Meant for Good

In Romans chapter 8 we read, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

It can be very hard to believe these Spirit filled words. It can be difficult to see how all things work together for good, for the ones who are called by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel to be saved by faith in Jesus.

There is a lot of evil that happens in the world, in our lives, to those whom we love. The challenge is for us to see beyond the evil that happens to the purposes of God. How can something that is evil be used by God to bring about something that is good?

This conundrum hit the brothers of Joseph head on when they returned to Egypt from burying their father Israel. (Genesis 50) They remembered the evil they did to Joseph in kidnapping and selling him as a slave. In the remembrance of tier sin, they were afraid. They worried that Joseph would now take the opportunity for revenge in the absence of their father.

The saying is true – that hindsight is 20/20. In the midst of suffering and trials, when evil is being done you cannot see how God is working things out for good. All you see is the suffering. All you experience is the evil. The same was certainly true for Joseph.

When the storm clouds pass, then the purposes of God can be seen – by looking back. This is what Joseph does with his brothers. He forgives them, and reminds them that even though their actions were undoubtedly evil, God turned their sinful intentions into good. Because Joseph was sent to Egypt, many were kept alive through famine.

Our Father in heaven is in the business of turning what is meant, and is in reality evil into good. Such is the cross of Jesus. The death of the only Son of God from heaven at the hands of sinful men was worked out by God to accomplish the salvation of all people. Jesus death leading to His resurrection brought about the great good of the salvation of all people by faith in Jesus.

Trust in Jesus leads us to know, even if we do not yet see, that God is working all things for our good, that in Jesus forgiveness and light we may have peace, joy and life.

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Unearned Love

We have all somehow gotten it into our heads that to be loved means that we must be worthy of it. That we must have something that someone desires that they may love us. We believe that if there is nothing in us that is worthy to be loved, than we are not loved. It is likely that we have taught ourselves this by the way we treat one another. Unconditional love is hard to come by in the harsh world n which we live.

Even families are not immune to this way of looking at love. Disappointments and heartache can be found in our homes as we fall short of the expectations of those closest to us, and because of our failures we think we cannot be loved.

This is not the way of God. Jesus goes to great lengths to show us that He loves us first, even though, because of our sin, and stubborn refusal to live according to the Ten Commandments, we are in fact unlovable, our Savior loves us. Even though we have squandered the gifts we have been given. Wasted the talents and treasure God has provided. Selfishly focused on ourselves rather than giving of ourselves for the sake of others, and the good of the kingdom of Christ, Jesus died for us.

Jesus gave His life as a ransom for ours, that by faith in Him we may be made clean. Jesus loves us, and because of His love for us, we are loved in return.

This is truly unconditional love. Our squandered lives and opportunities do not hold back the joy of the Father for our return. He rushes in His Word to meet us. He embraces us with the promise of love in the waters of Baptism, clothing us with the best robe. The Father rejoices that though we were dead in our sins and trespasses, because of His love in sending us Jesus, we are made alive again. Raised by the grace of God in Jesus. While other people may only love what is loveable in us, Jesus loves you, completely, unconditioned. It is this amazing love of Christ that transforms you, heart, soul and mind.

The Marriage of David and Mollee

Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

There is nothing more important in this life for anyone then to pay attention to the Word of God. Hearing and doing is how Jesus puts it in the Gospel lesson we have today.

In my previous vocation, I was a social worker. One of the skills drilled into us as we studied was listening. You see – there is a difference between hearing and listening. Just so we are all clear, when Jesus speaks of hearing and doing – He means hearing and listening. Doing the Word means to believe that what the Bible says is true, and contains many blessing for those who trust in Jesus.

To illustrate – hearing is a passive activity – like listening to the radio while working. The sound is going out, your ears are receiving it, but your mind isn’t exactly registering what the sound is. It is there, but you’re not really paying much attention to it.

