Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sermon for 6/17/18: Third Sunday After Trinity

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The parables our Lord tells in today’s Gospel are stories about the compassion and mercy of God. They are touching and heartwarming because they show us to what great lengths our Lord Jesus will go in order to seek us out. He will not abandon us. He will never give up on us. He will do whatever it takes to seek us out. And He will be diligent and relentless.
At the same time, these parables are also stories about the Church. We know this because the goal is not simply to find the one lost sheep, but to return it to the other 99. The goal is not simply to find the one lost coin, but to reunite it in the purse with the other coins. And if we read further in Luke’s Gospel, the goal is not simply the repentance of the lost and prodigal son. Rather, the goal is that this son is restored, reunited, and reincorporated into the family—not as a slave, but as a son, just as he had been before.
With these parables we see how the mercy of God goes. It compels the Lord to seek out the lonely and the separated—those who have unknowingly or even willfully cut themselves off from the Lord and His Church. And the Lord’s mercy compels Him not just to find them, but also to bring them back into the Church. The Lord’s mercy compels Him not just to expend great cost in getting to them, but also in returning them. The lost sheep is not safe until both the sheep and Shepherd are back in the fold. The lost coin is not secured until it is put back where it belongs. And the lost son is not reconciled until he is embraced by his father and welcomed back into the family.
So it is with us. We are not saved until we are “safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church,” as Luther says in his baptismal prayer. That ought to be our constant prayer—for ourselves and for each other. Our prayer ought always be not just that we are delivered from our sinful selves, but also that we live all our days in Christ’s holy Church; not just that we are snatched from the jaws of death, but also that we gathered with the faithful, living and departed, at the Holy Supper; and not just that we are saved from the loneliness into which Satan leads us, but also that the Lord mercifully puts us in His family, the Church, so that our love might be full, both in Him and toward each other.
It is not enough that God in His mercy finds us. He also has the desire, the will, the compassion to bring us to His heavenly home. That is what we see in the parables our Lord tells us. The Shepherd goes searching, not just to seek, but also to save—to place us safely in His fold. And the woman, who depicts the Spirit of God, searches diligently—not for the joy of the hunt, but so that she might make us whole by gathering us with all other faithful Christians. Our Lord seeks us out so that He may return us to where we belong: to His holy Church.
In searching for us, our Lord gives up His life to unite us in His body. This body is known throughout the world in those churches which hold to the doctrine the apostles were sent to preach, who celebrate the Supper our Lord instituted. This is the Church; it is the flock of Christ; it is our Father’s home. It is where the faithful gather: the angels, the archangels, and the whole company of heaven. Here He constantly seeks you when you are determined to go your own way. Here you are protected from the assaults of the devil. Here the Lord continues to extend His mercy to you, until the day when He calls you to unite with Him forever in His eternal home. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sermon for 6/10/18: Second Sunday After Trinity

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The Feast Is Ready

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It was to be the party of the century. The highest of high society was invited. It is understandable, then, why the man in today’s parable became angry when so many people rejected his gracious invitation to his banquet. He had extended an invitation to all, and yet only a very few came to his supper. Many had taken that precious, honorable invitation and flushed it away. Finally the man dis-invited those who refused his gracious offer. “I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.”
How sad for them. This supper to which they were invited is a never-ending one. It is the heavenly Banquet, the everlasting Feast of victory over sin and death and Hell that Jesus Christ has won for all mankind. The supper in this parable is symbolic of eternal salvation; God in grace has issued an invitation to the Banquet to all people. The Holy Spirit, the Servant of the Master, continues to go to all the world, down the streets and lanes of the city, along every highway and behind every hedge, compelling everyone to come in, so that God’s house may be filled for this fabulous Feast.
There still is room—room for us who are beggars in our sins, who come up with poor excuses for not responding to God’s gracious invitation. Yes, the great supper of which the parable speaks is the eternal Banquet, but that Banquet has already started. Our Lord’s proclamation from His cross—“It is finished!”—announced the end of all of the preparations for the Feast. His life of perfect innocence fulfilled the requirement that man live in perfect obedience to the commandments of God. His death fulfilled the requirement that sinful man must die, for He was covered with the guilt of every one of your sins when He died upon that cross. And His resurrection from the dead is the announcement to the world that “all things are now ready.” Nothing more needs to be done for mankind’s salvation from sin. Therefore, the invitation is now extended to all: “Come.”
But still, some refuse to come. The daily grind of this world is their only concern. “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.” “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.” “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” They have taken that gracious invitation and flushed it away.
And before we judge too quickly, let us see ourselves as no different from these men. The Banquet has already begun; now is the time to come into God’s house. The Servant does not say, “Come when you are ready;” He does not say, “Come when you think you need it;” He does not say, “Come when you think it needs to be offered.” He says, “Come, for all things are now ready.” To excuse yourself by saying that you are not ready is to deny the truth of God’s declaration: “All things are now ready.”
Therefore, repent of your hesitation. Repent of thinking you know better than God when He should offer His Supper. Repent of putting first the concerns of life in this world: home, land, work, hobby, or even family; repent and come. Come. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things will be added unto you.” That is God’s promise to you. Come to His Feast, and He will add to you every blessing.
Come. Come to the place to which the Holy Spirit calls you now by the Gospel. Come to the place where you are washed in the grace of your Baptism and dressed in the spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness. Come to the place where the Son of God comes to feed you with His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, a foretaste of the Feast to come. “Come, for all things now are ready.” “Do this in remembrance of me.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sermon for 6/3/18: The First Sunday After Trinity

