Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Israel Trip Photos

Even if you are not on Facebook, you can apparently see the photos I have uploaded there from my November 2007 Israel Trip.

I took many more photos (over 1000!), but these are the ones I selected as the "highlights".

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sermon - Easter Sunday - Colossians 3:1-4

The Resurrection of our Lord
Colossians 3:1-4
“With Christ”

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

It is the day of victory. Christ has defeated his foes – vanquished sin and the Devil and death itself. And with good reason, this is the high holiday of the Christian church. Not even Christmas approaches the joy and glory that fill this day. With all God's people from every time and place, we join the chorus: Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

We celebrate His victory. But we also know that his victory is our victory. His vindication is our vindication. His life is our life. We see this reflected in our Easter Epistle from Colossians 3, which will serve as our text.

There is a new ad campaign being run on TV by some financial institution that has merged with another. The commercials revolve around one word: “with”. “She's with child”. “I'm with her”. “I'm with the band”. And of course these two companies are now “with” each other. “With” is a word of connection, a word of relationship. It tells you something about me, by knowing who I am with. True enough.

Today our Easter Epistle also keys in on the word “with” several times. We will consider who and what we are with, both as people who sin and as people who are saved. An important preposition which expresses the amazing proposition – we are “with Christ”.

So who are you with today? Perhaps you've come to church with your family or with a friend. Perhaps you are all alone. But that's not what I mean. I mean who are you with? Where does your allegiance lie?

It may seem like a strange question, or one that we don't often think about. But in terms of Holy Scripture there are really only two answers. Either we are with the Lord or we are not. Either we are with him, or we are against him. Who are you with?

We'd all like to think we are with the Lord, but our actions say otherwise. We call it sin. Not merely guilt by association, but sin has infected our very nature. So we are born with sin. And it is our constant companion. We do wrong things because we think wrong thoughts. We think wrong thoughts because our hearts are wrong. And so with sin comes death and with death comes sorrow and with sorrow comes tears. Were we left in our sins, we would be with-out hope.

But God does not leave us with our sins. With him all things are possible, even salvation. And so he sent us Immanuel - “God With Us” - His Son, Jesus Christ.

And Colossians tells us that now, we are “with Christ”.

First, we are raised “with Christ”. This means that we are connected with Christ in his death, and in his resurrection. He died for us, yes. But in a sense we died with him. Good Friday was the end... of our sins. “It is finished” didn't mean he was finished. But our sins are. Dead with Jesus.

But Christ has risen from the dead, not only for us, but with us. He is the first-born of the dead, not the “only-child”. Yes, in his resurrection, is our resurrection. It's very much as if we, ourselves, came back to life in his glorious defeat of death on this day.

And being raised with Christ means that our minds will also be with him – set on things above, where he is. Let our earthly thoughts reflect the heavenly reality, and let the effects of our resurrection with him begin even now.

But perhaps you don't feel resurrected today. Maybe another Easter means another Spring with a whole new slew of activities. Or maybe it means another reminder that you are getting older, and you have to pay for all those calories of Easter candy. Maybe it's great to be in church with all the singing and fanfare, but from here you go back to your daily grind of stress and problems, work, conflicts, sickness, what-have-you. Is this triumphant worship service a thin veneer of joy laid over the doldrums of everyday life? You say I am raised with Christ. But I don't feel resurrected. It's hard to see Christ in my life.

Yes, you have died. Yes, you are raised with Christ. But your life is hidden with Christ in God. There is a sense of paradox in all this celebration. The old funeral prayer says, “in the midst of life we are in death”. But Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies. And he who lives and believes in me will never die”.

Life and death at the same time. A reality that we can see, and one that is hidden. A life that one day will be revealed, but for now that we accept by faith. We are with Christ. We died and rose with him. And now our life is with him, though we can't see it.

But one day we will see it. One day our life will appear. Christ is our life, of course, and when he appears in glory then we too will appear with him in glory. Then we will easily see the reality of our eternal life in resurrected, glorified bodies. And that life, we will live forever with Christ.

This Easter Sunday – with all the believers of the past, with all the Christians around the world today, with this congregation and with angels and archangels – we praise his holy name. We confess and we know that we are with Christ, in death to sin, and we are with him in life forever. And we look forward to the final day when we appear with him in glory. For Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed. Alleluia!) Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sermon - Good Friday - Isaiah 53:4-6

“It's not my problem.” He could have said that. From heaven's high throne, when our Lord looked down on the little blue marble and into a little green garden on the man and woman he had created. And when he saw they were hastily sewing fig-leaves together in a futile attempt to cover their shame. They had a big problem. They crossed the line. But it wasn't his problem.

