All posts by shepsrq

2nd Sunday in Advent

2nd Sunday in Advent
December 9, 2018
Luke 3:1-14
“Prepare the Way of the Lord”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read from Luke chapter 3.

My dear friends,

The world gets ready for this season on one level, Christians on another. The world gets ready for just one great big blockbuster of a day on Christmas, kind of an annual consumer feeding frenzy, indulging itself in stuff and more stuff. Then when it’s over, it’s over. And all that’s left of Christmas on December 26 is a big pile of wrapping paper and trips to the store for after-Christmas sales.
Not so in the Church. For us, when Christmas comes, it stays. It lingers on through Epiphany and all the way clear through till Lent. We continue to ponder the great glad news that God has become man to redeem all humankind out from under the iron grip of death and hell. And we will sing our Christmas praises well into January and beyond. We make Christmas last.
But actually Christmas hasn’t yet begun; we’re still in Advent. We’re still getting ready. Yet our readiness is much more than just sending cards and decorating our homes and going to parties. It is a readiness of the heart that God desires at his coming. That’s why our Advent prayers include the petition “stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son.” Prepare us to prepare the way of the Lord.
In our text, we start down the road toward a prepared heart through the prophet John the Baptist. He is the very prophet whom the Lord appointed to clear the way for his coming. And believe me, he prepared the way. No pulled punches, no political correctness, with John, and no tiptoeing around for him. He marched right in where angels feared to tread and laid it on the line to all who heard him: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v 9). Yup…that’s pretty direct; no pulled punch there.
That’s a little unsettling, if we have the ears to hear it…and maybe it should be. And it should be. For the sad truth is that more often than not, you and I don’t produce the good fruit our Lord expects. We simply don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength, much less love our neighbor as ourselves. Despite our best efforts, there are those we have hurt and those we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires are soiled with sin.
That’s how preparing the way for the Lord’s coming – Advent – begins. The way of the Lord is the way of repentance (3:8), meaning “to turn.” That is, it calls for change. A change of mind and heart and behaviors.
Not that such a change comes easy, mind you. It means the death of the habits of the sinful heart. And such habits always die hard. It’s always much easier to love and serve ourselves than it is to love and serve God and our neighbor for Jesus’ sake. It always comes naturally to the sinful heart to lash out with anger when we’re hurt, to return evil for evil, to repay injury with injury. It is much easier to cut down other people than to love them and build them up. It’s easier for the sinful heart to curse and swear, to lie and deceive by God’s name, than to pray, praise, and give him thanks. That’s why the Christian life is a life journey of constant repentance, a perpetual preparing for change in mind and heart.
And that road often takes some unexpected twists and turns. It might take us through some rocky terrain and rugged territory, dark places we would rather not go. The road of faith may lead us out into unfamiliar and uncertain places which can be frightening but also rewarding. Many people are familiar with the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” that ends with the line: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Such is the way, the road, we walk; not always the same as everyone else.
But we are not alone even there. The very God who washed away our sins and gave us life will not abandon us in those uncertain times. He who gave up his life for us on his cross and shed his blood to wash our robes and make them white will never let us go. “My sheep know me,” says Jesus, “and I know them. And they follow me. And I will give them eternal life. And no man will ever snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:1–15). The path you walk might seem rugged at times and very steep, the pathway long and hard, but it is the path of the Lord’s own choosing for you…never forget that.
Let’s stir up our hearts this Advent season. 2018 is almost over. It’s time for a change, a new way. Let’s lift up the valleys of our deep despair, bring down the mountain peaks of your anxiety, and straighten out our crooked ways to prepare the way of the Lord. What does this mean? That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?
What this means for you I cannot tell. It means different things for different people, depending on who they are and where they are in life. You can tell that from John’s instructions to those who heard his preaching. For tax collectors, the way of the Lord meant to be honest; for soldiers, it meant to be content and not take what didn’t belong to them. For everyone, it meant generosity and mercy, giving food and clothing to those who had none, for Jesus’ sake.
So get ready. Prepare the way of the Lord. Get ready for Christmas most certainly, but above all else prepare your hearts for the coming of Christ. Prepare yourself to prepare the way of the Lord. Celebrate the reality that Christ comes this very day in his Word and Sacrament to make you new and whole and free. Let this be your constant Advent prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” May God truly renew a right spirit within us this Advent, this Christmas, the coming new year, the coming end of the age, and always.
Amen.

