Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sin? What Is That?

I don’t know how often you read the Old Testament reading, but I’d like to take a moment to consider words inspired of God, through the pen of the prophet Micah. Micah is speaking to God and therefore revealing God's will for His people, words we could do well to read and heed today.  Here is what Micah wrote:
Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.  (Micah 7:18-20 - NKJV)
Does Micah have anything to say to us today? Well, it all depends on whether you believe the Old Testament to be God's Word to His people of every age. We should so believe that to be exactly the case. As such, then this short passage has volumes to say to people today.
First of all, why does He pardon iniquity? Why does He not retain His anger? Why does He subdue iniquities? Why does He cast all our sins into the depths of the sea? These are important questions for us who live in this 21st Century. Today, there are many who claim the banner of Jesus Christ and purport to teach in His name who would deny there is a need for God to forgive sin. They claim that God is a God only of love, there can be no anger in love. Why? Because what was called sin a few short years ago is no longer called sin today. It seems as if sin has gone out of style, or at least calling sin what it really is, has gone out of style. My friends, this is not true as our text proves. Anything that teaches contrary is just the self-delusion of our day. It is all part of man's continuing effort to re-create God in their own image.
Our text makes the claim that God is angry. What does He have to be angry about? Simply put, He is angry about the disobedience of His children. Immorality is running rampant in our society, and those who support it claim that God's most important law is to love one another. With such belief, they claim that Bible believing Christians are pushing their own morality on them and not following God's most important law. In the meantime, they have thrown out the verses that Jesus speaks about there being a hell. They throw out the verses where God's Word makes certain claims about right and wrong. Yes, Scripture claims to be the clear testimony of objective truth. So, God in His justice will call these people to be accountable on the last day for their disobedience to His Word. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and those who desire to rewrite God's will for people.
Today, instead of looking to God's grace and mercy for forgiveness from sins, people would rather say that they are not sinners. People do not like the idea of a just God who calls His people to repentance and promises eternal damnation upon those who do not believe as He has commanded. So, many people claim that there is no sin, simply different choices, and God loves us all as we are and will lovingly take us to heaven. Do not believe it!!!

There is another alternative. In fact, it is a God-pleasing alternative. Again, I ask you. Why does He pardon iniquity? Why does He not retain His anger? Why does He subdue iniquities? Why does He cast all our sins into the depths of the sea? First of all, our disobedience to all of His holy will is sin, and as a holy and just God, He is angry at our disobedience. In His justice, as He has declared that the wages of sin is death, there must be a death to atone for your sins. It can either be your death, or the death of someone who is sinless. There is the alternative. Instead of stating that God has no wrath against sin, and therefore do away with the notion that anything is sinful, He invites us to see that He is justifiably angry with sin. Sin is a stench that rises to His nostrils and thoroughly nauseates Him. In His love and mercy though, He Himself paid the price demanded of His just nature against sin by sacrificing the perfect life of His only-begotten Son. 

Iniquity is pardoned in Christ's death. God's anger is satiated in the blood which was shed by Christ. He subdues iniquities by nailing them to the Cross of Calvary. He casts our sins into the depths of Christ's grave and buries them there. 

So, why is heaven ours? Not because God doesn't care about our sins, but because He cares so much that He gave His own Son to die and pay for them.

It is those who trust and cling to this truth which God gives eternal life. And those who trust in their own works, those will be cast into eternal flame. Isn't it nice to know that salvation isn't reliant upon your works? Isn't it comforting to know that God has purchased you from sin and death and give you the gift of eternal salvation? This is the truth that was revealed to Jacob and the mercy which was given to Abraham. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Christians gather together to hear this truth of the Gospel, the Good News of our salvation. Let us receive God’s gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation again and again in the precious Word of the Gospel and in the Sacrament of the Altar. What a privilege we have to be recipients of God’s grace.

