Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sermon for 3/1/15: Lent II



Hold On to Jesus

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

If you want to make sense out of the readings for the Sundays in Lent, you need to know that the Church Year, when it was put together many centuries ago, was designed in part as a period of instruction for those who were new to the faith. It was a period of teaching to prepare new Christians for their reception into the Church. The first Sunday in Lent introduced these new Christians to the devil, to let them know that there really is an enemy out there who is literally hell-bent on wiping out their faith in the God. The first Sunday in Lent issues a serious warning: expect to be tempted. The Word of God, however, has the power to defeat and drive away this enemy.

The second Sunday in Lent introduces new Christians to a phenomenon that older, seasoned Christians know very well. Not only do they have to deal with the devil roaring like a lion, looking for someone to devour, but they will also have to contend with another painful spiritual experience: getting what seems to be the cold shoulder from God. Many times we struggle and wrestle with God in prayer, much like the account of Jacob. And like Jacob, who never walked the same again after that wrestling match with God, we may well walk away from our struggle with God wounded. We cry out like the woman in today’s Gospel, and we feel ignored, excluded, insulted. But our text urges us not to give in to despair. That woman from Canaan is a living enactment of those words of our Lord: “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.

She came to Jesus. “Have mercy on me, O Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” One of Satan’s crew had grabbed hold of her daughter, filling that poor child with hatred and bitterness, with the rage and anger and resentment that is Satan’s stock-in-trade. And when she heard that the Great Healer had come into her area, it was like a gift from heaven. Never had anyone been known to cry out to Him in vain. And so, she ran to Him, and pleaded for her daughter.

But what treatment did she receive? “He did not answer her a word.” Even the disciples were shocked at how He treated her. They intervened on her behalf, but it did no good. He simply told them: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He knew she wasn’t one of the chosen people. But did she just slink away and give up? No! She fell down before Him and insisted: “Lord, help me!” Surely now He would help. But He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” He didn’t just tell her that she was not one of the chosen people. He told her she was a dog. In other words, she was completely unworthy of the bread He was sent to give to His people. But she acknowledged the truth of what He said. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” She was only asking for crumbs.

Like Jacob, she would not let go of the Lord until He blessed her. She let herself be emptied of every claim, and yet still she threw herself on His mercy. And she was not disappointed: “‘O Woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” You see, this is His way to test those who come to Him; that is the truth! He teaches you the long and hard way not to rely on yourselves or on your feelings or how you think things should be going in your life. In this way He teaches you to trust in Him and His great love and mercy. He does this, strangely enough, by giving you the cold shoulder.

This woman didn’t even know the whole story—at least, not like you know it. And yet, she would not let loose of Him! How much more reason, then, do you have to not give up on Him? After all, you know where His love landed Him: on the cross, laden with your sin! You know how He spilled His blood to wipe out your sin and undo your death and deliver to you the gift of eternal life. Every time we hear His Word, every time we receive the Holy Communion of His body and blood, we are eating the crumbs from His table. And we are made ever more certain that the God who would do this for us can be trusted, absolutely, not to deny us or forsake us in the end, no matter what sorrow we may know right now, no matter what pain we may be having to bear right now, no matter what temptation we may be facing right now.

Hold on to Jesus; keep praying; keep asking; no matter what happens. And remember, always, that He uses that cold shoulder to bless you. As St. Paul said: “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sermon for 2/25/15: Lent 1 midweek (Wounds series)



The Wound of Betrayal

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

The “sore abuse and scorn” that paled our Lord’s head “with anguish,” as we sang, actually began long before the physical abuse. It began with the actions of a friend, of one whom He loved, a companion with whom He had traveled many miles and shared many meals. Here was a wound that weighed down our Lord’s sacred head and brought Him sorrow and grief that only compounded the weight of sin He bore on the cross.

“One of you will betray Me,” He said at the table that night. And they became sad, and one after another they asked, “Is it I, Lord?” We, too, need to ask that question of our Lord. Have I sold you out, Lord? Have I lived for this world and its pleasures and bought into them, rather than wanting you, rather than spending time with You, rather than hearing Your words of life? Have I lived as if I mattered most and You mattered not at all? Is it I, Lord? Jesus makes it pretty clear, doesn’t He? The wound of betrayal is not inflicted by those who are distant from Him, from those who are not His companions, His friends. No. This is a pain that comes from those nearest to Him, from those whom He held in special love. “He who has dipped His hand in the dish with Me will betray Me.” Not someone distant and unknown, but someone near, and dear, and loved.
But note the love of the Lord! Do not think for one moment that the Lord’s love for Judas, His betrayer, was in any way altered by betrayal. Of our Savior, the Psalmist spoke truly: “The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made.” He loved this man who would go his faithless way. Jesus loved this man who would first despise and turn from His love, and then despair of what he thought he had lost forever. For Judas, the betrayal was so big a sin that he was convinced he could never be forgiven. The betrayal by Judas was a horrible sin, to be sure, and it is a horrible sin in us. What on earth could ever justify handing over the Creator of all, who has shown us only kindness and love, into the agony of torture, crucifixion, and death? What madness is it that would lead the creature to betray the Creator? What folly it is to chase a few dollars in this world, spurning, all the while, the gift of a life that never ends.
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” That had to be the most terrifying word our Lord uttered. But do you see, people of God, that Jesus did not say those words out of hatred or anger or any such thing? He spoke from the depth of His sorrowful compassion. He saw, as is His way, where Judas would end his life, that in the end Judas would despair of the mercy of God and go to his grave believing that his sin was greater than God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. And that broke our Lord’s heart even more than the betrayal itself.
How little Judas understood the Son of Man whom he betrayed! For it was also for the sin of Judas, and the sin of all us Judases, that Christ stretched out His hands and let them pound in the nails. It was for our sin that Christ pleaded, “Father, forgive them.” It was for our sin that the Lord of life let “grim death, with cruel rigor” rob Him of His life so that sin and death would lose their claim on us forever.

