Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sermon for 7/16/17: Fifth Sunday After Trinity


The Sinner’s Fear

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

Peter was afraid. When he saw the catch of fish—how great it was, and how miraculous the miracle—then he was afraid because he knew he was in the presence of the Son of God. And so down on his knees he went. And up went his prayer, his cry for help. He was not sarcastic. He was not demanding. He did not try to spin things so that he was in control. He was not manipulative. He simply said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter confessed who he truly was—a sinner. He confessed that he was unworthy to stand in the Lord’s presence. And he confessed that his labors, his fishing skills, his wit, his wisdom—they all added up to nothing. This catch of fish was entirely the Lord’s doing, and it was marvelous in Peter’s eyes. And while it astonished him, it also scared him. He was afraid. Peter was afraid of standing before the living God. It’s not that Peter was afraid of what God might do to him. Peter was afraid because Peter knows himself. Peter knows that he doesn’t deserve to be in the Lord’s presence. He knows that God in the flesh is slumming, visiting the little people.
Some would say that Peter was suffering from low self-esteem. Others would say that Peter was emotionally distraught and not in his right mind. Still others would say that Peter was making a fool of himself. And some might say that Peter was overwhelmed by the power and majesty of God. But in truth, Peter says what Cain should have said; what Saul should have said; what Judas should have said. And Peter says what King David said, what the Apostle Paul said, and what all the saints and martyrs have said. Peter says what should be in our heart and mind when we cry out, “Lord, have mercy”; or when we pray, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.” Peter’s prayer is not the whine of a whimpering coward; it is the truthful confession of a man who sees his Maker and, at the same time, sees himself.
Listen to what Peter says, because his confession belongs in your mouth. And it doesn’t take a miraculous catch of fish for you to realize it. As you examine your life according to the Ten Commandments, you recognize yourself for what you really are. You are a sinner. Like Peter, you know you don’t belong in the presence of the Lord. Like Adam and Eve, you hear the Lord, and you hide from Him because you know you are naked in your sinful nature; you know that you are no longer the “very good” creation He made you to be.
You’ve heard Peter’s confession of sin, and you recognize it as your confession, too. With that in mind, listen to what Jesus says to Peter and to you: “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid—not because there is nothing fearful in God; and not because your fears are misplaced. But do not be afraid, for He has taken into Himself your sin and your death. Do not be afraid, for He has restored the relationship between God and man by drawing you into Himself. Do not be afraid, for He is your Life—so much so that your sinful self has being drowned in His undying love and mercy in the waters of Holy Baptism. And do not be afraid, for He is your Strength, your steady Rock, your Salvation, your Hope, your Consolation, your Joy.
So what are you afraid of? Losing father or mother or children? Are you afraid of what life in the Church means, what sacrifices it requires? Are you afraid of the journey or that you will sin? Listen again to your Jesus: “Do not be afraid.” You have nothing to fear. He knows what you are. He knows you will sin. Our Lord forgives you. He washes you clean. He welcomes you into communion with His holy Church. So do not be afraid. He has come to be Immanuel—God with us—God with His people 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.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sermon for 7/15/17: Funeral of Barbara Lampe

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Out of the Depths

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is Psalm 130. 

Imagine being in a small boat on the ocean in a storm, and the waves swallow the boat in an instant. One minute you are safe inside the boat, and the next moment you are swept away. While drowning is not a pleasant death, you usually don't have a whole lot of time to worry about it. But what if your boat is sinking slowly over the period of years? The water slowly creeps up from ankles to knees. After a year it gets to be waist deep, then slowly rises to the chest. Then it reaches the neck. Any higher and the mouth will have to be closed. But as long as one's nose is in the air, one can stay alive. That’s the kind of experience the Psalmist describes.
That's what it must have been like for Barb in the last years of her life—only instead of it being water that rose up to overwhelm her, it was Alzheimer's. Alzheimer’s is a disease which takes away your memory. It affects language skills and decision-making ability. It impairs judgment, attention, and other related areas of mental function and personality. Eventually your body even forgets how to breathe.
Perhaps the greatest frustration for those who spend time with an Alzheimer’s patient comes from trying to make a connection with them. You know that this is the person you love, but they often don’t recognize even their own children of spouse. But Barb was a Christian, made a child of God through Holy Baptism. God had made a connection with her through His Son in those holy waters. He placed on Barb the spotless white robe of His perfect righteousness, and nothing could take that away from her: not Satan, not the disease which took so much else from her, and certainly not death itself. While Satan used this illness to take from Barb’s mind the knowledge of the Lord, nothing could remove from her soul the washing of Baptism and the mark of one who has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. All along, even when she knew nothing else, Barb’s soul cried out, Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Lord, my mind has been taken from me, but I belong to you.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, hear the Good News: Jesus, the Son of God, your Savior, takes the guilt, the shame, and the punishment of all your sins of thought, word, and deed, and He carries them to the cross. He pays the eternal price for them. The wrath of God is released upon Jesus instead of on you. His blood cries out for your pardon: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the price of your sins. This is what your salvation is worth to the Father. He marks you as His own and makes you His child in Holy Baptism. And He sends His Word and His messengers to proclaim it. When the pastor, speaking for Jesus, says to you, “I forgive you all your sins,” Jesus cleanses your soul. Jesus announced your complete forgiveness when He said, "It is finished!" And like He did for Barb and for all who know Jesus as their Savior, He has given His life to you so that you will live with Him forever.
The strength to remain faithful unto death is the strength that the Lord gives through His Word and Sacraments. The Psalmist prays, “O Israel, hope in the Lord. For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel From all his iniquities.” This is the promise Barb clung to when she knew so little else. This is the promise which has been fulfilled for her as she rests from her labors. And this promise is also for you as you await the reunion with Barb and with all those you love who have gone before us in the faith. 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.

