Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sermon for 2/19/17: Sexagesima

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.




Ears to Hear


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


            “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” What an odd thing to say. After all, most people have ears, and most people who have ears are able to hear. But “ears to hear” aren’t made of cartilage and skin. “Ears to hear” only hear when they have been stopped to the babbling of the world. In the Kingdom of God, only the deaf can hear. In the Kingdom of God, only the blind can see. In the Kingdom of God, only the fool will believe.
            God hides Himself in parables. Simple words conceal God’s message from men too proud to see that He doesn’t work the way they work. But that is precisely the point: God is not like us. This is baffling to the worldly wise. He sows His seed in foolish, impossible places, with no thought of gain or loss, only conscious that the seed is good and men are in need. He sows on the trodden path, the rocky patch, the thorny ground, into the deaf ear, the blind eye, and the hard heart. He sows where no drunken farmer in his darkest hour ever sowed. 
            Most is lost. Most is trampled, snatched, withered, or choked. Most is wasted. This Sower is more inefficient than the government! But still the Sower sows. It’s His seed to sow as He sees fit. He never counts the cost. He does not sow for profit. He does not sow for fame, honor, or prestige. He sows because men are in need. He sows because He is love. He sows in ways that men think foolish, for He provides, gives, and loves for free.
            The seed finds the earth—miserable, scorched, dry, rocky ground though it be. Miraculously some grows! Some transforms that trodden, rocky, thorny place into soil rich enough to bear a crop a hundredfold! It grew to life in dark corners where men had given up and moved on. It bestowed wisdom in the midst of foolishness. Always it bears a crop—just not where men think it ought. For this Kingdom is not ruled in the ways of men. It is a Kingdom of grace, bestowed without thought to cost or fear of failure, motivated by perfect love. The Seed, the Holy Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, never returns to the Father void. He completes the good work that He was sent to do: He saves the world. He forgives sins. He loves men. He sows. And what He sows is the power of God for salvation. And though it seems wasted, what He sows changes lives. He never leaves things just as He found them. It is the Word, the creative force of God Himself.
            This same Word called forth a Messiah into Mary’s womb through her ear. This same Word called forth a water of renewal and regeneration in John’s timid washing of the Christ. All who are joined to Him in those burial waters are His sons in whom He is well-pleased. Their sins wash off of them and onto Him, and He raises them up again to life. This same Word calls forth His true body and blood out of ordinary bread and wine. His people eat and drink and proclaim His death until He comes again. This same Word calls forth a holy nation from sinful people. You worship one Lord, and you know that, whatever the future brings, this is not your home.
            You are the hundredfold harvest of grace. He transformed you by His Word, watered you with His Blood, sheltered you in His love so that you grow and live. By the power of His unfailing Word, you are His own, His beloved, His precious, spotless Bride. He has placed His Word into you. And by that Word you live. Soon He will return to bring the harvest home, to complete what He has begun in you. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 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, February 12, 2017

Sermon for 2/12/17: Septuagesima

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.


The King and His Kingdom


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


I’ve said this before, but the Kingdom of heaven is always like a person. It is not like the Roman Empire, the city states of Greece, or even the United States. It is not at all like the kingdoms of men. It is not like any group or organization. The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner. It is like a man, a person. That is because it is the Man, Jesus Christ.
The Man Jesus, body and soul, is the King and the Kingdom. He is no mere man, for He is also God. He does not rule in the ways of men. He neither commits violence nor threatens violence. Nor is He King by popular acclaim or vote. He has not seized the throne in any way. He just is. He has the right to rule anyway He chooses. But He chooses to rule through generosity, like a landowner who overpays, who gives away the Kingdom to greedy souls that hate Him and seek His destruction, to those who betray and forget Him. He bears the heat of the day, the burdens of all humanity, on His outstretched arms. He is thirsty, hungry, and dying so that men would be spared the eternal damnation they had earned. He defeats the devil and breaks you out of Hell. He declares you innocent and adopts you as His.
It is hard for us to imagine because we know what we are like, and we are not like that. Our kingdoms are not of grace. Our wisdom states: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Our wisdom states, “You get what you pay for.” Mothers always remind their children, “Life is not fair.” Yeah, that helps! So much for the wisdom of men.
The Truth is that Life is not fair—but not in the way that your mother meant it. He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life is not fair. He is driven by a Justice that exceeds man’s limitations and imagination. He is not fair in His punishments or chastisements. Instead, He is merciful and kind. He bears the burdens for men in Himself. For even though it isn’t fair, even though we should pay for our sins and die the death we’ve deserved, He has done it for us, in our place, as our perfect and holy Substitute. It isn’t fair. But it is generous and wonderful. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace and reversals. The last are first. Those without right to demand, those without resources or hope, eat and drink without money or cost. You who were dead are made alive.
We’d like to end there, but the parable keeps going. After all, the Kingdom of heaven exists in this world, and this world is hostile. The grace of God is always rejected by sinful men. Fallen men want to tell God how to dole out His goods. The landowner’s final verdict is a sad one: “Take what is yours and go your way.” What belongs to us by nature? Death. What is our way when we act according to our nature? Hell. Repent. For we have dared to complain that the generosity and grace of God is not good enough, not generous enough. We have dared to challenge the purity of God’s motives. We have blamed Him for wars and famines and disease and heartache in our world. We have complained against Him as though we deserved more. We’ve hid our light under a bushel. God forbid we should be so vain as to reject the gifts of God as not enough!
The hour is now. Salvation is upon us. For a time you will suffer. Your heart will grow weary. You will be attacked by temptations of doubt and fear. But nothing will overcome you. The Lord Jesus has claimed you. He works in own way and time but always for your good. It is already the eleventh hour. Soon you shall be relieved at last of the world, the devil, and your old sinful nature. For Jesus Christ did not die in vain. He does not lie. He has not forgotten you. He loves you and forgives you. Easter is coming. The dead, even you, will rise again. The Kingdom of God belongs to you. 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.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Sermon for 2/5/17: Transfiguration of Our Lord

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.

