Thursday, June 23, 2016

PARODY: LCMS the Beautiful

With the 2016 LCMS Synod Convention coming up next month, I needed to relieve some tension I feel over being a delegate. With all the reading if overtures and resolutions, biographies, and mail from lobbyists, it's really a lot to handle. And complaining about those things takes even more energy. Snark takes effort! Anyway, I vent in rhyme and verse, and I'm pretty sure this one is a doozy destined to go down in infamy! Here's the result: a parody to the tune of "America the Beautiful." Enjoy! Walther did. See that smile! *wink*

LCMS the Beautiful

O beautiful bureaucracy
O'er endless by-laws made 
For district presidents to be
The popes of lesser grade. 
The by-laws reign supreme!
Let's vote to chunk 
That Bible junk
And live the sinner's dream!

O beautiful for heresy
That long goes unaddressed;
For pastors who are cursed to be
Inactives long oppressed. 
Our DP's hands are clean. 
Let's vote to flush 
That doctrine mush
And drop AC 14. 

O beautiful, we tossed the cross
For syncretistic prayer
We prayed when facing tragic loss
To show the world we care. 
Let's show our charity!
Let's go and scrap
That Concord crap
To Satan's lasting glee. 

O beautiful! O God, please send
The Spirit. Make us wise
To keep your Word unto the end
Before our voting eyes. 
Have mercy, Lord, we pray,
And keep us straight 
As we debate
These six exhausting days. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sermon for 6/19/16: Fourth Sunday After Trinity

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Trained in Mercy

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

The world is topsy-turvy. All that our Lord calls good and right in His Word, the world considers evil and judgmental. Everything our Lord calls evil and perverted, the world considers good and right. Abortion is legal. Homosexuality is celebrated. Living together outside of marriage is the norm. It almost seems as if the blind are really in the lead, doesn’t it? It is to the people living in these circumstances that our Lord delivers His message. “Be merciful.” “Judge not.” “Forgive.”

But wait. Aren’t Christians supposed to be concerned with the truth of the Word of God? Yes, of course you are. But your problem is that you think that others are the bad people and you are basically good. Sure, you might sin, but you cannot believe you might be evil. Evil people do evil things; you just mess up from time to time. After all, you are only human! If anyone is evil, it has to be that other person, not you. That sort of thinking is the very thing which is condemned in this text. You aren't better than the next poor sinner. The things you judge and look down on others for doing are the very things you do. How can you point out our neighbor's little splinter sins when you have a giant plank of your own?

Seeing the truth brings the hearts of sinners to anguish. Jesus says, “[The disciple] who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” Yet clearly you are not like your Teacher. Who here today does not sin? Who here has found and removed the plank from his own eye? Who here today is not “as His Master”? Examine your life in the lens of Holy Scripture, where you see how our Lord lives and interacts with the people around Him. Ask yourself, “Have I loved the Lord my God with all my heart? Have I loved my neighbor as myself?” And when you recognize that you have not done so, all that’s left for the sinner is judgment. The plank is lodged in your eye, and you cannot remove it.

But our Lord offers comfort even for those who cannot dislodge their own plank. At the Word of Christ, those who know they are not like their Teacher are forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ. The same Word that spoke all things into existence also speaks your holiness and righteousness. You are made to be like your Teacher. You who know you don’t love your enemies; you who know it’s against your nature to forgive; you who know you have no desire to show mercy—you are loved by the God who your old Adam made into an enemy. You are forgiven by the God who paid the price with His own blood to wash away your sin. You are shown mercy by the God whose very nature is mercy.

Christ is speaking to you this morning, He is inviting, beckoning, calling, urging, desiring, drawing, requesting, nudging, to this very altar. He speaks His life-giving Word to you to forgive all your sins. He feeds you with His body and blood, fulfilling in you all righteousness, again bestowing every baptismal grace and goodness so that you may stand against the fleshly onslaught that says you are not our Lord’s child and disciple.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are good. Don’t come here and pretend as if you have some sort of special claim on God through your own merit. After all, God owes you nothing. But don’t be afraid to come. After all, everything God has for you is a free gift in His Son. Approach His altar with confidence, trusting that Christ is merciful even as His Father is merciful. He shows His mercy and grace to the ungrateful and evil—yes even to you and to me—so that, by His washing with water with the Word, by His Word of forgiveness, by His body and blood, you may be fully trained to be merciful, even as your Lord and Master is merciful. 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, June 15, 2016

Sermon for 6/15/16: The Funeral of Rosalie McCaw

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Our text is taken from Philippians Chapter 4. We consider these words:

I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

Thus far our text.