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

The mercy of God exceeds all hope and imagination. It never runs dry. It lifts us up from the lowest depths. It rescues us from impossible situations. But most of all, the mercy our Lord continually gives allows us to have joy, even when we are in pain; to have hope, even when we are grieving; to look up, even when we are feeling down; to push on, even when we see no way out; to trust, even when we have severe doubts; to do what is right, even when we are deathly afraid; to remain strong, even when we are weak; and to expect great things, even when we are mistreated and dying.
Yet how does this great and abundant mercy of God live in us? Does it come alive only when it is to our advantage? Is it suppressed by our distorted notions of fairness and justice? Does it live without a lively remembrance that we are not worthy of any of the mercies of God? Does it live only when we confess that we are not worthy to have the Lord come under the roof of our soul? Does it only live when we acknowledge that we truly deserve worse than Lazarus—even worse than the rich man in Hades?
The mercy of God is all that gave a man like Lazarus the strength to live each day. He certainly received no strength from the few crumbs he was able to scrounge. In fact, there is little or nothing he can do to improve his lot—except to rely on the mercy of God, and to live from that mercy. It’s easy to see ourselves in this diseased beggar, for we were dead in our sins.
 But what about the rich man? For the sake of charity, let us say that he prayed daily, gave a tenth of all that he had, showed kindness to his staff, doted on his children, helped his brothers, and was tender-hearted and generous toward his wife. Even if this is the case, the rich man ignored poor, sickly Lazarus: the man at his doorstep whose very presence cried out for mercy. Is the mercy of God alive in this rich fool? What good are all these others kindnesses that the rich man doles out to his family and friends if he refuses to have mercy on some stranger? And what does this show us about this man’s reception and response to the mercy of God?
Later on we hear the rich man cry out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me.” But he receives no mercy, precisely because he gave no mercy when he was alive. But Lazarus is comforted and receives the fullness of the Lord’s mercy precisely because he pins all his hopes to God and trusts that, however badly things go, the Lord will care for him—even in ways he cannot see and can hardly believe.
Dearly beloved, we are much better off than poor Lazarus—not just because we have money and food and medicine. We are much better off than poor Lazarus because we are able to receive here, at this altar, the mercy of God in the body and blood of Christ. We are much better off because we don’t have to hope for the kingdom of God. We enter it every time we gather in the name of Jesus in this holy house.
The Lord still continues to come to us, to reach out to us, to draw us into Himself, and to pour into our hearts the soothing and comforting balm of His undying and overabundant mercy. This mercy of God is known only by the Gospel given in preaching and the Sacraments. This mercy of God is initiated solely by God the Father in the sacrifice of His Son, given to us by the sending of the Spirit. It is this mercy which Christ sends out His messengers to preach and administer. It is this mercy which melts our hardened hearts and our self-righteousness. It is this mercy of the Lord which continues to lift us up, and give us hope, and bury our sins. And it is this mercy of the Lord which never rests until we have been carried safely through this life and into the life of the world to come. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.   

