hunting or the Cardinals or President Obama. But we don’t warn them when they are headed for Hell. After all, we don’t want to offend them. Repent.

The world has rightly noticed our problem. We are sinners to the core. We are not basically good people who sometimes do bad things or make mistakes or lose our keys. We are bad people, self-centered and absorbed people, who are very good at covering it up and fooling the masses. The world’s view of us is not completely false. We know hypocrisy. So again, I urge you: repent. Repent…but do not despair.

Motley you may be, but God loves you. It doesn’t even matter why you are here.  You are in the right place. You have come back again to the One who truly loves and cares for you, who does not abuse you, deceive you, or betray you. He is faithful and kind, merciful and gracious. He does not check to see how good or how bad you are. He is good enough for Himself and for you! He went to Jerusalem. He allowed them to do to Him all they should have done to you. He was betrayed, handed over, unjustly tried, scourged, beaten, and executed. And by those stripes you are healed! The prophets words of grace are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Your sins are removed and forgotten. They do not count. With Adam and Eve and all the saints you walk back into paradise.

Here is the love of God shown to all men. Here He draws all men unto Himself. The Messiah is not seen so much in the miracles as He is in the Sacrifice, lifted up on the cross: the emblem of Love, the banner of Peace. There in agony, punishment, and torments of Hell is our God in our Flesh as our Substitute. God be praised! Here is Love that does not fail; does not envy; does not parade itself; is not puffed up; does not behave rudely; does not seek its own; is not provoked. In the midst of evil, He thinks no evil. In the midst of sin, He resists temptation and remains pure. He never fails. All this He does so that you would know the holy three: faith, hope, and love. He abides, for He rose on the third day; death has lost its sting. In Him, you will not die. You, too, will abide. You will abide in Love. Blind Bartimaeus has taught us to pray: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!” And that is why He has brought you here: because He has mercy for you—over and over again in an endless supply. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Friday, February 05, 2016

HYMN: Christ, Who Feeds Both Soul and Flesh

I admit with struggling with a hymn idea for the text of the Feeding of the 5000. I didn't want to be too literal, doing a retelling in rhymed verse. So instead of focusing on the numbers and the miracle, I went towards the teaching Jesus did in the text: God provides. So for Lent IV in the LSB 1-year lectionary, I combined the text, John 6:1-15, with the introit (Psalm 122:1; Isaiah 66:10-11) and Old Testament (Exodus 16:4) texts. Here's the result. Feedback is always a blessing.

Christ, Who Feeds Both Soul and Flesh

1. Christ, Who feeds both soul and flesh,
Raining bread from heaven,
Evermore my soul refresh
With Your holy leaven.

2. Fill me with Your daily bread.
Satisfy each yearning
With Your grace, O Christ, my Head,
Every day returning.

3. Teach me, Lord, to always seek
More than signs and wonders.
Let me crave each Word You speak
With Your voice that thunders.

4. Lead me to rejoice and cling
To Your every blessing
With each hymn of praise I sing,
Your good will confessing.

76 76 (Trochaic)
Suggested Temporary Tune: LASST UNS ALLE (LSB 390)
Text: John 6:1-15; Psalm 122:1; Isaiah 66:10-11; Exodus 16:4
Occasion: Lent IV

Monday, February 01, 2016

CRM, Inactive Candidates, and the Resolution 3-10a Task Force

From October of 2005 through May of 2010, I was a pastor without a congregation to serve. If you’ve been along for the ride here on my blog, you know my story. I’ve written a book on the subject. I’ve presented on the subject for the ACELC. I won’t repeat my story yet again. However, you must know by now that I see this as a serious problem in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in convention thought it was a pretty serious problem too. The 2013 Convention passed a resolution to address the issue, asking the President of the Synod to form a task force. It finally looked like the problem would be addressed.

And then the task force met. I was not in the virtual meeting room (the task force met through conference calls), so I don’t know what was said or what any of its members were thinking. However, having seen their report, which is now on the LCMS website, I have some concerns.

I’m going to do my very best to give my first-look answer each of the recommendations made by the task force without violating the Eighth Commandment. God help me and forgive me where I fail…and I know I will, because my first response was very heated.

I also encourage you to read President Harrison's response to the report.

But before I get to the recommendations, I would answer two points the report made before the recommendations were offered. Quotations from the report are indented.

