Monday, February 20, 2017

Sermon Feb. 18-19, 2017

Title: Tested by fire, you endure through Christ!
Text: 1 Cor. 3:10-23

13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.

A certain congregation was about to erect a new church building. The building committee, in subsequent meetings passed the following resolutions:


1. We shall build a new church
2. The new building is to be located on the site of the old one.
3. The material in the old building is to be used in the new one.
4. We shall continue to use the old building until the new one is completed.

http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/845/a-new-building/

We shall build a new church

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 

Next weekend is Transfiguration Sunday, and on Transfiguration Sunday, February 3, 1963, Peace Lutheran Mission of South Waterford Township was organized and began serving the people of this community. 

At the end of 1963, the membership of Peace was 50 communicant and 104 baptized souls. The Rev. Richard Feucht, Missionary at Large for our Michigan District, was the first pastor of Peace serving the congregation for 5 years from 1962-1967. 

In subsequent years 5 other pastors have been called to serve here:

Rev. William Wurm 1967 - 1970
Rev. Darowin Cordes 1970 - 1973
Rev. Bruce Hanson 1973-1980
Rev. William Merrell 1980 - 2013
Rev. Russell Tkac 2013 – Present

Much has changed since February 3, 1963

John F. Kennedy was President of the United States - at least he would be for another eight months before an assassin’s bullet would take his life. It would be another year before in February of 1964 that the Beatles would change the face of popular music. The Vietnam War would cloud the 1960’s and early 1970’s with death of young men and protests. In 1968 and 1984 the Tiger’s would win World Series. 1997-1998-2002-2008 would bring Stanley Cup wins for the Detroit Red Wings and Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and now Trump would be President of the United States.

Much has changed since February 3, 1963

The new building is to be located on the site of the old one.

But one thing hasn’t changed:

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Those who have been called to serve Peace through the changing times of the last 54 years have had a foundation as Paul writes the Corinthian church that like a Master Builder he laid and now it is being built by another. The foundation is Jesus Christ and that is the foundation that Peace Lutheran Church has been built on over these last 54 years from our beginnings and through two church building projects culminating in the building we now enjoy.

12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.

As we serve and shepherd God’s people we build, using different materials some of which are like gold, silver and precious stones that through fire are refined and made pure … God’s word and sacraments come to mind … and caring for and ministering to those who are in need. But other things we build with wood, hay and straw may have seemed good at the time … will be burned up in the end. (Church softball teams?)

The testing by fire will show what type of work, we as shepherds have done in this place for time and for eternity. Big responsibility; big shoes to fill; and quite a bit at stake when you think of the souls of the people you serve and their eternal destinies.

The material in the old building is to be used in the new one.

14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

We as shepherds are to use what God has given us - which is the word and the pure doctrine given us in the scriptures that simply is God’s teaching (doctrine). We don’t add to the word or burden the people with things that God has not said. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that the pure word goes forth to those who need to hear gathered in this place. At times the word is received as a burden pointing you to a need for repentance while at other times the shear the joy of forgiveness lifts the burden of guilt off you and comforts a heart broken by sin.

We work towards that end. It is repentance and forgiveness that needs to work in your heart - the heart of the believer. We at times fall short in how we do as pastors, but thanks be to God that God himself is the one who brings forth the growth just like Paul planted and Apollos watered but God brought forth the blessing and growth in his way and in his time. It is comforting to know that just as the wood, hay and straw is burned up we too through failings will emerge like one walking away from car wreck unhurt though the car may be totaled and destroyed … we will survive.

And finally:

We shall continue to use the old building until the new one is completed.

While Paul directs this portion of his letter to those who serve the church the greater picture of what he is saying is for all of us.

16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him, for God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Dear friends, you are the true church and true building where God dwells.

Pastor Merrell told me once that with the disposition of our former church building on M-59 and the groundbreaking here for this property and new building on Elizabeth Lake Rd. he was able in a very real and tangible way show that the church is not the building but the people … the followers of Christ that make up the church. It is here and in this place that God calls us together to receive his gifts but it is we as his people where his Spirit dwells.


1. We shall build a new church
You are that new creation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2. The new building is to be located on the site of the old one.
By faith in Jesus you are changed from God’s enemies to God’s beloved children marked and redeemed in him.

3. The material in the old building is to be used in the new one.
Though you still inhabit the sinful flesh and this sinful world you are a new creation made new by the blood of the Lamb.

4. We shall continue to use the old building until the new one is completed.
God will continue to work in you to conform you into the image of his son until you receive the fullness of his blessings in your heavenly home.

