Easter 3 – "We Shall Be Like Him" – 1 John 3:1-3 – 4/19/15

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“SEE WHAT KIND OF LOVE THE FATHER HAS GIVEN TO US, THAT WE SHOULD BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD; AND SO WE ARE.”

THE WHOLE THING SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. The ‘prodigal son’ couldn’t wait for the ‘old man’ to croak so he could get his hands on his inheritance and start spending it. He demands it UP FRONT, before his father dies. And the Father gives it to him. And the son squanders it all RECKLESS LIVING. And when the son is broke and hungry, has the nerve to return home and ask his father for a job doing yard work or painting the barn or cleaning toilets. He has given up the idea of ever being called ‘a son’ again. A ‘hired hand’ was all he was hoping for.

Oh, but when his father saw him yet a ‘long way off,’ he ran to him and threw his arms around him and kissed him, bedecked him with all of the emblems of sonship, and declared loud enough for the whole community to hear, “This MY SON, was lost but is found, was dead but is alive.”

“SEE WHAT KIND OF LOVE THE FATHER HAS GIVEN TO US, THAT WE SHOULD BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD; AND SO WE ARE.”

THE WHOLE THING DOES SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. But because of Jesus Christ, the whole thing is really TOO GOOD NOT TO BE TRUE. For if it is not true, we are all lost and there is no hope of ever being saved from our sin.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans :6-8)

It’s “Love for the loveless shown that they might lovely be. Oh, who am I that for my sake, my Lord should take frail flesh and die.” (LSB #430:1)
“SEE WHAT KIND OF LOVE THE FATHER HAS GIVEN TO US, THAT WE SHOULD BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD; AND SO WE ARE.” It’s all too good NOT TO BE TRUE.

The thing that makes all of this hard for us to comprehend let alone accept, is that this is ‘UP FRONT LOVE.’ It’s ‘love for no good reason,’ except that God chooses to love you.

Love like this is hard for us to understand, let alone appreciate, let alone believe.

We keep looking for the ‘price’ buried somewhere in the fine print, because EVERTHING comes with a price. You can waste an entire CHILDHOOD searching the fine print for the ‘catch.’

But there is no catch. The ‘price’ has already been paid in full by God. UP FRONT. “BELOVED, WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN NOW…”

All of the rights and privileges that come with being one of God’s dear children are yours NOW, in the present – UP FRONT, NO WAITING. The death has already occurred. The inheritance has already been paid out – IN FULL. Forgiveness, peace, security, blessedness, “an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous,” the perfect love of God, eternal life – all ours, NOW. The Father’s guidance in all your ways; His care and protection in all you do; even His discipline, for what loving father doesn’t discipline his beloved children. All of it. Ours. Now.

EVEN IF IT IS ‘by faith alone.’
EVEN IF IT IS hard to see.
EVEN IF IT IS hard to believe.
EVEN IF IT IS only because THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO.

Just because you can’t always SEE it or FEEL it, or should I say, just because it doesn’t LOOK like you thought it would, just because it doesn’t FEEL like you want it to FEEL, doesn’t mean it isn’t REAL; doesn’t mean it isn’t TRUE.

“How can we be sure” you ask? “How can we be sure that we are “CHILDREN OF GOD – NOW”?
• Do I look inside myself and ‘examine my heart?’
• Do I look at my behavior and see if I’m ACTING like a ‘child of God?’
• Do I look at the circumstances of my life and ‘read them’ like a ‘gypsy’ reads the lines in my palm?

Of course not. Whenever you want ASSURANCE that this is about YOU, that God loves YOU, and you are HIS CHILD NOW, you never look inward at yourself OR outward to the circumstances of your life – but outward to GOD’S WORD. For HIS WORD IS ALWAYS TRUE.

“See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be CALLED, children of God.”

Remember that this is JOHN’S letter to the church and to you. And John loves to go back to the very beginning of things. Remember how John begins his gospel,

“In the BEGINNING was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” (John 1:1) Remember how John started this letter? “That which was from the BEGINNING, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes…”

In the beginning, God CREATED EVERYTHING and EVERYTHING HE CREATED He CALLED something. “God CALLED the light day and the darkness He CALLED night.” “He CALLED the dry land earth and the waters that were gathered together He CALLED Seas.” And whatever God CALLED it, THAT IS WHAT IT WAS, and it still is. There was never a doubt that it was what God called it.

So when John writes, “we are CALLED children of God,” there’s no doubt about it. “And so we are.” God CALLED you MY CHILD in your baptism where He gave you His name – “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit;” where He gave you your inheritance – His life and His love.

John takes us back to the beginning again when he writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

After God created the world with all of its parts and pieces, all perfectly made and everything in perfect working order, He was ready to make a perfect man to live in His perfect world. In the counsel of the Holy Trinity, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our LIKENESS.” (Gen.1:26).