HYMN update 2: Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

I'd updated this text once before, and it was better than where I started, but there was still a lot of Yoda language (backwards talking). I've updated the hymn, cleaned it up a little, fixed some of the Yoda speak (leaving it only where the emphasis strengthens the text). The last update can be seen here.

I Peter 5 and the Sermon on the Mount influenced this text. I wanted to talk about persecution and how the three Persons of the Trinity answer it. Whether or not I succeeded, well...I'll leave that for you to say.

Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

1. Saints of God, the devil, prowling, 
Seeks God's children as his prey.
All his demon horde is howling
With no mercy to display:
Tempting, blaming, sin-befouling. 
Who on earth can win the fray?

2. Saints of God, our holy Father, 
Looking from eternity, 
Saw our fall. Still, He would gather 
All who see the foe and flee. 
He sent Christ to be our Brother:
Sent the Christ to set us free. 

3. Saints of God, the Son, our Savior,
Born of woman, born of God,
Bore the brunt of man’s disfavor,
Bore the curse: death’s savage rod.
Now death’s sting is gone forever.
Overcome is Satan’s fraud.

4. Saints of God, the Spirit crying
Comforts us in ev’ry need.
Death, the world, the devil’s lying
Fall before the Church's creed.
Now the Spirit, ever vying,
Calls God’s children free indeed.

5. Saints of God, our flesh betrays us.
See the prince of earth conspire.
All who hate the Word would slay us,
Sentence us to angry fire.
Though they beat us, mock, or flay us,
None can dare our souls require.

6. Saints of God, the world deplores us.
Rage and spite, our earthly lot.
Boldly face the cross before us.
Let the faithless scheme and plot.
We, though all the world abhors us,
By Christ’s holy blood are bought.

7. Saints of God, though death comes near us,
Blessed are we to face the blade.
Rise to pray. The Father hears us.
Tremble not! Be not afraid!
Sing for joy! The Lord will cheer us
With white robes which never fade.

∆ 8. Saints of God who live hereunder,
Hail Him with the angel host.
Martyrs, make your praises thunder:
Sing the name of which we boast,
Worshipping in endless wonder
Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

© 2014, 2017 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 87
Tune: Ascended Triumph (LSB 491, © 1973 Henry Gerike)
Occasion: Trinity III/Feast of All Saints 

PUBLIC DOMAIN TUNE: Westminster Abbey (LSB 914) 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sermon for 7/9/17: Fourth Sunday After Trinity