As such you have been given the gift and you must guard that good deposit – faith looking outward to Christ that give eternal life to all who believe!

21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or [Wurm or Cordes or Hansen or Merrell or Tkac] the world or life or death or the present or the future— [because dear friends] 

all are yours, 23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's, now and forever.

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sermon Feb 11-12, 2017

Title: Through God’s Spirit we choose life!
Text: Deut. 30:15-20

15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. Deut 15
19 ...Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, Deut 19b

God’s word tells us that prosperity and life is found in following the Lord and his ways rather than our own ways.

God’s chosen people Israel had been fond of following ways other than the Lords. We see this from the beginning with Adam and Eve and the eating of the forbidden fruit, to “Why oh why did you bring us out into this wilderness?” Or, “let us make for ourselves a god in the likeness we prefer … maybe a golden calf!” To the ultimate grumbling: “Manna … again … really?” … and on and on and on.

In the verses that precede our reading for today God speaks of blessings and curses that are set before his scattered people who are dispersed among the nations saying:

2 and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.

No matter how bad their sin, no matter how far they have fallen, no matter how distant they find themselves from God and his people … God promises that:

6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts [referring to having a pure heart separated unto God] and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

Repentance and forgiveness is always part of the Lord’s plan for his people Israel and it is for you and me as well.

Without repentance there is only a furthering distance and gulf fixed between God’s people … and his peace. God even has given us his promise that he is both the source and means of our repentance and forgiveness.

By the word of his commands we know what he expects and how we measure up. Unlike every other religion of the world that places God above and out of reach and gives us the work that is necessary for us to do to get to him and reach him, God himself tells us otherwise saying:

12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”

It is not of our will but of God’s will.

14 No, [the Lord says to the children of Israel], the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Ill.

In our study of Martin Luther during this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, in both our Thursday Adult Bible Study group and now in our monthly Men’s Breakfast Bible Study group we see the emphasis on God’s word … the importance of it or problems when it is mistranslated or misunderstood. This led to the selling of indulgences and the paying of a price to reduce the time in Purgatory for loved ones or even for yourself.

God’s word was not readily available to the people. They didn’t have a means to read it for themselves or understand what God’s true intent was and how it was being applied by the church.

In Luther’s day the Mass was in Latin with responses parroted by the people having little understanding of what they were saying so that the - favor dei propter christum - or the favor of God on account of Christ might remain foreign to those who heard the word of God but didn’t fully understand it.

As far back or as near to our time as the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Latin was still the language of the Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church I was raised in, and though the Priest gave his sermon in English the responses of the people were largely Latin … and for me not really understood.

The Priest would say:
Verbum Dómini. - The Word of the Lord.
And all would reply:
Deo grátias. - Thanks be to God.
Or the priest would say :
Dóminus vobíscum. - The Lord be with you
And the reply would be:
Et cum Spíritu tuo. – And with your spirit

Even when my cousin David and I, when we as 9 and 10 years of age and  were at Mass which had been changed and was now recited in English found great joy and value especially when the sermon was a bit long … in replying with our heads down … in  mock exaustion ... “Thanks … be … to … God!”

Luther gave the word of God to the people in their common language. This opened the scriptures to the people enabling them to understand God in a way not previously available. It made known to them true repentance or a turning back to God, instead of doing penance … which is something that we do to receive forgiveness and God’s favor.

But, you and I dear friend have God’s word. It is here in our Liturgy and it is available in our Bibles, and it is sung in our hymns, and it is available on our computers, and even on our smart phones … if you happen to have one.

But do we use it? Is God’s word important in our lives, and do we seek it and the peace and comfort it provides?

That brings us to our epistle reading for today.

15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.

Sin is real and the consequence of sin is real, but so is forgiveness and God’s rescue that brings life and good because the Gospel really is Good News.

16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

Obeying the commandments and loving the Lord your God is all that is required. That’s it! And as the apostle Paul says: That which I want to do I don’t do and that which I don’t want to do I continue to do … oh wretched man that I am. (Romans 7) So, if the apostle Paul can’t do it where is hope for you and me and those who God spoke to in the Old Testament? Our hope and theirs is in God and his rescue through Christ Jesus our Lord.

For he also says:

17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them,

Whatever that is and whomever that is … that pulls you away from God and his forgiveness … work, hobbies, family, sports, “I’m too busy!” you fill in the blank

18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. That too is God’s promise for his children who fall away.