Addendum II to Task Force Membership: LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. communicated to the task force that he received correspondence from a pastor on candidate status who expressed disappointment that someone who is, or has been, on candidate status was not appointed to the task force. Dr. Grimenstein provided clarification that he was on candidate status following his medical retirement from the United States Army as a military chaplain and has a fresh perspective of what it means to be on candidate status.

My response to Addendum II: As one of those who spoke to First Vice-President Mueller about the lack of Inactive Candidate representation on the Task Force, my point was not only that there should be members of the Task Force with first-hand experience with Inactive Candidate status—though there should have been more than one—but that the Task Force must also communicate with men who continuously endured said status for extensive periods of time. My knowledge of such men is not exhaustive, but even in my small circle, I’m acquainted with men who have spent eight years or more without a Call. None of the Inactive Candidate or former-Inactive Candidate pastors within my circle of acquaintance were consulted directly by any member of the task force. That doesn’t mean such consultations never happened with others. Still, if it happened, I’m surprised I didn’t hear of it, having been in contact with numerous Inactive Candidates and former-Inactive Candidates.

From the report: “A survey of questionnaires returned from District Presidents reveals…”

My response: The answers to the questionnaire are most likely based on a form called the “Explanation of Candidate Status Form,” a form the Candidate/Non-Candidate/ Emeritus pastor must fill out. But what the pastor fills out must first be approved by the district president before it becomes official. I pretty much had to lie on my form before my district president would approve it. That makes the forms a questionable source of information, the data skewed by the bias of the very people asked to answer the questionnaire. Furthermore, collecting such information from District offices without contacting individual Inactive Candidates is akin to asking the spider to give information to help the fly stuck in a web. I wish more Inactive Candidates and former-Inactive Candidates would have been contacted directly, but I imagine the time such contacts would take might have seemed daunting.

Now for the Final Recommendations of the Task Force:

1. Military and institutional chaplains and returning missionaries should notify their respective district president as soon as possible when leaving their current call. Graduate students on candidate status should notify their district president of their date of availability for pastoral call. The district president will distribute a list of available chaplains, missionaries and graduate students (biannually – quarterly—as requested) among other district presidents and calling agencies where appropriate.

My response to Recommendation 1: Well done.

2. District presidents should guide pastoral candidates who are no longer qualified to be placed on call lists to explore another vocation.

My response to Recommendation 2: Clarification is needed. By what definition are these pastoral candidates “no longer qualified”?

3. Recommend a Synod-wide process that utilizes existing resources, such as Concordia Plan Services, Soldiers of the Cross and professional counseling, to assist and support candidates while they are in the midst of vocational discernment.

My response to Recommendation 3: Agreed...with the proviso that counseling is not used as a bludgeon against the Candidate. 

4. In circumstances where a pastor resigns as a result of conflict between the pastor and members of the congregation, the district president will provide pastoral care to the congregation and urge that issues be resolved prior to submitting a call list for future calls. The district president will ensure that the pastor and his family receive pastoral care.

My response to Recommendation 4: Clarification needed: “resolved” by what standard? How will the district president “ensure that the pastor and his family receive pastoral care”? How will he be held accountable?

5. Congregations are encouraged, where appropriate and feasible, to provide the opportunity for pastoral candidates to provide pastoral functions under a supervisor who is approved by the district president.

My response to Recommendation 5: Unless a supervisor is himself under discipline, this should not require approval from the district president.

6. Recommend to the Council of Presidents to discuss and clarify candidate and non-candidate status and time limits of candidate status.

My response to Recommendation 6: In my opinion, asking the district presidents to make clarification on this issue is asking the blacksmith to give an unbiased opinion regarding his favorite tool.

Closing Statement: District presidents are encouraged to provide for the pastoral support of workers while on candidate status and provide periodic information that the candidate’s information has been shared with calling agencies (congregations, schools, Recognized Service Organizations).

My response to the Closing Statement: The words “are encouraged” should read “should be required”.

General response: The list of recommendations is inadequate: skewed toward the power of district presidents and lacking in adequate specifics for providing for the care, rehabilitation, and return to Called duty for Inactive Candidates.

That being said, I know that there will never be universal satisfaction with any report or recommendation. Whether or not I agree with their recommendations or the information they were given to form those recommendations, they put in a great deal of work, and I thank them for their efforts. I hope this report and any response to it will lead to further mercy shown to our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.