The pain of betrayal is great, and it wounded our Lord’s heart. But it could never turn that heart to bitterness. In that heart lives a love too great, too strong, too mighty for bitterness and hatred to ever conquer it. Although betrayal hurt, like the pain of hell itself, Jesus went on loving Judas, even as He goes on loving you and me.
And so, in the wounds of the crucified One we find a love that sets us free to love as we have been loved. Our Lord spoke often of taking up our cross and following Him. Do you see, now, what your cross is? You are betrayed when you love others. Instead of your love being returned, it is rejected. Such betrayal hurts and wounds you in terrible ways; you may be crushed and even reduced to tears. Then that old sinful nature inside rises up in indignation and anger and eagerness to get even. But by the strength of the cross of Christ, by the power of your baptism into His love and mercy, you nail that old sinful nature to the cross and say, “By the power of Him who forgave me, even when I have betrayed Him so many times, I forgive. By the power of Him who loved me, even when I sold Him out, I will love you, the one who has hurt me.” This is the cross we are often called on to bear. And when we do, it will mean torture and death to that old sinful nature. But to the new man, who has arisen in Holy Baptism, it will mean life and joy. You will be partaking of the very life of your Savior.
We have not begun to love with the love of Christ until we have come, by God’s grace, to love those we thought were our friends but who have betrayed us, hurt us, brought us sorrow. When we go on loving them and seeking good for them and their blessing—a feat impossible for fallen human nature, but possible through the love of Christ—we begin to taste something of the joy known by the martyrs of Christ across many centuries who loved and prayed for the very people who brought them to death.
As often as the Church gathers to hear God’s Word and to receive the Holy Sacrament, she celebrates the love that is in her Savior, which is stronger than all our betrayals; a love that He freely gives us in His body and blood, that won forgiveness for Judas, for you, for me, and for all. It is our experience of such love that frees and strengthens us to bear the wounds of betrayal ourselves, following our Lord with joy. May He give us the grace to do so. In the name of the Father and of Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sermon for 2/22/15: Lent I




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

What is temptation? Temptation is anything that causes you to doubt that you are a child of God. Your baptism declares that you are a child of God. At the baptism of Jesus, the Father declared the same thing of Jesus: "This is my beloved Son." So the devil comes along and tries to convince Jesus that He's not God's Son. After all, God’s Son wouldn't have to go hungry after forty days. He could just turn stones into bread. God’s Son could jump off the temple and let the angels catch Him. The Son of God could kneel, just this once, to get all the kingdoms of the world back from Satan. But Jesus clings to the Word of God. The Word declares that He is the Son. The Father said so. Jesus knows it and believes it. He trusts the Father, and He holds fast to God's Word. He drives the devil away. But none of this happens for His own sake. Jesus undergoes these temptations so that you don’t have to question whether you are God's child.

You are baptized. When the water and the Word was poured upon you, the Lord Himself says, "This is my beloved Son!" All that Jesus the Son has becomes yours at that moment. Every right and privilege and honor of being the very Son of God becomes yours. From that moment the devil will stop at nothing to cause you to doubt it, to deny it, to ignore it, to not believe it. Satan whispers in your ear: "Are you really a child of God? If you were, you would give up that favorite sin of yours. If you were a child of God, you would stop holding that grudge. If you really were a child of God, you'd act like it instead of being the selfish person you. Oh, you don't do any of that? Well just bow down by telling me how good you really are and I'll be more than happy to tell you that you're God's child!" So the devil lies and tempts and accuses. His one desire is to declare to you that you are not God's child. You are nothing but sin and death. But by the power of your baptism you can reply, "Listen, Satan. You can say all you want. But I am a baptized son of God. I am a child of God because Jesus is the Son of God. And if you want to tell me I am not God's child, you have to first prove that He is not the Son of God."