Saturday, June 02, 2018

HYMN: O God, Within Your Dwelling Place

For my 800th post, I thought I would share a hymn that I've written for a special occasion. My second congregation here in Southern Illinois, Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, will be celebrating an anniversary this year. I can't remember the number offhand--80, 85, 90? But as I did for St. Peter in Campbell Hill when they celebrated their 125th anniversary, I wanted to mark the occasion with an original hymn text. This one is a play on the Bethel name, "Bethel" meaning "house of God." I've already shown it to the Bethel voters, so I decided I could share it here now instead of waiting for the anniversary service. Let me know what you think. Feedback is love.

O God, Within Your Dwelling Place

 1. O God, within Your dwelling place,
This Bethel, here you share Your grace
With sinners bought with Jesus’ blood:
Rich mercy in a lavish flood.

2. Wash us in that baptismal tide
Which flows from Christ’s own pierc├ęd side.
Then bring us back unto the font
As we confess the sins that haunt.

3. Speak absolution, Gospel sweet,
Through messengers with lovely feet.
Teach us Your Word, that we may cling
To Christ alone, our Savior King.

4. Feed us with Christ, our risen Head, 
In consecrated wine and bread,
And in that sacred wedding Feast
Unite us all, both great and least.

5. Oh, make us Bethel. Dwell within 
The hearts which You set free from sin.
Speak peace, then send us on our way
To love our neighbor ev’ry day.

∆ 6. Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host:
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

© 2018 Alan Kornacki, Jr. (v.6 Thomas Ken)
L M 
Occasion: Congregation Anniversary, Opening of Service

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sermon for 5/27/18: The Holy Trinity

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 Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

For too many people, communion in God is communion only with an idea. They get wrapped up in the idea of some mystical force. Like Bette Midler, they believe that “God is watching us from a distance.” And so they worship only the concept and its majesty. The truth is, we are those people. Whenever we live as if God doesn’t matter; whenever we fudge the truth or sneak to do evil; whenever our prayers are nothing more than a list of complaints and demands; whenever we do not define our existence by what God says and gives to us through His Son, in His Spirit—then God is just an idea, a good luck charm. When you’re wrapped up only in the idea of God, then the focus is on nothing but signs and wonders. “God” is simply a way to explain why things happen the way they do, something to make you feel more comfortable when you feel insecure.

It’s that idea of God—the almighty Being who produces spectacular signs—that Nicodemus has in mind when he comes to Jesus by night. Nicodemus wants to know how Jesus got this idea of God working so well for Him. Jesus is turning water to wine and healing the sick. He has such presence and speaks with unprecedented authority. And you know that “no one can do these signs that Jesus does unless God is with him.”

The answer Jesus gives, though, has nothing to do with God the concept, and everything to do with the Persons of God. Jesus talks about birth—not to point to another miracle and wonder in life, but to express a relationship with the Father, relationship through the Son, relationship in the Holy Spirit. To have God as your God is not to have some correct idea or to stand up for some pious thoughts. To have God as your God is to have God as your Father, His Son as your brother, and His Spirit as your breath and heartbeat. To have God as your God is to be in the Family.

  So Jesus talks about a second birth. It’s not just another spectacular event that makes us part of some other worldliness. It’s not the way we finally get caught up in a mystical divineness. It’s a concrete reality: Holy Baptism is the way in which we are born into God’s family. In those waters, the Father becomes our heavenly Father. In those waters, God becomes no longer an idea and concept; He adopts us. That is the point Jesus is making to Nicodemus. God is no longer just “God;” He is now “Our Father who art in heaven.” We have union with a loving Family. So do not marvel when our Lord says, “You must be born again.” He is not demanding that you go through some religious experience or work yourself up to some emotional high. In Baptism, you are joined to your God and Father; your God lives and moves and breathes in you and through you and for your good.

You cannot pull yourself up to heaven. You cannot reach the loftiness of the Holy Trinity. But your heavenly Father has sent His Son. He came to be your Brother. And as the true and righteous brother that He is, our Lord Jesus endures your suffering, carries your cross, dies your death, and restores and renews your life. In this way, Christ Jesus unites you to His Father. You now have the right to call God your Father. Our Lord Jesus more tightly and intimately binds and unites you to your God. That happens in the Holy Supper, for in partaking of Christ’s body and blood, you commune with God; you abide in Him just as He abides in you.