When death comes to the relief of one whose life was marked by sorrow and suffering, both the godless and the believers can be heard to say, “Her death was a great blessing.” For the godless, this conveys the idea that it was better for her to be dead than to be alive. But even if death were man's utter extinction, as the godless claim to believe, it would be a mockery to welcome something which has taken a loved one from a family. When a Christian says, “Her death was a great blessing,” it means something much different. In your grief, your hearts, which ache at the great loss you have sustained, yearn for a word comfort and contentment. So let me tell you this truth: Truly, Rosalie’s death was a great blessing to her; she is better off now than she was.

Among Christians, these words are flowing with comfort. We have not lost those who died, and those who died have gained great things. They are delivered from all sorrow and suffering. And that perhaps is the least gain. The most precious gain is this: by reason of the faith she was given in Holy Baptism, Rosalie now rests in the arms of her Savior. That is our comfort and our hope this day.

It is a characteristic of people to seek contentment, to desire to be satisfied with their lives. We spend a great deal of time and money and energy seeking contentment. Occasionally and for brief periods of time, we might even achieve a bit of contentment. A couple works hard to raise their children, give them an education, and send them out into the world, all the while saving enough money to retire and travel. But very quickly we realize that contentment gained through money, security, travel and the good life do not prevent sickness or tragedy from entering into our lives. What had been contentment turns quickly into confusion and restlessness. So we ask, “Where can I find contentment? Is there such a thing as being content which applies to this life and beyond?”

Paul wrote to his beloved Christian friends: I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content Here was a man who had been imprisoned for his faith, felt the thirty-nine lashes of the whip on his back on five occasions, was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, threatened by Jews and Gentiles, endangered by rivers and robbers, and was adrift at sea for a night and a day. In addition to that, he lived with the fact that he was personally responsible for the imprisonment and probably the death of the many Christians he had persecuted before his conversion. How in the world could he be content?

Rosalie experienced some tremendous disappointments and tragedies—none more painful than the death of her son. She expended a great amount of energy caring for her husband at the end of his life. And especially in the last month or so, Rosalie experienced great physical pain of her own. Even so, she was content. Where in the world can one find such contentment? Certainly, and especially at times like this, you recognize it is not in money, pleasure, material possessions, family, people, or any other thing in this world. For these all soon vanish. It is not to be found in oneself, for inside ourselves we find a guilty conscience that will not let us rest, a mind that is not always wise, a body that is getting sick and old. Even within this room today, each of us is inching closer to our own death. Who will be next? How long will it be before your mortal remains occupy a container like this? Such thoughts do not make us very content!

Where can we find contentment? It can be found only where both the Apostle Paul and Rosalie found it: in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In perfect grace, God looked upon mankind's hopelessness and eternal destruction, and He intervened. The sinless Son of God was born to suffer like a sinner, and He lived to die on the cross. He died so that we would live, so that all of God's wrath for sinners would be paid with His own blood, so that we would be totally and completely acceptable to the Almighty. If God allowed that to happen to His own Beloved Son on the cross, do you think that He doesn't want to forgive you and call you his own? The Resurrection of Christ gives us the guarantee that death is not the end. Death is where real life begins: life with God forever, where there will be no more pain or suffering, no more mourning, and especially no more death! This what Saint Paul believed, and he is eternally content. This is what Rosalie believed, and she is eternally content. And this Good News can make you content too. It doesn't matter what is in your past. It doesn't matter that you don't know what tomorrow will bring. It doesn't matter whether you are in sick or healthy, rich or poor, old or young, man or woman. Christ died and rose for you so that you would be an heir of heaven.

Rosalie is now fully content. Where she is, there is no more sorrow nor pain nor suffering nor even death, for she is forever with her Lord. And on top of that, she is reunited with Bill and Don and all those she loved who had gone before her in the faith. Knowing that, you and I can say by faith that her death was a great blessing. Knowing that, you and I as believers are able to look forward to a heavenly reunion with Rosalie, with Don, with Bill, and with all those who have departed this life as children of God. And knowing that, you and I, like Rosalie, can be content, both now and 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. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sermon for 6/12/16: Third Sunday After Trinity