Everything that goes on in the wilderness? Jesus does that for you. He overcomes temptation for you. He does not give in to doubt for you. He doesn't believe the devil's lies for you. But that is not where the defeat ultimately happens. Jesus is the Son of God most clearly, most powerfully, when He obeys his Father's will by being arrested, condemned, and crucified. He is the Son of God the most when the Father acts most as if He's not. He is most plainly and profoundly the Son of God when He hangs on the cross in your place: in the place of every sinner, each of us who are born orphans and enemies of God. And on that Good Friday, the Lord who went toe-to-toe with Satan in the wilderness, declares, "It is finished!" Temptation is overcome once and for all. The devil can no longer question whether you are God's child since the Son of God gave His life to make you just that. Now then whenever the evil one comes calling, to try to lie to you, to make you doubt, to make you uncertain—then you simply throw your baptism in his face. You rub the words of absolution in His ear. You open your mouth for him to see the body and blood of Christ on your tongue. With those gifts of Christ, backed up by His own death and resurrection and His being the Son of God, you can proclaim, "Away from me, Satan!" And he must run away, for the Father has claimed you as His very own, and Jesus won't let anything undo that. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

ACELC Presentation

As you know by now if you are a regular reader of my blog, I wrote a book called Lutheran Purgatory: Pastors Without Calls. Late last year, I was asked by the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC for short) to present a summary of the first few chapters of my book at their annual free conference, which this year dealt with the topic of the Unbiblical Removal of Pastors. 

While they have not yet made available the transcripts of the presentations, the audio has already been posted online for all the presentations and sermons during the conference. To listen to my presentation, right-click here and save it to your computer. Or I suppose you could just click on the link to listen without saving it to your computer. As you can tell, I have a face for radio and a voice for newspaper. Anyhow, I hope you find my presentation and the others (which I highly recommend) to be edifying and useful.

When they post the transcripts, I will update this post.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

PARODY: Blogged Assurance

After the recent exoneration of Dr. Matthew Becker, a blatant false teacher on the clergy roster of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, a collective roar of disapproval rose up from the Bible-believing people of the LCMS. The Southern Illinois District in Convention voted to urge Dr. Becker to repentance and to urge his district president to begin or continue doing his duty as Becker's ecclesiastical supervisor to bring the false teacher to repentance.

The Council of Presidents, seeing the uproar from the congregations and clergy of the LCMS, released a "Statement of Assurance" regarding their role as ecclesiastical overseers. 

Having seen the dark side of ecclesiastical oversight in my own experiences with certain district presidents and former district presidents, I don't find such assurances to be very reassuring. Their pleas to be mindful of the Eighth Commandment are heartfelt, I'm sure, though I've given up on receiving their aid in restoring my own reputation, which was heavily damaged with the help of at least one of their number. Anyway, as I read the statement, I found myself fighting the urge to make bold statements about its veracity and sincerity. I fought the urge and won, thankfully, but I could not defeat the urge to jest about the subject. With that in mind, here's my parody.

Blogged Assurance
(Parody to the tune of "Blessed Assurance")

1. Blog-ged assurance, statement divine!
The CoP says that everything's fine.
We're in agreement! We walk as one,
Sipping our Mai Tais in Southern sun.
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

2. Blog-ged assurance! What we say goes!
Heretics teaching right under our nose
Can teach for decades, nothing to fear,
While faithful men get kicked in the rear. 
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

3. Blog-ged assurance! What's all the fuss?
Better think twice before questioning us!
We here affirm the integrity
And oversight of the CoP. 
(refrain) This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!
This is our statement! Hear what we say!
We lead the Synod! We're a-okay!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sermon for 2/18/15: Ash Wednesday (Wounds series)

This is the beginning of the Lenten sermon series "Wounds," based on the Gerhardt hymn "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded." 



Wounded Savior for Wounded People

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

We have all heard it, perhaps on another Ash Wednesday, perhaps at a grave side: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes for which this day is named are a symbol of death, the reality that lies before us all, old and young alike. Dust we are, and to dust we shall return. Such is the wages of sin.

As we begin our Lenten journey this evening, we look in amazement on One for whom those words should have no meaning. We see Him and cry out: “O Sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded, with thorns Thine only crown!” If ever there was a head that did not call for the ashes of this day, it is His sacred head! Why thorns, when it should be a crown of gold? Here we see in flesh, that One who formed us from the dust at the very beginning. Here is the One who in unfathomable love for our fallen race became dust for us. And now He will even lay down His head in the dust. But there is no sin in Him! In Him there should be no death! How, and why, will He die? We will spend this Lent pondering, in awe, such questions.

When Joel declares a sacred fast, when he urges the trumpet to sound and the people to gather, we discover that the occasion is one of return. Lent is always about a return. Of course, we so often think of Lent in terms of turning away from something—what we are giving up, what we will fast from. And make no mistake about it, fasting is a good thing. Didn’t our Lord assume that His disciples would do so in our Gospel reading; “When you fast...” When, not if! But by itself, fasting can be nothing more than an empty religious exercise. The Lenten fast goes much deeper than your decision to deny yourself some tasty treat. Rather, it invites, it summons, it urges you back to someone, to the Lord. “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” A Lent that is anything less than a return in faith to the Lord is only a religious game and worth less than nothing.