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

“Be merciful just as your Father also is merciful.” This is what Jesus requires of you. But it’s not easy. Mercy requires that you always act for your neighbor’s welfare without considering yourself. Mercy demands that you seek only to serve others. Mercy insists that you be quick to forgive, slow to get angry. It demands that you bear no grudges. Mercy teaches you to suffer undeserved punishment quietly, to shoulder the blame for wrongs you have not done—and even wrongs that have been done to you. Mercy orders you to love the unlovable, to help those who abuse you, and to reach out to those who spitefully and meanly mistreat you.
That is what your heavenly Father has done for you. That is what our Lord Jesus endured for your sake. That is how the Holy Spirit deals with you. You were not turned away from the waters of baptism. And even though you continue to abuse God’s kindness, He does not refuse to forgive your sins. And the Holy Spirit still gathers you within the Church, still invites you to pray to the Father, and still allows you to partake of God when you turn to Him in repentant faith. In fact, the Lord eagerly waits to embrace you, to shower you with the riches of His mercy—riches you don’t deserve.
Do you see, then, how mercy goes? Mercy requires you to lose yourself entirely, to give yourself over to another—even a stranger—without any hesitation, without any question, without any fear, without any vengeance, without any thought for your own well-being. After all, that is what our Lord Jesus did. And He is the Mercy of God in the flesh. But who can “be merciful just as your Father is merciful?” Does that not ask the impossible? Does that not demand that you somehow become like God?
That is precisely the point. Our Lord is not demanding that you be something you cannot be. He is not commanding you to change yourself from imperfection to perfection. He is not ordering you to change from creature to Creator, or from human to divine. Rather, our Lord is urging you to become more and more what you already are.
And who are you really? By God’s grace, you are a child of the heavenly Father. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, you are born of God. And by the kindness of the Holy Spirit, you are no longer a child of disobedience, a child of fear, a child of rebellion, a child of slavery to sin and death. Instead, you been freed to live in holiness and righteousness. You have been delivered to live without fear of being short-changed or abused. You have been rescued to live as you ought to live. You have been freed by the Spirit to live the mercy that Jesus lives in you.
So Jesus is saying that you should become merciful, just as God your Father has been merciful and gracious towards you. Become as merciful as Jesus has been to you. He became what you are. The Son of God joined your death-riddled, sin-filled flesh to His holy and life-giving divinity. In the unity of His Person, He joined God and Man, joining you to Himself. He did this so that in His Body you would become what you can never be apart from Him: so that you would become the mercy that He is.
So become merciful—that is what the Mercy of God urges you to be. Become merciful—that is what the Spirit of Mercy invites and implores you to be. Become merciful—that is why Mercy died and rose, why He ascended, why He then descended into the font and continues to descend upon this altar in His body and blood. Our Lord Jesus comes to you in His Supper so that you would become the person He died for you to be: a child of the Father who resists the evil spirit of revenge, who strives in Christ Jesus to live the spirit of patience and love that He has graciously given 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, July 03, 2017

Sermon for 7/2/17: Third Sunday After Trinity

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Father and Sons

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

Parables tell a story which is meant to teach. The stories Jesus tells are all very straight-forward. These are not fairy tales. They use real-life circumstances and characters, such as rich men and thieves, birds and flowers, land purchases, lost coins, precious pearls, sheep, and dysfunctional families. That doesn’t mean you’ll always understand or agree with exactly what the parable is teaching, but the hearer is presented with a lesson in straightforward language. Parables are about everyday life, and because this is the case, it’s easy to see yourself in the parable. Even the Pharisees recognized themselves in many of the parables Jesus taught. They understood where they fit in the story being told. They knew what Jesus was trying to get through to them.
We so often focus on the younger son and his sins of greed and wastefulness. And we do find it easy to relate to him. The younger son has his feel-good story: his arrival at rock bottom; his repentance; his tearful reunion with his father. The older son has anger and frustration, and he feels his anger is just because he’s the one who has been a faithful son and servant to his father throughout this whole sordid affair. But they have this in common: both believe that their father's love depends on what they do. Both believe that their place as sons depends on their obedience. The younger son believes he has forfeited his place because of his sins. The older son believes that he's more of a son than his brother because he's been working hard in the fields. Therefore, he should be favored because he's earned the right. 
Both arguments make sense, but both of them insult the father's love. The younger son says, "My father's love is conditional. He cannot love me as a son because I have sinned. He will only help me if I earn it." The older son says, "My father's love is conditional. He should love me more because I've earned more." They come at it from opposing directions, but both are saying that their father's love is limited, conditional.
The father of the parable is none other than God the Father, and those two sons are very much like the tax collectors and the Pharisees. On the one hand, penitent tax collectors might well be tempted to think, "I have sinned against God so much that He will only forgive and love me if I prove that I am worthy. Once I earn it, then He will forgive me." On the other hand, the Pharisees are tempted to believe, "God loves us so much more than those tax collectors because, while they've been living a sinful life all this time, we've been hard at work to keep the rules." But they have this in common: they both believe that God's love for them is based upon their performance. It makes sense to sinful ears; but it also says that God's love is conditional.
When you were a child, what did you do to earn the right to be a son or daughter in your family? Did you pay dues? Take vows? Sign a contract? No. You did absolutely nothing. You were born—given unearned life—and that is how you became part of the family. When you obeyed your parents, were you more of a son or daughter? No. When you disobeyed them, were you less of a son or daughter? No. You suffered disapproval, but you were still part of the family. You could remove yourself from the family, but you could not earn a place in the family. In the same way, the Lord says to you, “You are mine.” You belong to Him because His Son Jesus paid the price for your salvation by His death on the cross. He had made you His child in the waters of Holy Baptism, where that salvation was applied to you in the water. He brings you to the family meal at His holy Table. You can’t do it; He did it for you. You are a beloved child of God, forgiven of all your sins. He will always keep a place 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, June 19, 2017