HYMN: Feed Me, Master, Son of David

It's been a while since I wrote one of these. But since I was able to get my whole Lenten sermon series finished during my hiatus--not to mention two funerals and a bunch of hospital visits--I don't feel too bad. Anyway, this text is based on the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, particularly Matthew 15:21-28. The idea of the begging dog who doesn't belong at the table really hits home with me, and I wanted to capture that.

Feed Me, Master, Son of David

1. Feed me, Master, Son of David!
Do not let me be ashamed.
I, Your dog, am weak with hunger.
Satan seeks to stake his claim.
Oh, have mercy, Lord, and help me!
Save me by Your holy name.

2. Though in sin I merit nothing,
I desire Your goodness still.
I will bark and beg and whimper.
Let Your holy morsels spill.
With mere crumbs Your love can feed me.
With Your crumbs I eat my fill.

3. In my weakness I will seek you.
Hear my poor and anguished plea.
I will cling and not release you
'Til you bless and pity me.
I will be Your dog forever;
Evermore my Master be.

87 87 87
Occasion: Lent II (LSB 1-year)
Text: Matthew 15:21-28

Sermon for 1/31/16: Sexagesima

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The parables Jesus tells are not meant to affirm the self-righteousness of the arrogant and unrepentant. In fact, parables hide God from the proud. Simple words and simple stories conceal God from those who are too self-important to believe that God is not like them. The point of the parable of the Sower is that God farms differently than man does. Some of you are farmers, but that doesn’t necessarily help you understand God or His ways. If you are a farmer—and those of you who tend to a garden will understand this as well—you work the soil using all your wisdom and experience and strength to make it productive.

But God sows the seed of His Gospel in what we would consider foolish places. He does not work the soil, for the seed he sows is good in and of itself, and men need that seed. The seed does its work. His ways astound and confuse us. He sows His seed in foolish and impossible places. He sows on the hard earth of a trodden path—the fruit may grow for a time, but the earth is packed so hard by those following the crowd in the ways of the world that the fruit of faith cannot take root. He sows among the thorns—the ground able to produce fruit, but the cares and worries of this life choke that fruit to death. He sows on the rocks—the hardened hearts of those who go their own way, doing whatever they want without regard for the command and promise of God. He sows the seed where it does not, will not, and cannot grow. Not even a drunken farmer on a moonless night would plant seeds so foolishly.

Some of you remember a time when every single pew in this sanctuary was filled to overflowing with people, so much so that we had to add chairs in the aisles to make room for everyone. Some of you are old enough to remember times when St. Peter had as many as twenty students in Catechism class to prepare for communicant membership. Some of you remember a time when every curtained partition in the basement of the education building was utilized for Sunday School classes. It seems like all that happened a very long time ago. There are plenty of open pews here at St. Peter this morning. There are five students in Catechism class this year, and in the five years I’ve been here, we’ve had a year when we haven’t had any students. And we only use two Sunday School rooms, both with plenty of seats to spare. We cannot force anyone to come and hear the Word of God, any more than a farmer can force seed to grow and be fruitful on a boulder. We cannot force anyone to allow the Word of God to overpower the cares and concerns of their life. We cannot force anyone to abandon what the world finds popular for the sake of the Gospel. Our numbers have declined and grown and declined again over the 125 years of our history; we have absolutely no control over how the Word of God does its work.

But that’s the thing, the crux of the matter: making this congregation grow is God’s work. God does give you important work to do: bring your children to be baptized, so that their hearts may be made fertile by those holy waters. Choose pastors who are faithful to the Word, and make sure they preach that Word even when the world would silence the Word. Come to hear that word yourselves, and allow that Word to continue to grow within you. Cry out for and receive the body and blood of Jesus, which feeds the seed of faith within you. Those are important tasks. But the growth of that seed is always a gift of God; He provides the growth where and when He wills it. He has planted that seed and watered it again this morning for young JennyLynn. And wonder of wonders, the seed finds fertile soil! In the most unexpected of places, even in places we would consider too packed or rocky or thorny, the seed grows. It may not happen as much as we might hope—and God Himself desires that every seed He plants would grow, though He knows that will not happen—but the seed of the Word, the seed of faith continues to grow according to God’s will. That’s all that we can hope for, and it’s more than we can make happen ourselves. The blood of Christ, shed on the cross, poured onto us in the waters of Holy Baptism, fed to us in His holy Supper, brings us to faith and nurtures and feeds that faith within us.