Rather than play games with God this holy season, hear His summons to you to come back to Him, to return to Him now. He does not want some piece of you, some outward display, like torn garments, or a few minutes tossed His way one day a week. No, He wants you! That is why Joel says: “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” 

Lent is not for pretend sinners. Lent is for real, honest-to-God sinners who have failed in their love of God, who have failed in their love of neighbor, who see this reality, and who, by God’s grace, despise their sin and ache for His forgiveness and for strength to do better. And to such sinners the invitation rings out as refreshment: the invitation to return and see the sacred head of your Savior, now wounded. He is the One who knew that we, on our own, could not come to Him, return to Him, or even find Him. So He came to us, returned to us, and found us, and by His cross draws us to Himself.

And we marvel this Lent at how far He went to find us. It is a marvel indeed that the eternal God should take on human flesh and blood, as He did in the Incarnation. That, all by itself, is enough to leave us astounded forever. But He went further than that. Not only did He take on our flesh and blood, not only did He become dust for us, but He also went so far as to lift from us the burden of our sin, to bear it in His own body to death, to take all our failures to live in love as His very own. Indeed, in the words of St. Paul: “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” He not only died, but He also died as the greatest sinner of all time, with the sin of the world upon Him, all of it; yours, mine, everyone’s. In this way the Lord revealed that He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Look to the cross and see! He bore your sin to death that neither death nor sin would be the end of you. Such is the measure of His love.

During Lent, when the Church calls us to return, she is calling us to return to Christ, to draw near to this Savior who was wounded for our transgressions, who was bruised for our iniquities, upon whom was the punishment that brought us peace, and in whose stripes we find healing. She reminds us that only real life in this whole world is fellowship with Him, and that every time we have settled for something less, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived and cheated of that great gift of which our baptism has made us heirs. And as often as she sets her table, the Church calls for all her children to return, to come to this wounded Savior who bore our wounds in His own flesh, shedding His blood for us, so that His flesh might be our living bread from heaven and His blood the blotting out of our every sin.

Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” But the cross reminds us that we have a Savior who became dust for us, whose sacred head was laid in the dust of death, that the dust of our corrupted being might become incorruptible in Him. It is no wonder, then, that, pondering such love, the Church raises her voice to that sacred head and rejoices to call it her very own, her greatest treasure. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon for 2/15/15: Quinquagesima



Opened Eyes

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

Lutherans always seem to be preaching repentance for our sins and the suffering and cross of Jesus. Lent is coming! And we think about more these things more intensely in Lent, not because they are somehow more important then, but to remind ourselves what is most important: Jesus suffering for our sins. The world doesn't want that kind of Jesus. When the blind man is crying out to Jesus, begging for mercy from the Son of David, the crowd tells him to shut up. No, Jesus isn't supposed to be paying attention to beggars. Jesus is the King who will get rid of the Romans. The world doesn't want to hear about the suffering of Jesus because then the world would have to repent of its sins which brought our Lord to suffer. The world will say plenty about Jesus until you say that Jesus was handed over to be mocked, spit upon, and killed. Once you start talking about the Jesus who suffers, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—well then forget it. The eyes of the world narrow with skepticism, the ears of the world are shut, and the preachers are told to shut up.

Jesus speaks of His coming suffering and death and Luke records: "They understood none of these things, and this word was hidden from them and they did not know what He was saying." His own disciples don't get it. Those to whom it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God don't have a clue what our Lord is talking about! All this suffering and dying and rising talk makes no sense. And it would not make sense until the Lord was risen from the dead, until the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, until repentance and forgiveness began to be preached in Christ's name. We're the same way. We hear that Jesus suffered, died and rose again. But we like to think that our sins aren't really that bad as to need the Son of God to die for them. We like to think we're smart enough and wise enough that we don't need to live by every last word that comes from the mouth of Jesus. Repent, dear Christians, of only hearing the bare facts of salvation. Hear again that this suffering and dying and rising is done for you and your salvation. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the Lord having mercy on you, just as He had mercy upon the blind man.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has no mercy for you, no salvation, no forgiveness, no love, apart from His Son who is handed over, mocked, spit upon, humiliated, killed and raised the third day. That is our salvation. All of our enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful nature—are defeated by that very Jesus who takes our place on Calvary and suffers at the hands of sinners. It is Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, who fulfills all that the Scriptures said about Him, from the very first promise of a Savior in the Garden of Eden to all that Moses and the Prophets and Psalms promised about Him. The salvation and forgiveness of sins won by the Lamb of God are no good to you unless they are for you.

When the blind man is healed, we see that Jesus is for you. The blind man cries out for the Lord to have mercy upon Him. Jesus answers this prayer by doing exactly that: He saves this man. What is mercy? It is Jesus delivering to you the salvation He earned. The answer to the prayer, "Lord, have mercy!" is Jesus doing and delivering His saving work. The mercy of God in Christ is given through His Word in the water, read and proclaimed, in bread and wine. By these very means, the Lord opens our eyes of faith to see Him and behold Him and to receive His salvation accomplished for us.