Listening on the other hand is active. It is taking in the sound, and then processing it with your mind. Instead of being background noise, hearing that becomes listening focuses in on what is being heard, and makes sense of it. Learns it. Even treasures it.

Now – David, if you can understand this basic distinction from hearing and listening, you can save yourself quite a bit of trouble in this marriage on which you are about to launch yourself. There will come a day – maybe it has come and past already, that Mollee will be talking to you, and you will hear her. You may look like you’re paying attention to her, but you will not actually be listening. Then your wife – the delight of your eyes, and the joy of your youth will say – “Are you listening to me?” David – when this happens, don’t lie. Just say, “I’m sorry – my mind was elsewhere, can you please say that again?” Trust me – if you pretend that you were listening, but were only hearing, whatever Mollee said will come up on the test.

We live in a time and place where there is great confusion about a great many things. On the one hand society at large tells us we can be whatever we feel, and then, with the same breath culture tells us that people are born to be who they are, therefore cannot determine for themselves what or who they become. Confusing, isn’t it? The world can’t seem to decide what male and female are, and mean, and so what marriage is has fallen into great confusion. Let me be perfectly blunt – the reason for the mess of identity confusion many find themselves in is because so many have stopped hearing and listening to the Word of God. Many have fallen for the original lie that we can decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil. With no objective standard of judgment, each person is stuck deciding for themselves what is good and what is bad. What is right and what is wrong. The result is obvious chaos. And destruction. Each person doing what is right in their own eyes.

David, Mollee, God doesn’t want you to be confused. That is why He gave us a book – the Bible. As you today launch your life together as husband and wife, know that God wants what is best for you. Jesus’ desire is to bless you, guide you, and keep your union strong. After all, when God made Adam, and gave Eve His wife, he was crafting for Himself an image of divine love. Male and Female God created humanity, and blessed us to bear His image. An image of sacrificial love and care for each other, and really for all of creation. Each marriage then is a reflection of a greater truth, and greater union of Jesus and the church.

So – as with all things, marriage begins, continues and ends with Jesus.

It is important to remember this David, and Mollee, that as much as you love one another, it is not this that will create, or sustain your marriage. Rather, God Himself is creating your marriage by His Word. This is a far stronger foundation than your feelings. Feelings change, grow, ebb and flow. The work of Jesus in you by His Word doesn’t change. Is always sure and certain.

In the same way, as you live and grow together, Jesus, by His Word goes with you. That’s important to remember – Jesus, by His Word is with you. Far too often we assume that God is with us, even if we’ve left the sure foundation of the excellent Word of Jesus. Our lives are to conformed to His teaching – Jesus doesn’t conform Himself to our fleeting desires so often soiled by sin.

The Bible puts it this way, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” David, and Mollee, your marriage can only be as strong as the third strand of this cord. Make sure to build your house on Jesus. Weave His Word into all you do. When you rise in the morning, and when you lay your head down to rest at night, look to Jesus. Hear His word. And always remember to come together and in His church receive the most precious gift of forgiveness.

Jesus is the ultimate gift giver. Before you were born, Jesus had you in mind, planning who you would be. By His hand you each were woven together in the womb of your mother – fearfully and wonderfully were you made. At the font mercy, in the Word filled water of holy baptism you were washed clean by the Spirit, and given the gift of faith. Baptism being a gift of eternity for you, placing you safely on the ark of Jesus’ mercy and love.

Now – today, David you are given yet another precious gift – a wonderful treasure from the hand of Jesus. You are being given Mollee as your wife. Now David – as with most of the best things given to us in this life, the gift of Mollee as your wife brings with it a set of obligations, of duties. When you make your vows to her, you are making a promise, to the best that you can, to be a husband to Mollee. To love her by sacrificing yourself for her, even as Jesus sacrificed Himself for us all in dying on the cross. Did you know that Mollee – that David is going to promise to die for you? David, lead your family as a man of God, loving and protecting and providing that you may sing the praises of Jesus who died and rose again. Who saved you, and Mollee, and us all by His merciful love.