                                   
Light in the Darkness


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


Being a disciple of Jesus is not necessarily pleasant. It’s not because He makes it hard. And it’s not because Jesus designed it so that only the strongest or the most dedicated make it to the heavenly goal. Being a disciple of Jesus is not pleasant because it means that you must live amid the various assaults of the devil who finds ready accomplices with the world and our sinful, unbelieving desires. These assaults are numerous, and they are different for each of you: a persistent sin or addiction; pride and self-serving ambition; disease; mental torment; spiritual anguish. But in whatever way the devil assaults or entices you, whatever method he employs specifically and personally against you, his goal is always the same—to mislead you into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. And when he accomplishes that, then the devil has achieved his goal. Because he has been excommunicated from God, he wants to break your communion in God.
Yet from the beginning, you were created in God's image and according to His likeness so that you might live not for yourself, but in Him, so your life in Christ might continually grow and mature. Imagine a relationship that never ends; a love that constantly deepens and intensifies; and intimacy that becomes more and more intimate. And imagine living so closely with someone that he or she not only knows what you're thinking, not only dotes on your every desire, but also betters and improves you, and gives you the undying desire to live only and completely and self-sacrificially for him. That is what Our Lord God had in mind when He created you, and that is what He still has in mind for you in spite of your unshakeable refusal to trust Him, to leave everything in His hands, and to live for Him by doing unquestionably for others.
To restore this goal, and to restore in you the joy of His salvation, the Father sent His Son into the world to live in your flesh. He came to destroy death and the devil. Resisting a temptation or two would not do that. The Son of Man would have to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be  killed, and be raised again on the third day.
When Peter first heard Jesus announce this, the devil took hold of him so that Peter rebuked his Lord and Savior. “This shall not happen to You.” And Jesus responded, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Sinners are well acquainted with the things of men: living in constant fear of death; fear of being cheated and used; fear of failure. Sinners live as if life is what you make of it. And ultimately, we live as if we matter most, as if heaven can wait. But the things of God we do not instinctively know, nor do we readily seek them. He must reveal them to us. And He does that, not so we are wowed and amazed, but so that we might yearn for them—so that we might seek the Life He is, the Life He gives, the Life He so earnestly desires to live in us while we live in Him.
Certainly, we can see the things of God in the simple miracles of life. And we've heard from the Scriptures many descriptions of the heavenly life—the life of this ongoing, undying, unquenchable relationship and communion in God. But the Lord has actually given a glimpse of the fullness of heavenly glory: when He hid Moses in a cleft of the rock and let Moses see the backside of His glory; when Elisha saw Elijah ascend up to heaven in a fiery chariot; and when Jesus led Peter, James, and John on a high mountain and was transfigured before them, His face shining like the sun, His clothes as white as the light.
But what good does that do us? They beheld His glory face to face, but we see Our Lord Jesus dimly, hidden in the Blessed Sacrament and apparent only in the voice of the pastor. But what the three disciples saw was a promise: the promise that the Lord's transfiguration was merely a glimpse of what would always be, the promise that, by hearing the beloved Son of God, we might one day live within the transfiguration that never fades. So we do not dismiss this Gospel as just another Jesus story. In faith, we hear of our Lord's transfiguration, and we are given both courage and hope—the courage to live the Christian life, and the hope that fully expects to see Our Lord Jesus as they did.
For now, we walk through temptation and suffering, through heartache and grief, to death and the grave. Yet we do not lose heart. For we have Peter's word that soon, and very soon, we will not only see but also live fully and forever within the transfigured body of Our Lord. Now we have a glimpse of it at every Holy Supper. But the day is coming when we will no longer imagine, but will truly experience that relationship, that union and that intimacy in God that He first created us for, and that He sent His Son to restore in us. For Our Lord has made this promise: “Surely, I am coming soon.” And we await that day saying, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” 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, February 01, 2017

Sermon for 1/29/17: Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.