Monday, November 17, 2014

3rd Last Sunday 2014 Sermon

(This was my sermon from the 3rd Last Sunday of the Church Year, 11/9/2014. A couple people asked for it, I thought I'd post it here.)

Dead In Christ Will Rise

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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

I do not believe it is only me, but death has touched our area recently in very tragic ways. In a twenty mile radius around Embarrass, six young people, younger than twenty-five, have died in the last few weeks. As I said before, I do not know the faith of those who died, so I am not speaking of them today.

But, I thought today would be a good day to talk about some things about which there seems to be some confusion and misunderstanding. Today’s sermon will not be my normal Law/Gospel sermon where I lead us all to repentance and then proclaim forgiveness and life in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, this sermon will be what is called a didactic sermon, a sermon which has as its main goal and purpose, teaching. This type stuff usually takes place during Bible Study time, but as death has so grievously impinged upon our area, I thought some time should be spent talking about it as it is addressed in our Epistle lesson, and since most do not attend Bible Study.

When death touches our lives, people want to feel good about what happens with their loved ones. Unfortunately, not all the ideas people have about what their loved ones are doing after death, are based upon the truth of God as He has revealed it to us His Word, the Holy Scriptures.

First of all, God wants us to be comforted about those who die with saving faith in Christ.

With that in mind, we are comforted to know that those who die in the Lord go to be with Him immediately upon death. Jesus Himself says that is how it happens when He proclaims to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Believers, upon their deaths, are with Jesus in paradise. But to those of us left here, as it says in our text, they are asleep. The do not talk to us, they do not listen to us, they do not watch over us, they are not with us wherever we go, and they are not now angels. As I said, believers, upon their deaths, are with Jesus in paradise, enjoying perfect happiness and bliss with Christ, they have no more sorrows.

Consider this. If our loved ones were to see what our lives are like, the things we do, the things that we suffer, the trials and tribulations we may be enduring, would they be perfectly happy? No! If they could see what is going on here, my mom would be continually slapping her head saying, “Todd, what are you doing? Cut that out!” There would be no joy and happiness in my mom if she were seeing us in this life.

There is something else going on with those who have died in Christ. You hear about it every Sunday we have communion, it is part of our liturgy. As we prepare for communion, we hear about those who are gathered with Jesus in paradise – we hear of how they are gathered around Christ, just as we are gathered in Holy Communion around Christ. The pastor proclaims that we join them in the same song, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven – all those who have died in Christ –  are gathered around Christ.

Do you understand the implications of this truth? As we gather around Christ in Holy Communion, they also gather around Christ. No, we cannot see one another, but we are all gathered together around Christ. It as if we are together at the same table with Christ. What comfort it is to know that my mother doesn’t see my sinful failures, but that we are gathered together around the One who died for us both – we are at the same banquet feast of the Lamb.

Dear friends, our Epistle is a beautiful text that gives us great comfort and expectant hope. Listen to it again:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Did you hear that? You know the foundation of this, for you know what happened. Christ died to purchase our forgiveness. We are baptized into that death, so that it becomes our death. His death frees us from eternal death, that is, separation from God for all eternity, which is the punishment we deserve for our sins. And as we are united to Christ’s death, we are also united to His resurrection.

Yes, there will come a day when our mortal lives will end, unless Christ returns before that day comes. But as our text proclaims, on that day Christ returns, those who have died will be raised from the dead.  The dead in Christ, those who died believing that He died to forgive them their sins, will rise from the dead, and heir bodies will be perfected.

Those who are alive, and in Christ on the last day, will also rise to join them, their bodies perfected. From that day on, we will be together with the Lord. We will enjoy all eternity in perfected, sinless, fleshly bodies, just as Christ has, so will we have.

Job spoke of this hope many centuries before Christ took on human flesh. He spoke of his resurrection hope with these words, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my own eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

Job hopes for the last day, for the day of the resurrection of all flesh. He looks forward to seeing his Redeemer, the One who purchased and won him from all sin, from death, and from power of the devil – who bought him not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. He knows that he will see Him with his own eyes. How his heart faints, how it yearns, how it looks forward with eager expectation, to that day.