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Search and Rescue

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

The scribes and Pharisees were appalled that Jesus would eat with sinners. And these weren’t just regular sinners; they were notorious sinners, sinners who had betrayed their own people. Imagine drug dealers. Imagine serial killers. Imagine traitors who sold state secrets to ISIS. And there’s Jesus, a respected rabbi, hanging out with them and eating with them. What an outrage! 
Jesus could very well have given them reasons they could accept. He could have said that He was calling them to repentance, showing them a better way to live. But He didn't. Instead He told them a parable in which He placed those notorious sinners on equal footing with the Pharisees. They are all His lambs. They are all His coins, all His sons. Even while they're lost, while they're off squandering the inheritance, while they hate Him, mock and ridicule Him, while they scourge and murder Him, they are His lambs, His coins, His sons. He loves them and He wants them back. All of them are precious and valuable to Him. All of them have been reconciled to the Father in His Sacrifice. He died for every single one of them. He loves them all. And now Hell has nothing more to demand, for there is not a single sin that has not already been covered.
This can be hard to accept. We would like some justice and maybe even some vengeance. We'd like the other sinners to pay for what they've done. We'd like the world to know their shame and sorrow, how bad and stupid and selfish they really are. We'd like them to feel some of the pain that they've caused. But like King David, who was outraged by Nathan’s parable but ignored his own sin in causing Uriah’s death, we too are guilty of the sins we despise. Let David's repentance be your guide. Let the Psalms teach you the faith and teach you to sing: “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed. You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day.” The truth is, if you are no better than David, neither are you any less forgiven. Your hope is no less assured. God doesn’t love you any less.
The Lord of Life seeks out for sinners. He loves them. He wants to be with them, to eat and laugh with them, to love them. He did not come to berate them, scold, or educate them. He wants to serve them, encourage and support them. That is what makes the Pharisees and scribes mad. No one would be upset if He came to teach these bad people a lesson. But to simply forgive and love them? That seems too naive and foolish. Our Lord doesn't care what shame it brings: He loves sinners. He searches for them, receives them, and eats with them. He lets them off the hook without cost or effort, without promise or condition. And if you are His friend, you will rejoice with Him over every sinner that He finds, restores, blesses, and prospers. You will rejoice to call them your brother or sister in Christ. 
This is the heart and soul of our faith: Jesus receives and eats with sinners. It seems almost too good to be true. But it is not cheap grace. It cost our Father the Life of His Son. But still, despite your sin, Jesus seeks you. He searches for you. He wants you because He loves you. God be praised! Jesus receives and eats with sinners. And if that is the heart and soul of our faith, then surely the most significant place of His eating with sinners is where He gives them His Body and His Blood; where He enters into them and makes them His new Temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit; where He forgives sins and unites them to Himself in the foretaste of the banquet to come. What is offered this day is none other than the Lord’s Supper, and He gives it to you. You are found, and all the angels rejoice. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Sermon for 6/5/16: Second Sunday After Trinity

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

When Jesus speaks in parables, He’s explaining how the Kingdom of God comes. And the Kingdom of God comes in Jesus Christ Himself. In Christ, the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is present, here right now, in the One the Father sent to be slaughtered in your place, cut to pieces on a cross and prepared for your salvation. It is clear that the Lord wants everybody in His Kingdom. He wants everyone at the Feast of His Son.

It is also clear that most won’t come. Sinners don’t feel the need for such a Feast. In fact, they find the Feast so worthless that they make excuses not to attend. Those who do come must be compelled, even dragged in the door. People will be saved in spite of themselves, simply because of the desire of the One who prepares the Meal. And what a Meal! As your own favorite meal is prepared by a chef with fancy knives, a state-of-the-art oven, and an open flame—or however it’s prepared—so the Father let His Son be offered up in love, and now He is served to you in Word and Sacraments for your forgiveness. All things are now ready. Nothing is lacking.

But the excuses are as plentiful as they are creative. “I’ve bought some land, and I have to go see it.” “I’ve bought oxen and I have to test them.” “I just got married.” The proud and arrogant think that they can prey upon the generosity and patience of God. My brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it that keeps you from the Feast? What prevents you from crying out for the Supper? What sins entangle you too often and keep you from the Lord’s Table? Now, you might think that this sermon is being preached to the choir. But who hasn't wanted the best of both worlds: the pleasures of the flesh, honor among men, luxuries, freedom, and constant amusement on the one hand, and the joys and peace of heaven on the other? Who here cries out for the Supper as often as possible? Who here is ready to lose job, family, reputation, and wealth for the Kingdom of God? We all promised that in our Confirmation vows. Did we really mean it? Do not think that you can enjoy forbidden fruit now and grasp heaven for cheap when it is more convenient.

Repent. Hear the warning. God says, “None of those who were invited shall taste of my Supper.” He will not be mocked. Now is the hour of salvation. Tomorrow may never come. No one buys a piece of land without seeing it first. No one buys a tractor without first testing it. God is not fooled by lip-service, by going through the motions. He is not appeased by excuses. Stop playing games with your soul, planning to sin now and repent later. Stop thinking that your sins are reasonable and bring no guilt. Stop thinking that you have some special relationship to God where He indulges your sins. Repent. Repent now. There is only one case of death-bed repentance in all of the Scriptures. While no man should despair and think it is too late, neither should any one presume. The invitation is not for tomorrow. It is for today. It is for right now. And it is for you.