And Mollee, today you too are receiving from Jesus a precious gift, a wonderful treasure of a David as your husband. A gift Jesus has especially made for you. In response Jesus is asking you to respect and support David, to love and nurture him in sickness and in health, for better or worse, for richer or poorer until death parts you.  As the church loves and follows Jesus, because He died and rose for us, so are you to receive David as your husband in love and faithfulness.

Rains and floods, both literally and figuratively will come. Such is the nature of this world that has been broken by sin. David, Mollee, trust me, these things will come to your marriage. Even so, I can tell you with full confidence, because this is what Jesus Himself tells us in His Word, that when you stand on the rock that is Jesus and His Word, nothing can overcome you, because nothing can overcome Jesus. He is victor over all that threatens our homes and lives, and with Him beside you, and with you in your marriage, David, Mollee, your marriage will be blessed. Amen.

This Beautiful, ugly life.

Funeral sermon for Rebecca Lynn Schoenke

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Life – in all its forms, is beautiful. Yet, at the same time, life can be ugly – life in this world can by hard. This is a truth that we do not often like to admit to, yet so very often plays out before our very eyes. Life is hard, and yet at the very same time it is beautiful.

Becky’s life was both beautiful and hard at the same time.

We are here today because the beautiful life of Becky – a person loved by God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus has ended. She has fought the good fight, she has finished her race, and in the end, she held on to the truth that in the midst of the sorrows and suffering of this earthly life, Jesus, her savior loves her, forgives her, and has carried her home in His arms, where she now lives in the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to her in the waters of Baptism. When Jesus put His cross on her, and made her His own by the washing of rebirth and renewal in the work of God the Holy Spirit.

To Becky’s family and friends – grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today, as we reflect on Becky’s life, and attempt to make sense of her death we are invited by Jesus to reflect on His words from the Gospel of John – words that are probably the most known, most memorized words of the Bible – “For God so loved the World, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

These are, undoubtedly beautifully comforting words. That God, the creator of all things so loves you that He would sacrifice His only begotten Son on the cross of your sin that you may not be lost forever in sin and death, is the highest expression of love. For it is the love of our Savior who gives everything. First, in creating us, and second in making us new by the sacrifice of Jesus. By the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Sacrifice is the highest expression of love.

Something a mother, like Becky, knew very well. Sacrifice for the sake of family.

Now – I can tell you, without a doubt that Becky believed in Jesus. As she battled cancer, a terrible disease, she fought knowing that her eternal life was secure, for Jesus’ blood was shed for her. With her mouth she ate and drank the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for her, for the forgiveness of all her sins, that she may focus, not on wondering if God loves her, or worried that she may go to hell if she died – she knew Jesus wouldn’t send her there, for His love covered all her sin. Rather, because of Jesus’ love for her, Becky was able to focus on the things that mattered to her in this life.

A question I often ask those I have the privilege of caring for near the end of this earthly life, a question I asked Becky in the face of her own fight with cancer was “Are you afraid to die?”

Becky’s answer was very revealing about where her heart and faith were at that time. She said no……. and yes.

Becky wasn’t afraid to die in that she knew, because Jesus told her, that she would not be condemned for her sins. Jesus came into the world not to condemn us in our sin, but to rescue us from it. This Becky knew by faith, and now knows by sight. She, along with St. Paul, and all the baptized saints of Jesus confessed that “To live is Jesus, and to die is gain.”

Her fear of dying then was not for herself. Rather, her fear was centered on those left living here on earth – her family – “The kids” – and her friends. As it is with many of us, she was guilty of believing if she were to leave, then the rest of us would all fall to pieces.

Actually, what this shows is that Becky had a keen sense of what was of most importance in life. First, faith and trust in Jesus, and second, love for our neighbor – love, care, and concern for her family.