Yes, there are many questions which are unanswered about that last day. Where exactly is heaven? What will we be doing there? I remember someone who did not enjoy singing ask me, “Will we be singing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?” Will we really be walking on streets of gold? Good questions.

We do know heaven will be glorious. Most of the pictures we are given in the Bible are given us in apocalyptic language, or what we might call vision language. Are they actual views of places and events taking place in heaven, or are they metaphorical views that depict the vast richness and glory of heaven?

We cannot even imagine what the glory and beauty of heaven will be like. It is so far beyond what we know from our human experience and condition. Why? Because what we see and think of as beautiful and glorious in this present life is all tainted by sin.

I know dear friends that my Redeemer lives.

I know that He gave His life to purchase you, me, and all people from sin and death.

I know that He rose again the third day to proclaim that He has won the victory, and that all those who believe in Him will also rise.

I know that this body and life, with the aches, pains, sorrows, tribulations, will be made new on the last day and enjoy eternity with Christ in the heavenly kingdom that He is preparing for me and all believers.

I know that with my own fleshly eyes I will see Christ in His flesh, and all those loved ones who have died in faith before me. What a glorious reunion that will be!

I am therefore glad to live each day in this life, so that I can proclaim this good news to others, so that they too might have hope for this life as we wait for the perfect life to come. Amen.

It is just a stupid fishing pole

It really is just a stupid fishing pole. It is an inanimate object. If it were gone, it means nothing.

So, this story begins in 1993 when a buddy gives me a 10’ G. Loomis 7 weight IM6 fly rod, with a hand-painted inscription on it commemorating my Ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry. It was a rather expensive gift from a dear friend. Whenever I would use it, I would remember my friend.

 It was a great stick, excellent feel and action. I cannot even figure how many Atlantic Salmon, Steelhead, Brown trout, Chinook, and Cohos have been caught on this rod. Many were caught while used as intended, as a fly rod. It was also used with a spinning reel and finesse fished - rigged that way, it was easier for those who do not know how to fly-cast. I believe it caught many times the number caught using it as a fly rod. This was how it was most often rigged, especially when I took other people fishing for Steelhead and Salmon, as it was so easy to use this way.

Both my sons caught their first salmon with this stick as I hooked them and then passed the rod over to them - Nathan was 8 when he caught his, and Timothy was 6. They have caught many more on it as well.

 Well, in an unfortunate accident this summer, the female ferrule on the top end was broken off. It was quite an emotional loss. I found no way to repair it as I looked at a couple of different shops - at least not in a manner that anybody would promise it would still have the same feel and touch when fished. 

 Then someone suggested I go to G. Loomis online and talk to them. I found out I could send it to them for repairs and paid for them. It was stated that repairs run about $75 minimally. Or, I could choose the Xpeditor plan which gets you a brand spanking new rod. When I explained the damage to the customer service rep, he suggested the Xpeditor plan, for $100 they'd ship me a new stick replacing mine, and then I'd return mine to them in the tube they sent to me.

 While I did not like the idea of losing the sentimental value, for when I told them the make and model number, they looked up my stick they stated they could not replace it, for it is no longer in production. BUT, they would send me the 2014 equivalent, a G.Loomis PRO4x Single Hand Model 120-4.

OK, so the package arrives, and it is a 4 piece 10' rod. As part of this plan, I am supposed to send mine rod back to them in the same box. My rod is a 10’ two-piece rod. It is not coming close to fitting in the packing tube they sent to me.

So, I called them and explained that it would not fit and why. The service rep said, "What I'm going to need you to do is to break it into 4 pieces so that it will fit into the shipping container."

I sat silent for a moment. I asked, "Seriously? You want me to break it into 4 pieces?"