All things are ready. Nothing is lacking. It is finished. God has made peace with man. He has given His Son to us. Jesus has given us life by His resurrection. And still He gives. He gives His body and blood for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. He desires that you call upon Him and rest in Him. He wants you here. Whatever you've done, whatever evil things you've dreamed and thought, whatever lies you've told, whatever has held you back from the altar: bring all of it. Confess it. God has paid for all of it in His Son. Receive His holy Absolution and live. The land can wait. The oxen—your new tractor—will be there when you get home. Bring your new spouse with you. Come. All things are ready, and He is waiting for you. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 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, May 30, 2016

Sermon for 5/29/16: First Sunday After Trinity

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

Our Lord’s account of the rich man and Lazarus has much to teach us. It’s a reminder to believers and nonbelievers of what is most important in this life. The rich man liked his stuff. He didn’t like to share. He watched others suffer, like the poor man who begged at the rich man’s gate for mere crumbs from the table. The rich man died and went to hell. And then there was Lazarus. We don’t know much about him, other than that he was poor. He had sores. He begged. He also died, yet he went to heaven and reclined in the bosom of father Abraham.

So do good to your neighbor, or you’ll go to hell. Amen. Good sermon, right? Those who think the Church should only be about social justice would be satisfied if we were to leave it at that. And one could make a good case for social justice out of this text, showing the need to help others less fortunate. You certainly should be good to your neighbors. After all, Jesus teaches you to love your neighbor as yourself. But that’s not the main point of what Jesus has to teach you today. What saved Lazarus, and what condemned the rich man, was trust. Lazarus trusted the Lord to provide for him, even when that meant dogs to lick his sores. The rich man trusted himself and his wealth, so much so that he wouldn’t even sacrifice the crumbs from his table. 

Last week, Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” But the Kingdom of God is of the Spirit. So, as Jesus says, “Unless a person is born of Water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus shows us what that looks like in this morning's Gospel. It isn't pretty or pleasant, is it? Life apart from Jesus isn't comfortable. Oh, it may seem pleasant enough this side of death. It seemed pleasant enough for the rich man. It seems pleasant enough for people caught up in their lives, too busy for the love of God delivered in Christ's Means of Grace, too busy to put personal hustle and bustle aside to care for others. Parents, are you too busy to bring up your children in the Ways of God? Neighbors, are you too busy to share the Word of God with those you encounter in your life? Workers, are you too concerned with your paycheck to sit at the Lord’s feet and receive the gifts He has for you? Are you too concerned with the leisure of your day off to spend one bitter hour with the Lord of life?

Dear Christian, you have enough—not in yourself, but in Christ. Don't fear poverty, or even the sacrifice of that little bit that goes to help another, to support the Gospel in your midst, to carry Christ to the nations. If all you can do is hold on to the little bit you have, as if it's all you have, you are miserable indeed. But in your poverty, learn how much God has for you in Jesus. You are baptized into the Body of Christ, which means you are clothed with something greater than the finest linen. You're clothed with Jesus. You have God’s name now—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—so your name will be remembered for eternity, recorded in the Book of Life! And you are fed His Body and His Blood, by which Christ promises to raise you up in glory. These are your riches in this life, no matter what you suffer. They are your security, so that you can let go of things that will not last. 

God has given you His Son to set you at the gate of heaven. He provides you a pastor, poor dog that he is, to lick your wounds and tell you that your sins are forgiven. He gives you crumbs from His Table, and more than crumbs: the Body and the Blood of Christ who died for you and rose again, and who now begs the Father for your life, forgiveness, and salvation. He is love, and in love He is ever mindful of you, the beggar at His gate. 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 22, 2016

Sermon for 5/22/16: Feast of the Holy Trinity

A blessed Feast of the Holy Trinity to you and yours.