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

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Repentance and Life

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

The rich man was in hell. He deserved to be there, for he failed to love his neighbor, and, in doing so, he failed to love God. So he was in hell, tormented as only one who resides in hell can be tormented. Still, he was convinced that he had a way to save his brothers from those torments of Hell that he was experiencing. All it would take would be for this poor, dead Lazarus to make an appearance at the house of the rich man’s father. Surely there is nothing like an appearance from the dead to change the hearts of callous sinners into faithful believers! At least, that’s what the misguided soul of the rich man dearly hopes.
But Abraham knows differently. It’s not as simple as that. Even the appearance of one who is risen from the dead will not be enough to change the heart of the unbeliever. That power is reserved for Moses and the Prophets. Only the Word of God has the power to convert those who do not believe. It is the Word of God alone that gives faith and life, and this is a gift that can only be given by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our world has a problem with hell. Our world has a problem with the idea that faith is an important thing. As much as we might like to think that magical appearances of the face of Jesus on a piece of toasted bread or some vision of the Virgin Mary will cause nonbelievers to turn from their wicked ways and become Christians, it will not happen. But more than that, anyone who believes in a heaven, even if they don’t believe in Jesus, is convinced they belong inside those heavenly gates, resting in Abraham’s bosom.
How could someone who claims to be a loving God allow His children to be banished forever from His presence? How could someone who claims to be a loving God allow His children to be tormented forever in hell? Even representatives of our country think it is hateful, and maybe even a hate crime, to believe that those who do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God will be condemned by God to everlasting suffering. They blame God and His faithful children for what they believe to be such horrible ideas. But the truth is, those who do not believe condemn themselves; God just gives the person what they want: an eternity without God. That’s the practice the Church calls “excommunication,” when those who claim to be Christians but act contrary to the faith exclude themselves from the fellowship of the Church. The unrepentant sinner has excluded himself; the Church just nods its head and says, “Okay. We hope you’ll come back to us.”
True repentance for our sin and true faith can only come from the Word of God. It is the Word of God that points us to Christ, whose death and resurrection alone bring us to the comfort of eternal life. There is no otherworldly vision, no ghost, not even someone rising from the dead, which will bring the unrepentant to faith. The leaders of the Jews in our Lord’s day saw the evidence that the real Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, rose from the dead; it did not bring them to faith in Jesus or repentance for their unbelief. Only the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit can make repentance and belief come to the hearts of sinners.
And that’s exactly what the Spirit does. The Spirit comes to the sinner in the waters of Holy Baptism, where the Word of God in the water brings repentance and faith. The sinner is drowned to die with Christ, cleansed in that holy flood, so that the new man emerges to a new life in Christ. And the Spirit continues to feed that repentance and faith in the preaching of the Word and in the body and blood of Jesus. Where is the best place to hear Moses and the Prophets? You are already here, for God’s Word is proclaimed in its fullness when God’s people gather together to receive His gifts. 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 17, 2017

Sermon for 6/11/17: Feast of 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. 

God created man and woman for only one reason—to live in communion with Him. So the Lord did not make the world and then walk away. He did not leave man to fend for himself when man sinned. Instead, God has done everything for only one reason: to draw us, and through us all creation, into a personal relationship with Himself. But our first parents sinned; they broke communion with God. And when we inherited the curse of death, God did not sit back and make us come to Him. The Father sent His Son by His Spirit to draw all men back into Himself.
Our Lord God made us and then sought to redeem us—not because He had to, but because this is who He is. God is the very definition of communion. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three Persons in such intimate communion that They are not three, but One. And our loving God earnestly desires that all His people and all His creatures participate and live in this communion that He is.
Holy Baptism is where God restored us to what we were made to be. Holy Baptism is where God draws us back into communion with Himself. Holy Baptism is where He renews our life by drowning our hard-hearted, self-centered Old Adam. Holy Baptism is where the Father through the Son in the Spirit takes the initiative and comes to us so that He might draw us back into communion with Himself. This communion is God’s agenda, His desire, His motivation. But most of all, that is His love and delight.
And so when Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night and tells Him that His signs and wonders demonstrate that God is with Him, Jesus does not explain how this happens or talk about what this means. Instead, Our Lord Jesus invites, encourages, prods, urges, and pretty much begs Nicodemus to enter into the same loving communion with God the Father. For to enter the kingdom of God is to come into communion with God—a communion that you cannot know or even participate in until you have been born from above. And this heavenly birth does not come from your initiative or desire, but from the love of God the Father. He sends His Spirit to hover over the water of Holy Baptism, just as He hovered over the water of creation, to make you a new creation, to cleanse you from all sin. And with that water your life is made new, for you are returned to what you were made to be: a child of God in communion with the Holy Trinity.
So, just as Jesus urges Nicodemus, do not marvel when Jesus says you must be born again. Again, this is not your doing, but God’s. By your words and actions, you show yourself to be a self-centered son of Adam. But the Lord’s Spirit comes to you in the water of Holy Baptism and gives you a new Spirit: the Spirit which creates a clean heart and restores in you the joy of the Lord’s salvation. Because of that Spirit, you now have from God Himself what your heart desires—to see the kingdom of God, to enter into the Lord’s presence, to share and participate in His life, to let His love have its way with you as you deal with all people in the way that the Lord has dealt with you. That’s what the Spirit gives you in the water of Holy Baptism—not just a fresh start and a new life, but God’s life in you and through you for the benefit of all men. That is communion in God: living in the Lord, living in His righteousness, living in His kingdom.
God grant that we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus remain in true communion with Him by remaining true to the holy catholic Faith. And He will keep us steadfast in this Faith: the Faith which is found most completely in the Holy Christian Church. 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, June 05, 2017