1st Sunday in Advent

1st Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2018
Luke 19:28-40
“A Not So Sentimental Journey”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that serves as the basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 19.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Have you ever felt like you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time? Maybe that’s how you feel today. I’ll explain. It’s December, and it’s Advent, the preparation for Christmas is underway. In church we expect to be transported a little bit towards Bethlehem, to at least get a glimpse of the manger. Instead, our Gospel lesson takes us to Jerusalem with Jesus riding on a donkey. Remind you of another time and place? Like Holy Week? People around town are already putting up the Christmas decorations. Wal-Mart’s Christmas stuff has been out for weeks. Santa Claus appeared at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. So why do we have the Triumphant Entry for a Gospel lesson? Pastor, did you make a mistake?
No…not that I’m aware of. Strangely enough, the traditional Gospel lesson for the First Sunday of Advent is the same as that of Palm Sunday—Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It seems, in a way, wrong. Out of place. In Advent, we should be moving toward a celebration of our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, and instead we hear the narrative about our Lord moving toward his death. We should all be going to the theater to see A Christmas Story, and instead we get The Passion of the Christ. What gives?
But maybe there’s something we can learn—something that, like Mary, we can take with us and ponder in our hearts. You may have come today wanting “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.” Instead, you got Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die” (LSB 441:2). For this reason, our Lord came from heaven. For this reason, the Son of God became the Son of Mary. We celebrate Christmas, and we even fight for the right to say “Merry Christmas” in the public square, but we rarely talk about why Christmas is merry. The Palm Sunday narrative that we hear today is the narrative from Holy Week that gives Christmas its real meaning and lasting value. You cannot have the manger without the cross, which awaits Jesus in Jerusalem.
The cross/manger. The manger/cross. Yet, Christmas seems, for so many, to be a holiday about the things of this world. In our society, Christmas has become a largely secular affair. The absence of Christ has left for many a big hole, an emptiness that needs to be filled. And so many folks try to fill the void with man-made traditions, songs, stories and store receipts. Rather than tell the story of Christ at Christmas, the world tells countless other stories: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman,” not to mention It’s a Wonderful Life and A Miracle on 34th Street. The world has its own hymnal as well, with Christmas “hymns” ranging from Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Nat King Cole sings about chestnuts roasting in “The Christmas Song,” and Gene Autry still can be heard singing of Santa Claus coming down Santa Claus Lane. I like a lot of those stories, enjoy some of those songs. But if that’s all there is, we don’t have much to celebrate. No wonder Christmas has a tendency to fall flat in our eyes and hearts.
For many, Christmas is staying ahead of bills and credit card statements and not so much about the Babe born as the Christ. Throw in anxieties over work issues, a chronic medical condition, a dispute with the in-laws, the loss of a loved one, or a broken relationship, and you get a month of strife and sadness. Some of this sadness is because we live in a fallen sin-filled world, and truth be told, some of this sadness is of our own making: bad choices we’ve made, people we’ve hurt, relationships we’ve damaged.
At our Lord’s birth, the angels sang, “Peace on the earth, goodwill to all.” Peace? How could God be at peace with us? How could he be at peace with a world that is constantly at war? How could he be at peace with a world that disregards him, ignores him, mocks him, and takes his blessings for granted? How could he be at peace with a world that has taken the celebration of the birth of his Son and turned it into just another time to shop, eat, drink, and be merry? How could he be at peace with me, a sinner?” Where, then, is peace on earth, goodwill to all stuff to be found? Nowhere else than in the Christ Child. Not in some “Precious Moments” Christ Child but in the Child who was born to die. A real-world Savior for a world with real problems.
If we are to “re-discover” Christmas, we must, I think, re-discover Advent. Advent is a season of preparation—not simply of our homes, the tree, meals, and presents, but a time of preparation for our hearts. A time to recognize why our Lord came in the first place. A time to recognize why that infant child, born to be King, would one day receive a crown of thorns. We cannot have the manger and wise men without Pilate and the cross. But by Jesus’ life and resurrection, we now have peace and forgiveness and life eternally because of the Christ Child and our faith in Him; the One who as a man rode into Jerusalem to die.
In this season of Advent, let us prepare our hearts once more for our Lord’s coming, remembering his journey that lead to death. Let us love and forgive as we have been loved and forgiven. Let us embrace the child who came to embrace us; to die for us and for the forgiveness of our sins. And let us offer up our lives as living sacrifices, gifts to the One who came to offer up his life as his gift of salvation for us all.
Welcome to Advent in the year of our Lord 2018. Amen.