The blind man knew that, in order to be saved, Jesus had to be for him. So he cried out the prayer for mercy. The world tried to shut Him up, but the crowd is silenced as Jesus stops to save this man by His Word and open the man's eyes so he could see his Savior. Brothers and sisters, learn to pray like the blind man. Learn to cry out to the Lord that begging prayer, "Have mercy upon me!" Then hear the words of Jesus to the blind man: "Be seeing! Your faith has saved you." Let His Word open your eyes, and see to Lent and beyond. See Jesus, lifted up for you, coming to you in His gifts in His church. Then do as the crowds did when they learned the Good News: give glory and praise to 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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

HYMN: Lord Jesus Christ, Your Love Has Covered Sin

The Southern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is meeting this weekend for its 57th Regular Convention. The theme is "Above All Love One Another," drawn from I Peter 4:7-11. I was asked to write a hymn based on that theme, and this text is the result. Though this was written in November of 2014, I didn't want to post it until it was premiered at the actual convention for its intended audience and use. Now that it has been used for its intended purpose, I'm ready to make it public here. 
Click here for an audio recording of the assembly at the convention singing the hymn.

Lord Jesus Christ, Your Love Has Covered Sin 

1. Lord Jesus Christ, Your love has covered sin.
You bear in mercy all that we regret.
Teach us to love. O Savior, enter in,
So we ourselves forgive our neighbor's debt.

2. Upon the cross You bore our sins to death.
Mercy poured out in water and in blood.
Teach us to watch until our final breath
And cling alone to Your redeeming flood.

3. You call Your Church to serve in every place.
You give us gifts of love for word and deed.
Teach us to serve as stewards of your grace,
To honor You and fill our neighbors' need.

4. Lo, now the end of days is close at hand.
Flesh turns to dust and time will flee away.
Teach us to pray that all in faith may stand
As we await that great and glorious day.

∆5. Jesus, in love You died to cover sin.
Father, in love You gave Your only Son.
Spirit of life, You dwell as love within.
All glory, Triune God, while ages run.

© 2014 Alan Kornacki, Jr.

And click here for a link to an alternate tune by the Reverend Robert Mayes.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sermon for 2/8/15--Sexagesima



Sown Seed

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

Not all end up in heaven. It’s the sad truth. The desire of the Father is that all would come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. What is more basic to our Christian faith than this? The Son of God did not come into this world to condemn the world; He came so that all who believe in Him would be spared the Father’s righteous wrath which has been spent on Him.
That being the case, the Sower sows. He sows with reckless abandon. He sows with generosity, casting that life-giving seed into the most unlikely and unreceptive of places. That is the call of the Gospel; it is available for everyone. He scatters this life-changing seed, His holy Word, without regard for where it lands. He knows that it is needed by all, even those who will refuse Him. Because of this, it may seem as though much is wasted. In truth, there is no soil worthy of this seed, no heart truly worthy to receive it. Still, He sows. The seed is His to do with as He pleases. And it pleases Him to offer up His life for hateful, rebellious men who will reject Him. He who sets men free sows the seed of His forgiving Word. It pleases Him to offer salvation to all men without cost, that all men might be saved.
That is the call of the Gospel. But still, few are chosen. The Word goes out, and for the most part it is ignored, hated, and even mocked. But where and when it pleases God, the old sinful man is drowned, and the demons are driven away, and the new man, a Christian, is born where no birth seemed possible, in a heart of corruption, now alive out of death, light in the darkness. This seed, God’s Word, reveals to men His heart of mercy. It accomplishes the impossible.
This is a mystery. The kingdom of heaven does not follow the rules of men. It is a mystery, incomprehensible to our feeble minds and a stumbling block to our foolish ideas about how things should work. It is a mystery that God loves those who treat Him as the enemy, those whom He has every right to hate. He sows His seed. He offers forgiveness and life. He dies and rises in our place, simply because that is how He is. We have not deserved it or earned it. There is nothing in us. It all comes from Him.
And that is why we are neither alarmed nor troubled by the great many times the Word is rejected and mocked. It is what we have been told to expect. We rejoice and find comfort in those moments of miraculous intervention, when His Word moves among us and does what it says: when, at the Baptismal font, God makes alive an infant dead in sin; when He enters our sanctuary, crucified and raised from the dead, now borne on lowly bread and wine for us to eat and drink; when His Word goes out and, by its own power and strength, creates and sustains faith in those whom He chooses. And those whom He prunes in suffering and affliction, those who bear the fruit of patience and confession, are those whom He loves.   
Without the world noticing or even caring, the Word, the good seed, has been cast. It has, by the grace of God, made a home for itself in our unworthy hearts. It has intervened. It has borne the fruit of faith. It has provided bread for the believer. In us, who have no merit or worthiness in which to boast, who were the worst soil imaginable—sought out by treading feet, snatching birds, and worldly weeds—in us sinners whom He came to seek and to save, whom He chose to love, the Lord of the harvest has caused a miracle to occur! He has created faith. He has comforted and consoled, redeemed and restored, forgiven and forgotten our sins. He has fulfilled His promise. His Word has not failed. It never does. It never will. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.   
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Sermon for 2/1/15: Septuagesima