Sermon for 6/4/17: The Feast of Pentecost

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Never Alone

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

One of our greatest fears is to be abandoned by those we love, to be orphaned, widowed, left alone. We fear the loss of a parent, a friend, a spouse. Nothing hurts like being left behind. The disciples certainly understood this heartbreak, for Jesus kept telling the disciples that they would “see Him no more.” Jesus was speaking to His disciples, preparing them for His “departure,” His exodus—meaning His death, resurrection, and ascension. Soon they would no longer have Him as they did now. They would no longer see Him, hear His voice, touch Him, walk with Him, or share a meal with Him. But Jesus would not abandon them.
He was going to prepare a place for them: a true and eternal home. He was going take them to be with Him by being lifted up on a cross, buried in a tomb, raised from the dead, and being glorified at the right hand of His Father. He was going to prepare a true home for our humanity in glory. And yet, this going didn’t mean He was going to leave them; He was coming to them in a more profound way. He would send another—a Comforter, the Holy Spirit. And in sending His Spirit, He would be with them more intimately, more profoundly, more fully than even His being with them at a table, sharing a meal. The Holy Spirit would teach them to understand everything Jesus had taught them, and the Holy Spirit would guide them as they shared our Lord’s teaching with the whole world, beginning with Jerusalem, and finally making its way to the very ends of the earth.
Jesus gives them His words, and with His words, His Baptism, His Body and Blood, His forgiveness, life, and salvation. And He gave them peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”—peace given in a way the world could never give them; peace which the would could only understand through the preaching of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. He would no longer be with them in the way they had experienced for the three years leading up to His ascension, but He would not leave them alone. He would be present as they gathered in His name, and He would send His Holy Spirit to them.
In the same way, He promises to be with His Church, and He will never leave us alone. Clinging to His word by faith, you have all that Jesus is for you and all that Jesus won for you. Clinging to His word, you are loved by His Father and are given to call Him your Father, too. Clinging to His word, you have His promised Holy Spirit, given you in your Baptism. Clinging to His word, you have a peace that the world does not give—a peace that only comes through dying and rising with Jesus.
Thanks be to God our Father and to our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of abandoning us to our own selfish cravings; rather than leaving us mired in our mindless strivings; instead of giving us over to our base desires, God has given us His Holy Spirit so that we might know Jesus, rejoice to receive His life-giving sacrifice, and be gathered into His Body, the Church. In this way we live through Him, with Him, and in Him—and we also live in love for our every neighbor. By being in communion with God in Christ by His Spirit, we also our now in communion with each other. We are never alone. 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 03, 2017

Sermon for 5/27/17: The Ascension of Our Lord (observed)

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“He Ascended into Heaven…”