The ancient philosophers had a saying that “like is known only by like.”

Whether they were thinking of Genesis or not, that’s where the principle comes from. “Like is known only by like” means that we can only truly know and understand what is ‘like’ us. What is not ‘like’ us remains a mystery to us. We can’t really know or understand it.

In the beginning, God made Adam ‘LIKE’ Him so that Adam could KNOW GOD and UNDERSTAND GOD. That doesn’t mean that when God made Adam, Adam was a god like God is God. That’s where the Mormons get it all wrong.

Adam was not made of the same ‘essence’ as God. But he was ‘like’ God. He was in the ‘image’ of God. Adam KNEW God and SAW God – AS HE IS. “In His essence.” Adam could comprehend the love of God in its fullness. He knew the height and the depth and the width of the love of God FOR HIM.

God is pure and holy. As we heard John describe it last Sunday, “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5).

Adam was LIKE GOD in this way. Only that which is pure and holy can see that which pure and holy. “Like is only know by like.”

This is the way God created Adam. And God’s intention was that Adam and Eve would fill the earth with little Adams and Eves and everyone would KNOW GOD and KNOW HIS LOVE FOR THEM.

So when we talk about the ‘fall of man,’ this is the height that what we fell from and the depths in which we live.

The serpent’s temptation to Eve was that if she ate the forbidden fruit, she would be “LIKE GOD,” which she already was.

This is the deception of the devil. In his craftiness, he promises you what you already have from God. “For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be LIKE GOD, known good and evil.”

Which is such a ridiculous deception. How can you be ‘LIKE GOD’ AND know GOOD and EVIL. If you know EVIL then you are NOT LIKE God because GOD IS GOOD in whom there is NO EVIL.

John writes, “If we say we have fellowship with God while we walk in darkness, we lie…” God has no ‘communion’ with darkness. You can’t walk with God AND walk with sin. The two are so mutually exclusive. You cannot have the one AND the other.

The serpent promised that their EYES WILL BE OPENED. But the truth is, their eyes were closed. As soon as Adam and Eve did what God forbid them to do, they became blind to God.

We cannot see God AS HE IS. The LIGHT OF HIS FACE would be too intense for us and it would kill us if we were to see Him. Moses asked if he could see God’s face and God answered saying, “no one can see my face and live.” (Exodus 33:20).

In His mercy, God shows Moses His backside, and that’s enough for Moses. He knows that God sees him even though he cannot see God – and for Moses that’s enough. And it’s enough for us too.

God sees us and we are always in full view before Him. But we cannot see Him. For our sake, He remains hidden from our sight behind what He is not – a pillar of cloud and fire, a lamb and a goat sacrificed on an altar, a crucified man named Jesus of Nazareth. And now in these last of days, hidden under water, bread, wine.
Since we are no longer ‘like’ God, we cannot FULLY KNOW God. We don’t understand His ways and why He does the things that He does. We cannot comprehend WHAT KIND OF LOVE HE HAS FOR US let alone believe it or respond appropriately to it.

But this is not the end of the story. GOD’S WILL, WILL BE DONE. John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children NOW, but what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM, for we shall see Him AS HE IS.”

It is not God who will change. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. But as Paul puts it, “we shall be changed, in a flash, in a twinkling of an eye.” (1 Cor. 15:52). And what a change it will be.

This present “LIKENESS” that we have to sin and darkness will fall away like a log over a Niagara Falls. And we will LIKE GOD “in whom there is no darkness at all.” As Paul puts it, “We shall know [God] fully, even as we are fully known” by God. (1 Cor. 13:12).

This is Easter’s victory. God’s purpose for men and women from the beginning, has been accomplished. “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” on the 6th day. And “We shall be like Him” on the last day. GOD’S WILL, WILL BE DONE.

God has accomplished His purpose for us in His Son Jesus Christ, who is the ‘likeness of God,’ even the same essence as God. And who is also the likeness of man, even the same essence as us.

What the first Adam, by his disobedience forfeited FOR US ALL, the last Adam by His obedience has restored FOR US ALL.

The darkness has not overcome the light. Rather, on Easter Sunday, the light shattered the darkness.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared…” It’s all just too good NOT TO BE TRUE.

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Easter 2 – "We Have An Advocate With the Father" – 1 John 2:1-2 – 4/12/15

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“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

An ‘advocate’ is someone who pleads for someone else; sometimes to a judge and jury; sometimes to lawmakers; sometimes to the public.

You name the cause and there’s an advocate pleading someone’s case.
• There are ‘advocates’ for the natural gas industry and advocates for those opposed to natural gas.
• There are ‘advocates’ for the illiterate, for the visually impaired, for ‘endangered species.’
• There are gun-control advocates, health care advocates, gay rights advocates, same-sex marriage advocates, human rights, men’s rights, women’s rights and animal rights advocates.