Rejoicing in a Generous God

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

To read Scripture faithfully, every text of the Bible must be read while keeping in mind what the Bible as a whole teaches, especially keeping in mind God’s will and His work of salvation. Much of the confusion caused by differing interpretations of the Bible occurs when texts are pulled out of their context and made to say something that don’t actually say. Seldom has context been more important than with this parable of the grumbling workers. What had just happened in the verses immediately preceding this text was that a rich young man had come to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him that he must keep the commandments; and when the young man responded that he had done so his whole life, Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Jesus was showing how this young man had a god besides the true God; he worshiped and treasured his wealth. Jesus watched this young man walk away, saying to His disciples: “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And can’t you imagine Peter’s face clouding over with a mixture of doubt and irritation as this sinks in? “Wait a minute! We have left everything to follow you. Doesn’t that count for anything?” But Jesus assured them that they had not lost a thing; they had only gained. And then Jesus launched right off into the parable that is our Gospel for the day.

Do you see it? This parable is aimed at the sin that dwells within us all, when we are inclined to think too highly of all that we do for the Lord, and yet not highly enough of God’s grace. This parable is a poisoned arrow aimed straight at our hearts of pride. It speaks to that horrible temptation to think that God owes us because of our work in His kingdom. It speaks to that temptation to anger that God would actually grant the same eternal life to those who haven’t sat through hours of tedious church meetings, or who haven’t taught Sunday School, or who haven’t endured the anxieties of caring for church property; who haven’t “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat,” to use the words of the Gospel.

God brings in some notorious sinner who has squandered his whole life in open rebellion and sin, and enjoyed all the pleasures this life has to offer, and, in the last hour, God saves him and gives him the same eternal life. This parable is like a nuclear missile aimed straight at our grumbling and complaining, our arrogance and our self-chosen piety. And we are right there with Peter and the others, imagining that God owes us. What delusion!

And the answer the owner of the vineyard gives to the grumblers is one that stings, as well. “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” No one is good, no one except that gracious owner of the vineyard, who loves to give! He is good! We are all in the position of being debtors before God. If eternity for us depended on our perfect keeping of the commandments of God, we would all be instantly destroyed—especially those who think they have fully kept the Law. If we haven’t been serving God freely and joyfully, gladly doing what He commands—and none of us can consistently say that—then we have only been offering God begrudging service, complaining about having “borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Not so, however, with Jesus! He kept all the commandments with joy and gladness. He did not only outwardly conform; His heart desired to keep them and to please His Father. He is the One who is good. And this good One is also immensely generous. He gives to us who grumble and complain His own goodness to wear, to live in, to grow in, to cherish. That is the goodness He wrapped around you at the Baptismal font. That is the goodness He places in your mouth at the altar, where, to quote the Psalmist, you “taste and see that the Lord is good.” That is the goodness that sounds in your ears from His Word. That is the goodness of the One who is generous to all who believe in Him, who will set aside claims of what they think God owes them, and simply receive from Him the gift of eternal life.

This parable puts us all in the same place when we stand before God. We have all failed the commandments of God, and yet we are all offered the gift of eternal life, a gift received only by faith, through the generosity of Him who tells this parable. Speaking once more of the importance of context, remember this: as these words were being spoken, Jesus was only days away from Calvary where, on the cross, He assumed a debt He did not owe. And He gladly paid that debt so that His generosity might cover our sin and reshape us as people who simply and humbly rejoice in the mercy and generosity 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, January 26, 2015

Sermon for 1/25/15: Transfiguration of Our Lord



Do Not Be Afraid

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

We believe with the certainty of faith that what the Bible says is true. The world laughs at Christians because of that. The world thinks we're stupid for following a book that was written thousands of years ago. As long as you hold the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the world will think you are an idiot. “It’s time to move on,” they say. “It’s time to think for yourself.” That is quite a temptation, isn't it? How well do you really know your Bible? Have you studied it and become familiar with it? Or do you see the Bible as the world sees it? Is it just old stories that are out of date and irrelevant for life in our fast paced modern world? The fact is, that would be a good perspective on the Bible if that's all it was. But it's not. It is the Word of God which delivers Jesus. That's why He's standing on that mountain and shining like the sun for His disciples to see.