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

Jesus has done all the work of salvation! So let me ask you this: What good is the Passion of the Christ if there is no one to proclaim it? What good is Our Lord Jesus shedding His blood if there is no man to immerse you in that same blood? What good is Our Lord Jesus giving His Body and Blood for us to eat and drink if there is no man to serve it? What good is the Lord’s pardon, absolution and remission of all your sins if there is no man to speak that Word into you? What good is our Savior reconciling us to Our Father if there is no man to be God’s ambassador?
It’s not just that our Lord’s earthly ministry time is finished. He has completed our salvation, and destroyed our death, and crushed Satan and his demons. So our Lord Jesus, the Savior of all, mercifully authorizes certain men, so that He might speak and work through them to proclaim and distribute Himself in preaching and in His holy sacraments. His desire is to draw all people to Himself, to be the one Shepherd of the one churchly flock, and in doing so to restore all people to full communion with God by making them partakers of His divine nature.
In our arrogance, we act as if Jesus has left these things in our hands to do with as we please. We treat His gifts as if He has left us only a vague outline that we can manipulate. We act as if the Holy Spirit is a slave to our whims, so we can treat the Church and Christ’s ministers as our slaves. But our Lord’s desire is not that we take what is His and do what seems good to us. The Lord’s desire is that His apostles and their successors speak and work in His name by the direction of the Spirit. So in these latter days, our Lord Jesus, working through His Spirit, delegates some of His authority to the men He has called. Through the pastors He Calls and Ordains, our Lord Jesus extends His hand and “throws His voice,” so to speak. And in this way He drowns sinners in a baptismal flood, and He distributes His Body and blood to the people He died to save.
So when our Lord tells these sinful, confused men to make disciples; when He gives them His authority and promises that He will work through them; when He says to preach and work in His name; our Lord is clearly and forthrightly saying that this work is not theirs, but His. With these words, our Lord unmistakably says to these Apostles, to their successors, and to the Church, that He will do His work; He will speak His Word; He will give His sacraments; He will perform His ministry. And through these gifts and actions, He will restore all men to communion with God and with each other. Why He chooses to work this way, and why He has determined that this is best, is not ours to question or change. Ours is simply to rejoice and believe.
Here, then, is your comfort: You can be certain that when those men ordained by Christ give you His ministry—particularly when these men baptize, absolve, preach, and administer the Eucharist—they do not act on their own authority; they do these things “in the stead and by the command” of Jesus Christ. And you can be sure that what they speak and do in His name is valid and certain precisely because it is not their work; it is the Lord who gives you these holy mysteries.
In this way, then, Our Lord’s ascension is your comfort and delight, your joy and hope, and a necessary part of your salvation. If Jesus had not ascended, His ministry and, indeed, His very body would have been confined to a particular time and place. But when He ascended on high, “He gave gifts to men”—most especially the gift of Himself in His body and blood through the hands and ministry of those whom He has called and ordained. 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.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sermon for 5/24/17: Funeral of Anita Edgar

"Unto Death"
Revelation 2:10

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Our text is Anita’s Confirmation verse, Revelation 2:10, which says, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”

The crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ told the Apostle John to write these words to the troubled Christians in the Church at Smyrna. They experienced trials and persecutions in such measure that they wondered if they should still continue to confess the Lord as their God. Smyrna’s Christians experienced worldly poverty, but Jesus reminded them just how rich they were in the holy things of the Lord—things like forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, hope, the Word of God, and the eternal inheritance awaiting them. “I know your tribulations and your poverty.” Jesus said to them. “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.”
Jesus could say this to them—and to us—because He is not a God who is far off. He does not watch from a distance, as Bette Midler would say He does. He became one of us—Emmanuel, God with us, God dwelling among us—for our salvation. He knows our trials and struggles—not just from observation, but because He experienced them Himself. His first bed was a food trough for livestock. His family fled with Him to Egypt to preserve His life from the murderous intentions of King Herod. He mourned the death of His friend, Lazarus. And He felt the excruciating pain of the scourge, the humiliation and mockery brought upon Him by both the Jews and the Roman soldiers. He was forsaken by His father, suffering and dying on the cross.
Anita certainly experienced a great deal of tribulation throughout her life. It’s heartbreaking enough to bury one child; Anita buried three young sons. She also buried her husband and eight siblings. She experienced health issues of her own. She spent most of the last years of her life in a wheelchair, and her memory was failing her near the end of her life. In our many visits together over the past seven years, first at the Manor and then at Three Springs, she often despaired that she was still here on earth. She frequently expressed to me her longing for the Lord to take her home.
And yet, through all of this, Anita did not lose her faith. Through all these struggles, she rejoiced at how the hand of the Lord upheld and sustained her. She rejoiced in the many blessings she had received from the Lord: a loving husband; a faithful daughter who visited her nearly every day; grandchildren and great-grandchildren; food, shelter, clothing, and, indeed, “all [she needed] to support this body and life;” and she especially rejoiced that the Lord made her His child in the waters of Holy Baptism, that He forgave her sins, and that He fed her with His own body and blood. This is not to say that Anita was worthy of all these blessings from God, or that she had strength or reason to trust in the Lord on her own, or that she earned her place in heaven. But she took the Word and promises of God very seriously. She wore out two copies of the Bible, diligently surrounding herself with that Word and clinging to those promises. Her pleas for the Lord to take her home were pleas of faith, for she knew the eternal joy the Lord would give her, the removal of tears and sorrow that were promised to her, and the reunion she is experiencing even now with those she loved who had gone before her in the faith. By the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit within her, Anita was faithful until death, and now the crown of eternal life belongs to her.
This promise is for you, too. Of course, just as this was true of Anita, there is no way that we can remain faithful in our own power—nor could the Christians in Smyrna or any of the other Christians who have died for their faith down through the centuries.  Faithfulness only comes by the power of the Holy Spirit, even in good times. That same power of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit you have received in the waters of Holy Baptism—will give you the faith to cling to the words and promises of God.
So “do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” Do not be afraid of the grief that you’re experiencing right now. Do not be afraid to mourn. Anita was a blessing to you, and it’s okay to miss her. Do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you. He knows your pain, your suffering, and your grief, for He is with you, and He will not leave you nor forsake you. He will send His Spirit to keep you steadfast in the faith. By His grace, you, like Anita and all those we love who have departed in the faith, will receive the crown of 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 will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sermon for 5/21/17: Sixth Sunday of Easter

