Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sermon for Thanksgiving

November 26, 2008
Text: Luke 12:13-21

Dear Friends in Christ,
Some with short memories might ask, what is there to give thanks for this year. It has not been a good year. Now for our young people, like our confirmation students, this is understandable. This is certainly been the worst economy that they have experienced in their lives. But for those my age and older, I just say, remember 1979? There was a time in my life when I knew of no one under age 35 that had a full time job. I remember stagflation. Normally, when a country goes into a recession, it also experiences deflation. Stagflation is when you combine a recession with inflation. Stagflation never occurs as a natural economic cycle. This is why so many people didn’t know what to do in 1979. Stagflation only occurs when government types try to control the economy and then make catastrophically bad decisions. But no, at the moment, we are at the beginning of a moderate recession and just as there is supposed to be, there is mild deflation. So long as the government types keep their paws off the economy we won’t go into stagflation. It is as Ronaldus Magnus said, the government is not the solution, the government is the problem. Now considering the bad decisions that have been made, we should be thankful our economy is as strong as it is. This teaches us that power and industry of American workers and entrepreneurs still greater than the power of government to screw it up. That alone is something for which we should give thanks.

Our text reminds us that we should be on our guard, lest we become consumed by things. Many today act as though he who dies with the most toys wins. But it is in reality the opposite. If we are consumed with our things, we lose. It is fine to benefit from our possessions, as do from a sound house or a medical device. Certainly, God intends this. It fine to enjoy our possessions. Many of us take pleasure from a good book, a hunting rifle, a fishing rod, a boat, pleasant furnishings and the like. There is nothing wrong with this in itself. But if we allow ourselves to become consumed with the getting of these things we are in violation of the Tenth Commandment. And in the end, what value are these things? They will be of no value or comfort to us in heaven or in hell. These things are only of value for this life. That makes them of temporary value.

In further understanding our text, we must ask ourselves: What is an inheritance? An inheritance is a gift. It is not the fruit of our labors. God intends that we benefit from the fruit of our labors. In fact that is an image of heaven used throughout the Old Testament. Hell is to labor and have it stolen from us. That not only includes foreign raiders, but also excessive taxation. Heaven is to plant and sow, reap, harvest, and finally eat. In contrast, an inheritance, is a gift. We do not labor for it. We do not earn it. We have no right to it. In case of the two brothers, they are both covetous. The brother who did inherit should be generous with the gift he received from their father. But the brother who didn’t inherit has no right to ask for it. He did not earn it.

In this life, God does bless our labor and industry. It is blessed by the fruits of our labor. It is blessed by creating opportunities to help our neighbor. It is in our vocation, in our jobs, that we most greatly serve our fellow man. I have often noted that a hospital would not operate without clerks, cleaning people, maintenance people, and food service people . They serve the patients just as much doctors and nurses. We make a terrible mistake to overlook our own honest labor as a service to our fellow man. Our charitable work, special projects and the like, are generally God pleasing, but our greatest service to God and our fellow man, for most people, is in their employment. You might say, I was just a factory worker, or just a farmer. How can this be pleasing to God? I can only say in response to this, you misjudge your value, sir. My life, and the lives of all of us, depend upon farmers and factory workers. It is in that honest labor which God has given us to do, that we please God. And in this we must see the opportunity to labor, as a gift from God. For in this honest labor, be it ever so lowly, we please God and we are kept from great sin and vice.

Tonight we celebrate our day of national thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for. We have peace and security at home. Our war efforts in Iraq are winding down. Only time will tell in Afghanistan. That nation has been a thorn in the side of many nations in the past, and likely will continue to be troublesome in the years to come. We have economic concerns but, still on the whole, we are very prosperous. We have family. We have access to unprecedented medical care. And as Christians we have an inheritance given to us by our heavenly Father. He gives us forgiveness and life. He makes us His son and heir. And that is an inheritance that will not perish, but will last forever. So yes, indeed, even in these wary times, we have much reason to give thanks to God.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sermon for November 22-23

The Sunday of Fulfillment
November 22-23, 2008
Text: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20, 24

Dear Friends in Christ,
Every so often there is a story in the paper about a registered sex offender being released into the community. What is the reaction? Fear. Anger. Often such people, when they are released into the community take a great deal of abuse. Since our current laws make few distinctions, and “sex offender” covers a vast array of things, this reaction may or may not be deserved. But let us set that matter aside and consider those cases where the person has done truly terrible things, say to children. These would be the classic pedophiles. Why is there fear? Well, they might do it again. Well, so what? Why are we concerned about this? Because what they do injures others in a profound way. Or more simply, we could rightly say that what they have done is evil. Plain and simple. They have done evil. And so that they don’t do evil again, we want them walled off from their potential victims. We divide those who have done evil from those who have not. We are judgmental toward them. This is what we do in the realm of civil righteousness - that is good and evil before the world. We would consider it insane to let these evil people wonder about freely in society. Yet, how many people, seem shocked when God does the same thing? Surely God would not condemn anyone. Surely God would not punish any one. Why not? If we do this among men, and it is indeed good and right, why is it so shocking that God would do the same thing?