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Good News for You

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

Jesus said, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus couldn’t quite get the idea of being born again. Perhaps he would have been better off if he understood Jesus as saying, “Unless one is born from above.” For it is only from above that you can even begin to understand the Trinity. There is more than enough evidence in the Scripture of the existence of the three Persons of the Godhead. It starts in Genesis with creation: the Father creating the world through His Son, with the Spirit of God hovering over the deep. We see it when Jesus was baptized: our Lord in the Jordan River, the Father's voice from above, the Spirit descending as a dove. And we see it plainly when St. Matthew records our Lord’s imperative to make disciples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And it continues throughout Scripture.
No one is born dry. No matter how you emerge from the womb of your mother, you are born wet. And no one enters the Kingdom of heaven dry either. “You must be born of Water and the Spirit,” Jesus says, and that is Holy Baptism. At the Font you were named with the Triune God. He called you His. He gave you the Name which is above every name, the Name of Jesus, which is His alone to give out as He pleases. That's being born from above.
It's easy for those who think that they are something in God's eyes to dry faith off, to pull it away from God's saving work in Holy Baptism, or His saving Gifts at the Table of Christ. People don't need their ears wet with God's promises or their lips wet with Christ's Blood, when they think that they have some standing, some deserved place before God. But when Jesus says, “God so loved the world,” He isn't saying that God was just so head-over-heels in love with sinful man, but that God loved the world in this way. He loved the world in this profound way: that He gave His only-begotten Son, Who died for you and rose again so that you would have eternal life.
You are born into God's Kingdom wet with the Water and Word, and thereby drowned and raised again. St. Paul says, “We were buried with Christ through Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life.” You are washed in Jesus, clothed in Jesus; His life, death and resurrection are poured out and laid upon you. It is His work, not yours. This is His gift to you, just as life and love and your parents' name were all given you freely on the day that you were born from below.
Being “born from above” in Holy Baptism enables you to see the work of this Triune God in your own life. You have a Triune God who lavishes you with the gift of His creation. You have a Triune God who shows you the manner of His love in a once-for-all sacrifice that would make peace between you and the Father. You have a Triune God “who calls you by His Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith.” And all of this goes back before the world was created!
You'll never get old enough to find an end to learning what that means. Your guilt is atoned for. Your sin is covered. This birth from above takes your sin away. Though you are unworthy and unclean, the God Who made you, also makes you right in God the Son, Who sends His Holy Spirit to comfort you, to give you faith to confess your sins and receive forgiveness and give that forgiveness to your neighbor. See what kind of love the Father has given to you, that you may be called a child of God, baptized into His holy name: 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 19, 2016

HYMN: O God of All Compassion

I've had a lot on my mind lately, and it has been a source of distraction and has kept me from being very productive outside of the things which are necessary--things like sermons, sermons, and more sermons. I received a bit of a reprieve today, though I wouldn't have asked for the the events which led to the reprieve. But I decided to take a moment for myself today, and this text is the result. It's based on the readings for the Fourth Sunday After Trinity, where Jesus gives us what may be the most misunderstood text in all of Scripture: "Judge not, and you shall not be judged." Anyway, here it is. Feedback is love. And if you don't like it, don't judge me. *wink*

O God of All Compassion

1. O God of all compassion,
Who calls me by my name,
My sin cries out against me;
My foes announce my shame.
In mercy draw me near.
In every trouble, hide me.
To Your own refuge guide me
And free my heart from fear.

2. Your mercy, holy Father,
A sinner cannot earn,
But for the sake of Jesus
You show Your great concern.
As You in grace forgive,
Let my own heart not harden,
But let me offer pardon,
Confess my sin, and live.

3. O Jesus, righteous Savior,
The sinless Judge of all,
You use for greatest blessing
The evil I befall.
Lead me in charity
So, should my neighbor falter,
I lead Him to Your altar:
Redeemed, forgiven, free.

4. And come, O Holy Spirit:
Oh, come and make me wise,
That I may find and banish
The plank from my own eyes.
Then, Spirit, dwell within,
That I may ever labor
To love and serve my neighbor
And cover all his sin.

© 2016 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
76 76 67 76
Occasion: Fourth Sunday After Trinity 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sermon for 5/15/16: The Feast of Pentecost

This morning we were blessed to witness the baptism of Torin River Weakley as we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost! By the way, this is how St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill looks on the Feast of Pentecost when we have a Baptism.

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True Love

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

Sunday after Sunday, the faithful throughout the world confess their love for the Lord by sacrificing their time to attend the Divine Service. They also sacrifice some of what they have and some of who they are for the sake of their parish. With that in mind, in the weeks and months ahead, as we consider what the future of this congregation will look like, we also should ponder the question, “What does it mean to love the Lord God?”

Jesus says, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. To love the Lord God means to take Him at His Word, to rely on Him, and to expect every good thing from Him. It also means that you can say, “Whatever I go through, whatever good or ill comes my way, whatever joy or sadness I experience, whatever direction my life takes—our heavenly Father, through His Son, by His Spirit, is beside me and remains with me. No matter what happens—in good times or bad—He blesses me, comforts me, endures with me and helps me.”