And yet he walked in that garden in the cool of the day, calling them by name – calling them to repentance, and for some reason – promising them hope. Her seed will crush the serpent's head. But, his heel will be bruised.

“I'm not my brother's keeper” Ah, but yes, Cain, you were. We all are. Love your neighbor as yourself. Bear each others' burdens. Yet more laws we ignore. But it's not enough for us to just ignore our brothers and sisters. Instead we hurt and harm their reputations, their possessions, even their bodies and life. Your brother's blood screams out for vengence against you too. But the blood of Jesus speaks a better word, a word of forgiveness.

“I have betrayed innocent blood” said Judas, “And what is that to us?” said the Jews. “Not our problem”.

“This man is innocent – I wash my hands of him. Crucify him yourselves. His blood is on you.” “Not my problem”.

And the Son of God could have said the same. Oh, you sinned? Not my problem. You ate the fruit? Killed your brother? Betrayed your Lord? Not my problem. He didn't have to stand in the way of that speeding locomotive of God's wrath. He didn't have to take your place on the cross. It wasn't his problem. He wasn't the sinner, you were. He didn't deserve death. But we all do.

We have all gone astray – like obstinate sheep. Not his way, but MY way! And so we have a problem. Actually we have many problems. Iniquities. Griefs. Sorrows. Illness. Conflict. We are lost. You know sin, don't you? Those dark deeds you would rather hide and deny and rationalize. The things that trouble your conscience, or at least the things that should. Yes, you have an inkling of your sin, but you will never fully grasp it like he does. Our sinfulness is so complete, we fall so short of God's perfect standard, that we don't even realize. You were even conceived and born in sin. Your every waking breath and thought is tainted by sin. Every deed and word – the word and deed of a sinful mind and heart and mouth. Who can know the depths of his own sin?

And who can know its true consequences? Yes, there is pain in childbirth. There are thorns growing in the ground. Life is hard. Work is hard. Troubles and sorrows and griefs come and then come again. Loved ones fall ill and perish. And one day we too like the grass, will wither and die.

But far beyond the temporal, earthly, present consequences is the eternal punishment. The separation from our holy God in eternal shame and suffering. The place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. An unending torment richly deserved by the enemies of God. Who can know the true depth of such punishment? We can only begin to imagine such a nightmare.

It's not his problem. But he made it his problem. He took on our sin. He carried our sorrows. He bore our griefs. And the punishment we deserved fell on him.

He knows the true consequences of sin. He knows the sorrow and grief sin brings. He was like us in every way, yet without sin. But he knew the sufferings of this world. He was well acquainted with grief.

He is the Suffering Servant foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Stricken, smitten and afflicted. Wounded for our transgression, crushed for our iniquities. Upon him the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes, we are healed.

He made our problems his problem. He made our sins his own. He took our punishment and bore it. He died our death, and defeated it.

He even suffered our hell – there on Calvary – forsaken by God as we deserve to be. All the physical suffering pales in comparison to this great anguish. Who can know the depths of sin and its wages? Christ alone, for he endured it.

And only now, in Christ, we can say sin is “not my problem”. Not in a callous or cavalier way. But in awe-filled and humble gratitude that he took our sin on himself, and made it his problem. Christ spoke the final word on sin, here at the cross. “It is finished”. His work is finished. His sacrifice is finished. Sin is finished.

And now, as they lay his cold clay in the tomb, some might think he, too, is finished. But we know what he promised. His time in the tomb will be short. Now it is evening, but morning will soon dawn. Yet, in the dark of this Good Friday, ponder quietly the one who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. For with his stripes, we are healed.

Good Friday Snowstorm Cancellations -

Lutheran High School's Tre Ore services are cancelled today.

Grace Lutheran Church will still have Good Friday service this evening at 6:30 PM.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Oh, Don't Hold a Protest...

While it may make you feel better, I think the protest is a bad idea. I echo the thoughts of FatherDMJ here...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sign the "Issues Etc. Petition"

You can find it here:

The "Issues" Issue

Look what I found... (feel free to copy)

I don't have much more to offer on the "Issues" issue than has already been said on the Wittenberg Trail and the various blogs.

I do think that those responsible for this decision (whoever they are-since we are not being told)will likely come to regret it. What happened to Issues might just become a rallying point for the Lutheran wing of the LCMS.