This is the love the Father has for you. He is not interested in being some abstract God, keeping you at arms length. Instead, God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ brings you into His family and unites you to Himself; He gives you all the rights and benefits of being a son of God and an heir of the heavenly kingdom. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


            The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sermon for 5/20/18: Pentecost

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Renewed and Gathered

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

When Our Lord Jesus commanded His Apostles to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel,” and to preach repentance and remission of sins in His name, He did not leave them to their own devices. Instead, He conferred upon them Holy Spirit; He gave them the authority and the power to give people new life in God. This new life is a restoration of the communion with God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit that you and I were created to have. This was why the Father originally opened His mouth and breathed out His Word and Spirit: not simply to make stuff, but to make men and women, you and me, so that we might share in His life, in a relationship and union that exceeds any intimacy we can desire or imagine. He made us so that we might grow and mature and deepen in that communion.
Whenever we take it into our heads to make God in our image and according to our likeness; whenever we desire to make Him conform to the God we want, rather than conforming ourselves to our Father and His Word in all we do and say; then we have marred and ruined the intimacy and communion. We have separated ourselves from Him and have allowed the devil and his spirits of despair, unbelief, and false hope to rush in.
The original design required our Lord Jesus to come into our flesh, and for the Holy Spirit to draw us ever more deeply into the life that God is. But because of our desire to live for ourselves, because we no longer desire communion with God, because we desire to make God suit our whims, our Lord Jesus changed His mission. Before He could live in our flesh, He would have to restore our flesh. And before He could bolster our union with God, He would have to again make that communion possible. He would be born of Mary. He would live the righteousness we cannot achieve on our own. He would lay down His life as the sacrifice for sin. He would rise again to raise us with Him. And then He sent His Spirit, the Helper, who plants our Lord within us along with all Jesus has said and done for our salvation.
And so the Spirit descends. But He does not land on just Peter or even just the Twelve. The sounds of the rushing mighty wind filled the house where the church was gathered together. He filled that house just as He would fill the whole earth. To the Apostles the Holy Spirit gave the power to give new life, life given just as it was in the beginning—by a mouth, through the Word. And so, because they were all filled with the Spirit, they spoke. They spoke to the very people who had killed the Christ, the very people who had shouted, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
It is an unspeakable miracle and an unfathomable mercy of God that He is willing to take our curses and make them His blessing. And so, by His Spirit, He takes that curse spoken to Pilate against Jesus and now converts it into the most blessed words they could ever hear. The blood of Jesus is what they cried out for. And by the miracle of Holy Baptism, the blood of Jesus is what they got. It fell on them and on their children in a redeeming flood. And by that same Spirit, our Lord Jesus has washed us and generously poured into us His love and His life. In this way, the Triune God comes to us and makes His home in us. In this way He renews our life; our communion with God is restored. We are gathered into His Body, the Church, and in this way we live through Him, with Him, and in Him. And being in communion with the Holy Trinity, we are now also in communion with each other. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
            The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sermon for 5/13/18: The Ascension of Our Lord (observed)

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Christ: Ascended and Present