So the reality of following God has a blessed outcome and the turning away has a disastrous outcome. One leads to life the other death.

So here God gives the directive and it is not given to those outside that faith. It is not directed to those who do not know the Lord but to those who are his children and all who have been brought to faith by God through his word and sacrament s and are of his sheepfold.

I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,

The choosing of life is simple repentance. It is a turning back to God by his word and working of the Holy Spirit in you.

It is for you and for all who have been marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. It is for your children who have forsaken the fellowship of believers gathered here it is for you who may find the gathering together less than loving as we all bring our own sin baggage with us when we come. Maybe it is just that life has given you suffering in one way or the other and at times you feel that God has abandoned you. Why me? Why now? Why this? Why Lord?

Because: 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, is his promise to you for he is your life and length of days, It was for his children then and it is for his children now. It is God’s redemption and that rescue is in his Son Jesus for you. Receive the Good News and encourage those loved ones who have forsaken the gathering together so that they by the working of the Holy Spirit choose life and live.

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sermon Feb.4-5, 2017

Title: By the Spirit God’s wisdom shines forth!
Text: 1 Cor. 2:1-12

12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

With the crowds gathered … the old man rises to speak:

“Standing beneath this serene sky, overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and Nature.”

Two hours and nearly 22000 words later the second speaker begins in a voice somewhat higher pitched and reminiscent of his Kentucky and Indiana heritage:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The old man, Edward Everett - pastor, politician and orator - the day after their Gettysburg Addresses were delivered sent this short note to President Abraham Lincoln saying:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

http://www.stepbystep.com/Edward-Everetts-Gettysburg-Address-126998/

2 And I, [Paul writes] when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The apostle Paul was called on the Damascus Road by Jesus himself to be his messenger to the Gentiles. Though a Pharisee and teacher of the Law, Paul was not gifted with a powerful presence or lofty speech. His second letter to the Corinthian church makes reference to this when Paul writes:

10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 2 Cor. 10:10

And later he says of himself:

6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

But it was to demonstrate God’s power and wisdom through the working of the Holy Spirit – so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Those who are wise in the faith always take the focus off of them and point outside themselves to where our focus must be.

John the Baptist – proclaimed the message of repentance and pointed to the one who was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

In the eyes of the world John was somebody! People were coming to see him, to receive what he offered and who knows … if he played his cars right he might build a great following and continue to draw more people and followers to himself.

In our world … self-importance is big and success is paramount. But God’s wisdom is different. John said:

30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The focus of John was to herald Christ and to call attention to the work Christ came to do and in that call John was faithful, pointing to the redemption that is found in Jesus and his saving work.

In a sense God’s wisdom is hidden from the world in the folly of the cross and Paul is proclaiming that wisdom to the Corinthian church.

7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

Ill.

In 1846 former president John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke. Although he returned to Congress the following year, his health was clearly failing. 

Daniel Webster described his last meeting with Adams:

"Someone … a friend of his … came in and made particular inquiry of his health. Adams answered, 'I inhabit a weak, frail, decayed tenement; battered by the winds and broken in upon by the storms, and from all I can learn, the landlord does not intend to repair.'" 

Today in the Word, April 11, 1992.

Many in our midst know this all too well. The sinful condition is open to full inspection and we all, friends, loved ones and members of the body of Christ see it unfold before us. If it were in our power to heal we would remove the affliction that plagues our love ones … or even as it were offer to take their place.

8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

“Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

For if they had understood … Christ would not have been crucified and we would not be redeemed.

We would be dead in trespass and sin. So it is with the hidden council of God. He works in his way and in his time to bring low things that are exulted and raises up that which is despised. While the Messiah was expected the form in which he came was not expected except through the revealing of the Spirit. 

Our wisdom, by the working of the Holy Spirit, sees not what man sees but what God has revealed. The wisdom of the world and the rulers of this age could not see it or they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

God in Christ in humiliation became what we are. Through the union of flesh and blood into the divine essence the Lord of glory – Jesus Christ became man. This wisdom of God and the power of God cannot be understood apart from the work of the Spirit.

In demonstration of the Spirit Paul preaches Christ crucified 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Dear friends, God has given you peace and life through the revealing of his son by his Spirit so that God’s wisdom is made perfect in weakness and perfect in you, who were once dead in trespass and sin.

But you have received faith in God’s son for the work that he has done for you and by faith in him you are adopted and sealed by his Spirit. You are saved not by your knowledge and wisdom of Christ but by Jesus Christ and his work for you.

