Every spring, students graduate from Martin Luther College after completing degrees in education, staff ministry, or preseminary studies. And men graduate from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary after completing their training for pastoral ministry. Many graduates from MLC and WLS receive divine calls to serve in the congregations and classrooms of our synod. We thank God for these gifts to his Church. They will serve us and our children with God's Word and carry the gospel to places where we cannot go. This Sunday, we thank God for those who have shared God's Word with us (including our mothers!), and we see how he answers our prayers that he would continue to provide for his Church until he comes again.
Fruit doesn't last. Maybe you've discovered that peach with the fuzz that isn't supposed to be there, that forgotten apple that has turned to mush in your refrigerator. All you can do it throw it away and clean up the mess. But Jesus says that he has chosen us to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16). How do we produce such lasting fruit, and what does it look like?
Do you feel connected to your church? We want you to. That connected-ness is one of the goals of our worship, bible studies, and fellowship events. But even more important than being connected to the congregation is being connected to Jesus by faith. Without that connection, you are spiritually dead. But with that connection that is strengthened and nourished by Word and Sacrament, you are alive and bear fruit that is pleasing to God, including growing in knowledge of God's Word, encouraging fellow Christians, and supporting Christian ministry.
Many of us may not be very familiar with sheep, but, when Jesus calls himself our Good Shepherd, we have an idea of what that means. Sheep need a shepherd to protect them from danger and provide for their needs. We are the sheep. Jesus laid down his life to save ours. Jesus leads and feeds, guards and guides us through his Word. And, in love, he provides shepherds (“pastor” means “shepherd”) in his Church to use that Word to care for his sheep.
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was home to a maximum security federal penitentiary for 29 years. Its location and security measures made escape virtually impossible. Such facilities are usually reserved for the most notorious and dangerous criminals. Imagine being imprisoned under maximum security for telling others about Jesus. That's what happened to the apostle Peter. We learn how he and his fellow believers handled this test of their faith and find strength and confidence in the face of obstacles to our faith and our mission.
As we tell others about our risen Savior, we may often be met with doubt and skepticism. We may even face ridicule and persecution for sharing the Savior we know and trust. But, like the apostles and Paul, the peace that Jesus' resurrection gives us moves us in love to take risks and keep sharing the hope that we have.
How exciting it can be to watch the last-second buzzer beater or walk-off home run, to be surprised by the plot twist in the last scene of the movie or last chapter of the book. If you saw the game or the movie or read the book before, it's not quite as exciting. The devil wants Easter to be that way for us. We know Jesus rose from the dead. It's no surprise. So what? But the truth is, the true (and familiar) story of Easter is your story. It's about your life every day and about your life forever. It gives every day meaning, purpose, hope, and joy, no matter what else we may be dealing with.
This Sunday, we watch a man ride into Jerusalem in triumphal procession. Who is he? He is Jesus, the King of kings most lowly, the King of kings who unlike any other king has come to save us. Welcome him and follow him. Throw the robes of your own righteousness under his feet, so that he may dress you with the robe of his righteousness. Wave the palm branches God made and gives, those symbols of eternal life, in salute. Blessed is he, for he will finish what he has begun!
You've seen the scene. You have probably even been part of it. One person stretches out their arms, inviting another person to come closer to receive a hug. It could be a parent inviting a young child to take their first steps, a family member meeting someone at the airport, or a caring friend who sees their friend hurting. Jesus stretched out his arms to draw us to himself too, but it was for much more than a hug. As he stretches out his arms to die on the cross, we see him for who he really is.
Because He Knew...He Promised Salvation through Faith
3/11/2018Pastor Wagner John 3:14-21
Are you longing to feel loved? Are you aching for acceptance? It is natural for us, whom God created as social beings, to want others to like us, to approved of who we are and what we do. Since God created us for a relationship with him, it is natural for us to seek his love and approval as well. Incredibly, that love and acceptance happens not because of what we are or do, but because of what he is and does for us.
So many things want to get in the way of the work and worship of God's church. So many obstacles want to interfere with the blessings God desires to give us through his Word and Sacraments. Because Jesus loves us deeply, he wants to remove whatever would interrupt the work he came to do and the gifts he wants to give to us.
Because He Knew...He Prepared His Disciples for the Cross
2/25/2018Pastor Wagner Mark 8:31-38
The season of Lent is counter-cultural. How little our world wants to hear about sin and repentance. How quickly they want to tune out talk of suffering and a cross. And yet, the cross always comes before the crown - for Jesus and for us. Jesus prepares us for life under the cross as we wait for the crown of heaven.
Because He Knew...He Preached the Good News of the Kingdom
2/18/2018Pastor Wagner Matthew 1:12-15
In the wake of the tragedies of the past two weeks, many have searched frantically for good news. The shooting of police officers was followed by stories of the lives they've touched and the "good news" that the one who bought the gun for the murderer had himself been arrested. The shooting of dozens of students in Florida was followed by the heroic stories of people like Aaron Feis who died protecting others. Jesus knew well about tragedies of the past and those still to come (including the "injustice" of his own death). And he provided the good news we all needed to hear.