The reason there is beauty in this life – the reason Becky’s life was beautiful – the reason your life is beautiful is all of us are created by a loving God. Each person intimately woven together as we grew in the wombs of our mothers, and throughout all of our lives. The Bible reminds us that we are created in the image and likeness of God. That is, Christ Jesus has put Himself into each of us that we may reflect to one another the love God has for us. A love that leads to sacrifice for the sake of the other. A love which finds its full expression in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

The reason then that there is harshness, ugliness, and death in the word, in our lives is because of sin. What God created to be very good was ruined by our insistence to be our own gods. To decide for ourselves what is good and bad. At its heart, ugliness in life is nothing short of selfishness – putting yourself, what you want, above the needs and considerations of others.

It is this sin that is manifested by things like cancer. Things that eat and destroy our bodies and souls. Things that mar the beauty of God as seen in every human face with the scowl of self-centeredness. The Bible puts it this way, “For the wages of sin is death.” Sin destroys. Sin divides. Sin kills.

But Jesus came, not to condemn the world, not to condemn you. Truth be told, we are pretty good at condemning one another and ourselves all on our own. Rather, Jesus came that we may, in Him, find shelter. Find rest and peace in knowing that our sins are forgiven by His blood. That we may be rescued by Jesus. Baptized into His cross Becky has been raised with Jesus. And even though we are here today because Becky has died – her ashes a reminder of the harshness of this sin filled world, we know by what Jesus says in His Word, that death does not get to have the last word. Not today, not ever.

Yes – Becky died, but she died knowing and trusting in an eternal truth. Jesus loves her. Jesus forgives her. Jesus has taken her to Himself.

By baptism into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit you too have died. You who by faith hear and trust the Word of Jesus are pinned by nails to the cross – for that is where Jesus was, crucified and dead on the cross. And really – this is all we need in the face of death – this truth that all those who trust in Christ, the resurrected Savior, who seek from Him, from His Word His life giving absolution – His forgiveness given by baptism and faith – this reality, born of faith in Christ, received in the waters of baptism is all we need when our loved ones die. For real comfort in the face of death is found only in Jesus. Found only in His Word.

By baptism and faith Becky, who we today both mourn and celebrate, is now at peace and rest with Jesus, even as Becky is no longer with us here on earth. Jesus’ victory is sure and true, even when life here on earth speaks a different word.

Today we shed tears at the loss of a dearly loved woman of God. Yet this is not the end. As Baptized people of God, we are an Easter people. Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. As Christ Jesus lives, never to die again, so Becky now lives in heaven with her Savior, never to die again. As Jesus lives, so we live in faith. Our hope is in this amazing love shown to us in the body of Jesus as He sprung back to life.

Joined to our dear Savior, Becky, and all who place their trust in Jesus will spring to life and be united together in the peace of heaven.

As we lay to rest a beloved Daughter, mom, grandma, and friend we do so in the sure hope that we will see her again. We do so with tears of joy that her trials are ended, her suffering is over, and that she is truly at peace with God.

As Jesus lives, so we too will live. As Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will all who trust by faith in Jesus be raised, and we will stand with Job, with Becky, and all the faithfully departed and see Jesus with our very own eyes! Amen.

Come In

According to the Bible, the righteous are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. To keep the Word is to trust in the saving promises of Christ, and turn to Jesus in all times of trouble of body and soul, for it is the Lord alone who can comfort and save. This faith in Jesus then is the foundation for true wisdom. Wisdom that seeks help from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

The virtue of wisdom is a gift from above, given that we creatures may walk in a manner befitting a child of God. Proverbs pictures wisdom as a prudent, hard working woman, diligent in her task, and abundantly generous with her gifts. The Bible teaches that wisdom points to one simple, yet true world view, “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

This fear of the Lord is a deep respect, and love of Christ Jesus, whose life became the ransom price for us all. In Him, that is, by faith in Jesus, wisdom teaches us that we have a share in His kingdom of grace and light.

It is wise then, for the soul who trusts in Jesus, to turn to the Lord and answer the invitation.