"Yes sir, break it into 4 pieces."

After a bit more of a conversation, I hung up the phone and went to go get the rod to break it. As I grabbed it, I literally began to cry. I put the rod down and pulled up a few pictures from fishing trips and the waterworks flowed. 

 Was this over the rod? Not at all! Nathan's away at college... Tim is in his senior year of HS and looking at colleges... For 12 years we would go over to the Algoma/Kewaunee area and fish the salmon run. For 8 years, we would get there on a Sunday afternoon, get our hotel room, fish hard and come home Tuesday night. There were a couple years in which fall sports made it difficult, so maybe the days changed, but we still would get in a couple days of fishing the salmon run. Last year, Tim couldn't go, so I picked up Nathan at UW-Madison and we took the trip over to the Racine area, but it was a weekend trip with us going to church someplace and me having the day off. Tim and I then found a day and went without Nathan. And this fall, we did not take any sort of Salmon trip, because I was laid up after surgery. (This past fall never did feel right.)

So, I sat looking at pictures, glancing at that fishing pole, and realizing that this looks like the end of an era. I tried to claim that the last few years were simply flukes. But it truly is the end of a tradition and the loss of a certain amount of innocence.

Maybe breaking this rod and sending it on will help me to prepare for the empty nest that is soon coming my way. But I do not want to (break it or prepare for the "empty nest"). I want those days back! I want my boys to be "boys" again. I do not want the glory days of my youth, I want their youthful days when... 

And yet, I am so very, very, proud of what they have become.

 Hmmm, who'd have thought that a stupid, old, fishing pole would bring such things on?

I look forward to the new memories that develop with this new rod. But even more importantly, I am hoping that many of them will be with the wonderful sons God has given to me. I pray that we will never lose that special bond we have developed as father-son.

Peace of the Lord be with you.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

As We Remember

Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God!
Memorial Service for Rescue Workers of 9/11 - October 2, 2001
Romans 8:18, 28-39


(I preached this sermon at a memorial service conducted with Rev. Steve Hyvonen three weeks after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, at St. James Lutheran Church. Both of us were serving as chaplains to the Shawano County Sheriff Department, and planned this special service for the emergency personnel of Shawano County. While this sermon was for a specific purpose, it has been requested by many as they deal with other traumatic life situations. As it has even been requested recently, it is being placed on the website that others may read it as well. There are those who found comfort in these words then, and there are those who still find this sermon to bring them comfort in their times of trial and anxiety. It is offered here in the hope it will bring you God's peace.)

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

It has been three weeks ago, today when America was attacked. Look at where the World Trade Center once stood - there is some suffering. You remember the TV news coverage, they were showing scenes and so you saw the carnage. Here, even some 1000 miles away, it seemed like you were there. It seems the topic of many discussions still, some 3 weeks later. What is being talked about? Maybe you have asked the question, Where was God in all this? How could God stand by and watch this happen?

It hits even closer to home because some of those who lost their lives were wearing uniforms - they wore uniforms because they were special. They wore uniforms that bespoke their courage and respect for the lives of others. That’s quite a contrast from the attitude of those who performed the treacherous deeds of September 11.

Today we gather to remember those who gave their lives that day, the rescue workers; firemen, police officers, and EMTs and their families. Those who served others came as they were called, they walked into a difficult situation that only got worse. Without flinching they stepped up and made an accounting. They have been called heroes - and they are - for they took no regard for their own life as they looked only to how they might save others. The numbers are not yet complete, but some 350 firefighters are dead of missing and more than 70 police officers.

Did you know someone there? Was there someone close to you who lost their life while trying to save others? It might not be so bad except for one thing, it was planned. These heros lost their lives because someone else took them. All the death and carnage was by design. Where was God in all this? How could God stand by and watch this happen?