Our text tells two very important things about God. We will take the text backwards and start with the second half. “Therefore, thus says the LORD GOD to them: ‘Behold, I, I Myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep... And I will judge between sheep and sheep.’” God will judge between the people of the world. We learn here that the fat sheep have oppressed the lean sheep. That’s how they have made themselves fat. They have scattered the lean sheep by their abuse. So such abusive sheep will be condemned. They will be cast out of the pasture. By this Christ is saying that He will divide good and evil people. And the evil people will be cast out of heaven. They will not be allowed to be around God’s people. This is to protect God’s people from further abuse. The implication here is that the people in hell would still like to injure God’s people if they could. This is why it is imperative that God do this. It is actually a mark of God’s grace toward’s His people that He shuts evil people up in hell. God’s people can never be harmed again.

But wait, doesn’t God make everyone holy in heaven? If one gives a gift do they ever force another person to take it? What of those who don’t want to be made holy? Does God ever force this upon them? The implication here is no. God doesn’t force His good gifts upon anyone, though He offers them to all. So what do you do with a person who chooses to remain in their sin? What do you do with a person, who, even at the gates of eternity, refuses give up the evil in their heart? Salvation is a gift of God that does not come by our choice or decision, but condemnation to hell is always our choice. Do not ponder this saying, this doesn’t make sense. It is not ours to fully understand how this works. It is ours to confess what the Scriptures say. If it doesn’t make sense to human logic, then we must say that our reason is simply clouded by our sins. To God this makes perfect sense, even if it does not makes sense to us.

In short, God does in eternity, what we do in time. God separates the evil from the righteous. He does this to protect the righteous. One of the joys of heaven is that we will never again be troubled by those who would do evil against us.

The first half of our text is a statement of great promise. God will gather His people. Though evil people oppress God’s people and scatter them throughout the world, God will find them. He will gather them back together and He will appoint David to be their king and shepherd. Now here we must understand how to read Biblical prophecy. The prophet Malachi offered the very last prophecy of the Old Testament - that the Prophet Elijah would come and proclaim the arrival of the Messiah. But Christ Himself tells us that this Elijah was John the Baptist. So also here. It is not speaking literally of David. But it is speaking of someone who will be like David - a Davidic king. A successor to David. This was quite a promise as the heirs of King David had, almost to a man, turned to great sins. The kings who had followed David were the fat sheep of our text. But there would be an heir to David’s throne who would truly be king and shepherd to God’s people. This Son of David is none other than Jesus Christ. This Davidic king and shepherd would gather God’s people together and He will rule over them, protect them, and provide for them. It didn’t matter how far afield God’s people were scattered. He would regather them from the ends of the earth. God’s people would again be gathered before His throne. This was a rich promise to the people of Judah facing exile in Babylon. It is an even richer promise to us. No earthly power can take us out of God’s reach. Regardless of what calamity happens in this life, all those belong to Christ will be before His throne in the halls of heaven.

This promise that God will regather His people is certain because He has said it. We must not forget the effect of God saying something. God’s words are not simply truth. They call the very thing they say into being. When God said let there be light there was light. This is the nature of God’s Word. So when God says that in Christ, He will regather His people and bring them into the halls of heaven, it is certain and unchangeable.

Today we come to the end of another church year. As always we consider here at this time the last things. In the words of Ezekiel the prophet, we have great warnings and great promises. Those who reject Christ, will be condemned. They will be condemned so that they can do no further harm to God’s people. What will Christ do for God’s people, those who have placed their trust in Him? He will regather them and take them home to the promised land of heaven. There Christ, the Son of David, will be our king and shepherd. We will be at peace. We will have this peace because those who would harm us have been walled off from us. They will no longer have access to us. We will be protected from them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

GM and the UAW

In the midst of bailout mania several questions come to the fore. The question needs to be asked, what are we really being asked to bailout? GM, Ford and Chrysler could all declare bankruptcy and get their union contracts voided by a judge. But the UAW controls Michigan politics and to a large extent midwest politics. Many elected officals owe their office to the union. So I must join with those who are saying that this is really a bailout of the UAW, not the auto corporations.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hollywood Pinups

A photographer got a bunch of the current Hollywood starlets to recreate 1940's pinup photos. A few of them are posted on Fox News. Maybe it's just me, but I've always found that more modest type of erotica to be far more alluring than say full nude photos or even photos of sex acts. They have a sensuality about them that is hard to match. They tease you and invite you to desire more. They also reinforce the idea of some things being so private that they cannot be depicted.