Jesus, by His work on earth of preaching God’s Word. By His suffering and death, and by His resurrection has made ready the wedding feast. Our bridegroom has prepared a feast of rich food, and well-aged wine, a meal prepared for the poor, and the downtrodden. A feast given for we who know our only hope is if God saves us.

Jesus has sent out His servants, called and ordained to invite you to come in. Come in to the feast where the host, Jesus, offers Himself as the food of life. Come in to the presence of God, who washes away all our stains and sins, that we may be refreshed in Him. Come in to the divine service, where our divine King brings joy by His Word.

Blessed, Holy Trinity

The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. We worship the Divine unity and the blessed Trinity. One God, undivided essence. Three persons.

It is this most blessed holy Trinity that the prophet Isaiah, in a vision granted to him in the year that king Uzziah died saw shrouded in billowing clouds of smoke that filled the heavenly temple. To see God, the Holy Trinity in His unveiled glory is a terrifying experience. Even veiled by smoky incense, Isaiah, in chapter 6 declares his own doom, for no sinner can see God and live. Isaiah is a man of unclean lips who comes from a people of unclean lips. This fear of the prophet as he stood in the presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is born of the Law. The Law shows us to fall short of perfection, and the holiness of the Lord overcomes all that is imperfect. The Law lays us bare, and shows us our need for rescue. A rescue we cannot obtain by ourselves.

We need atonement.

Atonement, from a Biblical perspective is a rescue from death and sin to be sure, but it is more than that. It is the act of someone else made in order that you may be clean. The nature of atonement is that someone else pays the penalty sue for the transgression, and in so doing, making the guilty party new. As though they were never stained by sin.

Jesus’ crucifixion is the pinnacle of the work of the Holy Trinity to save His beloved creatures, to save you and me, for only in the cross is God fully know to us. The fullness of the Lord cannot be known by us, for He is all things. God is a being too large for our minds. Therefore, out of grace, mercy, and live for us, Christ has condescended to our level. He became flesh and bone, to show us who He is, what He does to create, save and make us holy.

The cross of Jesus then is where we see the Father’s love begotten in the merciful giving of Jesus to die, and rise again, that the Holy Spirit may bring faith and comfort to souls oppressed by sin. Light form darkness. Life from death, and faith from stony hearts.

In Christ Alone

It is solely by the grace filled mercy of God that sinners are able to come to the Lord in prayer, seeking the favor of God in the forgiveness of sins. Apart from Jesus then, it is fruitless to plead favor from God, for these pleas, if not centered in the love and mercy of Jesus death and resurrection are an appeal to human works. It is a common theme found in stories of the man or woman making a promise to God if only God would grant them their prayer. The Lord isn’t interested in your bargain, for He is far more generous than that.

The reason God, in the beginning creates all things, creates humanity is not that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are incomplete. God is complete in and of Himself. Rather, God creates that we may be. That we may delight in our loving Lord, and live, and serve one another in love. Jesus desire is to come and make His home with us. That in Him we may find shelter, peace, and warmth.

This home of God with us, the very presence of the crucified and risen Lord is found in the church, the communion of all the saints.

Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven to assume His throne of glory, the disciples are found gathered together once again in the same room Jesus gave to them His body and blood under bread and wine to eat and to drink. They were waiting.

Much of our lives are lived waiting. We have built rooms for waiting. Usually, what we are waiting for is a good thing, though not always. In the case of the disciples of Jesus, their ten day wait was for the gift of power from on high.

On the feast of Pentecost, the reminder of both the wilderness wanderings of God’s people, and their rescue and planting in the Promised Land, Jesus fulfilled His promise. The Holy Spirit is sent as a rushing wind, and tongues as of fire. The power displayed was the birth of the church on earth, for by the Word the Holy Spirit is sent to speak, in all languages the mighty works of God, the death and resurrection of the Christ for the salvation of all. The Holy Spirit is sent, that God may make His home among us. That the Lord may dwell with us, His people.