Human Fear


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


Sinners that we are, we take comfort and even rejoice when those we see as the best among us succumb to temptation, when their insecurities and fears are revealed, when their weakness is evident. When pastors stumble; when Hollywood’s biggest star falls on the red carpet; when our boss finally gets it from his boss; when the rich and famous go through hard times—we find that comforting. “You see? They’re human too. They’re just like us.” And perhaps that’s what you’re tempted to say when today’s Gospel exposes the fear within the disciples. They cry out, “Lord, save us; we’re perishing!”—and we want to say, “See, they really are human. They’re just like us.”
But really, we shouldn’t want them to be like us—at least, not when we are at our weakest, our most afraid, our most insecure, our least believing. Why would we wish that on anyone? And while we can identify with their fear, why should it comfort us to see that these holy men are really no different from us? To be sure, when the Lord helps them, we come to believe that the Lord will also help us. But why do we rejoice in the weakness, downfall, or the shame of any man or woman?
When the disciples tremble and shudder in fear, that is not true humanity. After all, we were created not to cower, but to trust; not to quake, but to be confident; not to tremble in fear, but to stand firm in faith. We were made by Our Father to be so secure in His love that we would not even know what insecurity is. Yet we are insecure. We do fear. We easily doubt and have second thoughts. We are quick to give in to the temptation to take matters into our own hands.
Taking matters into their own hands, the disciples come to Jesus and shake Him awake and announce their certain doom. But they do not realize that the Man they are shaking, He is the true human, for He alone rests in peace and is confident that the Lord’s mercy will see them through, whatever they face. They don’t realize that the Man with them in the boat is God Himself: the God who turned water to wine; the God who healed the leper and the centurion’s son; the God before whom kings prostrated themselves; the God through whom all things were made. Surely they know this; otherwise they wouldn’t wake Him and yell at Him to do something. In their heads, they know better. In their hearts, they hope for better. But as they sit frantically in the boat, these disciples are run by their fears. And in this, they are most definitely not being human.
And neither are we when we let our fears run us. But we do let our fears reign over us. We lash out at each other. We hold grudges. We let our passions run wild. We live for the moment. Our fears lead us to run over whoever is in our way without extending the kindness we so often demand. And our fears keep us awake at night so that we don’t rest in the peace of the Lord who is with us always.
But there is another way. There is the way of faith in the face of fears; the way of confidence in the Lord’s undying mercy; the way of the hope which allows the child of God to confesses that, whatever trials and struggles and temptations we face, our Lord will not abandon us. This is the way of Holy Baptism, where the same water which caused the disciples to fear actually calms the storm of sin within us. This is the way of Holy Absolution, where we return to those waters every day to drown the Old Adam with his fear and weakness and doubt. This is the way of the Lord’s Supper, where He is present with us, where He strengthens us to go back out into the world and face those trials and temptations, knowing He faces them with us.
Let us never forget that Our Lord is merciful. Let us never forget that He is always quick to rescue and save us. Let us never forget that He has already delivered us from every evil: past, present, and yet to come. And with this faith, let us not fear, no matter what the days ahead may bring. Rather, let us be bold in Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will never fail to calm the storm: the storm that rages outside, and the storm that rages within us. 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, January 25, 2017

Sermon for 1/22/17: Third Sunday After the Epiphany

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.
      
                                   
The Powerful Word


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


This morning we heard the accounts of Naaman and the Centurion. There is much that is similar between the two. They are both Gentiles. They are both in the military. They are both officers, in charge of many men, but they are also accustomed to receiving orders. And they both face a problem outside their control: Naaman has leprosy; the Centurion has dying servant.
Imagine what it is like for these two men. They are used to getting things done. They are used to giving orders and having those orders obeyed. That is the way their lives work. Yet now, here they sit, out of control. They are unable to solve their problems. And these aren’t just your usual, run-of-the-mill problems. These are life and death problems. They face these problems because they are cannot get out of these messes on their own.
Have you been there? Have you ever had a stage in your life where things are sailing along great and you feel like you have everything under control? Then something happens: a death, unforeseen debt, family or marital problems, or even worse. These things can sneak up on you, and suddenly you’re not in control. That is the Law having its way with you. In this fallen world, things just don’t work the way you want them to work. No amount of positive attitude or even plain hard work can change that fact. The truth is, you are not in control of your life.
The Law confronted both Naaman and the Centurion, but their reactions are completely different. One of them reacts in faith in the healing Word of God, and the other responds in unbelief at how God works in the world. Naaman couldn’t imagine that God would use water from the polluted Jordan river to wash away his leprosy and make him clean. Why would Israel’s God not use the water from the sparkling rivers in Syria? But God had promised through Elisha to cleanse Naaman using the waters of the Jordan and no other. That was the promise of God—take it or leave it. At first, Naaman left it. He rejected God’s promise of healing. His pride just couldn’t handle the truth of the Word of God. But after careful teaching and patient begging on the part of his own slaves, Naaman relented and was led into the Jordan. And, lo and behold, he was made clean; his skin was like a brand new baby’s skin. It didn’t make sense on the surface. It was just ordinary water. But because God’s promise was attached to it, it was no longer just water, but a life giving water, full of grace and every blessing from God.
The centurion, on the other hand, recognized his inability to help his servant. But even more than that, he recognized that Jesus could heal his servant. In simple terms, the Centurion had faith. He trusted that if Jesus would say the word, it would be enough. His servant would be healed. Faith trusts the Word of God, whatever that Word claims. If your faith points to Jesus Christ, you will never be disappointed.
St. Paul wrote, “The just shall live by faith.” Living by faith means continually putting your trust in Jesus Christ, who forgives your sins. Only God can give you the faith of the Centurion. And He gives you faith by His Word and Sacraments. Because of God’s Word and command, what looks like ordinary water is, in fact, the very life giving water of life. What looks like simple bread and wine is, in fact, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And what sounds like simple words, “I forgive you all your sins,” are in fact the very words by which God forgives your sins and creates and sustains faith in you.
Believe it, for that is what God promises in His Word. That is the power of the Gospel. That is the power of your salvation, through His Word and Spirit alone. So now you can confess with faith, “O Lord, I am not worthy. But only speak a word, and my [soul] shall be cleaned.” 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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sermon for 1/15/17: Second Sunday After the Epiphany

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.