But from where does this love for God come? Is it blind allegiance? Do you love the Father only because you’ve been convinced that you should? Is your love merely a hope that things go well and a vague faith in the goodness of God or man? For many, that is all loving God is—just the way they express their faith that things will be okay and get better. Is your love for Jesus a love and trust in the Man who was born of Mary? Or is it loving and trusting the idea of a Savior? When your love for Jesus depends on your own notions of what a Savior should be, your love for Him grows cold, and you do not let His love have its way with you. That Christ you love looks an awful lot like what you see in the mirror.

Today our Lord says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” With those words, our Lord Jesus urges you to remember that He is not an idea or an invisible childhood friend. Loving Him means holding to His Word and holding Him to His Word. And that gives you courage to live not for ideas or justice, but to live confident that your Jesus comes through, that He never lets you down, and that even in the darkest days your Jesus does the best for you.

Remember what St. John has said: God is love.” So love is more than a feeling; Love is God Himself. Yet you cannot see God or put your arms around Him. And so, that Love which God is, the Holy Spirit implanted that love in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There, God became man. There, God became someone you could hear, someone you can see with your eyes and touch with your hands. There, from the flesh of Mary, came Love in the flesh. All of this is because of the Holy Spirit. That Love of God born of the Virgin Mary lived the love that He is. While we were still sinners, He died for us. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” All of this is because of the Holy Spirit. Yet the Spirit doesn’t stop there. After the Love of God is killed and sacrificed and raised from the dead, then the Holy Spirit comes again to unite Jesus to your flesh and blood. When does the Holy Spirit do this? He does it first when you are baptized. In the waters of Holy Baptism, the Spirit buries you deeply within the flesh and blood of Jesus. And so you come alive—truly alive—in Him, even as young Torin was made truly alive this day. And then, when you receive the Holy Sacrament, the Spirit implants Jesus Himself into your flesh in His body and blood. And so now you really live. And no longer do you live to yourself. Now, by the Spirit, in Christ you live and move and have your being.

With the Lord God, who is Love, at home in you, what can anyone do to you? This is the same God who raised Jesus from the dead, the same God who has promised that He will not let His saints see destruction, the same God whose gracious good will is always done and whom death and the devil cannot stop. He is trustworthy, and whoever trusts in God has the love of God abiding in Him. 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 08, 2016

Sermon for 5/8/16: Seventh Sunday of Easter

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

Once again this morning, Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit. This week, Jesus tells you what the Holy Spirit is all about and why He will come and what He will do. Jesus calls the Spirit the "Helper" or "Comforter." That's because the Spirit's job is to give you comfort against sin and death and the power of the devil. Pay close attention to what Jesus is saying here today, because it will keep you from despair when the world seeks to destroy you for being a Christian. These words of Jesus concerning the Spirit's work will preserve you from all false belief and wrong notions about God and the Spirit. These words of Jesus teach you that the Holy Spirit brings you true, eternal comfort by keeping you in Christ against what the devil, the world, and your sinful nature throw at you.

There are many people out there who want to talk about God or worship God or have something to do with God apart from Jesus. That is not the witness of the Holy Spirit. That's not the faithful witness of the Apostles. Every religion under the sun is concocted to try to figure that God out, to understand what He wants and what you have to do to please Him. With that kind of god, you can never be certain that you’ve done enough. But the Holy Spirit doesn't lead you to that god. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and, through the preaching of the Gospel, He bears witness of Jesus who has taken God's wrath upon Himself. The Spirit points you to and delivers Christ in whom you have forgiveness and life, in Whom the Father smiles upon you, in Whom the Father no longer counts your sins against you.

But such a Jesus doesn't flatter you. Such a Gospel and such a Spirit don't teach you that you have the power to save yourself. Such a Gospel teaches you to put all your hope and trust in Christ alone. Such preaching that the Holy Spirit does, such faithful preaching He delivers through faithful pastors, tells you to go looking for Jesus nowhere else than in Word and Water and Body and Blood. The Spirit teaches that you will find Jesus nowhere else. And if there is no Jesus, there is no forgiveness, or salvation or heavenly Father. That's why Jesus tells the disciples that they will suffer for His sake. People will throw them out and kill them and think they are doing God's work! When you've got God all figured out apart from Jesus, that's what you do: you take down those whose only hope and trust is in Jesus. It’s why Christians are killed every day all over the world: religions who deny that Christ is God can't stand the thought that they cannot save themselves. You only have to tour our little Synod to see that faithful pastors are being thrown out of their parishes because they will only teach Jesus and His means of grace. They preach faithfully that there is no looking for God apart from Jesus and the Spirit is not at work apart from His Word. So their congregations or the Synod find some reason to stop supporting them and their families and finally throw them out.