Either the show will go on in a new and better incarnation or else it will become the banner for the fight... like... the Alamo. (hopefully both)

The brave souls at the Alamo lost that battle, but then there was the war....

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sermon - John 12:12-18

Palm Sunday - Sunday of the Passion
John 12:12-18, Matthew 27:11-66

Sunday - Riding on a beast of Burden
Friday – Carrying the burden of his own cross

Sunday – they laid their garments before him
Friday – they divided his garments among them

Sunday – They shouted Hosanna! Which means, “Save us”
Friday – They jeered, “He saved others but he can't save himself”

Sunday – the adulation, “Blessed is he!”
Friday – the hatred, “Crucify!”

Sunday – he prophesied correctly where and how the colt could be found.
Friday – the guards struck him and mocked, “prophesy – tell us who struck you”

Sunday – his disciples close at hand, preparing his way
Friday – his disciples forsake him, running away

Sunday – Palm branches strewn in honor
Friday – Thorns twisted into a shameful crown

Sunday – Crowds following and honoring him
Friday – Crowds crying for his blood

Sunday – he enters the temple in triumph
Friday – the temple curtain is torn in two

What a difference the better part of a week can make. Today is Palm Sunday – the day of our Lord's triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem. He had just raised Lazarus from the dead, to the amazement of many onlookers.

The excitement builds now, as he makes his approach to Jerusalem, and the air is filled with expectations of messianic proportions, also with the shouts and songs and praises of people who somehow recognized him for who he was. The Son of David. The Savior.

But what bitter irony the week would bring. They expected the establishment of his kingdom. They were looking for deliverance. And Jesus came to do all that. But not they way they expected.

If Palm Sunday brought glory, Good Friday brought shame. If Sunday brought joyous celebration, Good Friday would bring sorrow and grief. But in both these days, as in all days, Jesus is the Savior. Jesus is bringing salvation to his people. Jesus is glorified, not only in triumphal pageantry, but also in shameful suffering.

But know this – Palm Sunday was for you. And Good Friday was for you. All that Jesus does, is for you, and for all his people.

In this triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus illustrates the establishment of his kingdom. Jesus, the king, comes.

Palm Sunday occurs, in a sense, each time our Lord enters the heart of a sinner, and is received in faith. Palm Sunday occurs when his kingdom is established and renewed by the preaching of his word and the administration of his sacraments. And Palm Sunday points forward, finally, to that final day to come, when he arrives in ultimate glory, in which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. Then he will ride no donkey, but the clouds themselves, accompanied by the angelic shout and trumpet call of God.

And in his triumph, we too shall triumph – over sin and death and the devil, all our enemies which are put the shame in his complete and eternal victory.

But Good Friday is for you, too, and for all. There, in shameful death, in sorrow and pain, our Lord died for the sins of the whole world, and for you sins. There he bore the punishment we deserve. There he shed his innocent blood that our guilty blood would not be shed. A perfect life to redeem untold sinful lives – the death of God's only Son to make us all his children forever. The crown of thorns, the flogging, the mocking, the betrayal, the denial, the forsaking, the nails, the spear, the nakedness, the thirst, the dishonor – all of it was for you. Yes Jesus hung on the cross in shame for you, just has he rode the donkey in glory for you.

And in the shame of the cross is an even greater glory than all the hosannas they sang. In the death of Jesus we see God's ultimate plan for the salvation of sinners – a plan to sacrifice his own Son, whom he loved, for a world of people that hated him. Could anything make less sense? Could anything be more divine?

On this Palm Sunday, join the ancient Jews in singing hosannas to the only one who can save us. And in this Holy Week, remember and appreciate all our Lord went through, for you. And next Sunday, we will celebrate an even greater glory, as Hosanna becomes Alleluia, and we mark his glorious Resurrection.

Friday, March 14, 2008

ELCA Sex Statement (Draft Only!)

You can slog through it here....

And so the anti-biblical agenda of the pro-homosexual forces in the ELCA inches forward.

I was going to pull out some of the more disturbing nuggets, but it's almost Holy Week and I have pastor-stuff to do.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sermon - Lent 5 - John 11:1-45

Lent 5
John 11:1-45
“Jesus Wept”

We've often mentioned how the mood of this season of Lent is more serious, contemplative, and even slightly somber. Today, it's Jesus who is even brought to tears at the grave of his friend Lazarus. Most of us know that this verse, John 11:35, “Jesus wept”, is the shortest in the Bible. But let's zero in on it today, especially, and there in our Savior's tears find a message of sin and grace.