                                   
Power and Mercy


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


So often we focus on the power of the miracle our Lord performed at the wedding in Cana. But there’s another aspect: the great mercy our Lord shows for the people He has come to save, even in dealing with something so simple as a wine shortage at a wedding. We must take both the power and the mercy into account as we examine this text.
Jesus came to fulfill the Law. He began that fulfillment with His circumcision in the Temple and His baptism in the Jordan River. Then He continued that work with His first miracle of changing water into wine. Notice what He uses: the purification jars of the Jews—water pots of the law. He has them filled with water, and from them He produces the finest wine. Here we are reminded that the Law was given to be fulfilled by our Lord Jesus Christ because we could not keep it. Just as Mary could not make things better for the bridal party by herself, we cannot do ourselves any good by our attempts to keep the Commandments.
But some people seem to think that we can keep the Law. There are preachers who say, “God wouldn't have given us His commandments if we couldn't keep them.” But that contradicts St. Paul who says in Galatians chapter three that the Law was given to show us our sin. When Jesus has those jars filled with ordinary water and turns that water into wine, He's teaching us that He has come to do what we could not: He has come to keep the Law. He has come to perfectly love God. He has come to perfectly love His neighbor. And He did both…perfectly.
And what is the result of His perfect fulfillment of the Law? The wedding guests drank and were merry! They found themselves at the best ever open bar at a wedding! This miracle is a picture of what our Lord really does for us by dying for our sins: He fulfills the Law. He perfectly loves the Father by being obedient even unto death on the cross. He perfectly loves His neighbor by bearing our sins to His own death: a death He did not deserve, a death He died for us. And we drink in that perfect love, that perfect salvation, in the holy Sacrament, where in the wine we drink the very blood of Christ.
The miracle of Jesus turning the water into wine is also a reminder that what Christ has done on the cross of Calvary is also about how He treats His holy Bride, the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. Just as Cana’s wedding reception took the bridal party from ordinary water to the finest wine in celebration of their marriage, so Christ's church is made alive in the waters of Holy Baptism, and then she celebrates that He has redeemed her through His body and blood in the Holy Supper. Remember this: you are the Bride of Christ. You are the ones for whom He gave His life. You are the ones for whom He turned the jars of God's Law into a saving and refreshing drink of grace, even as He Himself fulfilled that Law.
This is the first of the signs that Jesus did, and it points to Him as the true Savior and Bridegroom of the Church. And just as this miracle pointed forward to the institution of the Lord’s Supper where we receive the finest wine of Christ’s blood along with His body, both the miracle and the Holy Supper are a foretaste of the eternal wedding feast prepared for all those who approach the Lord with faith in His Word, His works, and His promises. 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. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sermon for 1/8/17: The Baptism of Our Lord

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.


Soaked in Sin


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


John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, baptizes Jesus and the Spirit Himself descends upon Him while the Father expresses His pleasure. It is the anointing of the Lord. In the watery boundary that separates the wilderness from the Promised Land, Jesus is chosen and marked as the Messiah, the Anointed One. There He takes the sins of the world upon Himself. On the cross He will overcome them. The Father is well pleased in Him because the sacrifice is work of the Messiah, the will of the Father, the fruit of the Spirit.
The baptism, and indeed the entire identity of the Christian, flows out of this. By baptism the believer is joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is the significant thing. Do you not know that you were baptized into Christ’s death? Although these things are important, the central thing is not faith, ritual, the water, the Word, or the believer. The central thing is always the grace of God that steps in and rescues man out of death through the Messiah. When you were baptized into this faith, you put on Christ. You have been forever joined to His death and resurrection. You are anointed, marked and named by Him. Christ is the key thing.
“Repent and be baptized,” says John. To repent means to acknowledge that God is right and confess that His judgment is true when He says that we are all sinners worthy of death. Repent: confess that God is right and you are wrong. Then be baptized. Receive the forgiveness of sins. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will dwell in you. Faith is certainly part of the equation, but the emphasis is on work God does in baptism and the promised presence of the Holy Trinity for the believer. The faith which receives these gracious gifts is itself a gift. It is not as though we come before God with an empty sack and then He fills it. We come empty handed. He gives us the sack. Then He fills it.
When Christ was drowned in baptism, heaven opened. When He died on the cross, graves were opened and dead men lived. The Father is pleased because satisfaction has been made. The sins of a thousand worlds have been drowned and destroyed in Christ’s baptism. Baptism is a washing, but more than that, it is a drowning, and a death. Our sin and rebellion are a deadly problem. They destroy life. They kill families. They murder innocence and purity. They require an extreme solution. And so great is God’s love, so great His desire to forgive, that He sacrifices His own Son in our place. Nothing will stop Him. Satan will not win. God will rejoin humanity to Himself without violating His own Law. He will intervene and make us His. So pleased is the Father with the Son that He and the Spirit promise to be present with all who are baptized into Christ.
And Christ Himself is the baptizer. Although this glorious revelation does not now occur visibly, as it did at that time on the Jordan, nonetheless it is what occurs. That is the promise. Christ is the baptizer whether He is seen or not. The Father blesses with His Word. The Spirit makes the heart His temple. And that is why St. Paul can’t even remember who he baptized, because he never really baptized anyone. Christ did it all.
All of this means that the Baptism of Our Lord is the beginning of the great exchange. Christ is not washed clean; He soaks in our sins. He takes all our filth upon Himself and leaves the water sparkling clean for us. Our sins wash off of us and onto Him. His holiness covers us and we are clean. The Father will not forsake us. He will not send us to a cross. We will not pay for our sins. Heaven is opened. The Father is well-pleased with us. We are made children and heirs by grace. His Name is upon us. Our graves will open. We will follow the Lord Jesus out of death and to Our Father’s 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.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Sermon for 1/1/17: The Sunday After Christmas

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.