In our current culture, these types of photos are considered tame family fare. I find this sad in a way. It marks the death of imagination. It also reduces all allure and romance to crass lust.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sermon for November 8-9

The Third Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 8-9, 2008
Text: Amos 5:18-24

Dear Friends in Christ,
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have prophets around today and we could go to them and they would tell us what God’s will is? Actually, no it wouldn’t. First we don’t need a prophet. We just need to open the book. The sad reality is that the more commonly available the Bible becomes, the less people actually read it and know it. Just under fifty percent of Americans are “churched”. Yet, a book called “Shocked by the Bible” by Joe Kovacs was recently published. It recounts all the misconceptions people have about the Bible. Most of these fall into the category of duh, have you ever read it? The very fact that Kovacs book was seen as necessary really should be an embarrassment to American Christians. So going back to our original statement, we don’t need a prophet to tell us right and wrong. The Bible already tells us. Second, prophets only come when there are problems. Prophets come to tell people that they are sinning and that they need to stop. Further, they typically warn that bad things are going to happen. Sometimes it’s conditional. If you don’t knock it off, this will happen. Sometimes, it not conditional. You didn’t knock it off, now here it’s God is going to do, and you aren’t going to like it. So no, we really don’t want to have prophets around. Genuine prophets are bad news.

Amos was just such a genuine prophet. He was from Judah. He was a shepherd. God plucked him from watching his flocks in Judah and sent him to the other kingdom - Israel - to warn them of God’s coming wrath. This was the high water mark of Israel. King Jeroboam II had rebuilt Israel as a regional power. They were wealthy. The nobles lived in luxury. They even prided themselves on their loyalty to Yahweh. King Jehu, the great-grandfather of Jeroboam II, had purged the worship of foreign gods from Israel. Jehu did this by tricking all the worshipers of Baal to gather in one place, then killing them all. So they looked at Judah and how they still worshiped Baal, and they would beat their chest with pride. See, we’re not like those idolatrous people down in Judah. We only worship Yahweh. The problem was something called the sin of Jeroboam, named after Jeroboam I, who was the first kind of Israel, when Judah and Israel divided after the death Solomon. Jeroboam I set up golden bull calves Bethel and Dan. These were idolatrous images to represent the true God. By the time of Jeroboam II, a little more than 150 years later, the knowledge of Scripture was so poor that people actually thought it was acceptable to worship God through the golden bull calves.

Amos was sent from Judah to Israel to tell the people that God was ticked and that was no bull. God says to Israel: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Why? Because they were worship God through the golden bull calves. That is why God would not accept their offerings. God would not accept their worship. So Amos warns them that it will be bad for them when God comes. God will come to them in anger and wrath. God will come and bring them to destruction.

The end would come swiftly. It was only about thirty years later, that the kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyrians. They fell from the height of their power and wealth to nothing, in thirty years. I know that many of you are elderly and you may not see thirty more years. But some of us most likely will. It is a chilling warning. The Assyrians took those they did not kill and broke apart families and marriages. They forced the Israelites to marry foreigners so that they would lose their identity as Israelites. Those who were allowed to remain in Israel would eventually become the Samaritans. This name comes from the Israelite capital city, Samaria.

The warning of Amos is not only for the Israelites in 750 B.C. It is a warning for us as well. Christ is coming. There are two ways that He is coming. He comes to us in our death. He also comes with the end of the world. Either way, everyone of us will come face to face with Christ. Amos is reminding us that Christ’s coming is not a good thing if we are at odds with God. We should all be filled with terror at the thought of Christ’s return. He will judge the living and the dead. We confess that in the creed. That means we will stand before Christ’s judgement.

I want you to think of this phrase, judge the living and the dead, in a new way. It is not only talking about the physically dead. It is also speaking of the spiritually dead. I can remember one particular funeral where the living one was in the casket. I have no doubt that this person is alive in Christ, and now is numbered among the saints of heaven. But the dead ones that day were sitting in the front pew. Christ will judge the living and the dead. When one judges they divide. So Christ will divide between the living and the dead. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that divide.