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 25, 2018
Mark 13:24-37
“Only Seconds Away”

God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our great Triune God. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Every day we are always only seconds away from life-changing event. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That phone call you answered when you could have just let it ring. The pre-cancerous cell in our body changes. An unsafe and unsure driver on a busy street. One minute it’s “all good,” and then BOOM! Your life is never the same. Just read or watch the news sometime. It is filled with people who woke up assuming their day would be the same as the previous, but then everything changed. Just ask the folks of California. Many families assumed they would gather at their family table and feast this Thanksgiving just like last year, except now that table is in charred ruins. We are always only seconds away from a totally different reality. Does that truth ever make you anxious?
It doesn’t take too long watching the news for your anxiety to rise. Any day of the week, or any month of the year, brings anxious news. There is every indication that things really are that bad and getting worse; a classic sign of living in the “end times.” Violence, depravity, and chaos are found everywhere. Evils once observed from afar now seem to be coming closer at hand. More and more people in society are throwing off all morality and restraint, and the Church is beaten down, persecuted, mocked and despised; we’ve become a running joke or punch line for late-night TV hosts. When will it end?
As God’s people want some assurance; we want to KNOW that Jesus’ return is always only seconds away. We want to KNOW when Jesus will return – hopefully sooner than later. Remember the Gospel lesson last week? The disciples were warned by Jesus at the beginning of Mark 13 that Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed, and they asked when it would happen.
Jesus’ answer did not give a date, but rather signs showing when it was near. The signs are more bad news (just what we need…great!): wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution would come first. Today’s lesson is a continuation and then conclusion of His teaching, and the news doesn’t get any better.
Jesus’ warnings at the beginning of our text about what will happen when his return draws near are even more dire (vv 24–25): sun, moon, and stars blotted out. If we saw the literal removal of God’s heavenly lights, we would guess it were the end of the world. That’s a pretty obvious sign. And as we ponder the signs that we do observe – declining morality, lapsing church attendance, Christians more “on fire” for Black Friday sales and not seeking and saving souls for Christ – it’s understandable for broken sinners to think that somehow God is losing control. That we are only seconds away from a complete collapse as a society. It appears chaos and evil are near total victory. It’s tempting to wonder if Jesus has abandoned us or forgotten us. He hasn’t; that’s something I know for sure. I also know 3 more for-sure truths (every Lutheran has 3 points in there somewhere, right?). For-sure truth #1: When it comes, it comes. It is always only seconds away, so our greater need is to be watchful and prepared in and through faith. For-sure truth #2: Things will get worse before they get better. For-sure truth #3 is that every time we see a sign, it reminds us that as sure as summer follows spring, Jesus’ return IS SURE (vv 30–31).
In today’s lesson Jesus also told a little parable. The parable of the fig tree shows the signs have a different purpose than timing Jesus’ return. The fig tree’s budding leaves come late in the spring. It is a sure sign that summer is just around the corner (vv 28–29). The point is not that we can discern or calculate the date of the end of the age. I cannot tell you precisely if the end of the world is only seconds away because No ONE knows that!
Friends, don’t worry that life could change in a blink of an eye; that life changes are only seconds away. Instead of calculating dates or living life in the despair of the moment, live confidently! Live boldly! Live redeemed! Live loved! Live generously! Jesus strengthens us through the Means of Grace – the Church – for our work here while we wait. He is near, and he is coming to take us to heaven.
Jesus has a habit of finishing what He starts. All is complete; all is ready; all has been set ever since Jesus’ “It is finished” on the cross. What Christ finished was God’s salvation plan…the forgiveness of humanity’s sins, a plan that took THOUSANDS of years! Death was then finished on Easter morning because of Jesus’ resurrection. Now there is only 1 piece of the narrative left. He was born, He lived, He died, He rose again. He IS coming back. Know that we will see him come to gather us and all the elect (vv 26–27). Christ’s birth, death and resurrection assure it! Jesus finishes what He starts.
And so in the meantime we wait as in the illustration of the traveling master and his waiting servants (vv 34–36). Jesus, like the master who is away in a foreign land, is beyond sight. And like the master with his servants, Jesus has given us work to do while we are waiting! Our work is assigned according to how God has stationed us in life. We have responsibilities as husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, employer or worker, pastor or member, neighbor, relative, friend, and so on. We seek to do his will where he has placed us. While we work at our various vocations, we watch, remain vigilant, and remain faithful. We trust. And we hope. We hope knowing that the return of Christ Jesus is always…ALWAYS…only seconds away.
Life changes are only seconds away, and so also is the coming of the salvation promised and purchased by Jesus. His forgiveness, His kingdom, His provision and His love are eternal and when they do come in their final fruition, they will never pass away (13:30), for which we gratefully proclaim Thanks be to God!
Amen.

26th Sunday after Pentecost

26th Sunday after Pentecost
November 18, 2018
Daniel 12:1-3
“Here He Comes…”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson read from Daniel 12.