My apologies for the delay.

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

Today’s Gospel tends to disturb us. We are impatient and overly sensitive. We are easily and quickly offended when we ask a question and get no answer. And we are cynical. We both say and believe that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. But most of all, we are slow to believe. We are so sure that others won’t come through that we’re already making a “Plan B” even before we ask someone a favor.
And then we hear about St. Paul, and that only confirms us in our impatience and cynicism. You know the story. It’s seared in your memory, and it haunts you every time you pray. Paul writes, “A thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan. Three times I begged the Lord that He might take it away from me.” We all know St. Paul’s frustration, because we’ve all lived it. And then Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you: Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Sinners that we are, we hardly believe what Jesus says. “Ask anything”? We’ve tried that, and it didn’t work. We think He must mean something else.
But we also have selective hearing. The singer Paul Simon wrote, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” This perfectly describes the ears of the sinner. We hear what we want to hear, and we make the Bible say what it never says. We pray only because we’re supposed to. And sometimes we do not pray at all. Instead of asking “anything,” we believe that God helps those who help themselves. Of course, you won’t find that anywhere in your Bible. What your Bible does say is this: “LORD, it is nothing for You to help those who have no power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we carry on.”
So why is St. Paul not helped? Paul certainly prayed in Jesus’ name. The problem is, we refuse to see Our Lord’s help when He gives it. We give up on the Lord when we don’t get our way. We think He doesn’t keep His promises. But the truth is, St. Paul is helped. He himself says so. His thorn is not taken away so that he might keep his eyes, his heart, his mind and his soul fixed on Our Lord and His mercy. If his ailment goes away, then Paul says, “I will be exalted above measure.” In other words, we would believe in ourselves and the power of our prayers and the strength of our faith. And the worst thing a man can do is believe in himself, for then he is believing less—or not at all—in the Father who created Him and who provides what is truly needful.
That’s why Jesus tells us to pray the way He does. We should not ask for things that make life easier. We should seek His mercy, which increases our peace even when we’re in pain. We should seek His grace, which increases our joy even when we’re sad. We should seek His compassion, which gives us true peace even when we’re depressed or stressed.
So the “anything” in our Lord’s “Ask anything” is not “anything you want.” The “anything” we’re to ask for is that which helps us attain the Lord’s kingdom, that which grows and matures and perfects our faith and life in God. He urges us to pray for those things which aid our salvation, which are useful for our life in God, which reinvigorate our communion with God.
Ultimately, the “anything” that we ask for is not a thing, but a person, for it is in the Holy Spirit that our life in God begins; it is through Him that our selfish desires our suppressed; it is by Him that our hearts are cleansed; it is in Him that our communion in God is made whole; it is through Him that we receive every blessing, including the kingdom of heaven. And so we pray for and rejoice to receive the Holy Spirit, so that our joy may be true and 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.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon for 5/14/17: Fifth Sunday of Easter

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"Where Are You Going?"