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Just like the disciples, we look up in the sky in awe. We don’t understand the Ascension. We know what the Bible says—that Jesus was taken up in the cloud and disappeared from the sight of the disciples. But we don’t understand it, and we don’t like those things we can’t understand. It is a stumbling block to the world, because the world only believes the things it can see, and now Jesus has removed Himself from our sight.
There are two things of greatest importance at the Ascension. First, Christ ascended to His Father’s right hand as a human being and not simply as God. When He became a human in Mary’s womb, He denied Himself so that He did not always or fully use His divine attributes as a man. He was still true God, but He did not exercise His powers. If He had, then He could not have been killed, thwarting His very purpose for coming: to keep the Law for us, to be killed as the Sacrifice for our sins.
When it was complete, His body rested in the tomb as a man. The resurrection was the reunion of His human body and soul. Since it was finished, He no longer denied Himself. He passed through the rock and the locked doors in His human body. His appearance was changed in such a way that, although the scars left by the cross remained, He was not easily identified by sight alone. The disciples need faith to know that it was Him, that He was risen from the dead, that He had come in peace.
Then, forty days after the Resurrection, He visibly ascended to His Father’s right hand to receive His place in the Kingdom and rule by His mercy. He ascended as a man, paving the way for us not only out of hell but into heaven. He is there now, as a man, in His body and soul inherited from Mary, with scars on His hands and feet and side.
The second thing of greatest importance regarding the resurrection: He has removed His visible presence. He is not among us as He was among the disciples before the crucifixion. He does not deny Himself at all but fully and always uses all of His divine rights and attributes as a man. Yet He has promised to be among us, to be with us always, to the end of the age.
He is present now with us, not simply according to His Divine nature, but as a man—with us and for us according to His promised bodily presence in the Holy Communion. He reveals this to St. Paul after the Ascension. Even though He has removed His visible presence, in His exalted state His human nature is not limited. As a man, He uses His divine rights and attributes and can be physically present in more than one place.
This, of course, is a mystery. We do not comprehend it. We confess it and believe it. If, by faith, we can worship the Babe in Mary’s arms as the uncreated, eternal Creator of all things, then we should not hesitate to take Christ as His Word and confess that He gives His actual, risen body and blood for us to eat and drink in the Supper for the forgiveness of sins. This we believe according to the accomplished sacrifice of the cross and Christ’s clear word. We do not partake of a simply memorial meal, but we receive the fruit of the cross, the forgiveness of sins, and are joined to Him forever.
And He is here among us today. Our Lord says, “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am with them.” He is with us, speaking, absolving, washing, and feeding us. He is risen and ascended, but He is not gone. Don’t gawk into the sky; come where He promises to be. Don’t look up at the sky; look at bread and wine and water, and see Christ. Then look around and see Him also in your neighbor.  He is with you, just as He promised. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Sermon for 5/9/18: Funeral of Evelyn Bierman

This is the link to Evelyn's obituary.

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Sufficient Grace
ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Our text is written in the 12th chapter of the Second Letter to the Corinthians. We consider these words: “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

We don’t understand how weakness can be a good thing, so there may seem to be a contradiction in the apostle Paul’s words. But it only seems like a contradiction. On the one hand, Christians are to be thankful for the strength and ability God has given them, and they should use these gifts for His service. On the other hand, Christians must also confess their complete reliance on the grace of God, even to the point that they realize that God will use their bodily weakness for their own welfare, for doing His work. Paul was an example of one who both served the Lord and trusted entirely in His mercy. So also was our sister Evelyn, now fallen asleep in the Lord.
The apostle Paul was able to do many things for the Lord. He was blessed with much energy, knowledge, and ability. He went to many places and founded numerous mission congregations. He brought God’s saving Word to many people. He could honestly say, “I have labored more abundantly than all of them.” And yet, in spite of all his service and success, the Lord gave him a certain bodily infirmity. We don’t know exactly what it was, but he asked the Lord to take away this “thorn in the flesh.” The Lord did not take it away, however; He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” The Lord told Paul to depend on the grace of God, and God would use also Paul’s weakness to show forth His strength. By faith Paul was able to say, “Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He was brought even closer to the Lord and learned to rely on the grace of God. His faith in and dependence on his Savior Jesus was strengthened.
Evelyn was also blessed by the Lord with her own unique strengths and abilities. She was not blessed with that vigorous nature that was typical of Paul—at least, not in the years that I have known her. We are all blessed by God in different ways at different times in our lives. Evelyn was much afflicted physically during my eight years here, spending long periods of time in the hospital and longer periods resting at home. Like Paul, there always seemed to be something that was making life difficult for her. And don’t you suppose that, like Paul, Evelyn begged the Lord numerous times to take away the afflictions that were wracking her body? But it would seem that the Lord’s answer to her was the same He gave to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith: when we are weakest is when, in truth, we are strongest, for it is then that the Lord in His abundant mercy lends His strength to our weakness. And so it was that Evelyn’s prayers, and our prayers on her behalf, were answered, though not in ways we might have wished. As her body failed more and more, her faith was made stronger. To be sure, this is a different kind of strength, but it is the strength we should all desire, for it is the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Lord has gathered Evelyn to Himself, to await the resurrection of all flesh at the Last Day. Her body now rests from its labors; she has entered into the joy of the Lord. Her body will live again, but it will be free of all the ills that made these last days so hard. And when that day comes, she will live with the Lord and with all believers in a joy and peace that will have no end. The resurrection and eternal life, which she believed and so often confessed, will be hers, through Jesus Christ who died for her and rose again. God’s grace was sufficient for Evelyn. It is sufficient for you: sufficient unto eternal life. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sermon for 5/6/18: Sixth Sunday of Easter

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Full Joy
ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