My dear friends,

The Birchdale dump is conveniently located about 5 miles south of Birchdale, MN in the middle of nowhere. That’s the best place for a dump. Once I had a driver’s license, it became one of my jobs to take the garbage to the Birchdale dump. Our dad had a ’67 Chevrolet pick-up that we lovingly called “The Beast.” When it ran, it ran like a champ. When it didn’t run or when the roads were icy…not so much. On one trip back from the dump, the Beast suddenly conked out on the gravel road back to Birchdale. This is WAY before cell phones and oddly enough there are no phone booths at the dump! There was only 1 choice – walk the 5 miles back to Birchdale through a bear-infested, mosquito-riddled area. I had only walked less than a mile and, looking up, I saw what I heard – a fellow resident was coming down the road also making a dump trip at the same time. I was saved! It is amazing that someone came along when my situation was so desperate.
That’s what’s going on in our text for today…and I don’t mean a trip to the dump. Daniel comes at a time when God’s people are in serious trouble. The first wave of Israelites had been taken into exile in Babylon, a thousand miles from home. The first six chapters of the book are the history of God’s people as they were taken and lived in Babylon. Daniel became an advisor to King Nebuchadnezzar by interpreting the king’s dream. He was thrown into a den of lions for continuing to pray to the true God. His friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were cast into a fiery furnace for not bowing down to an idol. The second six chapters of Daniel are apocalyptic prophecy, most of which are in symbolic, picture, language like the Book of Revelation: strange creatures, symbolic numbers, battles between spiritual forces in heaven and on earth. In the text for today, we look at the last battle in the Book of Daniel and the coming of Michael.
Daniel says, “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (v 1b). Worse than the exile? That’s like walking from here to Houston, Texas; Google Maps says that will take 2 weeks! We speak of this troubling time between Jesus’ first coming and second coming as the “end times” or the “age of the Church,” which we are living in right now!
Every generation thinks it’s going to be the last generation because every generation thinks society can’t get any worse than it already is. And yet the world continues to get further and further away from Christ and his Word. When we look in the newspapers, on the internet, on TV, we wonder: Where has the love for God gone? Whatever happened to love your neighbor as yourself? The Christian life is a pilgrimage and we are pilgrims – I’m but a stranger here; Heaven is my home – in an unwelcoming and unholy land, then ponder how much worse it will get between now and Judgment Day. It’s a frightening thought! And what Daniel sees coming is horrific. The Hebrew word translated “time of trouble” that Daniel uses contains the idea of getting squeezed in on every side, almost like being squashed in a vise grip. Ever feel like that?
Wouldn’t surprise me if you did. There is little doubt that our nation is losing its way. It doesn’t respect life in the womb or before the tomb. More and more people openly mock Christian teachings and religious freedoms are at risk. It is such a double standard. To mock Christ and His Church is okay, but insult any other organization, and you’re “hateful.” What?! It’s all happening just as foretold, a time of unparalleled trouble has come; a time of all-out opposition to God, a time of false prophets and persecution, of famines and earthquakes. Trouble is all around us and in us.
How can we get through this messy journey called “life”? God gives Daniel the answer—an answer that was as good back then as it is now. God has given us more than a prophecy of doom. He gives us a promise of deliverance. “At that time,” he says, “shall (come) Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people” (v 1a). Michael is the only archangel specified in the Bible, and one of only 3 that we know by name (Satan, Gabriel). He is the general of God’s army of angels, which protects God’s people from the forces of spiritual evil in the world. We are promised that we will not be abandoned, encouraging us to be faithful unto death because that final time of reckoning is definitely coming.
In the midst of a world gone mad, God reminds us that he will deliver us. Through faith in Jesus, we belong to the people of God, and we will be saved. At the last trumpet call, in the blink of an eye, God’s angels will gather up all of his people. It’s a breathtaking picture God gives: Jesus coming down out of the clouds with the archangel shouting the command for all to appear before the Christ. At his call, the graves give up their dead, and body and soul are reunited. Then the judgment will commence. Granted, there is much we don’t know: what will we look like, how long will the line be, do I stand in a cue line with all humanity? I thought the check-out lines at Publix were bad!
Regardless, all will come before the throne, both believers and unbelievers. On that throne will be Jesus, our Savior. He was given that position by his Father as the Redeemer of all mankind, the One who gave his life on the cross for the sins of all mankind. Those who do not believe in him as their Savior and Lord are doomed to everlasting contempt—which is hell, eternal separation from God.
“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (v 3). In a difficult and complex world, it really is this simple: whoever believes in Jesus will be saved. Where he is, there they will be also, at home with him forever in heaven, where there will be no more suffering, pain, tears, or death. There they will shine like the brightness of the heavens and sing God’s praises together with the angels. Here is the source of courage we need to face our own death and the source of comfort we need as we mourn the deaths of our family and friends who loved the Lord.
Jesus will come on the Last Day; a date only the Father knows. Jesus wants us all to be ready to meet him. And we are ready, because He comes to us in Word and Sacrament and is coming to deliver us. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20). Will you be ready when He comes? By faith, you will!
Amen.