Promised and Fulfilled


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


Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to be circumcised and named. While there, they encountered Simeon and Anna. Jesus was brought to the temple in fulfillment of the Law of Moses. God prescribed in His Law that the firstborn is to be consecrated to Him, so His people would remember that He has saved them. He delivered them in a mighty way from their bondage to the Egyptians. And what’s more, He will deliver all His people of all time from the bondage of sin and into His promised heaven.
Jesus certainly didn't need to be purified; He's without sin. But Joseph and Mary obeyed the Law of God nonetheless, bringing Jesus into the temple. As He did with everything else, Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law of God, something we have not done and cannot do. In this way Jesus came to be our Savior, and even as an infant, He was doing the work of saving us. Because of His righteousness before the Father, we are made holy and acceptable in His sight.
While they were at the temple, the Holy Family encountered Simeon. A prophecy had been given to Simeon. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.” And when Simeon held Jesus in his arms, he sang a song of thankfulness to God for revealing the salvation of the world to him in the person of the Christ child. The words he spoke were preserved by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the Church. Simeon spoke for us, and we will join our voices to his this very day when, like Simeon, we hold the Savior of the world—Simeon in his arms, and us in our mouths as we receive the very body and blood of Christ. After all, this promise given to Simeon is also God's promise to us. We too may depart in peace according the Word of the Lord, for in receiving the bread and wine combined with Christ's very Word, our eyes have seen His salvation. He breaks the bonds which sin and guilt hold on us. He strikes down our enemy, Satan, in the body and blood that was given and shed at Calvary—a gift He offers you today.
What does this mean for us? It means that, as we begin this new year, we can see what lies ahead of us—not only for this new year, but what God has prepared for us eternally. We see the love God has shown us in sending His Son for our salvation. Sinners that we are, we need that continual reminder that God loves us in Christ, because the old Adam within us is God’s enemy. We need to return here constantly: this year and in the years to come. We need to return to our Baptism, where that Old Adam is drowned and dies, and where the new man, the child of God and heir of heaven, emerges to new life. We need to continue to receive God's love as He delivers it to us in the Supper Christ prepares for us.
At the last hour of our life we will say with Simeon, “Let your servant depart in peace.” God always fulfills His Word. We don't know when our last hour will be. It may come in this new year; it may be far off. But whatever His holy will is, we will depart in peace. The Sacraments, the gifts of God, have touched our lips. His Word has filled our ears. And because of those gifts, praises to God spring forth from our lips.
We don't know who we will run across in the new year—many old faces are likely, and we will also probably encounter some new ones. All people need to hear. All people need to know what caused Simeon to rejoice, what caused Mary and Joseph to marvel, what Anna delighted to share with others. God grant us all the joy in receiving the consolation of sins forgiven as we receive the Christ, and joy as we tell everyone what He has done. 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, January 01, 2017

Sermon for 12/25/16: The Nativity of Our Lord

My apologies for the late posting. I'm aftaid I made rather merry over the past week. RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.



Light in the Darkness

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


In the beginning of his Gospel, St. John gives us all the high religious talk about the Word. The Word is there in the beginning. Through the Word all things were made. Nothing that is made was made apart from the Word. In the Word is light. The Word’s light is the life of men. Can you get any more obscure and lofty than that? St. John was a fisherman, and usually the language in his Gospel is simple. But he goes all philosophical in this text, describing Jesus as would the wisest scholar.
He saves all the low talk for you and me. After all, we, the people for whom He came, reject the Word. We, the people for whom He came, love the darkness. We don’t know the Word. We do not receive Him. The Word is way up there: lofty, eternal, luminescent, with all of God’s glory and majesty. And we are way down on the earth in the sludge of our sins, our darkness, and our death. If that is how your Christmas ends—with high-sounding religious talk about God and low-sounding talk about you—then you will remain lost in your sins. There’s no “Joy to the World” for you!
But John continues. He keeps unwrapping the Word for us. The true Light was in the world. Wait a second! How could the Word, with all its heavenly glory, be in the world? That’s incomprehensible! No, that’s Christmas! The Word becomes flesh! He makes His dwelling place, He pitches His tent, among us. God who is eternal, infinite, from the beginning, and has no end, takes on our flesh to save us. He lives the life the Law requires of us. He suffers and is crucified for our rejection of His Word and Law. He takes on our flesh to redeem our flesh.
His Light shines in our darkness. Darkness is a formidable enemy for us. Though we find it terrifying, we love the darkness. We love those things that go bump in the night, those things that make us scream like little girls. We love the monster under the bed. Even if it means our death, we love the darkness so much that we let it overcome us. But unlike us, our Lord Jesus Christ is not overcome. He overcomes the darkness by His death! This is the glory of God, which John knew so well, having seen our transfigured Lord in blinding glory upon the mountaintop. It is the glory of incarnate Lord Jesus who sheds His blood for us. The Word is not far away in the clouds of heaven. No, He is near to us—indeed, He is here with us, for He has come and taken on our flesh! He’s resting in the arms of the Virgin. He’s enthroned in the manger. He grew up, and He was God even on the Cross.
This morning, the same Word, Emmanuel, God in the flesh, is making His dwelling place among us here on the altar, giving us His Supper. Take and eat His Body; take and drink His Blood. He is present in and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Whoever eats the flesh of the Son of Man has life, and you, too, shall see His glory. 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, December 25, 2016