When our Lord says, “Ask,” He encourages, invites, and even commands you to pray. When He says, “You shall receive,” He assures you that your prayer will not be futile. More than that, He gives His Word that what you pray will be heard and acted upon. And when the Lord promises that “your joy may be full,” He tells you the benefit of prayer. That benefit is firmly grounded, not in what you say or do, but in what our Lord pledges to give: a joy and delight that not only warms the heart but also fills your entire being. For the joy our Lord promises is not the flesh-pleasing joy centered on material things, or the promises of the world, or whatever else you are convinced will satisfy you and make your life better. After all, those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. But those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
That is why He says, “Set your mind, then, on things above, not on things on the earth.” The benefits our Lord gives are not earthly but heavenly. And the joy He promises is not the self-gratifying joy that so quickly fades. The joy our Lord promises is not only more enduring, but fuller, richer, more abundant. None of this world’s joy can hold a candle to it. And all other joy is nothing compared to the heavenly joy our Lord promises and gives.  It’s not because you can’t have it or experience it until you get to heaven, but because this joy is located in and is given by Him who came down from heaven. The Lord is our Joy. He allows us to stand unafraid before God and the world. This is the joy He promises to give. And this is the joy He desires us to ask for. “Ask,” He implores us. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
To ask Him anything—even for the joy He is—is to pray. Yet most people believe that prayer, like faith, is the heartfelt desire for something. Most believe that to pray is to align your thoughts with God. And most people believe that to pray means that you are immovably sure of whatever you feel will improve your life and make it more livable. What you pray for becomes more important than to Whom you address your prayers. And what you pray for cannot be questioned, since you know what you need.
But our Lord Jesus knows what we need so much better than we do. He’s not a genie in a bottle; He did not come down from heaven to grant your wishes. He did not sacrifice His life to make sure you have the right stuff, to make your aches and pains go away, or to smooth over your rough spots. He came to reconcile you with God. He came to deliver you from eternal death to the life of the Father’s heaven. He came to be your life, so that you never need to fear anything—even death, the devil, or hell—for He has overcome all evil by His death and resurrection. He has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. And He gives to you all that you need to support your body and life. And that should be your prayer.
So what do we say? We say what our Lord says. And what do we pray for? We request whatever Our Lord promises. And what do we ask? We pray that our joy may be full; we pray that our Father through Jesus would create in us a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within us; we beg Him to cast us not away from His presence, and take not His Holy Spirit from us; and we plead with Him to restore unto us the joy of our salvation, and uphold us with His generous Spirit. For when we pray in that way, we have said what He says; we have asked for what He delights to give. And then our joy will be full. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Sermon for 4/30/18: The Funeral of Melba Baker

This is the link to Melba's obituary.

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Wages and Gifts

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Death is inevitable for all of us. That is the essence of what St. Paul is saying. Even when we know it is coming, it surprises us when it comes. As much as we may try to prepare ourselves for it, we are never really adequately prepared. That’s because death is unnatural to us. We weren’t created to die. When God created Adam and placed Him in the Garden of Eden, and then formed Eve from Adam’s rib, they were in a state of perfection. They should have lived forever. They knew God as fully as human beings can know Him. But they gave in to temptation, and they fell into sin, wanting to be like God. They wanted to be the Creator rather than the creature, but that could never be. And once they had fallen into sin, they could not go back.
And now, death is inevitable for all of us. Generations and centuries have changed none of this. When we enter into that realm of sin and its outcome of death, we are entering into something so profound that we human creatures just don’t have the mental resources to deal with it. And we never really will because, as the apostle says, “The wages of sin is death…” Wages are things we earn. None of us wants to think we have earned death. We would much rather think that we have done something useful with our lives that would earn an outcome other than death. But that is never the case.
To our great blessing, that is not all Paul has to say to us. For as true as it is that the “wages of sin is death,” so it is equally true that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The answer to death as “the wages of sin” is a gift that comes from God. That gift is life where there should be no life; life in the midst of death itself. For God’s answer to our death, a death for which we have no answer, no solution, is the death of another—the death of his own dear Son! This same apostle Paul writes elsewhere, “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
God is about life; He always has been. And though sin will continue to result in death, He doesn’t want that to be the final word written about any of us. He wants to spare us from the wrath we deserve. That is why He poured it all out on his Son. That is why, again, St. Paul says of God, “He made [Christ], who knew no sin, to be sin for us…” Everything that sin is and everything that sin does was laid on Christ’s shoulders. And He bore them all to the death of the cross, enduring the judgment and punishment of God the Father, for the sins of the whole world; for yours, for mine, for Melba’s. And when, three days later, Christ rose from death, it was to assure us that all He had done was not only true, but sure and certain. Eternal life had been won, and now it was available to all as a gift.
And that is where our hope must rest. We have no answers for these things, but God does. This world, try as it might, will never find a way to overcome death, because death is the wages of sin. But God Himself has eternally overcome death. He has done so through His Son, Jesus Christ. And He offers that to us as a gift, not something we can earn, but something we can only receive, through faith in Jesus Christ. If we would find comfort, we will find it there: in the death and resurrection of Jesus. If we desire peace and rest for Heart, mind, and soul, we will receive it from those hands that still show the marks of the nails that will remind us of what that peace and rest cost Him, but which He will now freely and lovingly give us. For, as St. Paul finally says, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your Heats and kinds through Christ Jesus.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sermon for 4/29/18: The Fifth Sunday of Easter