There nothing for you to add or prove or do. He has done it all for you. Foolish though it seems, Jesus has died for you; He does not hold it against you. He has sowed His Seed in you so that you would live and be loved by Him. He feeds that precious fruit of faith so that you would know the Father. In Him and at His Word, you are lush and fertile in redemption. The harvest has already been bountiful, just this year alone: our Lord has gathered up Geraldine, Edna, little Drake, and countless others—and the Church Triumphant grows with each one, for their labors have ended; they rest in God’s heavenly storehouse forever! And the harvest will continue to be plentiful, even here at St. Peter, regardless of how full or empty our pews may be, for the faithful Sower will continue to plant His seed here, will water it in Holy Baptism, will continue to feed and nurture us with His Word and Sacrament, and finally will gather you in with all the faithful. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sermon for 1/24/16: Septuagesima

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Rejoicing in a Generous God

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The master of the vineyard said, “Go work in my vineyard and I will pay you what is right.” He never mentioned fairness or equality. He said he would pay what is right, or righteous. This is the kingdom of God. You don't get what you have earned; you receive what the Lord freely gives. Then you realize that whether you work eleven hours or one hour—whether you’ve been a Christian your whole life or came to faith in old age—what you have from Him is a gift. That's how the Lord works. Because of Christ, you don't get what you have earned. You don't get what you've got coming. You get forgiveness, life, salvation. Jesus does the hard work in His suffering and death. He bears the heat of the sweltering judgment of God for your sins on the cross so that, on the Last Day, when it is time to settle your accounts, the Lord just hands you something you never earned or expected: salvation and eternal life. People think Jesus told parables using everyday illustrations to make a point. But nobody ever gets paid this way. The unions would strike. The government would step in. Labor laws would be enforced. People would go to jail. But in God's kingdom, you don't get what you have earned. You get what is right—that is, you get what is righteous in the sight of God. You get what Jesus has earned for you.

If you so choose, you can certainly complain that it's not fair. You can try to cut a deal with God. You can approach Him on the basis of your works: He must pay you what He owes you. But if deal with God like that, you deal only with the Law. The Law says to love God and love your neighbor. If you don't do those things, you don't get paid. It's as simple as that. And much as we like to try to fool ourselves that we love God and love others, our lives and our sins show that we don't. There's a reason the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” Death is the payment you get for not doing your job. That's what you've earned; that’s what you deserve for breaking the Law, for not loving God like you should, for not loving your neighbor as you've been commanded. On the Last Day, those who thought they could bargain with God on the basis of deeds will get exactly what they have earned. They will hear those awful words, “Take what is yours and go your way.” My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is what hell is. 

But Jesus did not come to pay you what you deserve and send you on your way. He came to take the riches of God and do what He wants: and what He wants is to give you those riches. It doesn't matter when you've been brought in—as an infant; in adolescence; or even on your deathbed, inhaling for the last time. He has called you into His vineyard beginning with your baptism, and He settles up for you according to His righteous will, giving you the riches of His labors: the riches of forgiveness and eternal life in the spoken word of absolution and in His body and blood. When He comes again on the Last Day, there will be a payday, but not like the world thinks. Oh, for those that wanted to make an agreement with God, they'll get what they deserve. But you get what is righteous in God’s sight; you get what is Christ's. He has for you such gifts that all we can do is give thanks for the generosity of this Lord. True faith and worship is not to come to God and negotiate. It's to receive from Him the generous gift He has for you. There is no comparing; there’s just the Lord, who takes what belongs to Him and gives it to you “without any merit or worthiness in [you].” That's how the Kingdom of God works. When it comes to the Lord, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what Jesus freely gives. You'll get forgiveness. You’ll get everlasting life. The Lord does not give you what is fair—thanks be to God for that! He gives what is righteous in His sight. He gives forgiveness, life, and salvation. Come and receive what the Master freely gives. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sermon for 1/17/16: The Funeral of Edna Lange

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Rest for God's People
Hebrews 4:9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is from the fourth chapter of Hebrews. We consider verse nine: "Therefore there remains a rest for the people of God."

Death comes in many ways and at many different times in life. When we attempt to judge the way and time of death by our human standards, sometimes it comes, seemingly, too soon. It may take a newborn from the arms of its grieving mother, or a young man or woman in the prime of life, snuffing out the flame of life that seemed to burn so brightly for them. And the very purpose of their existence seems frustrated. At other times it may strike with apparent tragedy, taking a young mother from her children, or leaving a young husband without his wife to raise his children. At such times, the question “Why?” haunts our thoughts and makes acceptance hard. 