First, some context. Jesus was approaching Jerusalem. Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived, is really a suburb of the Holy City. And there, in Jerusalem, Jesus knew he would meet his fate at the hands of the Jews. He knew his own death was approaching. Even his disciples seemed to sense things were reaching a turning point, for Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”.

We too, know that Holy Week and Good Friday are approaching. We too should be preparing mentally, emotionally, spiritually, for the observance of our Lord's suffering and death.
But here in Bethany, it was Lazarus who had died. Jesus had been called when Lazarus was still alive, but sick. But his arrival was, it seemed, too late. By the time Jesus got there, Lazarus worsened and died.

So was Jesus crying at the grave of his friend out of guilt? Knowing that he could have saved him, had he not dilly-dallied? No, of course not. Jesus knew how this would end. He told his disciples, “for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” He tells Martha the same, “I am the resurrection and the life” and “Your brother will live”. No, Jesus knows how it ends. That's not why he was weeping.

Why then? Was he weeping in some sort of show or sham? Like the hired mourners who wailed along with the funeral procession and at the tomb? Was he faking these tears? Of course not. Our Lord is always honest, even in his actions.

Was this an example for us to follow? To let us know that it's ok for us to weep at the graves of our loved ones? It might not be why he wept but that certainly is true. The scriptures never tell us not to cry when death comes, but only not to grieve like those who have no hope. Yes, even for Christians who believe in the promises of God about life after death, paradise and resurrection, even for us death is troublesome and painful. There is grief even when there is hope.

So too for Jesus. And perhaps we are approaching the reason for his tears. Even knowing fully well that Lazarus will rise again, and shortly, Jesus is still moved by the sorrow of death. Death is no friend to God and his people. Death is the wages of sin. Death is the interloper, which does not belong in this creation but has come to stay. It is the necessary result of sinful flesh to die, and return to the dust from which it is formed. And with death comes pain, sorrow, grief, and fear. Nothing pleasant, there. This is why Jesus weeps.

So too, his soul would be deeply troubled in the Garden of Gethsemane, a few days later. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” he said. For again, Jesus would have to face death. Now, his own, but nonetheless.

And even though he knew how it would end – even though he knew the resurrection was coming afterward – still he is troubled. There is much to learn here about godly suffering.
Christianity is no trite system of positive thinking in which we are to simply put on a happy face. It is no promise of a life free from tears. Indeed, the opposite. Christians are told of the persecution, suffering and cross-bearing that goes along with our faith. And God never makes a promise that he will keep us from all pain and unpleasant experience.

There are beautiful promises about the world to come – a heavenly Jerusalem in which all suffering ends, and where God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more mourning there, for even death itself will be destroyed. And the hope of that day, the promise of that future, does give comfort to us in our earthly tears.

As does the promise of his presence. We know that he is with us always, even in our suffering, even to the end of the age. We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ – not trouble or nakedness or danger or sword. He says, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” And we are comforted, even in our tears.

And we know that he sympathizes with us in our weakness, for he, Christ, was like us in every way, yet without sin. He experienced all of our human sorrow and then some. He is the “man of sorrows, and well acquainted with grief”. He even knew the pain of death – death of a loved one, death he would face for us all on the cross.

I imagine those tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy as Lazarus came out of his grave at the command of the Lord. I imagine the mourners, and the sisters, and perhaps even Jesus himself – wept tears anew, tears of joy seeing Lazarus walking and talking and alive.

So too, the empty tomb of Christ would give all of us, his people, cause for weeping tears of joy. For not only is our Lord alive again, but his resurrection means that he has conquered death for us all. He is our forerunner in death and in resurrection – going where we will someday follow. In Jesus we can see our future. In Jesus we have hope and comfort.

When life brings you to tears, remember Jesus wept. Know that he understands. And far from dismissing your tears of pain, he offers sympathy and hope. For as Lazarus was raised, Christ was raised, so we all shall be raised on that great and glorious day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Monday, March 03, 2008

This is a test....

This is a test of the Journal Times Blogging system.

This is only a test. This is to see if my blogger account will send properly formatted blog posts to the Journal Times blog site.

This concludes the test.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Blog Meltdown - New Template

Something went haywire and it looks like I will have to redo my blog template. Pardon the dust while it's under construction.

Sermon - Lent 4 - John 9:1-41

Lent 4
John 9:1-41
“Blind but now I see”

Many of us have trouble with our eyes. If you're around long enough you may need a pair of reading glasses. And while medical advances and the use of laser surgery have made many advances, disease and dysfunction of the eye is something no one wants to see.