Stop for a moment, take a deep breath and listen to a story. There was a man brought before the High Court of the land. They brought false charges against him. False witnesses gave their testimony. Even though their words didn’t agree and there was no proven charge against the man, the man was sentenced to death.

You know the man of whom I speak, you have heard the story. It is the message of God’s only Son and a Friday called, Good. How could it be good? God stood by and did nothing while His innocent Son was convicted in a kangaroo court. God watched as the perfection of the ages was made a mockery by pagans. The Father turned His back upon His Child of innocence, as His blood slowly dripped into the ground beneath the place where the nails pierced his hands and feet. Slowly, the Son died. Why God? Why your only, Son? Why did you stand by and do nothing? Why didn’t you get involved? Why? God, why did you let that perfect man, Your only Son suffer at the hands of evil men? Why, Lord, did you let the holy flesh of your innocent Son be pierced by the nails of pagan Romans? Why, Lord, did you stand by and do nothing while your own Son died?

In another place in Romans, it is written that the wages of sin is death. There is not a single person who is alive or who ever lived that isn’t under the condemnation of that verdict from the hand of God. Sin still corrupts the world today, just as it did in Jesus’ day. Sin in men, caused the death of others - some we today call heroes. Even the heroes were not perfect, they too were sinners.

The God who made Adam, made a promise to send One who would crush the head of Satan, who would defeat sin and evil in the world. That One was conceived in the womb of a virgin named Mary. God took on human flesh; innocent, perfect, holy flesh. He came to give His life as the ransom from sin. He came to suffer ridicule, pain, suffering, and a criminals death upon a cross.

So, some 2000 years ago, the Father wasn’t standing by doing nothing. He was taking out His wrath against sin upon His only Son. All our sins needed to be appeased, payment for our sinfulness had to come from somewhere. It came in the flesh broken and the blood which was shed by His only Son. God Himself came down to earth to suffer the pain of sin, and the Father sent Him for that purpose. It was by His choice that Christ suffered under the sinfulness of His fallen world that you and I might be freed from the grips of sin and death. It was by the Father’s choice that from the riven side of His holy child, blood and water flowed.

Why did God allow the tragedy to take place on Tuesday? We cannot answer that question with all certainty. We know that God did not cause it to happen. The cause was sin. But, know that God will use this for His purpose and to the good of His people.

Why didn’t God stop it? For Him to have stopped it, He’d have to put an end to all sinful flesh. To do that, judgement day would have to come - all flesh would be brought before Him - and it would be the end. As long as Christ has not returned, sin is still part of the human condition. And as long as sin is still part of the human condition, death and tragedy will be so as well. As long as Christ has not returned, there is the possibility that others will be called to repentance and faith in Christ.

The text from Romans before us starts with these words: ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’ Boy, who knew how tough that suffering would be. Who knew how heroes would give their lives? After all, heroes never die in the movies. Who thought that families would be shattered and lives lost?

The text continues: ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.’ Right now it is a little difficult to see the good. But it is there. There is a new national unity spreading. Look where you are tonight, praying for people you do not even know. You are grieving over those who you never met, but for whom you have a kindred spirit in your selfless service to others. See how a country has bent a knee and called upon God.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31-39)

As the world around us seems so confused and lost, as we wonder why things happen, some things remain sure, cling to these things with all confidence. God knows suffering, for He suffered at the hands of evil men who hated Him, spit upon Him, beat Him, mocked Him and cried out for His innocent death. He knows of death and hatred for He was crucified by those who hated Him and screamed for His blood. He knows the frailty of mankind, for He walked with men and saw the frail existence and lived it with them.

This same God enfleshed is Jesus the Christ, has taken your sins and mine upon Himself so that you might be confident in this life. Be confident, you and I are conquerors - in Christ Jesus. Through God’s love, you and I will triumph over this life and its uncertainties - in Christ Jesus. While the world leaves you wondering, "what next," you have a confidence and sure hope - in Christ Jesus.

Paul tells you of your confidence and hope: Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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