Sermon for 12/24/16: The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord

No audio. My apologies. A blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours from me and mine.



"Unto You"


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


The words of our text may be the greatest good news ever delivered by angels to men. Those words, unto you, help us to understand both who Jesus is and why He came to earth. So who is Jesus? He is none other that the Son of God. He is the perfect image of His heavenly Father. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is the name above every name. And as the angel says to the shepherds and to us, this Jesus, this Son of God, this co-creator of the world and judge of all the earth, is born unto you.
What an amazing gift from God! It is a gift beyond price. Some of you have had children. Others have not, but might some day. Any of you who are parents know that there is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing that this is your child. This is your son in your arms; this is your daughter sitting on your lap: your very own flesh and blood, born into your family. Now take all the wonder, all of the glory and majesty of birth and family and life in your own arms, and look to the manger in Bethlehem. In that manger is born a Child. Isaiah put it so well: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
This child, this Son of God and Son of Mary, is born unto you. This child comes into our family, the family of the human race. This One comes to give what no other child can give. For no matter how wonderful human birth is, no matter how great a gift is family, we are all born into sin and death and heartache. But not This One. This one is born the Savior, Christ the Lord. He is God and Man. He is without sin and full of the Love of the Father for you. He is your peace and hope in this dark world. He is your life, He is your forgiveness, and He takes upon Himself all of your sin.
“For unto you is born this day…a Saviour.” Have there ever been more beautiful words spoken of in all the world? This perfect Son of God is born unto you. He is born in the darkness of our sin, but He brings light and life and salvation to all who trust in Him. He comes in silence, but the angels of heaven cannot help but sing out, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
The almighty Word of God descends from His royal throne on high, and takes the lowliest form of all: He takes on your form, your likeness. He does this so that you by faith may take on His nature: a child of God and an heir of eternal life. For Christ has entered into your family. He sits at your table; He rests in your bed. He is one of us as much as every other member of your family. Yet this new member of the human family comes to give us gifts like no other. For by entering into your flesh, by taking on your family, Jesus Christ has also adopted you into God’s family. You now bear God’s name as much as He bears your name. And through this Son, God and sinners are reconciled.
It is indeed no wonder that the angels in heaven sing, Glory to God!” But no matter how joyfully the angels sing, their joy this night cannot match ours. For this Jesus has made peace with God for all mankind. We are not separated from God anymore. He is one of us, and He is Immanuel, “God with us.” Rejoice in the mystery of God made flesh, for He comes to save you. And so we pray, “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.” 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, December 19, 2016

Sermon for 12/18/16: Fourth Sunday in Advent

No audio file today. Sorry! Some pastor who will remain nameless forgot to hit the "record" button.

                                   
What Really Matters

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


“Repent!” That’s the message John has for the people awaiting the coming of the Messiah. It is a tough, thankless message to preach. After all, how many illicit affairs took place last night? How many children were neglected? How many families charged up their credit cards to create the image of a perfect Christmas with a false appearance of abundance? How many try to buy or drink or sleep or cheat their way out of despair? How many words were wielded as weapons? And how many of you laid awake last night, lonely or afraid or angry or jealous, full of regret or scheming for the future? The enemy is all around us and even within us.
More than ever, St. John the Baptist is the man for our times. He has comfort for our broken-heartedness, an answer for our uncertainties. He is the voice crying in the wilderness, and we live in the wilderness. We walk in danger. We fight, flee, and die. We abandon our young, betray our friends, forget our spouses. We are not as civilized or sophisticated as we pretend. If we were, we would not have among us the homeless, the drug addicted, the criminal, the untended victim, or the adulterer. We would not lock our doors for fear of our neighbors. Our marriages would be stable. Our children would be safe. Our churches would be full.
John beckons us to open our eyes and acknowledge the wilderness around us and within us. John urges us to come out of our make-belief worlds, to face reality. Despite your pride in your strength, you are vulnerable and weak. You cannot stop a bullet. You cannot police your own streets. You have no safety in yourself or in man-made contraptions. These things only offer false comfort. Your life is fragile. Yet you sell your soul cheaply for things that rust and corrode and crumble and fade. You are obsessed with your own desires and dreams. You turn in on yourself, away from God. Wake up! Repent! You are in danger of losing everything. Repent before it is too late. Repent, for there is hope.
There is One whose sandals we are all unworthy to untie. He is not infected like we are. He is pure, clean, and righteous. He is God in human flesh. He gives Himself for and to you, to make you safe and whole and free and alive again. He baptizes with the fire of the Holy Spirit in waters filled with His Name. He bestows righteousness. He forgives and restores without an investigation of your credit history, without a payment schedule, without cost or demand or restriction! He forgives. He loves. He is the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He can overcome your lust, your anger, your past. He can give you a future again. And that is what matters. It’s not important who your pastor is, even if it’s John the Baptist himself. It doesn’t even matter who you are. What matters is that He is the Christ! He is the long-expected Savior, the One who loves you and restores you to the kingdom, who calls you to be His beloved Bride.
Here in the wilderness, it is hard to believe that is what matters. It seems at times like what matters is impressing your boss or getting the respect you crave from your neighbor. It seems like what matters is instant gratification. It even seems at times like what matter is justice: that life would be fair, that you and your loved ones would never be shorted or suffer in any way. But that stuff doesn’t matter on the Last Day. What matters on the Last Day is that the virgin’s Son went to the cross to redeem you, body and soul. He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He comes to you in the preaching of His Word and in His body and blood. He is the Christ. He is the One anointed to be your Savior. He loves you even when no one else does or can. Jesus is the Christ, and that’s what matters for you. 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.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sermon for 12/11/16: Third Sunday in Advent