Now how does Christ judge? What is His criteria. This is where one needs to learn how to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. The Old Testament often doesn’t talk about saving faith. It speaks of the results of saving faith. If one is alive in Christ they will seek justice and righteousness. This includes justice for the widow, the orphan and even for the unborn. This is what saving faith looks like in practice. To understand this more deeply we need to look to the New Testament, where saving faith is more clearly defined. There we learn that we can be judged by our works or we be judged by Christ’s works on our behalf. Since we are poor miserable sinners, we don’t want to be judged upon our works. Our works would send us to hell. We must trust in Christ and His death and resurrection. Only Christ’s works can save us. So we place our trust in Christ and are judged according to His works.

The day is surely drawing near. Christ will return for each one of us. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for you. Scripture warns us that Christ will judge and Christ will punish. We must trust in Christ for our salvation. Trust in Christ changes who we are. If we are in Christ, we share the mind of Christ. We seek His will through His Word. We seek justice and righteousness. We must not pull back from these things. Our works are the proof that faith is living. As it is often noted, we are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Grace and faith are the causes of our salvation, but grace and faith lead us to act for our neighbor. We must not forget these things. Our eternal lives depend upon it. Christ is coming for each of us. The question is not if Christ will come. He will. The question is whether Christ is coming to damn us to hell or coming to carry us home to heaven. We should rightly fear Christ’s condemnation. But we should also welcome Christ in faith. For if we are in Christ, then we are judged upon Christ’s works. This is a certain foundation. For it based upon the perfect promises of our perfect God.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

United Absurdity

Many of the talk show hosts have been asking for people to call and explain what Obama will change. Several callers called several shows suggested that Obama unites the the United States. Now maybe I'm a little thick, but this radical socialist is the most divisive man elected to the presidency in my life time. I just don't think he's going to unite the country.

Obamanation Healthcare

It is a given that Obama will do great harm to the United States. He is a hard core socialist and socialist economics have failed every time they've been attempted. That's not rocket science, but junior high history.

One of the places where Obama can do the most damage is health care. Socialized medicine is simply not economically viable. This has been shown around the world time and time again. All we need to do is look at how England is now pulling away from a failed socialized medical system.

The problem is that it costs a great deal of money to take care of sick people. So the only way to make socialized medicine work is to not treat sick people. So what's the alternative to treating sick people? Euthanasia. We've already seen this in a case in Washington or Oregon where a cancer patient was told that the state would not pay for their chemotherapy but would pay for physician assisted suicide. So socialized medicine becomes the vehicle to bring in euthanasia.

Those of us with medical problems would be left with no choice but to flee the country in order to get health care. I hear Chile has a nice climate. I guess it's time to invest in Rosetta Stone Spanish.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sermon for November 1-2

The Feast of All Saints (November 1)
November 1-2, 2008
Text: Revelation 7:9-17

Dear Friends in Christ,
In the ancient world, the pagan, idol worshipers, generally believed in a kingdom of the dead. You died and went to the kingdom of the dead which was ruled by a certain god. Generally, the kingdom of the dead was not a nice place. It was really a belief that everyone was going to hell. There was no real concept of heaven. Nor was there any distinction made. It didn’t matter what your life was like on earth, you weren’t going to like the kingdom of the dead. Such a view of the afterlife removes any sense of divine judgement. There is no justice to the results in the afterlife. Hitler and Luther would be in the same place.

We are coming to a time when neo-paganism is increasingly dominating thought and practice in the United States. Even much of what passes for Christianity is really neo-pagan or gnostic. Gnosticism is a belief system that radically divides the spiritual from the material. We again see the wide spread belief in a generic kingdom of the dead. The implications of this are staggering. It makes a person’s confession irrelevant. In time, it turns society itself into an earthly hell. It must be noted that all attempts to create heaven on earth have failed and will always fail. But we only need to turn on the evening news or look at a news site on the internet to see many examples of man quite successfully turning earth into hell. The list would include many of the third world dictatorships of today, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam when the communists took over and the like.

In contrast to this idea, the Scriptures from the first, insisted that the true God distinguishes in death. Many scholars consider the book of Job to be the oldest book of the Bible, predating even the five books of Moses. We read these word of Job, recorded in Job 19. “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 eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27a) In these words Job is expressing a certain confidence that he will be raised to eternal life with God. Further Job is stating that it will be a bodily resurrection from the dead. Not only his soul or spirit will live, but his body also will live. He will physically stand in the presence of God. This is not a New Testament concept. This is not a late Jewish concept. It was understood by those who worshiped the true God from the beginning. But note also what Job calls God. Job calls God “my Redeemer”. God redeems, He buys back from sin and death. So this concept also was present from the very beginning.