But most of us have never been blind. And most of us never will be. Maybe you can imagine it by being blind-folded. Or as you fumble around in the middle of the night. But true blindness – not being able to see at all – we may have a slight chance of it by accident or disease, but at least we weren't born blind, like the man in our Gospel reading. Or were we?

I don't have to tell you that physical blindness is an apt metaphor for being spiritually blind. In fact, in the last few weeks we've heard of Nicodemus, who was blind to some basic teachings of the kingdom, and the woman at the well, whose eyes were also opened by Jesus. Now the man born blind, whom Jesus heals. But as we ponder blindness and sight, sin and forgiveness today, let's also remember that spiritually speaking, we too are blind from birth. Like the lyrics to that favorite hymn, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”.

The disciples saw the man who was born blind, and they wanted to know why such a thing would happen. They assumed that his blindness was a punishment for a particular sin. But they weren't sure whether he himself, or his parents were to blame. When Jesus says, “it was not this man who sinned or his parents” he doesn't mean to suggest that the blind man or his parents were perfect and holy. Jesus is trying to correct their reasoning that bad things happen to bad people (and therefore since I am relatively healthy, I must be relatively good). Baloney. We are all sinners alike, subject to the sometimes fickle effects of sin and death in our world. Throughout the New Testament Jesus repudiates this kind of “you must have deserved that” gloating from pride-filled observers.

Perhaps the disciples were blind to their own blindness. Perhaps they were so focused on this man and wondering what his sin was that they couldn't recall their own. Indeed, Jesus tells us to watch out for logs in our eyes.

But if the disciples had a log in their eye, the Pharisees must have had whole trees. They too, ironically, were blind to the truth. They couldn't see how someone who broke their man-made rules of Sabbath could possibly be one sent from God.

So they interrogate the formerly-blind man. One day soon, they would put the Lord himself on trial. In both cases they were blind to the evidence before them. This Jesus was no mere man, no sinner (like them), but he was and is the Son of God. They were blind. And only later would some of them see.

Their ferocious legalism scared the blind man's parents, but could not squelch the newly-sighted man's confession:

27I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?”
(So it seems they are deaf as well as blind...)

Do you also want to become his disciples?"
(A little bit of sarcasm here, but the man confesses he has become a follower of Jesus.)

28And they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."
(If they truly followed Moses they would follow the one greater than Moses...)

30The man answered, "Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.
(The man is perhaps more amazed at their unbelief than at his own miraculous healing...)

31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.
(Indeed, it is only faith in Christ that our prayers are acceptable to God. Only when we see him does he hear us.)

32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out.
But they too were born in utter sin. They too were blind, even to their own blindness. The truth is this once-blind man had much to teach them about faith in Christ, and yet they couldn't see it. Blinded by their rage, their pride, their legalism and their unbelief, they cast out the supposed sinner and shut their eyes to the sinners in the mirror.

And what of us? Are we the Pharisees? Too proud or stuck in our ways to see Christ for who he is? Too unwilling to hear him for what he says? Or are we once-blind men and women who appreciate the healing he has wrought? For he would come and open our blind eyes. He would first have us see that we are blind – in need of his healing. So we confess our sins. But he would also wash us clean, not in the pool of Siloam, but in the waters of Baptism. He would have us as his disciples. He would have us confess him before men, and we do.

For we have seen – not with our eyes, but with the eyes of faith. When we hear and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the scales fall from our eyes. Our hearts are regenerated, and forgiveness washes over us anew. Like Saint Paul, who was struck blind on the road to Damascus – we must first be struck by the law, see our sin, see our blindness.

Only then does God bring sight. And this sight goes beyond what is seen, for faith has to do with what is unseen. It is the assurance of such things, a rock-solid foundation of trust in God's promises. It sees cleansing of sin in simple baptismal water. It sees Christ's body and blood in humble bread and wine. Faith hears a pastor say, “I forgive you your sins in the name of Christ”, and faith knows it is as if Christ said it himself.

Born blind? Not physically, but spiritually we are. The question is, are you blind to your sin? If you see it, then turn your eyes also to the cross. And there see the answer to such blindness. For in that ugly vision of an innocent man, bloodied and beaten and scorned and rejected and thirsting and dying. There is God's love for sinners, like you and me. There is a sight for sore eyes, Jesus the Savior. And his death opens our eyes. And his open grave opens our grave. And his life forever is our life forevermore. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.