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.

                                   
Doubt and Comfort


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


Jesus calls John the greatest person ever of those born of women. In truth, John is a man obsessed with the Lord. But at the moment, John is a prisoner on death row. He would not bend like a reed in the wind. He dared to speak against the king's immorality. He is more than a prophet. He is a martyr. He will lose his head rather than play along and pretend sin is okay. It is this focus and desire, this single-minded zeal, which has made him the greatest of those born of women. Yet, even he, great though he is, knows some fear, some uncertainty. He is not perfect.
On this side of glory, inside every man of faith, inside every zealous preacher, there abides doubt fueled by sin. John asks: “Are you the coming One, or should we expect another?” Do not be scandalized by John's question. It doesn’t matter if he asked for his own sake or the for the sake of his disciples. Faith that waits is not yet perfect. It coexists with sin. It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For a time, faith lives with doubt. In the kingdom of heaven there is no doubt. Yet here on earth we believe and we confess those things we cannot see, those things we cannot prove, yet know to be true, even while a part of us doubts them. And so frail are we that it seems we only use the language of faith to describe and confess those things we doubt.
Faith goes where God promises to be and, like a child asking to hear the same bedtime story once again, or a wife wanting to hear once more that her husband still loves her, faith asks again: “Are You the Coming One?” And Our Lord is quick to reply: “The blind see and the lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and deaf hear. The dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them.”
John stood as a man outside of time. He was both the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament prophets. Like Abraham, he lived by faith; like Jacob, he wrestled with God; like Elijah, he embodied repentance in his body and garments; and like Isaiah, he pointed to the One who came to redeem us. He preached his fiery sermons for his own hearing as much as for ours. He needed to bear fruits of repentance. He needed the Lamb of God and the forgiveness of sins. He heard the Father's voice. He pointed to the end of his father's office and his own office. Finally he was relieved and his burdens removed. Faith got what it waited for.
In the same way, we also straddle two worlds: the kingdom of heaven and the new man on the one side, and the kingdom of the flesh and the old man on the other. We believe those things we doubt, those things we cannot see, those things we cannot prove. We hope. We pray. We wait. And with the father of the demon-possessed child we confess: “Lord, I believe.” And then we add our prayer to his: “Help my unbelief.” And so He does. Jesus gave His life for yours. He died and He rose again to set you free. Soon your burdens will also be removed. In the meantime the fruit of the vine is for you, the Cup of the New Testament in His blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, and the kingdom of heaven is poured into you. “The poor have the Gospel preached unto them” says Jesus. And so it is. This is the comfort John proclaimed, and it is my privilege to preach that same comfort to you. The blind see and the lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The dead in sin are raised up in the waters of Holy Baptism. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. You have received double from the Lord’s hand for all your sins. And the Word of our God stands forever. 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.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Called and Installed: A New Adventure

For my 700th blog post(!!!), I decided I'd go bigso big, in fact, that it takes a second church building and congregation for me to make it happen. Earlier in 2016, Pastor Mark Buetow, who had been serving at Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, Illinois, received a Call to serve a congregation a little ways outside Chicago. His acceptance of that call (the traitor! *wink*) led the members of the Bethel congregation to consider their future. And after much consideration, they decided to contact my congregation, St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. The members of Bethel asked the members of St. Peter to consider joining them in a dual parish arrangement. This meant, among other things, that they would share me as their pastor.

In July, after more consideration and prayer, not to mention a number of meetings full of questions and compromises to hash out details, both congregations voted overwhelmingly to join together as a dual parish. For various reasons, the agreement would not take effect until January 1, 2017. However, I would serve Bethel as their vacancy pastor until that time. I would have to be officially Installed as the pastor of the dual parish, and, having already been Installed at St. Peter in May of 2010, we made the decision to have the dual parish Installation at Bethel. I asked to have it the weekend after Thanksgiving so my parents could attend, since they had already planned to come for Thanksgiving.