But no such situation meets us here this day. True, the family circle has been broken, and a dear mother and grandmother has been taken. But death itself came to Edna as one last of the many blessings from the Lord, blessings she had received from the God she had known and confessed throughout her life. Her burden of suffering and weakness has been lifted from her. The Lord has given her a holy rest after a long life of labor. 

The writer of the words of our text was far-sighted. His eyes were cast into the future, and he would encourage us to look there with him. And yet, to paint his picture of heavenly rest, he drew on something from the past: the Old Testament Sabbath day. After God had created the world and everything in it, He rested in the seventh day; He ceased His creative activity. And in like manner, our Lord Jesus Christ completed the work of salvation for us, and then He rested. He went to the cross bearing our sins. As Peter reminds us, we have not been redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the holy, precious blood of Christ, the Lamb without spot or blemish. That blood of the Lamb of God cleanses from all sin. And when His suffering was complete, Jesus said, “It is finished.” And then He rested for three days in the grave before He rose in triumph on Easter morning. He then ascended to eternal glory, to that eternal day of heaven, where all the saints of God are gathered together. This is a rest that is to be shared, a “rest for the people of God.” 

And this is where our comfort, our hope—and yes, even our joy and thanksgiving—come from on this day. There is a rest that remains for the people of God. For those who hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in faith, we have that rest. It comes from Jesus, who went to His rest after laboring for the salvation of the world. And just as God ceased His creating work, and just as Jesus completed His work of salvation, so now the work is done for Edna; the struggle has ended, and for her the eternal day of God has come. Of that day Scripture says: “There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and there shall be no night there, and they need no candle nor the light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light; and they shall reign forever and ever.” Earthly trials have ceased, and again Scripture tells us: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.”  

We do not grieve as those who have no hope. We need not drown ourselves in grief, as if we would begrudge Edna the fulfillment of God’s promise to her, the powerful hope in Jesus Christ that so filled her life. Nor do we just stoically say that we must face the reality of death, and that is that. No, the circumstances of death are seldom pleasant, but the fulfillment of God’s promise is always pleasant. It is a promise that rises above the evils of sin and death. And in this we find our comfort and hope, our joy and thanksgiving. The eternal Sabbath day is a day of rest, and it is in Christ. After the suffering that often makes up the end of our days here, there is rest in Christ. 

And so it is that we can truly take to heart those words of St. Paul: “Where , O Death, is Your Sting? O Grave, where is Your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law. But, thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” For Edna the sting of death is gone, and the power of the grave has been undone by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the victory of eternal life over death. May you draw your strength and hope from this. As we rejoice that Edna now rests from her labors without pain or suffering or tears, we rejoice all the more in Jesus Christ and His salvation—a present joy for Edna who now sees Him face to face, and the future reality for you who walk as yet by faith in Jesus Christ. He will comfort you in the days ahead, and—just as He has done for our beloved Edna—He will grant you that holy rest in His time. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sermon for 1/17/16: Transfiguration of Our Lord

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Leaving One Mountain for Another

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen

At first, Peter, James, and John wanted to stay on the mountain. Then they were afraid. And then, at last, they saw no one but Jesus only, and they followed where He went. But trouble was still to come. Their journey was not yet done. They saw Jesus only. They were focused. But the flesh was still weak. They followed to the garden and could not stay awake. And when that fateful betraying kiss was done, Peter grew angry and lashed out with violence. John followed at a distance, took advantage of his connections, but was too afraid to speak. And James simply ran away.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, with Moses and Elijah and a glorified Jesus, the favored disciples would have stayed. But they wanted no part of Mount Calvary, where God was revealed and seen not in glory but in His humble, bloody, dying mercy. To their shame, they did not want that. Yet Moses and Elijah came to the Mount of Transfiguration in the only way that men do: by means of death. There is no other way. You either die to this life and ascend, or you die in eternal death and descend. In this all are the same: all die. Even those still living at the return of Our Lord will have either died in Baptism and therefore go to Life, or they will die eternal death.