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Freedom in the Truth

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

If you're honest with yourself, then you'll readily admit that the truth is something you're really not comfortable with. The truth will certainly set you free, but in reality we find it easier to tell our version of the truth: the truth from our perspective, the truth the way we think it ought to be. What we forget is that truth ultimately is not a series of facts or a virtuous concept. Truth ultimately is a Person: our Lord Jesus Christ. And since He is Truth, to bend the truth is to sin against our Lord Jesus. The truth—our Lord Jesus—really does make us free. But deep down we despise the truth. That's why it's so difficult for us to tell the truth and to face the truth. Deep down we hate the truth. That's why we work so hard to bend the truth—because, really, we're trying to pull one over on Jesus. And we actually believe we're getting away with something because we do not now see Truth in the flesh.
Yet Truth says, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. How does He do that—especially when we firmly believe that no one really has the full truth? The Spirit of Truth leads us into all truth first of all by helping us to see and understand the truth about ourselves. And the whole truth is that we are unworthy of the truth. And so the Spirit convicts us—the whole world—of sin. And this is our sin—not just that we do things wrong, but that we do not desire or hold firmly to Truth.
Yet our Lord, who is Truth, does not come to lead us to despair, but to lead us to all truth. So once He helps us see the truth about ourselves—once we admit that we are unworthy to stand in the light of the Truth, and to stand before Truth Himself—then the Spirit preaches into our hearts the truth of Our Lord's righteousness. And what is this Truth? The Lord God blesses us and deals graciously with us because He is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He embraces us and wishes to draw us deeper and deeper into Himself, into the Truth He is, and more so into the fellowship, friendship, and communion that is the Holy Blessed Trinity.
The Spirit of Truth comes to persuade us to believe and take to heart that Satan, the prince of this world, the father of lies, the enemy of Truth and every true thing, is judged. His deadly reign is over. He can harm us no longer. He's finished. The victory has been won by our Lord Jesus Christ, and it has been delivered to us in the waters of Holy Baptism.
We have no need to fear the Truth. The truth is our ally, for He allows us to live with Him, and He dwells within us. We have no need to run from the Truth, for He invites us to walk in His footsteps. We have no need to twist the Truth, or tell the version you think makes us look good. Take hold of Him fully and love Him, even if it means you must suffer because of Him. For when you suffer for the Truth, you partake more fully of the Lord's sufferings and rejoice more joyfully in His victory.
Love the truth and abide in the truth, here at the altar and at home in your prayers. Let your love of the truth extend to your brothers and sisters in Christ and to everyone you meet. For the Spirit of truth leads you not only to know and confess and experience communion in God, but also to accept and live in communion with each other. Truth Himself has been given to you and implanted within you by the Spirit of Truth. So forget your perspective which only speaks what you want to hear. Forget your little white lies. Live in the freedom, for the Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ, has made you free. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon for 4/22/18: Jubilate--Fourth Sunday of Easter