25th Sunday after Pentecost; Veteran’s Day

25th Sunday after Pentecost/Veteran’s Sunday
November 11, 2018
Leviticus 19:17-18
“The Gates of Hell; A Lack of Love”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I conclude this sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is Leviticus 19:17-18.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

My dear friends,

Today is the 4th and final sermon in this series that I call “The Gates of Hell.” So far we have examined how neither sin nor the world nor divisions among us nor even the gates of Hell themselves can ever stop the Christian Church on earth despite statistical analysis or demographic reports. Today we consider a new issue – a lack of love, the idea being that the Church will fall because Christians will be unwilling to love their neighbor as themselves.
When I was growing up, my parents poisoned me on a regular basis. No, they didn’t mess with my food or anything. They poisoned me with their music playing day and night in the car and the house and everywhere I went! Poisoned me with their 1960s weird hippie music: their Neil Diamond and their ABBA and their Barry Manilow and their (shudder) Barbara Streisand. It’s a miracle the neighbors never called Child Protective Services. Anywho, I distinctly remember hearing one song over and over and it’s burned in my mind so much so that not even 80s heavy metal could erase the stain from my brain. The song is called “What the World Needs Now” and it has been recorded several times: Jackie Deshannon, Diana Ross, and Dionne Warwick among others. The refrain goes like this: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Hippies. But then again…maybe they were on to something.
What the world needs now is love. It is God’s love that motivates us to be the men and women who we ought to be. It is God’s love that calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light. It is God’s love from the start to the finish of all of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, that speaks about Him who is love and who loved us so that He might make us beloved people of God.
The command in Leviticus is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which is given for a good reason. When we fail to show love towards others both in and outside the church, the world sees that and it sends a very hypocritical message, which is one of the most common accusations leveled at the church…it’s full of hypocrites. Well…the church IS full of forgiven, loved sinners. This much I’ll admit. Full of hypocrites? Probably not so much.
Does that mean it’s easy to love your neighbor as yourself? No, because you and I know that some people do more than just play music we don’t like. They say things and do things and post things on social media that make us angry, and then what we want to do is to give them so many of these (right fist) that they beg for one of these (left fist). That’s the old sinful nature in us, but we aren’t called to be vengeful or resentful or violent. We are to reflect the love of God to a world that has too little love.
In Jesus, we know the true love of God that motivates us to love even when we are not loved; we can overcome a lack of love WITH love…it’s just that easy! It is God’s love that moves us to forgive when it’s hard for us to forgive. It is God’s love that motivates us to be kind when somebody is not that kind. It is indeed a challenge to live in this world today, because the world hates us. But we are to reflect the love of Jesus to the world.
What does Moses tell us in the words “love your neighbor as yourself”? It is a privilege to be a neighbor. A neighbor is someone who cares, someone who goes out of his way to reach another person. Last week I reminded you that the people here with you are your brothers and sisters; they are the people you will spend forever with. Those same people – the people to your right and the person to your left – they are your neighbors, your brothers and sisters who need to know that they are loved. Don’t worry…I’m not going to have you do some hippie, touchy-feely thing where you turn and tell your neighbor how much you love them. But that does beg the question. How do you let those closest to you know that you love them? Do you tell them? How often? Do you show them your sacrificial, forgiving grace-filled love? If so, how?
Ten days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, residents of North Platte, NE heard a rumor that soldiers from the NE National Guard Company D, would be coming through on a troop train on their way to the West Coast. About 500 people showed up at the train depot with food, gifts, letters, and love to give the boys. When the train showed up, it was not the NE National Guard Company D boys on board; it was the soldiers from the Kansas National Guard Company D. The North Platte residents decided to give out their gifts to these soldiers they did not know. It was a spontaneous act of genuine devotion and love that touched both the soldiers and the people who came to the depot that day. A few days later, a suggestion was made for the town to organize a canteen, so they could do something similar for every troop train that came through. For the next 4 ½ years, the people of North Platte met every troop train that came through their town. Every day, they prepared sandwiches, cookies, cold drinks, and hot coffee. They had baskets of magazines and books to give away to the soldiers, and snacks for the train some days for as many as 8000 soldiers and sailors. By the time the last train arrived on April 1, 1946, six million soldiers had been blessed by the North Platte Canteen. 45,000 volunteers had served faithfully until the war was over and most of the troops had been transported home. If the residents of North Platte were that dedicated to doing whatever they could to help win World War II and serve the soldiers, Christians should be even more committed to lovingly serve the Lord and their neighbors any way they can. We may not have a canteen, but how can/do you serve our campus, our school, or any of our ongoing ministries?
Thank God for the reality that we will stand with Him some day in paradise when the final victory is won because there is NOTHING – sin, the world, divisions, a lack of love, or even the gates of hell themselves – that can stop us from living and loving as the redeemed people of God that we are and will be forever. God grant it all for Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