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

Amen

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sermon Jan 28-29, 2017

Title: The foolish are made wise in Christ!
Text: 1 Cor. 1:18-31

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

An angel appears at a faculty meeting and tells the dean [of the university] that in return for his unselfish and exemplary behavior, the Lord will reward him with his choice of infinite wealth, wisdom or beauty. Without hesitating, the dean selects infinite wisdom.

"Done!" says the angel, and disappears in a cloud of smoke and a bolt of lightning. Now, all heads turn toward the dean, who sits surrounded by a faint halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispers, "Say something."

The dean [now with all wisdom] looks at them and says, "I should have taken the money." 

Betsy Devine and Joel E. Cohen, Absolute Zero Gravity, Simon & Schuster.

That is the wisdom of the world!

And … here is what the business community says:

Experience comes from what we have done. Wisdom comes from what we have done badly.
Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School.


Paul asks: 20 Where is the one who is wise? 

We understand the wisdom of the word. “I should have taken the money”, sounds all too good for we who live in a materialistic society. What can’t be fixed, of the needs and wants we have, with just a little more cash? The rising costs of the bills sure wouldn’t be much of a problem. Declining attendance here at church wouldn’t matter much. Even those things at home of concern might not seem like such a big deal; and the budget here at Peace - just wouldn’t matter all that much.

But that is not wisdom for God.

Remember, Christ’s birth was not what was expected. What was expected was a King and Messiah of power … power as the world knows.

Paul says:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

Paul is saying in a sense that by the world’s standards - wisdom, wealth, power and noble birth - that is where they believe salvation is.
 
The Corinthian church was having its share of problems. They had divisions in the church with some following Paul, some Peter and others following Apollos, and even going so far as to be concerned with who baptized who. For us in the Lutheran faith, it is God who baptizes through the one officiating and it is the water connected to the word according to Christ command and promise by the power of the Holy Spirit that brings faith to life. 

Paul asks: 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? And concludes the epistle reading from last week saying: 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

God’s power is found not in wealth, worldly power or noble birth, but in the word of the cross and the preaching of Christ Crucified – which is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles.

It is interesting that with this letter and many of Paul’s letters he uses,

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus (Charis) grace to you in a sense means: May the Lord give you an abundance of his undeserved gifts and (shalom) or peace saying God is our friend and may that bring you rest, satisfaction and joy.
1 and II Corinthians Commentary R.C.H. Lenski pg 27-38

The world and its gifts can bring us at times comfort and blessing but only our true grace and peace come from God. It comes to us by God in his wisdom and through things that appear foolish in the eyes of the world.

Ill.

A familiar story is told about a little girl who proudly wore a shiny cross on a chain around her neck.‭ ‬One day she was approached by a man who said to her,‭ “‬Little girl,‭ ‬don’t you know that the cross Jesus died on wasn’t beautiful like the one you’re wearing‭? ‬It was an ugly,‭ ‬wooden thing.‭” ‬To which the girl replied,‭ “‬Yes,‭ ‬I know.‭ ‬But they told me in Sunday school,‭ ‬that whatever Jesus touches,‭ ‬He changes.‭”

The foolish are made wise in Christ!

What looks wise – power, wisdom, riches, and eloquent speech are not required for God’s power. It is in a sense joyful to preach and proclaim Christ crucified because it is not the wisdom of the speaker but the power of God through his word - the word made flesh – that brings the results of faith, life and peace.

You only have to look to the events of last weekend - the inauguration and subsequent protest marches – along with the postings on social media to see the world in all its foolishness on both sides of the debate. If there is video … you can hear the foolishness too - Manmade problems and manmade solutions will fix everything we are told. Granted, God works and sustains us by his guiding hand through what appears to be chaos at times and we are given what we deserve and what we don’t deserve as this life unfolds.

What is the cross? It is death. It is ugly. It is a penalty. It is vile. It is weakness. It is failure. It is the end. There is no more. At least that is how the world sees it.

As a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ we might ask also: What is the cross? The answers are strikingly different. It is life. It is beautiful. It is forgiveness. It is redemption. It is eternal. It is finished! It is for you.

Same cross, different perspective. How different the view is through the eyes of faith. The cross is foolishness through the eyes of the world and forgiveness through the eyes of faith.

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Death is a reality in this life. Through the grieving tears of we who are left behind, our loved ones depart. Life is changed for eternity. Eternal bliss or eternal damnation awaits all who depart this life. Status, work, wealth, prestige, knowledge, age or accomplishments matter not. What does matter is the folly of God’s wisdom to call.