Peter eventually learned a hard lesson. He wept bitter tears of shame and of sorrow. The muscles built on the Sea of Galilee, the brawn and street smarts, the plans and schemes and ways with men, all fell away to nothing when faced with God’s glory. Peter was afraid. They fell away again when faced with Our Lord’s willingness to suffer and to die for men who hated Him. Peter’s courage left in the face of God’s faithfulness and loyalty to betrayers and rebels. It was too much, too great, too incomprehensible, too wonderful to behold, and thus did Peter weep. For in the face of that great love and loyalty Peter knew just how far he’d sunk, how awful were the things he’d done, how disgusting were the things he’d said and thought, how terrible were the lies that he had told, how false and shameful was his bravado and pretending piety. The eyes of the Lord fell upon Him. The rooster crowed. Peter wept.

Before you condemn Peter, look at yourself. How cheaply will you sell your soul? Do you not even have the decency of Peter to be afraid? Are you so confident in your sins? Do you think that you can fool God as you fool men, as easily as you fool yourself? Do you dare to challenge God and risk His wrath and the Law? Why should God put up with you? You are as disobedient as Peter, as quick to betray your Lord when you are put to the test, as quick to deny Him when the world demands an answer of you. Repent. Weep bitter tears. Turn from your self. Turn to Christ.

Then arise and do not be afraid. God does not merely put up with you. He saves you, and He does so because He is good and His mercy endures forever; because He promised to be your God and to love you; because He, unlike men, does not lie. Arise and see Jesus only. Your own transfiguration is coming. Do not focus upon yourself but upon His unfailing love and promise. He went to death like a Lamb to the slaughter: without complaint. But He did not go without knowledge or against His will. He went in perfect love, in consummate obedience, with nothing more than the desire to make you His. For He knew this was the cost. He knew what it took to bring Peter and James and John, Moses and Elijah, David and Nathan, and to bring even you to Himself and His Father in heaven. He was always willing to pay that price. He did not flinch or hesitate. He endured all of Hell’s fury to wipe away both Peter’s tears and yours. It is worth it to Him. You are worth it to Him. And He has no regrets. His love for you is pure and undefiled. Hell cannot stop it. Death cannot hold Him. It will not hold you. He leads you out of death’s shadow and slavery and into the promised land that Abraham now enjoys.

So arise. Do not be afraid. He has provided the Lamb for the sacrifice. There is nothing more to pay, no sins left to forgive, nothing so bad or painful that He cannot overcome. He has placed His Name upon you. He is well-pleased with you. And He provides for your nourishment and strength, for your courage and your loyalty, giving you His Body and His Blood. Do not be afraid. Eat. Drink. Rejoice. Rest. He knows what He is doing. He is loving you, and He will never stop loving you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sermon for 1/12/16: Funeral of Geraldine Mueller

Sorry. It's been a long week. After sixteen months without a funeral, I went from Gerry's funeral dinner to visit another dying member.

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Thy Will Be Done
Matthew 6:10b

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Our text is the Lord’s Prayer, especially the words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We all know what we want, and we all know how and when we want it. We live in a world of big desires and instant gratification. For people who are accustomed to getting our own way, it’s not easy to set aside our own desires and put the needs and wants of others first. We are selfish and self-serving. We’re never happier than when we’re looking out for ourselves. It should come as no surprise, then, that we’re also not that good at paying heed to the will and Word of God. We act as if what we think and believe is more important than what God says in His Word. After all, our minds tell us the Bible was written by sinful men, and humans make mistakes. So we disregard God’s holy Word: bearing false witness against our neighbor because our neighbor did so to us; reveling in the lusts of our flesh because a loving God must not condemn anything done in the name of love; killing children in the womb for the sake of convenience. We’re no better than our first parents, Adam and Eve, who set aside the Word and command of God to partake of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil just because they thought it looked tasty and it would let them know what God knows. We look at what God says in His Word, and we set aside those portions that don’t agree with our outlook or agenda. 

And yet, every time we gather as a community of believers, and often in the privacy of our own homes, we pray to our heavenly Father, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems rather counter-productive for us to pray for the will of God to be done at the same time that we put our trust in the imaginations of our own hearts and the treasures of this world. But God has written it into our hearts that His will is always for our good, that what He desires for us is so much better than anything we could plan on our own. For example, it is never easy to accept being separated from those we love whom the Lord has called to rest from the labors of this life. Sometimes it is made easier by the circumstances surrounding their final days. Certainly in the midst of our mourning, we can feel some relief that Gerry no longer has to fight for each breath. Nevertheless, while there may be some measure of relief, there is also sorrow. If it were up to us, Gerry would have regained a measure of health to enjoy the company of her family. This was not to be. This was certainly not the way we wanted things to turn out.  