All Saints’ Day 2018

All Saints’ Day 2018
November 4, 2018
Luke 22:22-24
“The Gates of Hell; Divisions”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I continue this sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is Luke 22:22-24.

(Jesus said) “The Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And (the Disciples) began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. Then a dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

My dear friends,

Today is the 3rd sermon in this series that I call “The Gates of Hell.” So far we have examined how neither sin nor the world nor even the gates of Hell themselves can ever stop the Christian Church on earth despite statistical analysis or demographic reports. Today we consider a new issue – divisions among us.
That text I read from Luke 22 took place during what we call Maundy Thursday. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread – His Body – and gave it to the disciples. Luke tells us that they received the wine – Christ’s blood of the Covenant – then immediately quarreled about “which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). Really?! How quickly we can go from the Lord’s Table to the devil’s business; it’s only about 50 feet from the altar to the door, and A LOT can happen after 51 feet!
These men were brothers twice over. They had a shared humanity; sons of our first father, Adam, and they were now by His Supper blood brothers with Jesus. Yet they fought. The history of the world is the history of feuding brothers: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his eleven brothers. God is our Father as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer; Christ Jesus is our Brother, making us all brothers and sisters of one another, not by a shared humanity through blood alone, but by faith, by a common, shared forgiveness. How then is it that you murmur and grumble about those whom Jesus has joined to Himself?
The words that I use to start every sermon are easy to gloss over, a standard sermon opening you’ve heard a thousand times: “Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father” (Colossians 1:2). When you hear that, you might have a Pavlovian response; when you hear those words, you instinctively yawn…“boring! Get it over with already!” Yet that greeting is intentionally for you, for I desire that you have grace, mercy, and PEACE! To whom are these words spoken? To you…to the saints, faithful brothers and sisters…co-heirs of the Kingdom, members of the family of God.
It’s unrealistic to expect you’ll never experience division in your relationships, on the job, and even in church. Everyone cannot ALL be right or ALL be wrong, so you’re naturally going to have divisions among people. But arguing in the church is like arguing in marriage: if you’re trying to win, you’ll lose even when you win. Beware of loving the fight. You may “win” the disagreement or argument, but you “lose” way more in terms of the relationship. Sure, you might win that battle, but you are slowly losing the war. Disagreements and debates are necessary; but the moment we love winning more than we love one another as saints and faithful brothers, we’ve lost even if we win.
Divided or not, we share a common existence as the people of God. Look around you…these people are your family; your brothers and sisters who share in the inheritance in Christ. We are all in Him, with Him, buried with Him, raised with Him. Alive in Him. Fights and misunderstandings from time to time? Sure. Will we fall because of divisions? Never. Not even the gates of Hell will shut down the Church on Earth.
I have a brother Mike. There is nothing I did to make him my brother, it just happened that way. In the same way, our congregation, our district, our Synod, our families, our own calling as disciples of Jesus—none of it is our own doing. God the Father has done that, delivered us, transferred us to the Son’s kingdom, for He has redeemed us. Having a share in an eternal inheritance, co-heirs in the kingdom of God, ensures that not even the worst problem, the worst issue, the worst divisions among us will cause your demise as a child of God or the ultimate demise of the Church on Earth. The Saints will always be the saints; we will always stand as the redeemed people of God and never fall.
There is a story that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive, then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so either out of hostility or boredom, he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the British land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.”
Yes, the world will continue to “fire” at us, and we will because of sin in our midst “fire” at one another from time to time. There may be times when we may disagree on policy, procedures, or practices. We are still the saints, made holy by the blood of the Lamb. We are faithful brothers and sisters because we have a Brother who was faithful unto death, even death on a cross. In Him will we live, in Him will we die, and His life will be our life forever, because there is no division – not even the dividing gates of Hell themselves – that will ever divide or destroy the Church on Earth.
Amen.

Reformation Day 2018

Reformation Day 2018
October 28, 2018
Matthew 16:15-18
“The Gates of Hell; The World”

Grace, mercy, and peace be with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I continue this sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is Matthew 16:15-18.