4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Eph. 1:4-5;13-14

God has accomplished your security in the foolishness of the cross and through his means of word and sacrament he will fulfill his purpose in electing you to eternal life in him and keeping you in the one true faith now … and forever more!

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

Amen

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sermon Jan 21-22, 2017

Title: To follow Christ is to obey the call of the Spirit!
Text: Matt. 4:12-25

19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

We are in the Epiphany season. What does Epiphany mean? For those in the world it means Jesus Christ being made manifest or being made known. The Messiah had been long expected by Israel. For the Jews in our day he is still looked for and expected. When will he come they wonder?

For many in the world this season means playoff football and clearance sales. For you and me it also means tax season and paying what you owe or possibly getting a refund - time to think … time to gather … time to prepare your tax statements and W-2 forms.

For some it is time for a vacation. It’s cold out, let’s pack up and go someplace warm!
For those in the church it may be some of these things or all of the above.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus leaves Nazareth and goes into Galilee, to Capernaum by the sea so that the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”

What does it mean to follow Christ?

In a sense it means: 16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light, - it is God, working in the world and through his means of making himself known.

In Jesus’ day … he walked by the Sea of Galilee and called two brothers who were fisherman, Andrew and Simon, saying:

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Their response was to follow him … immediately!
So to with James and John his brother a short time later, 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Not all who saw the light of Christ followed. Why some and not others is the age old divine question? Why are some brought to faith and believe while others resist and reject? Only God knows but John does shed light on the will of those in darkness in Chapter 3:

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

And so too our epistle lesson confirms:

18 For the word of the cross is folly [or foolishness] to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

So it is God’s power to save and man’s will to flee light and love darkness.

The inherent will to sin is strong in all of us. We all fall short of God’s expectations and for some, our sin calls us back to the darkness of inequity that we love. Why some and not others?

It’s been said:

Some people change their ways when they see the light, others only when they feel the heat.

Source Unknown.

The Gospel is really good news but let us not forget Christ’s call:

17 … “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The turning from our sinfulness is first – necessary - before the gift of forgiveness is received.
When we are brought to faith God gives us his Spirit and calls us to follow him. For many of us God’s call came in the waters of Holy Baptism when we were washed and called to a life of holiness. For some it came later in life as God’s word took seed in their heart bringing them to faith and belief in Christ’s finished work for their redemption.

Each begins with God’s work that is received, but it is our faith and it is our belief none the less.

Ill.

I was outside last Sunday. The sun was out and shinning down. It was still cold but when the sun broke forth from the clouds it warmed me. I did nothing … I simply received the warmth. I had nothing to do with the sun shining but it was really me who was warmed, it was my joy, it was my smile on my face and it was my folly or foolishness to go for a bike ride! Man! 33 degrees is cold when riding in the middle of January Sunny of not! As I turned a corner a man walking his dog and bundled up call out,

“Nothing quite like a bike ride in the January to know how really cold it is.”
 
So, if the faith we have is a gift, and the belief we share brings us the joy of forgiveness, why do so many love the cold darkness of sin and keep heading in that direction?

Last weekend was tough. Holiday weekends are hard in general. Members who attend regularly are gone with family up north. Some are on vacation. Some … who knows … only come occasionally? 

The questions come …

“Pastor, where is so and so? I haven’t seen them in a while?”

Last week in our elder’s Meeting it rained. We even had water come in the office through the air conditioner. Bob Poe when outside and found a nest the birds has above the air conditioner and the eve. It was soaking in the water and holding it and allowing it to seep into the room. Bob cleared it out and Matt Rich repaired the drip edge so that the water would go to the downspout.

Birds are creatures of habit. They will build another nest and it will need to be cleared out. Eventually they’ll get it and move their nest to a higher place. 

Christians are not always so wise. We have our dwelling places of happiness and hope in this temporal world. What we see at times as success is really defeat. The idols that we build for ourselves continue to fail. I’m reminded of the fellow on Crescent Lake Road that has a small bus all painted up with a Detroit Lions logo and stripes, a real Party Bus! Though it never really has anything to party or be excited about – same old Lions right. But I did see hope – He has a newer bus and I think he is going to paint this one too with the lions logo. Can you imagine … the lions have let him down for so long he needs another bus! Where is your Party Bus of hope? What in this life will bring you comfort? For those not here it obviously is in something else. What, where, whom … maybe in defeat the Lord through his Spirit is directing them to put their security in Him?

So how are you to receive your security and where must your trust be placed? 