This then brings us to the vision of heaven that was given to St. John. Here we see the same ideas being expressed in the very last book of Scripture. It speaks of a great multitude gathered around the throne of heaven. Note what the people cry out. "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" This is the Father and the Son. But note salvation is God’s property. It is His to give. He gained possession of salvation when Christ, God the Son, died on the cross. So now God can give salvation to whomever He chooses. But God is not arbitrary. Who is it that He saves? Those who have washed their robes in the blood of Christ. In other words those who trust in Christ to save them. Those who have made the sacrifice of Christ to be a credit to their account by eating the Body and Blood of Christ.

The implication of this is that there are others who are not gathered before Christ. And indeed we could point to dozens if not hundred of Scripture passages that make it clear that those who reject Christ, either out of ignorance or out of actual defiance will not be in heaven. They will be cast out from the presence of God. In short Hitler and Luther are not in the same place. But it works a little differently than many people think. Those in hell receive justice for their works. Those in heaven are there because Christ received justice for their works, in their place. So in this sense hell is the place of divine justice. Heaven is the place of divine grace.

What is this place of divine grace? What will it be like? Our text tells us this: “He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It is called a new heaven and a new earth. It is called a new Eden. We do confess in the creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. This is stating that heaven is not a new spiritual realm. It is a new material realm in which we are confirmed in God’s grace, like the angels. C. S. Lewis suggests that our life on earth will seem to be a mere shadow compared to the physical reality of heaven. In other words heaven is more physically real than this earth. In this new world of heaven, Christ provides all that we need, the most delectable food, the sweetest drink. There will be no more pain or suffering. Those are gone because sin will be gone. But the best thing of all will be that we will live in the unshielded presence of Christ our Creator and Redeemer.

This gives us great hope and also great comfort as we consider those who have died before us. In heaven we will see them again. But we don’t have to wait to be with them. The divine service also transports us into those very same courts of heaven. We confess this in the words of the liturgy - “therefore with angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven.” We gather before Christ’s throne with all the saints of heaven. We kneel at the communion rail with all the saints of heaven. So when I kneel to receive the Lord’s Supper, I don’t kneel alone. My sister Sandy, my brothers Danny and Mark, my grandparents, Bonnie’s parents, my aunts and uncles and the like are all there with me, and I am with them. Not even death separates those who are in Christ.

We live a world that increasingly does not understand life and death, heaven and hell. The world increasingly does not understand divine justice and divine grace. In this climate we must be ever more bold and firm in our confession. The dead in Christ live. Death will not hold us. We will not simply be taken to a kingdom of the dead. We will be in the heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ, which we could rightly call the kingdom of the living. We rejoice that many who have gone before are already there in Christ’s presence. They are the saints of heaven. We rejoice that in the grace of Christ we will join them - that we too are numbered among the saints of heaven.

World's Shortest Funeral Homily

Don't ask the circumstances that required such a thing. It was a terrible situation. Steps are being taken to make certain it does not happen again.

Homily - Funeral of Roger Luedtke
October 29, 2008 - Text: Philippians 1:18b-26

Dear Friends in Christ,
The timing of events is often ironic. Though our time here is brief, Roger will also be honored, as we do each year for those who have been called home, as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints this coming Sunday.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This is perhaps a strange verse for funeral. St. Paul in this text is saying that he must remain upon the earth to minister to God’s people. Roger was not a pastor, like St. Paul, but he was a stalwart confessional Lutheran layman - a lion for the faith. His service to Christ’s Church will not be forgotten.

Yet, Christ determined that the time has come for that work to end. He called Roger home to heaven. Did Christ do this because Roger was great? No. Roger, was so passionate because he understood that he was sinner. He understood that salvation is a gift from God. Christ died for our sins to make us His children and bring us into communion with him. Roger lives. He lives because Christ paid for his sins.

There are two great errors of our age, concerning death. First is that a person is dead and gone. No. Those who sleep in Christ live. Secondly, that the deceased are present with us because we feel their presence. There is nothing in Scripture to support such a thing. God does not come to us through our feelings. Nor do those who rest in Christ. But that does not mean that we separated from them. Every person who kneels at the communion rail, kneels with Roger, and with Roger receives God’s good gifts. For all those redeemed by Christ share in that great feast.