Against such persecution, against such trouble, against such suffering, the Helper comes to Comfort you. And the comfort comes not be taking away the suffering but by bearing witness to Jesus by turning you to what is true: in Baptism you have been washed clean and made fit for eternal life; in Absolution your sins been removed from you; in the Supper Christ died for you that you might live and be free from sin and death. The Spirit and your pastor bear witness of Jesus: they testify from the font, the pulpit, and the altar, that God smiles upon you in Christ and has forgiven all your sins. They tell you that, throughout the suffering of this life, the Lord will guard you and keep you and comfort you until one day you pass through death and away from this world and its evils to the eternal kingdom and paradise the Lord Himself has prepared for you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have the witness of the Spirit, the testimony of the Apostles, the Word and the holy Gifts, all of which deliver Jesus to you. And having Jesus, you have far more than the world can ever give. Praise God for such a faithful and comforting Helper as the Holy Spirit, for He gives you only true comfort: the comfort of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Savior. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Sermon for 5/7/16: Funeral of Mildred Kuhlman

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I Am Not Ashamed

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

St. Paul writes, “The just”—that is, the righteous—“shall live by faith.” But it is not at all an easy thing to live by faith. We recently heard the account of Jesus appearing to the disciples, and Thomas refusing to accept their word of the Lord’s appearance. “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” It was not until Jesus showed Thomas those wounds that Thomas was able to confess, “My Lord and my God!” Even this follower of Jesus, having spent three years learning at His feet, could not easily live by faith; he had to see. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In other words, to be faithful means to trust the testimony of those who confess the Truth. That’s why it’s such a blessing that we have the eyewitness accounts of the Apostles. St. John the Evangelist, after giving his testimony regarding the life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus, explained that he shared these things “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

We live in a world that wants to be ruled by physical evidence. It’s not a bad thing to observe the world around you. But at the same time, not everything can be explained by the Scientific Method. Those who believe about God only what they can observe and prove would be hard-pressed to rely on such faith when things get rough. But those who believe the good news about Jesus and His life-giving work do not rely on their own reason or strength. Those who live their lives trusting in the Lord—those who cling to the Lord who bore their sins to the cross, who were raised with Him in the waters of Holy Baptism, who hunger and thirst for the Word of Holy Absolution and for our Lord’s Holy Supper, those who confess their faith in Him until their dying breath—these are not put to shame, for in these gifts, in the Gospel of Christ, salvation is given to those who believe.

It was my privilege and blessing to serve as Mildred’s pastor for nearly six years. But it did not take six years to recognize Mildred as a woman of faith. Mildred was a good woman, as the world views goodness. She was loving, compassionate, caring, generous, wise, prudent, and any number of other virtues which the world commends as good and worthy. But more than these things, Mildred was a woman who lived and walked by faith in Jesus Christ. Oh, we cannot deny that Mildred was a sinner. We cannot say that Mildred earned her way to heaven by living a good life, any more than anyone can reach heaven by the power of their own merits. She had moments of doubt and despair, moments when her willing spirit was overwhelmed by the weakness of her flesh. Those who served her in the nursing home could tell you of times when Mildred struck out in anger and frustration, attempting to do physical harm. And it was not uncommon, especially once she moved into one nursing home and then into another, to hear her groan and question God: “Why am I still here? Why hasn’t the Lord come to take me home?” But even in these moments of weakness—especially in these moments of weakness—Mildred hungered and thirsted for the Word of God, and she kept it close to her heart. She was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. Once she was no longer able to come to church, if I hadn’t seen her in what she considered to be a reasonable period of time, she wouldn’t hesitate to call me and let me know that she wanted the body and blood of Jesus. Like Mary, who knelt at the feet of Jesus while her sister Martha fluttered about, Mildred rejoiced to hear of the one thing needful, the good news of her Lord Jesus. The faith which had been given to her in the waters of Holy Baptism cried out for her Lord, and Mildred, like all those who live by faith, was not put to shame. Just like Simeon in our Gospel, she beheld her Savior, and she was blessed to “depart in peace.”

So what about us? What about those who love Mildred and will miss her? Our Lord has good news for us, too. Our Lord Jesus Christ knows the grief we feel right now, for He felt it at the death of His friend Lazarus. But our Lord, after grieving, proceeded to raise Lazarus from the dead! And then He went on to the cross, where He died the death we deserved, carrying our sins and the sins of the whole world, bearing the righteous wrath of our Father for us. And then He rose from the dead, leaving our sins—our doubt, our despair, our weakness—buried in the tomb, destroying forever the power of death. Finally He ascended to the right hand of the Father, where His wounds plead for us. When our last hour comes, we who have been baptized, who have been fed with the flesh and blood of our Savior, who have been forgiven of all our sins, will join Mildred in a holy rest. And then, on the Last Day, we will be raised. We will be reunited in eternal life with Mildred, with Bill, with Julie, with all those we love who have gone before us in the faith, nevermore to suffer, nevermore to mourn, nevermore to die. 