What parent hasn’t ‘advocated’ for their children if they needed some special help at school?

We swim in sea of ‘advocates.’ Continue reading

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Easter – "The Deep Law of Life" – Mark 16:1-8 – 5/5/15

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There’s a big difference between our celebration of Easter here and that of those who experienced Easter for the first time at the tomb.

• We’ve come here this morning fully expecting that we will NOT find things still shrouded in the darkness of death as they were when we left here on Good Friday.
• But the three women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning were fully expecting to find nothing else but the body of Jesus right still shrouded in Joseph’s linen, right where they had seen Him laid.

• We have come here with our all four chambers of our heart, fully loaded, just waiting for the signal so we can fire off that response we’ve been waiting for the last 40 days with – “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!”
• But when the women heard the angel say “He is risen” “they fled for trembling and astonishment and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” What kind of response to the good news of Easter is that?

We shouldn’t judge them too harshly though. If there’s one thing that St. Mark wants to make a point of in his gospel, it’s that whenever anyone stumbles upon God’s MIRACULOUS UNEXPECTED, it always causes MORE FEAR THAN JOY.

• When Jesus calmed the stormy sea, we would have EXPECTED that the disciples would have responded with a ‘praise the Lord.’ But instead, Mark tells us, “they were filled with great fear.” (4:41).
• When Jesus exorcized the legion of demons from the man and sent them into the heard of pigs, rather than thanking Him the people who witnessed it were afraid of Him. (5:15).
• When Jesus walked on the water to His disciples on the stormy sea, instead of greeting Him with a, “great to see you,” “they all saw him and were terrified.” (6:50). Continue reading

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Maundy Thursday – "Let A Man Examine Himself" – Mark 14:12-25 – 4/3/15

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The Sacrament of the Altar was instituted by Jesus on Maundy Thursday in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. No one except His 12 apostles was present. Jesus knew that He was about to be betrayed and handed over to Jews and He wanted this night to happen without interruption or interference. Not even a servant is present to wash their feet when they come into the room lest His location be leaked to His enemies.

This is the reason that Jesus sent just 2 of His disciples to prepare the meal. His instructions to them are so mysterious that none of them, not even the two, are sure of the place He is talking about. “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The teacher says, ‘Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples. And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” Try plugging that into your GPS.

Judas, the one who would betray Him, is in the room. By the time he is dismissed, it will be too late to lead the soldiers to this place to arrest Him. Continue reading

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Palm Sunday – "He Came To Die" – John 12:12-19

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He was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judea, grew up in Nazareth of Galilee, baptized by John at the Jordan River. He recruited disciples and traveled throughout the land of Israel. Some thought He was John the Baptist, some through He was a prophet, some called Him Rabbi, teacher. Some called Him, ‘Lord.’ Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”

• He taught people about God and the Kingdom of God and the people were amazed because ‘He taught with authority’, unlike all the other teachers, even the demons obeyed Him.
• He performed miracles, demonstrating a power over nature and over the human body. He even raised the dead. And those who witnessed it were ‘greatly afraid.’
• He pronounced absolution on sinners, forgiving their sins before God, and the forgiven worshipped Him.

All of this would have been enough to solidify His reputation in history forever.
• No person has ever done what Jesus did.
• There has never been anyone like Him, nor will there ever be.
• Jesus Christ is without a doubt, the most famous man in history.

And yet, this is not what He came into the world for. For none of this accomplishes what He came to accomplish. His purpose could only be fulfilled in one way – HE MUST DIE.
• Only by His death is the world that He created, ‘redeemed’ from sin and death and destruction.
• Only by His death is God the Father reconciled to rebellious men and women whom He created in His own image.
• Only by His death are the unjust justified and the wrong made right before God.
• And only by His death is God glorified. Continue reading

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Lent 3 – "The 10 Commandments Are Good" – Exodus 20:1-17 – 3/8/15

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After the events of this past week and all that has taken place, I wanted to preach a ‘simple sermon’ this morning. And so this morning, we will consider the 10 Commandments. A very small subject. My first thought was that in the 20 minutes that we usually devote to a sermon, I would give each Commandment a simple, 2 minute explanation. But even that seemed like it would probably get too complicated.

So, this morning I want to make just one, simple point about the 10 Commandments. And the simple point is this: “The 10 Commandments are good.” To which the proper liturgical response would be: “well daahh.”

So, let’s give it a try and see how it goes.