And who is standing with Him? Moses and Elijah are there, representing the Law and the Prophets. They represent the Old Testament Church. What Peter, James, and John see—Jesus, flanked on either side by Moses the law-bringer and Elijah the prophet—means this: Jesus is what the Old Testament is about. The Old Testament is the Word of God because it shows us Jesus. It declares a promise that God has made—He would send a Savior. And it shows the way in which the Lord has worked things out to bring that promise to actually come to pass. The Old Testament was not written merely so that we could argue against evolution. The Old Testament wasn't written merely so that we can learn how to behave. The Old Testament isn't just a bunch of stories that the Jews told to convince themselves they were special. The Old Testament is the testimony and record of the Lord working out His promise that He would save sinners.

But it doesn't stop with the Old Testament. What does the Father say from the bright cloud? "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him." That's right. Listen to Him. Hear what He says. Hear His Word. And what does His Word say? What Jesus has to say can be summed up in what He tells His disciples who are face down in the dirt and terrified: "Do not be afraid." What wonderful words! "Do not be afraid." "Do not be afraid" of the devil's lies, because I am the truth of God's Word. "Do not be afraid" of your sins, because I will pay for them with my suffering and death. "Do not be afraid" of death, because I will throw it down by my resurrection. "Do not be afraid" of being unclean, for I will wash you with water and the Spirit in Baptism. "Do not be afraid" of the things that trouble your conscience, because I will send preachers to proclaim forgiveness to my people. "Do not be afraid" of false gods, for I will give you the preaching of my cross. "Do not be afraid" of death, because I will give you my body and blood to eat and drink, and I will raise you up on the Last Day. "Do not be afraid" of anything in this world or even the world itself, because I have overcome the world.

It doesn't matter if the world laughs at you for believing God's Word. The world doesn't understand. The world denies the truth. But Peter reminds us in his epistle that they weren't making this stuff up. Peter was there as a witness on that mountain with Jesus. But even there Jesus teaches Peter that the big deal isn't what He can see, but the Word that Jesus speaks. So it is for you. We don't see Jesus on the mountain. But we have His touch upon us with water, bread and wine and His Word which says, "Do not be afraid." "Do not be afraid" of sin. "Do not be afraid" of death. "Do not be afraid" of the world and its doubts and lies. "Do not be afraid" of anything. Jesus is God's beloved Son, and in Christ through Baptism, so are you. And because of Jesus, the Father is well pleased with 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. 

Guest Post: LCMS President Matthew Harrison on Tolerating False Teaching

The Reverend Doctor Matthew Becker, LCMS clergyman and professor of theology at Valparaiso University, was exonerated of any charge of false teaching. This is a preposterous result, as the evidence of his false teaching is public and copious. Despite the brazen heresy espoused by Dr. Becker, his District President refuses to take action against him, and a dispute resolution panel inexplicably found that he was not teaching false doctrine, despite the fact that his teachings are contrary to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. There are other disturbing circumstances surrounding this case—the CCM hasn't made a correct ruling since before my Ordination, I think—but an exhaustive list would have me typing until next week.

The Reverend Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, made some statements today to begin to address some of the issues surrounding this and other problems within the LCMS. This is important. Under the previous administration, false doctrine was tolerated, encouraged, and fostered. President Harrison's administration hasn't dealt with error as hastily as some had hoped—and I'll readily admit that I wasn't happy about how his office assembled the 3-10a Task Force—but he has apparently decided that it's time to speak forthrightly about false teaching and practice in the LCMS and the system that allows it to exist, and as I encourage him and pray for him as he fights the good fight, I would encourage you to pray for him and offer what support you can. The Lord bless and keep you, President Harrison.

All that being said, I will let Pastor Harrison take over the blog.


"The system of doctrinal discipline in the LCMS is not functioning as envisioned and implemented by our Fathers. It must be repaired." --Matt Harrison