Our God is not a cruel God. He does not desire the death of His children, nor does He cause it. But even in our grief, we can be comforted that the life and death of Geraldine Mueller happened exactly as it was meant to happen. We can be confident and sure of that. Every time I brought the Lord’s Supper to Gerry, every time I visited her in the hospital, every time she had come to God’s holy house to worship Him, she prayed, “Thy will be done.” And the Lord answered with a resounding affirmative. Why Gerry? Why now? No one can fully know the mind of God. No matter how much faith we have, no matter how much education we claim concerning God’s Word, nobody can know the full counsel of God. As St. Paul says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.”

That’s why our Lord Jesus Christ would have us call upon the Father and say, “Thy will be done.” The great joy of that prayer is that we don’t have to understand the will of God. We can bring our petitions before the Lord. We know that He already understands what we need; He knows these things even better than we can ourselves. We bring those petitions before Him, and we leave them in His hands, knowing that He will provide for us whatever is right for us, whatever is best, whatever will answer our prayer in the most beneficial manner. His will shall be done and is done. Whatever that means, however it works out in our lives, we can trust that God has answered our prayer exactly as it should be answered. For some, that might be a miraculous cure. For some, it might be a temporary respite.

And for Geraldine, it was the Lord’s will that, eighty-five years ago yesterday, she should be washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, where God made her His own child. It meant that it was God’s will that she be loving, forgiving, generous with the talents and treasures the Lord gave her. It meant that it was God’s will that she should meet Edwin and spend 40 years as his wife. It meant that it was God’s will that she should love the three children God placed in her care. And just as it was the Lord’s will for those blessings to come to pass, we can trust that Friday night was exactly the right time for the Lord to call her home to Himself.

Asking for the will of God to be done is not an easy prayer, even in the best of circumstances. It’s never easy to set aside your own will and wait for the Lord to show you the plans He has for you. Nevertheless, it is the best path, the narrow way, for God will answer your prayers with answers far better than anything we can ask or imagine. For Geraldine, the answer that God gave is a rest in His arms that will never end. For you, while you wait for that same eventual answer, He will bless you according to His good will—with the means to support yourselves, with the love of family and friends, and with the comfort that you need and desire in your grief.

I hope that Kim and Scott will indulge me if I share a private moment they had with their mother. On Friday night at the nursing home, Kim had Scott on the phone, and they prayed with Geraldine the song of Simeon. It begins with the words, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.” Almost immediately after praying this prayer with Gerry, the Lord answered that prayer: He gave Gerry a peaceful death—the kind of peace only God can give.

Just as it was the Father’s will that Jesus should die to save us from our sin, it was the perfect will of God that Gerry come home to rest with Him. She had prayed for God’s will to be done all her life, and even in her death, God answered that prayer. As you mourn, God grant you faith to pray, “Thy will be done.” For when you pray that prayer, you know He will answer graciously. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Sermon for 1/3/16: The Epiphany of Our Lord

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

King Herod was a troubled man. The birth of the Christ child troubled King Herod because he figured someone had been born to replace him as king. But Jesus has not been born to be an earthly king with a palace and a golden crown and a throne and an army. He has come to reside in the palace of the stable in Bethlehem, to be crowned king with a crown of thorns, to be enthroned upon the throne of the cross, to lead a ragtag army of disciples who would abandon Him. His kingdom is not one of a particular border, but one comprised of people of all nations. It is a kingdom whose citizens are all sinners, and the King gathers His sinner subjects to himself. Jesus is a king who saves us. The kings of this world raise armies and send their soldiers to defend their realms. But Jesus comes not to ask us to sacrifice ourselves for Him; He has come to sacrifice Himself for us. He leads the raid into the devil’s territory to rescue us from sin and death and bring us into a promised land paradise of everlasting life. That's the sort of king Jesus is.

King Herod is worried. He shouldn't be. Jesus didn't come to take his place. But King Herod knows, like we do, that the coming of the Savior changes things, and Herod doesn't want to take part in it. He doesn’t want the competition for power. He doesn’t want the competition for attention. And you have the same problem as Herod. If Jesus is the King, that means you can't be. If Jesus is God and king, that means you have to fear and love and trust in Him more than you fear and love and trust in yourself. Your kingdom is going to be torn down by Jesus. There can be no more acting like you're the high and mighty one who gets to boss everyone else around. You can no longer act as if everyone else's lot in life is to serve you. There can be no more going out of your way to get your way all the time. There can be no more acting like you are the one who is always in charge and always right, no more being sinned against by another person and thinking "off with their head!"  That's all the kingdom of the Old Adam, the sinner who must have his kingdom thrown down and destroyed. How's that for a New Years resolution? Repent of acting like you're the king! Stop acting like you’re all that matters. Jesus being King rescues you from all that! He'll do the work of being the king so you don't have to. And His kingdom is not a terrible one but one of life and light.