“You shall have no other gods besides Me.” So, right off the bat, we’ve got a problem. We’re already not so sure that this commandment is good. It’s a little too restrictive. Everyone knows that the problem with Christianity is that it’s too darn exclusive and needs to be more inclusive of other religions and other gods. This commandment is not good.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord, your God.” This is a good commandment. The name of God is precious and sacred, to be treated with honor and dignity – not to be misused. In fact, we think this commandment is so good that we hesitate to use God’s name at all for fear of misusing it. It’s better to just let the pastor use God’s name. He’s been properly trained. Continue reading

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Funeral – Herb Schartner – "To Die Is Gain" – Philippians 1:21-23 – 3/7/15

St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” (Philippians 1:21-23).

It didn’t used to be that way.

It used to be that death was the dreaded end of life. And the very thought of death sent chills down the spine something like being pushed over the edge of a cliff into a deep dark unknown below.
It used to be that the death of a loved one caused great sorrow and weeping for the deceased.

All that changed however one early morning when several women went to the tomb where their beloved friend had been buried just three days before. They went with tears in their eyes and spices in their hands to mourn and anoint His body. But when they arrived they found the had been stone rolled aside and two angels, grinning from ear to ear, saying, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”

And ever since that day, people of faith in Jesus Christ have never looked at death the way they used to. St. Paul says, “to die is GAIN…” “to depart and be with Christ is BETTER BY FAR.” Continue reading

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Funeral – Danny Morren – "Do Not Weep" – Luke 17:11-17 – 3/6/15 (Church)

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For his confirmation, I asked Danny to write an essay under the title “What does it mean to be a Christian.” The first paragraph of his essay reads as follows:

“On June 13th, 1999, I became a Christian when I was baptized by pastor Nielsen. It wasn’t because it was pastor Nielsen who baptized me that I became a Christian, but because of what Holy Baptism is… Holy Baptism is God’s word combined with water. Baptism gives us eternal life and deliverance from death and the devil. In Baptism, God sees us as sinless. Even though Christ has given forgiveness of sins to all, a very long time ago, this is when the forgiveness of sins was given to me. In Baptism we are adopted as children of God and united with Christ who received the punishment for our sin and we received the benefits of His salvation and life.”

The service began with these words: “In Holy Baptism, Daniel was clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness that covered all his sin. St. Paul says, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Romans 6:3-5)

If you listen carefully to what Danny wrote in his essay, what you realize is that he was simply making St. Paul’s precious words to the Romans, his own. That is the best that any of us can do. We simply make the Word and Promises of God our very own. Continue reading

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Funeral – Danny Morren – "No One Can Snatch Them Out Of My Hand" – John 6:39 (Funeral Home) – 3/5/15

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? St. Paul makes it sound like once Jesus gets his hands on a person He ain’t going to let go. You can wiggle and squirm all you’d like but He’s not going to let go of you. He’s given you His Word on it. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And there’s nothing, I say, NOTHING more certain than HIS PROMISE TO YOU.

It’s scary to count all weapons that the devil has in his arsenal to try to break the Lord’s grip on you. “Shall tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger. And then if all else fails, the sword.

And Satan unleashed every weapon in his arsenal against Jesus to try to break His promise and open his hand and let you go. He kept turning up the heat and raising the pressure.

At first it was just a few questions in the wilderness. “Did God really say…?” And then, outright accusations about His reputation and character. And then, the threats. And then, the full-blown, mass bombing of ‘TRIBUATION’ and ‘DISTRESS.’ Enough to turn the heart of any of us to say, “Okay, okay. I’ll give you what you want. Just don’t hurt me.” But His grip on you remained firm.

So, Satan unleashed his wolves from hell to ‘PERSECUTE’ Jesus. He was arrested without cause, tried by a crooked judge, condemned to death by cowardly king. He was ‘persecuted for righteousness sake.’ And His hold on you remained secure. Continue reading

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Lent 2 – "John's Question For Jesus"- Matthew 11:2-6 – 3/1/15

Free Text after the suicide death of Danny Morren
Matthew 11:2-6

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I. The Question
John’s question is our question. “Are you the one or shall we look for another?”

This is not the question of a faithless man but a faithful man who wants some assurance that everything is going to be okay – appearances to the contrary.

John is the great preacher of Christ, of whom Jesus tells the crowds, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” (Mat.11:11)

But John’s in prison. And why is he in prison? Not because he was unfaithful. Not because he ran away from his calling like Jonah did. No. John’s in prison simply because he was faithful. Not exactly the way he expected things to go, I’m sure.

And that’s why I say that John’s question is our question. Because things have not gone the way that we expect them to go for the faithful either.

If a righteous and holy God were ruling the universe, things ought to go a lot differently than they do. And we’re not even talking about the ‘world’ here. This is not really about global unrest or the collapse of civilization.

We’re really only talking about one man, one family, one congregation, just doing our best to be faithful to our calling and vocation in life. Only to find ourselves in a dungeon of grief and despair and confusion and doubt.

“He sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Continue reading

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