It's the kind of sight that takes your breath away - a beautiful sunset, a view from a mountain, an exquisitely dressed bride. It's the kind of place you don't want to leave - a retreat from the stress, an escape from the worries, a glimpse of something greater still to come. You don't want it to end. That's how Peter, James, and John felt one day on a mountain with Jesus. But Jesus gave them that moment to prepare them for something still to come - for him, for them, for us.
Are you a planner? The busier life gets, the more important calendars and budgets and schedules and task lists become. And we generally put the most time and effort into planning the things that mean the most to us. (Think about how much planning often goes into a wedding.) When it comes to our giving to the Lord, planning is not only wise. It also pleases the Lord. Gifts given thoughtfully, intentionally, regularly, and wholeheartedly reflect lives devoted to our Lord, and the Lord receives them as sweet-smelling gifts of love.
It can be a lot of fun giving gifts to those we love...choosing the gifts, carefully wrapping them, watching their reaction as they open them. If you watch some children give church offerings, they are just as excited. They can't wait for the offering plate to come by so that they can put their quarter in! God wants us to find the same joy that believers of every age have found in responding to our generous God.
If you followed someone around for a few days, listened to everything they said, watched how they spend their money, and saw how they used their time, you would probably have a pretty good idea of what mattered to them. If someone followed you, what would your life show about your heart? If we followed God, what would we learn about his heart?
Are you a generous person? Do you enjoy sharing what you have with others? For the next four weeks, we'll consider how God wants us to be generous with what we have. And that generosity is truly joyful when it recognizes the gracious God who has been so generous in his blessings to us.
We put our faith in a lot of things. We trust that the lights will turn on, when we flip a switch. We trust that the drivers around us will (generally) observe the rules of the road. We trust that doctors will give us a correct diagnosis and treatment for our illnesses. But such faith will inevitably disappoint us at some point. Our Christian life is all about faith, but whom or what we put our faith in makes all the difference.
This sermon is the fourth in a series of four sermons focused on key truths of the Lutheran Reformation - that our salvation is in Christ alone (November 26), by grace alone (December 17), through faith alone (January 7), as revealed in the Scriptures alone (November 5).
We put our faith in a lot of things. We trust that the lights will turn on, when we flip a switch. We trust that the drivers around us will (generally) observe the rules of the road. We trust that doctors will give us a correct diagnosis and treatment for our illnesses. But such faith will inevitably disappoint us at some point. Our Christian life is all about faith, but whom or what we put our faith in makes all the difference. Our theme for this Epiphany Sunday is "Faith Alone.” And our sermon, based on Hebrews 1:1-2,8-12, is entitled, "Believing is Seeing." We hope you will join us!
In these last few days of 2017, you can find many reviews of the past year online, on TV, and in newspapers and magazines--the biggest news stories, the latest trends, the things that have changed. Social media channels can also give you a review of your personal highs and lows from the past year. As our world and our lives constantly change, it is so comforting to rely on a God who never changes. Bring your ups and downs, your sins and successes, and close out the year with God's comfort and strength.
This time of year can be costly. The gifts, the food, and the travel all cost money. The stress and the deadlines can cost us our mental, emotional, and physical health. God wants to give you a gift this Christmas - a gift the covers your greatest debt, the debt of your guilt and sins - and the good news: it comes at no cost to you!
This sermon is the third of four sermons focused on key truths of the Lutheran Reformation - that our salvation is in Christ alone (November 26), by grace alone (December 17), through faith alone (January 7), as revealed in the Scriptures alone (November 5).
A little child keeps asking during Advent: Is Christmas here yet? As with the same eagerness for our Savior's coming, we ask: How come it takes so long? But Jesus promises to come, and he will never break a promise. So let's not lose heart. Let's not get distracted. Let's keep craning our necks and standing on tiptoe, busy with obedience to his Word and cherishing each proclamation of the message that helps us to prepare to receive him when he comes.
A new church year begins with the season of Advent. Advent is a season of watchfulness and waiting. But we aren't just waiting for Christmas and the celebration of our Savior's first coming. We are also waiting for his coming again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. Are you ready? Are those you love ready? Through Word and Sacrament God points us to our Savior's first coming to prepare us for that great and dreadful day of his coming again.
Frank Sinatra famously crooned, "I did it my way." And that's how many people want to live their lives. I don't want anyone to tell me what to do. I want to be my own boss and live by my own rules. And some insist that we should even be able to get into heaven by going our own way. But God gives us a much better way, the only way, a way in which he does everything for us - the way that is Jesus Christ.
This Sunday is the second of four special services focused on key truths of the Lutheran Reformation - that our salvation is in Christ alone (November 26), by grace alone (December 17), through faith alone (January 7), as revealed in the Scriptures alone (November 5).
"Alleluia" is a Hebrew word that means "Praise the Lord." It is a common word in the songs and psalms of the Old Testament. But we don't hear that word in the New Testament until the final vision of the triumphant saints in heaven recorded in the book of Revelation. There, it is not a word of half-hearted praise, but a word of thunderous and joyous celebration, because Christ has won the victory for us and invites us to rejoice with him! To keep us ready for his return on the Last Day, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the celebration behind the doors of heaven, and he calls us who are invited to that feast "blessed."