“(Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

My dear friends,

It was almost five hundred years ago when Martin Luther was called to confess at Worms. On April 17, 1521, a knock on Luther’s door told him that the imperial diet was waiting—the meeting of the emperor, all the emperor’s people, the kings, the princes, the nobles, they were all waiting to hear from him. When they brought him to the main meeting chamber, there was a table before him was a pile of 25 books that he had written. Johann Eck pointed to the pile. “Luther, are you ready to admit that you wrote these books, and that they contain heresy?” “Yes, they are mine Luther said. “But as to whether they contain heresy, that is a matter of faith and salvation of the soul and it cannot be affirmed or rejected without consulting the Word of God.” The Council was not satisfied. Luther asked for more time. He was granted a day.
He was brought back the next day at 4:00 p.m., left to sweat it out for another 2 hours until 6:00 p.m., and then called in front of the emperor and the whole crowd again. And they told him, “We want to hear one word from you, Luther: revoco.” Revoco. From the Latin. “I recant.” They only wanted one single word; the word “revoco.”
They asked Luther one more time, “Are you prepared to answer, Luther? Say the word revoco.” And at that moment in the history of the church, in the Western world particularly, nothing would ever be the same again. He didn’t recant. Instead, Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen” (AE 32:112-13).
Luther refused to recant Christ’s teaching; he never would. Christ is the rock. If we lose the Rock, what do we have left? And he also asserted, and this is important for us today, that the Christian conscience is bound by the Word of God and not the world around us.
Luther clung to his faith, rejecting worldly interference with the Gospel, and the world today does not appreciate that stance. It is a bit of a double-standard. If we stand up for what we believe, we are “old-fashioned, hateful, bigots.” If someone else stands up for an opposing viewpoint, they are “brave, courageous, worthy of admiration.” Luther, on a big stage, for the first time, held forth the idea that the world has no right to intimidate the religious conscience. None.
The animosity and hostility between church and the world is still around so that the world enjoys seeing the church and its confession of Christ struggle and even fail. And we give them plenty to work with! Mega-churches are becoming mega flops. Historically strong rural congregations are slowly dying as people relocate to urban areas. The issues of Catholicism make people shake their heads. The “heart” of Lutheranism in America is in the Great Lakes/Upper Plains areas. Yet, baptized membership in Lutheran “strongholds” like Minnesota North (18%), Michigan (18%), and South Wisconsin (20%) are all down by more than 18%. Our own FLGA District had a 24% decrease over 18 years. The world will snarl, “See! We told you! Your church is dying!” My friends, the Missouri Synod and the future of the church on earth doesn’t depend on statistics or you or me or anybody else. It depends on Christ, the rock.
“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In the name of Jesus, your sins are forgiven, washed by the blood of Christ. You are baptized and covered with His free, wonderful righteousness. No matter how troubled your conscience is at times; no matter how terrified you are of your sins or past deeds; no matter if you are sluggish in the faith. Only believe. You are forgiven. And your conscience is captive to the Word of God. Flesh and blood doesn’t reveal this. It’s your Father in heaven who as grabbed hold of you. And He’s not going to let you out of His hand.
The pressure from the world is mounting, my friends. The world and its emperors want to hear one word from us: “Revoca. We recent.” “Revoca. Your Christian idea of marriage and sexuality is obsolete.” “Revoca. Nothing must impede choice, especially a woman’s right to choose!” “Revoca. Quit trying to tell us how to live our lives because what does it matter? Dead is dead and there’s nothing after.” We are at a point now where what the Bible calls good, the world calls evil, and what the Bible calls evil, the world calls good. That’s a sad truth.
Here’s the very good truth. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15). And even as the world screams at you “recant,” with Luther we say, “I cannot. I believe and am baptized. My conscience is held captive the Word. I cannot, I will not, recant. Here I stand. God help me.”
In these difficult and troubling times, the question of Christ in Matthew 16 is for us all: “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ.” And this we will confess. And we will do it joyously. And the world will snarl at us. And they will hate us all the more. They will belittle us and say we are a bunch of kooks and idiots and old-fashioned fools. We take it like water off a duck, because we are but strangers here; heaven is our home! And we will shout it all the louder. “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The world needs to know that name; to know that when this age ends, there are only 2 possible options for eternity and “the beach” isn’t one of them; “a drink in your hand and toes in the sand” is not the way to everlasting life. Jesus is. The world can scowl fierce as it will. And you know what? Neither the world, nor the gates of hell themselves, shall prevail over our lives or the church. Live in that confident grace.
Amen.