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

When our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, the question in the minds of the disciples was not “Where are You going?” but “What’s going to happen to us?” And so, just before He ascended, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” You can see, then, that the disciples were focusing not on our Lord, but on themselves; not on how He was helping them, but on what would happen next. To this day, that is still our question. For we don’t ask, “Where is the Lord so that I might be there with Him?” We do not ask, “How can I attain His kingdom?” We do not even ask, “How does His death and resurrection—how does His love for me—change the way I live and how I treat others?” For to ask those questions is to think of our Lord and His Church and His life lived for us and in us. Instead, we think of ourselves.
And this is why our hearts are quite often filled with sorrow. For we are convinced that God is getting back at us, or that He’s meanly testing us, or that He’s forgotten us. In fact, we’re so convinced of this that it takes all our effort—and, indeed, more effort than we possess—to live the life of Christ within us by suppressing our appetites, by denying ourselves sensual pleasures, by sacrificing our time in prayer, by holding our tongue, by living only for others, and by coming before the Lord to worship Him. These are the hardest things for us to do day in and day out. And it’s all because we don’t ask, “Where are You going—and how can I be there with You?”
Yet even though we are selfish, our Lord still gives of Himself. Even though we refuse to live a life of self-denial and prayer, our Lord still has mercy. And even though we only come to God when we’re desperate, our Lord does not shun us or neglect us. Instead, He sends us the Helper, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Lord and Giver of Life. Such is the love of God for us. He does not leave us orphans. He does not leave us without hope or comfort. He does not leave us wallowing in our self-pity and misery. And He doesn’t leave us to our own schemes. For it is our own plans and purposes—the false belief that we can make do, that we can deserve the Lord’s love, that we can be like God knowing good and evil, that our riches matter, that the life we live is good enough—it is this pride and self-belief that truly leaves us comfortless and standing outside the kingdom. And the Holy Spirit comes to show us how miserable and pathetic we really are when we believe in ourselves and make our own way.
But then this same Spirit, who tells you the truth about yourself, comes to you, to guide you into the fullness of truth. In other words, He guides you right into the arms of your heavenly Father in the embrace of your Holy Mother, the Church. For in the Church—not just this little parish, but in the communion of the godly and faithful—there is where the Way, the Truth, and the Life are declared and given to you.
There is much more that can be said, both about our life in God, and about the way the Holy Spirit works that life into us. But for now, let us be content with what our Lord’s Spirit has given us at this time. Even this little crumb is more than enough to satisfy our hunger and thirst for righteousness. And let us also be content that the Lord’s Spirit will continue to guide us into all truth—perhaps in ways that may shock or surprise us. For who are we, that we can determine the mind of God or even see what happens next? Instead, let us simply be content to ask the Lord Jesus, “Where are you going? Where are you taking us?”—and then follow Him in the faith that forsakes all so that we might attain the Kingdom of God. 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, May 07, 2017

Sermon for 5/7/17: Fourth Sunday of Easter

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You Will See Jesus

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

Christ is among you! He is now and will be forever! I tell you this, not because you refuse to believe it, but because you forget both its truth and its comfort. Our Lord did not promise that he would be with us only when He thought it best. He said, “Behold, I am with you always—even until the end of the age.” And He did not say He would be with us only when we invited Him. He said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Christ is among you! He is now and will be forever! It must be repeated, for you are accustomed to believing only what you see with your eyes or what makes sense to your reason and logic. Our Lord knows this. And so He says, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” He is not just preparing His disciples for His arrest and death; He is also comforting you. He is telling you that there will be a time when you will not see Him. But that should not cause you alarm or make you wonder about His love for you or cause you to believe that He has left you. Neither should your inability to see Jesus mean that you can now live as you please. Just because you cannot see the Lord, that does not mean He is not among you.  He says, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” And He says, “I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Christ is among you! Your physical eyes cannot discern His presence, but that is due to your inability, not His absence. The veil of sin and doubt covers your eyes. But our Lord wishes to be seen by those He has come to save. And by His Holy Spirit, He grants you the ability to see Him…but first with the eyes of faith. Jesus does not say, “You will not see Me,” and leave it at that. Instead He says, “A little while.” In other words, for a short time you do not see the Lord. But then He says, “Again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”
You may think that you now live in the “little while” when we do not see the Lord. And, in a way, you are right. For who has seen the Lord in the same way that St. Thomas or St. Peter saw Jesus? None of us have sat in Gethsemane with Him; none of us have put our fingers into our Lord’s wounds. But Abraham saw the Lord, and He “He rejoiced to see the Lord’s Day, and he saw it and was glad.” Do we not see the Lord in the same way Abraham did? And what’s more, do we not see Him the same way Simeon saw Him? Do we not receive Jesus as our Consolation? Do we not hold Him in our mouths in the Holy Supper just as Simeon held the Christ in his arms? What good is the idea that Jesus might be here—or the sense that we feel His presence—if He is not really and truly among us? And so the Holy Spirit helps us to recognize Jesus as He comes to us. We behold Him as Immanuel: God with us in the preaching of His Word; God with us in the washing of rebirth in Holy Baptism; God with us in His body and blood.
Christ is among you! And not because we said, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest.” Christ is in our midst because He said to you, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And when you come to Christ—that is, when He draw you into Himself—then My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
So let us rejoice and be glad, for with the disciples, we see the Lord. And because of them—because of their ministry, their eyewitness testimony, their prayers—we are now in that little while when we see Him with the eyes of faith. So do not be down-hearted or distressed. Christ is among you! He is now and will be forever! 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.