The truth is, you have been made a royal nation, a kingdom of priests. You have been given the crown of Christ's righteousness in your baptism. You have been robed in the royal baptismal garments of the kingdom of God. You have a personal herald, your pastor, whose one job is to declare the pronouncements of the King: “Hear ye! Hear ye! Your sins are forgiven!” You get to dine in the royal banquet hall to enjoy the feast of salvation in His kingdom. And what happens when The Lord makes us true royalty? We stop being kings unto ourselves and become servants to others. Baptized, absolved, and fed with Christ's body and blood, we are rescued from having to show others that we are boss; we instead live to serve. No wonder the Old Adam is scared of Jesus! The wise men offered their gifts to Jesus, but it was really Jesus who had gifts for them: forgiveness, life and salvation. He is now and always will be the king who has the same gifts for you. And it is the reign of this King, the King of salvation, Jesus, who is the Light who shines in the darkness, who makes us royal heirs before God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Laryngitis for Laughs

Want to hear what I sound like when I lead the liturgy with laryngitis?


Sermon for 12/27/15: The Sunday After Christmas

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Sermon–The Sunday After Christmas (LSB 1-year) 
December 27, 2015

The Sacrifice

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

This past week we rejoiced with the shepherds at the birth of our Savior, and with Mary we pondered the wonder of God in the flesh. Now we look forty days in the future. Following the birth of a son, a mother had to wait forty days before going to the Temple to offer sacrifice for her purification. So on the fortieth day, Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. Carried in His mother's arms, the Lord came to His Temple to fulfill the law. Going to the Temple, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to His true home. Sacrifice was needed for the ritual of purification. It involved offering a lamb. If they were not able to afford a lamb, they could offer two turtledoves. And being of humble means, the Holy Family brings the birds. But the eyes of faith see the truth. Though Mary brings two turtledoves, the required Lamb is present. Though Mary carries the minimum requirement to the Temple, the Lord God “fills the hungry with good things.” The Lamb is present. He is carried, borne in the loving arms of His mother and step-father, into His house, the Old Testament dwelling place of God among men.
Meeting the Holy Family is Simeon, a man who has been waiting his whole life for the coming of the promised Messiah, the Consolation of Israel. Simeon received a promise from God that he would not die until he saw the Christ. As a sinner, Simeon longed to see God in the flesh as was first promised to Adam and Eve. Simeon trusted that God in the flesh would grant him release from the bondage of sin. Simeon took up the baby Jesus and held him in his arms, and the Spirit of God led him to proclaim, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Holding this adorable Infant in his arms, Simeon saw something that the ordinary human eye could not see. Through the eyes of faith, Simeon saw and knew that this newborn Bundle of flesh and blood was the long expected Messiah, the One who would bear our sins to the cross, the One who would suffer, die, and rise in our place.
Simeon rejoiced to see his Lord, but he also saw that this Lord would have a different role than the world would expect of God in the flesh. He told Mary, Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against—yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Like the turtledoves brought to be sacrificed for Mary’s purification, this prophecy from Simeon points us forward to the sacrifice of Jesus for our purification.
But unlike Mary, we don’t have to wait forty days for our purification. Unlike Simeon, we don’t have to wait a whole lifetime to see our Savior. Our Sacrifice of purification, our promised Savior, is here. We don’t need to travel to Jerusalem. We don’t need to stand in the courtyard of an earthly Temple. God dwells with us already. Emmanuel, God with us, is already here! He is present in His holy Word. He is present in the water of your baptism. He is present in His body and blood in the holy Supper. 

God’s glory, His forgiving presence among His people, is no longer in a building. God is now present among His people in the person of Jesus, the Righteous one. God is present among His people in the gifts Jesus died as the Lamb of God to give us. It doesn’t make sense to our eyes. But we know it to be true. This is the miracle which we receive today in His Holy Supper. This is the miracle which we carry with us until we, like Simeon, depart this life in peace. In the name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.