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ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We are in the midst of the Easter season. Jesus is risen. Our sins are forgiven. The good work of the Spirit has begun in us. But on this Sunday of jubilation, we acknowledge that all is not yet complete. The enemy is defeated, but he still howls at us. Our flesh has been subdued, but it still pulls at us. The world is drunk in its delusion. It thinks either that Jesus is dead or that He doesn’t care. The Lord foretold this. He said that you will weep and lament. No one gets out of this life unscathed. No Christian is spared the cross. And no one gets to Easter without going through Good Friday.
In that weeping and lamenting, even in temptation and sorrow, we are comforted by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He died and was taken away from the sight of the disciples for a little while. Then He rose and they saw Him. Though they had failed Him, He was not angry. He had died for them. He returned as a Bridegroom to His chamber. He came in mercy and love for the Father’s redeemed children. He bestowed His peace upon them and sent them to share the good news of His resurrection with the give them joy.
To illustrate what we currently suffer, and what the disciples suffered that Holy Saturday, He compares us to women in the throes of labor. It will hurt. You will think that you can take no more. You might even curse your husband and wish to die. But the pangs of childbirth are the ushers of joy. You will discover on the other side that it was all worth it; that your husband was faithful; that the child is worth every ounce of pain, every sacrifice. Part of this is simply the promise that the suffering will finally end. But the passage of a child out of the womb also shows something of the Lord’s passing through the dank womb of the earth and into the light of day. Death is the passage to life.
But more than that, the mother does not even remember her pain, so great is the joy which follows. There is no room left in her for that memory because of the joy that a child has been born to her. In the same way, the Lord has caused a new man to be born out of death, out of sorrow. He has drowned the Old Adam in the waters of Holy Baptism. From those waters, a child of God has been born: redeemed, spotless, righteous before God.
Here is the point: You have sorrow now. That is real. Contrary to what some false preachers would have you believe, the life of a Christian is not a life of ease if you just believe enough. We pray for relief. But we understand that God works through sorrows, that He keeps you close to Himself, that He afflicts you and chastens you according to His mercy. Through sorrow, pain, and temptation He is working virtue in you. He is teaching you to trust in Him. He is keeping you close to Himself. This is why confirmation was such a big deal in the early church, and why we still practice it today. They understood that the catechumens were joining an army; that they were being set up against Satan and the world and their own flesh; that they were taking up their crosses.
That work, those crosses, will turn to joy. It will not be different joy. It is what you have already now, for Jesus is risen. You are not alone. Your sins are forgiven.  But you see Him now only dimly in the Sacrament. You receive His risen body in bread and know it by faith. But you will see Him again…and you will see Him fully. You will see Him in His risen, glorified body. You will see this with your own eyes—not hidden in bread and wine, but visible to all the world. Then your joy will be full. You will remember your anguish no more, and no one will take your joy from you. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sermon for 4/20/18: Funeral of Dale Lampe

Here's a link to Dale's obituary. I apologize for the lack of an audio recording. I forgot to record the sermon at the funeral home.

“If You Had Been Here...”

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Both Martha and Mary cried out to the Lord in this way. The implication is that Jesus didn’t care enough about Lazarus or the sisters to see to their needs. They’re His friends, but apparently other things were more important than His friends.

You may be feeling something similar this morning. Usually, when someone goes into the hospital, they expect to come out healthier than when they went in. Sadly, this was not the case for Dale. It would be easy—and certainly it would be convenient—to blame Jesus for the death of our beloved son, brother, friend. “Lord, where were you?” “Lord, it’s not supposed to work this way.” “Lord, don’t you care?” The hard part of the Christian faith is accepting that the Lord’s will is not our own. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.” And we think we mean it when we say it. But we don’t understand the Lord’s will. We think He should do what we want Him to do. So when hard times come, when grief assails us, it’s easy to blame Jesus.

But our Lord knows your grief. He cried over Lazarus. It gives him no joy that the wages of sin is death. But at the same time, the Psalmist writes, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” The Lord revealed to the Apostle John, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” And both these statements are true. Our Lord rejoices that He is able to welcome His children into their rest. Those children are blessed, for they now rest from their labors and rely fully on Jesus, whose death and resurrection paid the price for our sins. Dale won’t walk from his tomb to resume his earthly life with us. But on the Last Day, everyone will be raised from the dead. And those who live by faith in God, those who believe that Jesus died for their sin and rose from the dead, will rise to live in the eternal presence of their Savior.

We have no need to cry out, “Lord, if you had been here...” for He is here, even now. He is here, comforting you with His Word. He is here, rejoicing that Dale rests from his labors. And He is here to remind you that He is preparing a place for you, too. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.