So we went ahead with the Installation on the 27th of November. The Reverend President Timothy Scharr of the Southern Illinois District officiated at the Installation. Pastor Kirk Clayton of Zion Lutheran Church in Mascoutah was the preacher, and his sermon brought together the names of the two congregations. (I can't post the text of his sermon, since he preaches from an outline, but you can download the audio of his sermon here.) Pastor Peter Ill of Trinity Lutheran Church in Millstadt was the liturgist. A number of area pastors participated in the laying-on/holy-hover-of-hands. And then, after the Installation, most of us drove from Bethel to St. Peter, where the ladies of both congregations (and a few men, for that matter) put together an impressive meal.

For many of the members, this was their first interaction with members of their new sister congregation. Everything I'd hoped forlove, cooperation, and a joyful spiritcame together on that day. Campbell Hill and Du Quoin may be about 25 miles apart, but the love of Christ has a way of bringing people together, no matter how far apart they may live and worship.

This will change things for all of us. Both congregations are used to having their own pastor; they now share me. Both congregations originally met for Divine Service at 10am; St. Peter now meets at 9am and Bethel at 10:45am. Bethel was used to having the pastor at their preschool every day; now he's only there two days each week. There are others. Many others. Our task going forward together is to do our best to make the arrangement work. I don't think that will be a problem.

And things have changed for the Kornacki family, too. After leaving North Dakota, I said I'd never serve a dual parish again. After writing a book which could be seen as critical of Synod, I also said I'd never receive another Call. If you want to make the Lord laugh, tell Him your plans or say "never." I'm once again taking care of two congregations, which means I have more shut-in and hospital visits, more meetings, more responsibilities, and more time away from my family. It also means I get to work with two youth groups, two church councils, two wonderful organists, and a bunch of preschool kids. I also have a second set of bookshelves, which means I can buy more books! We were able to purchase a new vehicle, which, honestly, we needed. The Lord continues to provide for my family, just as He continues to provide for the two congregations it is now my privilege to serve.

Thank you to everyone who made the day so special! I'll leave you with the picture of the pastors at my Installation. What a seedy-looking bunch of characters!
Left to right: Rev. Timothy Scharr, Rev. Peter Ill, Rev. Kirk Clayton, me, Rev. James Leistico, Rev. Chris Agne, Rev. Timothy Landskroener (also known as OP: Old Pastor), and Rev. Timothy Sims.

Sermon for 12/4/16: Second Sunday in Advent

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.


Stirred Hearts, Lifted Heads


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


My brothers and sisters in Christ, take heed! The fig tree is thick with buds. The nations are perplexed. Men’s hearts are failing. False preachers scratch the itchy ears of men: those vain liars who hide behind their wicked vocabulary, calling debauchery and vice “victimless,” naming babies “fetuses” and the slaughter houses “clinics;” who pretend as though sodomy is wholesome, who attempt to use the Church for their own gain. They will be exposed. All will be exposed. Repent. The Kingdom draws near. Your salvation is coming. Beware. And rejoice.
Last week we begged our Lord Jesus Christ to stir up His power and come. We asked this because of His enduring promise; because He has said that He will be Our God. He will save us. We want Him to fulfill His Word. We do not merely ask for a little something to get us by until we are on our feet again. We are asking for rescue. We are in mortal danger because of our sins. We are surrounded by demonic forces. We are cold, tired, and afraid. Left on our own, we’d have no hope. Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come. Do not leave us alone, for you are our Hope and your Word is true.
Stir up our hearts, O Lord. That is our prayer this week. We pray that the Power of God in the Flesh, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, would stir us up. Stir up our hearts, O Lord…for we are in danger of growing bored and cold. Our flesh is weak. We are tempted to neglect the watch, to indulge our baser desires, to forget who we are and what we are waiting for. We need the Lord to stir up our hearts, to rouse us from selfish slumber, to prepare and make us ready for His coming: now in Word and in Sacrament and soon in glory.
The Spirit stirs us to repentance. It is like being awakened too early on a dreary December day. We’d rather roll over and bury ourselves in the covers than repent. When they were frozen, our hearts were numb. But as they thaw at the Spirit’s stirring, they shoots needles of pain into our souls. Turning from our sin and towards God is difficult, painful. Nonetheless we pray that He would stir us up, for if He doesn’t, we die an eternal death. The Word of God is a sword. It is meant for killing. It cuts us off from our old life. It exposes our shameful weaknesses. We may have fooled men, but we never fooled God. He saw the things we did in secret. He heard the black thoughts and depraved fantasies that played out in the backs of our minds. Repent. God knows what you’ve done, what you’ve dreamed, what you’ve thought. And yet, despite that, He loves you.
He became a servant. He suffered under the Law you failed to keep. He did all that it demands. He abstained from all that it forbids. He then allowed the Law to do to Him all it should have done to you. He has fulfilled the Law; it can ask no more. There is no one to accuse you. He has gone to the sacrifice willingly, as the Lamb to the slaughter. He has counted you worthy of that price. He gladly paid for you. He does not regret it. He loves you. The promise made to the fathers is that this mercy endures forever. He is your hope and your salvation.
Look up. Lift up your heads. Your redemption draws near! His Word will not pass away. It is true. It is valid. It is certain. All will happen just as He said it would. This enduring and gracious Word made flesh was placed into you in the waters of Holy Baptism. He made you His. He cannot forget you. You are His Bride. God has joined you together. No man can put you asunder. You have left your father the devil and become one flesh with the crucified and risen God of Abraham. Heaven and earth will fail, but His Word will not pass away…and because of that, you will not pass away. You will live forever. 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.