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2018
1 John 1:8-10 and Matthew 16:18
“The Gates of Hell; Sin”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today as I start a new sermon series called “The Gates of Hell” is actually 2 texts: from 1 John 1:8-10 and Matthew 16:18:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” And “(Jesus said) on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

My dear friends,

According to “Pew Research,” an organization that conducts public opinion polling, 80% of Americans believe in God…so, where are they? In 2016, the Barna Group reported that almost half (46%) of the Americans that do attend a church worship with 100 or fewer people – a 16-year low. Closer to home, all 35 Districts of the LCMS from 2005 to 2015 are on the same trajectory of decline: baptized membership is down 2%, communicant membership is down almost 2%, and weekly worship is down 3%. Those numbers might not sound scary, but a downward trend is a downward trend. If it continues that way for an extended period…well, we all know what that means.
However, before anyone pushes the panic button, let me share a couple of quotes with you: “The Church has had small influence of late, and seems likely to have little more in the immediate future.” That was written in “The Atlantic” magazine in October…October 1942, more than 75 years ago. Also, consider the following: “The symptoms of the decline (in our Synod) are evident and increasing among us…While we are richer in earthly things than our fathers, we are weaker in faith and Christian love.” That was spoken by former LCMS Synodical President Friedrich Pfotenhauer in a sermon he preached…in 1897.
Does that surprise you? That people have been preaching and teaching doom and gloom for the future of the Christian Church? That proclamation is not a new thing. Did we think that perhaps the devil would just say, “Oh well. I’ve been bested. Guess I’ll just keep my nose out of God’s work.” AS IF!
They say that numbers don’t lie, and numbers can be made to say whatever you want them to say. Regardless, no matter what statistics are cited, the Church has one problem and one problem only…sin. Not that we need the devil’s help to sin against one another. We are quite capable of that all by ourselves. The Church in every age, every situation, every cultural, social, and political climate has struggled against sin – the sin outside of the Church, and the sin inside the Church. And yet…here we are – the year of our Lord 2018. It’s been more than 120 years since President Pfotenhauer lamented our decline, but again, here we are. Why? Over the next four weeks I hope to re-assure you that not even the gates of hell itself shall prevail against the Church of God, and that especially includes the destructive force that is sin.
The truth is, and there are no statistics necessary here, that we are sinners through and through. God’s Word tells the truth about me…about us; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us. But if that’s the truth about us, we confess an even greater truth about God. If we confess our sins, God is faithful—God keeps His promise. God is just in Jesus, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s because in Jesus, God Himself did what we could never do.
The Book of Hebrews says Jesus was like us “in every respect…to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17). “Propitiation” is one of those big, churchy words we rarely use. The dictionary is NO HELP with this word. If you look up “propitiation” in the dictionary, the given definition is “the act of propitiating.” Helpful, right? Saying that Jesus made propitiation means that Jesus took all our sins. They were ALL heaped on Him, every single last one. On the cross, Jesus absorbed the full blast of God’s wrath for all sins; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us. He took it all for us. It’s all gone. That’s what propitiation means. The wrath of God was all poured out on Jesus. There’s none left for us. That’s a good thing.
Who does the Father see now? Only Jesus, in our place. And the Father’s verdict? Not guilty, but righteous; by faith, washed clean in the blood Jesus shed on Calvary’s cross for you and for your sin. That sin that plagues us..the Church…washed away by the sacrificial death of Jesus, meaning that even though sin is still very real, it CANNOT prevail against the blood-bought Church of God…His people…His children.
Do you know who Charlotte Elliott is? Charlotte Elliott was born in 1789 in England and was a gifted artist and writer. In 1821 when she was 32 years old, she contracted a severe sickness that removed her from her healthy social life. As a result she was lonely, ill, and depressed. About this time, a visiting pastor asked her whether she was at peace with God, a question she resented at the time and refused to talk about. A few days later she called on the pastor and apologized, saying she had been thinking about heaven, hell, grace, the grave, and wanted to cleanse her life before becoming a Christian. The pastor answered, “Charlotte, come just as you are,” and she came to faith that day. 14 years later, she wrote a hymn to commemorate that time. You know that hymn as “Just as I Am, without One Plea” (LSB #570). The now-sainted Dr. Billy Graham wrote that his team used this hymn in almost every one of their crusades, since it presented “the strongest possible Biblical basis for the call of Christ.”
Just as you are. When we confess, we come to God just as we are…sinners, yes! But we also confess Jesus, for in Jesus, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; the sinful things we do and the sinful things done to us are ALL FORGIVEN. Is the Church in decline numerically? Maybe. Will the Church fall because of sin or anything else? NEVER! Our sin, as great as it is, has been paid for by Jesus, with the result that not even the gates of hell themselves will prevail against God and His Church. Never.
Amen.