Well, for many trust is placed in the investments they have and the security of financial peace. Others look to time away from work and time spent with family and friends. Many find their peace at home, with sports and with other pastimes away from church and having no interest in Christ or his gifts I know it’s not you … at least some of the time because you’re here and that is where Christ has promised to be!

He is here by his word to bring about repentance. He is here in absolution, to comfort and forgive you. He is here body, blood, bread and wine to unite you to himself in the sacrament of the Altar. He is here as a washing away of sins in baptism and a bestowing of his Spirit that calls you to believe. He is here … so why do so many stay away?

All members on our rolls received a letter from President Jay Squanda recently encouraging them to not merely be a “Sunday Christian” but to follow Christ in all aspects of our lives to which one who received the letter said, “I guess I should be coming more than twice a year.”

It is the devils desire to have you not attend at all! So he will make being away as comfortable and joyful as possible and he will make attending as difficult and troublesome as possible. Of course we at times in our own sinfulness do and say things that drive people away but the Lord will prevail. He will pursue the lost so that when they fall so low as to reach bottom only his turning by the Spirit will give hope. Those who are afflicted will be healed and those comfortable in sin will be brought low.

Just as Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people so too he is here when his word is preached and his gifts are given for the forgiveness of sin.

Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men is Christ call in Baptism and throughout the Christian life. His means are here. Come and receive his gifts!

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sermon Jan. 14-15, 2017 Life Sunday

Title: The Lamb of God given for you!
Text: John 1:29-42a

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

A professor in a world-acclaimed medical school once posed this medical situation -- and ethical problem -- to his students: "Here's the family history: The father has syphilis. The mother has TB. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second had died. The third is deaf. The fourth has TB. Now the mother is pregnant again, The parents come to you for advice. They are willing to have an abortion, if you decide they should. What do you say?"

The students gave various individual opinions, and then the professor asked them to break into small groups for "consultation." All of the groups came back to report that they would recommend abortion.

"Congratulations," the professor said, "You just took the life of Beethoven!"

We believe this was first reported in an Ann Landers column.

Today and this weekend we once again celebrate the sanctity of human life. It is hard to imagine that we continue to do this each and every January but with legalized abortion since 1973 the womb continues to be one of the most dangerous places for a child.

The reality of a pregnancy brings the reality of life. This isn’t a cancer or some fatal illness; this isn’t a tumor or disease … this is life in its beginning form as we understand from conception. Life is not ours to make or ours to take. Divisions continue within families, friends and political debates.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image,
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Gen. 1:26a-27

The debate is certainly not with God.

As Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him:

9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.

Or, as the Law of God given through Moses in Deuteronomy 5 commandment 5 states:
17 “‘You shall not murder.

The taking of a life is against God’s commandment and desire.

Euthanasia is the other end of the spectrum of terminating life. But this death is for those outside the womb. 

Ill.

This downward slide was explained dramatically by Dr. Leo Alexander in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, written in 1949 - some 68 years ago.
 
Dr. Alexander was a consultant to the Secretary of War [during] the Nuremberg Trials. He had extraordinary access to accused Nazi war criminals in the medical community. Writing from that unique perspective, Dr. Alexander argued that so-called "compassionate killing" of the terminally ill inevitably set the stage for the Holocaust. 

He wrote:

Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude ... that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans.

Before his death, Dr. Alexander told a friend that trends in our country were "much like Germany in the '20s and '30s. The barriers against killing are coming down." 

J. Dobson and G. Bauer, Children at Risk, Word, 1990, p. 145.

As Dr. Alexander stated then and as has become evident now the barriers against killing the unborn and those deemed socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and so on … has come down. So much so as to deem those who oppose abortion and euthanasia as somehow opposed to women’s health … the so called “war on women.”

Can you see the brokenness, can you see the corruption? Can you see a dying world … lost and in need of a savior?

Ill. 

I shift now to a story of life … from my friend Paul Ruehl:

The other life changing encounter that built my faith regards my first two daughters, Diana and Michelle. Diana was born June 8, 1979, nearly 3 months premature. She was perfectly formed and the most beautiful baby I have yet to ever see. She was a fighter. She was a preemie but she had a lot of spunk. The doctors put gauze around her ankles and wrists and pinned them to the sheet so she wouldn't pull the various monitors off or the tube that breathed air into her lungs. I was told that the first 48 hours were the most critical. At almost exactly 48 hours of life on June 10, 1979, Diana had a brain aneurysm and, literally, died in my arms. I could sense the life leave her as she died. I was 24 years old and absolutely devastated.