As we await that day, there is no shame in grief. Mildred was a good gift from God to us, and we will miss her. But we do not grieve like those who have no hope, for we know that a holy reunion awaits us on the Last Day. And as we await that eternal raising, we rejoice to receive the body and blood of Jesus, a heavenly Feast where we are reunited with Mildred along with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” Even though our weak flesh will continue to sin, our willing spirit will continue to walk by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, clinging to His Word and trusting in His work for us. And putting our trust in Him, we will never be put to shame in the eyes of the Lord. 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 01, 2016

Sermon for 5/1/16: Sixth Sunday of Easter

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Whatever You Ask

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

“Ask anything.” That's what we hear Jesus saying in today's Gospel. “Ask anything of the Father in My Name and you'll get it.” And so our mind races to think of the many “anythings” we want. And nearly all the “anythings” are things that we are sure will make our life easier, better, smoother. Or they're things that will help others—or help us all. But then comes doubt. After all, how many times have we asked for something? How many times have we prayed and begged God to give us the things we know will help us, and yet God has turned a deaf ear. We haven’t received a single one of them. And so we're not so sure about our Lord’s “ask anything” policy. We count it as just one more exaggeration: God speaks like us, overstating His promises to get our attention or make a point. And then we point to St. Paul. He didn't ask just anything. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh”—the ailment or temptation or weakness that afflicted him. Yet even this great apostle didn't get what he wanted. Instead, we hear Jesus tell him, “Live with it. Deal with it.” Oh, He makes it sound prettier: My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. That’s the same answer we always seem to get. So much for “ask anything.”

But “Whatever you ask the Father in My name” doesn't mean to ask for the things you're sure are best for you. Neither does it mean, “Ask for anything you like.” For the things we like, the things we're certain we need—those are often things that gratify our passions and serve our selfish desires. Or they're things that will soon fade or be consumed, and so we're back asking again. The problem is that our field of vision, our field of faith and prayer, is too small. Our concerns are all too often centered on the things in this life—the things Jesus told us not to fret about—and so our prayers are not really prayers, but worrying and complaining expressed as desires. Do you really think that when Jesus taught us to say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He was only talking about bread or food? And do you really believe that when you say, “Forgive us our trespasses,” you're only referring to the things you know you did yesterday or last week or a few years ago? And does “deliver us from evil” only mean that we hope we don't get in an accident, or that no one hurts us?

When Our Blessed Lord Jesus says, “Whatever you ask,” the “whatever” is not about the things that bring you pleasure now, but the Thing that will increase your joy both now and forever. The “whatever” and the “anything” our Jesus urges you to ask for is the “whatever” and “anything” that lets the Lord bless you in spite of yourself, have mercy on even though you constantly do your own thing, and pull you through sickness and death even though you are dust and should return to dust.

So the “whatever you ask” is not aimed at the “anythings” that will make life easier now. “Whatever you ask” is aimed at the one thing needful that hauls you through this life to the life of the world to come. So when Jesus says “whatever you ask,” He is really urging you to ask for the Holy Spirit, because it is the Holy Spirit who gives you the faith to see past today's fears and sicknesses. And it is the Spirit who gives you the faith to look beyond now, to yearn for the true and perfect gifts of God. And it is the Spirit who teaches you to see not the little things in life, but Jesus, who is Life Himself. And it's the Spirit who brings to your remembrance that everything you've been through, everything that keeps you back, everything that frustrates you—all of that works together for good. But most of all, it is the Holy Spirit who gives you the courage and the desire to ask the Father anything in Jesus' name.

When you ask, the Holy Spirit also helps you see and believe that all your asking, all your praying, all your true godly desires, come not from the many “anythings” your sinful Adam desires, but from the one thing needful that is concentrated and unfailingly given at this holy altar. For from this altar you receive the mercy, the forgiveness, the strength, the compassion, the grace, and the life of God Himself inseparably resident in the flesh and blood of His Son. The Holy Spirit shows this to you—to your heart and mind. And so the greatest “anything” we ask of Our Father is that He would send down His Holy Spirit upon us and upon His gifts of bread and wine so that He might bless them and hallow them and show that the bread is the precious Body of Christ, and the wine is the precious Blood of Christ which was shed for the life and forgiveness of the world.

All this is yours for the asking when you look beyond what you want and ask your Father for your salvation. All this is yours, because you asked the Father for the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ Our Lord. 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.