We fast forward one year. On June 9, 1980, my second daughter, Michelle was born, also nearly 3 months premature, but appearing in much worse shape than Diana had been. Michelle had absolutely no response to external stimuli. She did not respond to needle pricks as nurses drew her blood every hour, her eyes did not dilate when light was shined in them, she had no suck reflex and she could not breathe. A ventilator pumped 100% pure oxygen into her lungs. Room air is about 21% oxygen. I was told on June 10, 1980, the doctors did not think Michelle would make it through the night; that she would die on the same day, one year after Diana had died. By this time I had been up nearly two days straight and went home to rest. The nice thing about Children's Hospital in Detroit is parents of the babies in the NICU can come and go at any time. I intended to sleep a few hours and come back and spend whatever time I could with Michelle. As I laid down to sleep, I cried out to God like I had never done before. I prayed a silly prayer asking God to allow her to live past midnight so she wouldn't die on June 10. Then at 10:13 PM, June 10, 1980, I had a vision. I had never had a vision before nor have I had one since. It was a vision and not a dream for I was clearly awake. In my vision, I saw Abraham laying Isaac on the altar, crying as he did so. I assumed God wanted Michelle's life so I cried out in a loud voice, "take her Lord, she's yours". I then fell into a deep sleep and slept at least 8 hours. When I awoke I was quite angry with myself for sleeping so long. I drove quickly to the hospital and ran up to the NICU. I scrubbed and put on a gown and literally ran to where I had last seen Michelle; her crib was gone. I was devastated and began to weep in sorrow. The nurse who had been taking care of Michelle the previous day asked me what was wrong. I said," where's my baby". The nurse said, "we moved her, one of the other children needed her life support". I asked, "why did you move her, did you give up on her?" The nurse spoke the sweetest words I have ever heard. She said, "give up on her? She doesn't need it anymore." She proceeded to explain what the night shift nurse had told her when she reported for duty. She showed me the medical chart for Michelle from the night before, These charts, literally, record anything the babies do in NICU. There was a brief notation at 10:13 PM the night before. It stated, "baby extubated self". This means Michelle reached up with her own hand and pulled the tube out of her nose that was breathing for her. When Michelle did this, it set off all sorts of alarms which brought the doctors and nurses to her bedside. As one of the nurses was about to put the tube back in her nose, the doctor said to wait and see how she does. They watched in awe when she seemed to come alive and squirm and respond to ALL stimuli. She was ravenously hungry. She was healed.

I was told that since Michelle had been on pure oxygen, she was likely brain damaged and blind. Michelle came home more than a month before she was due to be born. At about her original due date I took her to see a pediatric ophthalmologist to have her eyes checked. As the doctor evaluated her, he looked at the hospital report, he looked at Michelle then at me. He repeated this a couple times then asked me, "why is she here?" I explained her start to life and what the doctors at the hospital had been concerned about. He told me, "this child has the eye sight of a one year old, I don't need to see her until she's ready for school." So much for being blind. As for being brain damaged, Michelle graduated third in her high school class and graduated from the US Air Force Academy. [She is now a major and teaches at the Air Force Academy.] Our joke is, if she was brain damaged, the Air Force would have made her a general by now. The final chapter to this amazing story occurred a few months after Michelle was born, at home and doing very well. In prayer, asked God what the vision meant. I knew I had seen it and obviously missed the point; I thought Michelle would die. To this day, I would swear I heard the voice of God chuckle and say "read the story, did Isaac die?" God wanted me to yield her life to him, he didn't want her to die. God heals today like he did when Jesus was walking the earth, in his way and his timing. That truth, this experience, has sustained me as much as anything I have experienced in my walk of faith. God can raise the dead to life, spiritually and physically. Praise His name forever.
Story by Paul Ruehl

God, in giving the commandments to the children of Israel says:

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Deut 6:6-8 NIV

The one who fulfilled the commandment for you John saw proclaiming:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ 31 I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”

32 And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

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

Amen

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sermon Jan 7-8, 2017 Baptism of Jesus

Title: Christ, in baptism, frees you from sin and makes you His child!
Text: Matt. 3:13-17

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

This weekend begins the season of Epiphany. Christmas is no more. Christ has been circumcised and named Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, and from the visit of the wise men bearing gifts celebrated January 6th this Epiphany season begins.

Today we celebrate the baptism of the Lord. At Christmas a babe is born in a manger, last week he is named and circumcised, the wise men visit and make Christ known to the world, and now the man Jesus comes to the river to be baptized by John. 

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.

Jesus came down to John … and we might ask why? Why would Jesus come to John? He certainly didn't need to repent, because He was not born in the natural way and conceived in sin. He also didn't come down to John like the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who came in unbelief, in an arrogant and mocking manner … rejecting God’s council against them. But he came as those who were sinners and who needed repentance … though He had no sin.

John was certainly surprised to see Jesus coming:

14 … saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

John recognizes Jesus for who He is … “the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)

So the question is why does Jesus come and seek Baptism - as there is no sin and uncleanness in Him which Baptism would remove?

For He here takes your place and my place and stands - in place of all - who are sinners, and since all, especially even the arrogant people who do not acknowledge that they are sinners, Jesus must become a sinner for all – even for those who reject him. He has come and has taken on our sinful flesh and will take to the cross … in His passion, the full weight of the sins of the world which He bears.

P.E. Kretzmann

Baptism is either the work of God or the work of man. It is either something God does and gives to us or it is something we do for God.

So Jesus answers John:

15 … “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus here confirms John’s previous statement in a sense saying “You are right John. It is not I who needs baptism … but I have come for this purpose.” It is God’s purpose in Christ to be marked in your place so that you and all born sinful might be saved.

Here is not Jesus as example. Here we do not see Christ baptized and say, “Oh, I should be baptized like Jesus too.” His is a bloody baptism. His is a baptism of death so that you might have a baptism of life. In Christ’s baptism Jesus is marked as God’s beloved son in whom the Father is well pleased. God is pleased because Jesus is the once for all acceptable sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

In baptism we too are acceptable to the Father, not because we model Christ in our actions but because we receive the gift he has one on our behalf. This changes us from dead in sin to alive in Christ being buried with him in Baptism and raised to newness of life.

The Reverend Phillips Brooks who lived in the 1800s in Massachusetts said:

“No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude. There is no such thing as an entirely free man.”

Phillips Brooks (1835- 1893)

That is true in one sense. We are always in this life bound to our sin. All that we say and do is filtered through our sinful flesh. We are a slave to sin or as Martin Luther has taught in his book the “Bondage of the Will” … “we are all in Bondage to our sin.”

But Paul brings joy to light in our epistle for today when he says:

6 … 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Christ, in baptism, frees you from sin and makes you His child!

Ill.

One of the church Fathers – Tertullian wrote of baptism in this way:

The primary principle of Baptism is that the Spirit of God, who hovered over (the waters) from the beginning, would continue to linger over the waters of the baptized.”

Tertullian – De Baptismo IV (ANF 3:670)

This is made possible for you and me because:

16 … when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
In Christ is where the favor and pleasure of God rests!

For just as, after the waters of the flood, by which the old sinful world was killed and taken away — a Baptism, of the world so to speak—a dove was sent forth from the Ark and was the herald which announced to the earth the removal of God’s wrath. After returning with the olive branch, this too became a sign which to this day is a sign of peace.

So too by God’s heavenly gift —we emerge from the waters of Holy Baptism our sins removed and washed away by the dove of the Holy Spirit, and in Christ Jesus God is well pleased with you and me having God’s peace sent out from the heavens, through Christ’s Church, which is a type of ark.

Tertullian – De Baptismo VIII (ANF 3:672)


Christ, in baptism, frees you from sin and makes you His child!

Epiphany is Christ being made known to the world. We understand the visit of the Wise men and the gifts that they bring to worship our Lord. But the real gift is not brought to Christ but is given by Christ.

His gift is his very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. By His taking on humanity he was marked with His creation and with you and me. When He was baptized by John he received the weight of sin poured out on him as the chief of sinners, though he remained sinless.

He went to the cross with your sin and the sins of the whole world on him and received the wrath of God’s punishment that we deserve. And because of his atoning work you and I receive what we don’t deserve … God’s favor on account of Christ.

As we heard from last weekend there is no distinction:

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Those baptized at the font received that same forgiveness. Marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, we are washed clean in the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit and are given New Life and New Birth of water and the Spirit! We are made God’s Child and have been adopted into His family – children of Abraham - and given the inheritance of heaven and life eternal in Him.

Christ, in baptism, frees you from sin and makes you His child!

Christ has made a way for all to be found in Him through the holy flood that is baptism. The means he gives is faith in His finished work given to you and me as a gift by God’s Holy Spirit working in and through Baptism. Daily rejoice in God’s simple way of bringing you to him through water and the word.

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

Amen