Walther on Doctrinal Discipline of Pastors. 
...It is impossible for a sizable church body to remain in the true faith if there isn’t a constant check to see that everything still is as it was in the beginning, when the pastor came to the congregation. Without visitation it is probably impossible for a church to remain in unity of faith and confession.
Therefore it is a terrible line of talk that the so-called “confessionally faithful” [Bekenntnistreue] are spreading in Germany: ‘‘[All that’s necessary is] that the pure doctrine be public doctrine (doctrina publica), that is, the authentic, authoritatively established doctrine that everyone is required to profess, so that every false doctrine is actually without authoritative standing!” Therefore, [they say,] provided the pure doctrine is the authoritatively established one, the Church may be ever so corrupt, yet it is a true Lutheran [church]. If the pledge of loyalty to the Confessions has not yet been rescinded but is still valid, though not a single pastor proclaims it, then the Church is still sound.
That is no different than if an organization is formed for a good purpose, and finally the members agree to do something rascally but they retain their constitution as a benevolent organization. Then they cannot say: “We are indeed committing a dirty trick, but because, according to our constitution, we should really do good, therefore we are nevertheless an honest, honorable organization, since it says so in our constitution, which we still have!”
That is what those so- called “confessionally faithful” ones in Germany say: “You see, the constitution says, ‘The Lutheran doctrine is public doctrine (doctrina publica)!’”
But it is not enough that it is on paper; nor is it enough that all pastors and teachers are pledged to it when they enter office. No, this Confession must also be faithfully practiced [im Schwangegehen].
That is why Luther, in his treatise “On the Councils and the Church” [1539], writes: “First, the holy Christian people can be recognized by their possession of the Holy Word of God. . . . But we are speaking of the outward Word, orally proclaimed by people like you and me. For this is what Christ left behind as an outward sign, by which we can recognize His church, or His holy Christian people in the world.” [Walch 16:2785f. Cf. AE 41:148f; Vom den Konziliis und Kirchen 1539, WA 50:509–653; Aland 382]
It is not enough to have a Bible lying in the vestry, but it must be proclaimed from the pulpit. Moreover, a church may have a thousand oaths sworn to be faithful to the Augsburg Confession and yet be a vile sect; and that is true of the state churches [in Germany]. In the best cases there are still good pledges of allegiance to the Confessions, but very few preach accordingly from the pulpit. One is Reformed, another is Methodist; rationalistic, yes, even atheistic, i.e., there are some who do not believe in a living God and still have solemnly sworn allegiance to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. They simply say, “That is an old tradition, which it would be dangerous to discontinue because of the common people, who still cling to the old faith. But our superintendent, who put us under oath, knows very well what we mean; after all, he himself doesn’t accept the Confessions in their entirety either. But because the regional bishop has so ordered it, therefore we continue it.”
But such people are not Lutheran pastors. The confession of the Church must sound forth from the pulpit. And a congregation may be part of a large Lutheran church: If it has a false pastor and he constantly preaches false doctrine and it likes his preaching very much and definitely wants to keep him—that is not a Lutheran congregation either, even if the right official confessional statement is inscribed over the entrance. The [Augsburg] Confession must be proclaimed, and it dare not just say in a book somewhere that it really should be preached.
One must say: Churches that indeed teach false doctrine but have not sworn to uphold pure doctrine are not as bad (as those who have sworn to uphold pure doctrine but do not do so). They are better because the people are not so deceived by them. So when a church says “Here Lutheran doctrine is doctrina publica!” and you don’t hear it proclaimed, that church is a miserable sect, regardless of what it claims to be.

— CFW Walther, "Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod," in At Home in the House of My Fathers.

"When a public teacher on the roster of Synod can without consequence publicly advocate the ordination of women, homosexuality, the Errancy of the Bible, the historical critical method, open communion, communion with the reformed, evolution, and more, then the public confession of the synod is meaningless. I am saying that if my Synod does not change its inability to call such a person to repentance, and remove such a teacher where there is not repentance, then we are liars, and our confession is meaningless. I do not want to belong to such a synod, much less lead it. I have no intention of walking away from my vocation. I shall rather use it and, by the grace of God, use all the energy I have to call this Synod to fidelity to correct this situation." 
Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog post

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sermon for 1/18/15: Epiphany 2



Water, Wine, Blood

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

In the Gospel of St. John, our Lord had been baptized in the Jordan River. After forty days of being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, He began His public ministry. The first miracle that Jesus ever did was done at the wedding in Cana! He took simple water and turned it into the finest of wines! Jesus at the Table takes six stone jars, instructs the servants to fill them up with water, and He makes it into wine better than even the stuff they used for the toast.

Mary was worried about the absence of wine. It was a major social faux-pas, to run out of wine at a wedding party that was going on for days! What a way to start off a marriage! But Mary went to Jesus. Mary had received the Promise God had made to Eve when the angel came and told Mary she would have a Son. How could a marriage party end so early when the Son of God was sitting at the Table? Mary went to Jesus. Jesus asks, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” It’s not His time. But when the time comes—when He dies—He will pour His everlasting wine out for salvation. He’ll set a Table with the best of meats and finest of wines.

Jesus didn’t come to rescue wedding parties. But the trouble that a married couple had, Jesus used it to make something clear: He came to pour Himself out for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. He came to put Himself into the midst of all your worries—even ones so trivial as a lack of wine. Nothing about you is beyond His care, not even the way you start off marriage or the way you live as man and wife. Dear Christian, if you are scratching your heads over the stone jars in your life, over the absence of wine and joy and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness and self-control; if you are bothered by the words by which St. Paul turns wives to husbands in submission and husbands to their wives in self-sacrificing love; then learn from Mary. Turn to the servant of the Lord which Jesus has placed in your midst—turn to your pastor—and tell him, “Do whatever He tells you.

Mary instructing the servants is a good example of the way the Church should remind the servants of Christ, His pastors, to do whatever He tells them. He tells your pastor to preach His Word and teach it. He tells your pastor to hear your confession and put all your sins and worries under His Holy Absolution. He tells your pastor to serve you with His Body and His Blood in bread and wine. He insists that the Wedding Party of the Lamb go on until it starts in full when Jesus comes again in glory. He knows your life is lived in dryness sometimes. He knows you wander in the wilderness this side of heaven. He knows that you’ve got more to worry over than a social faux-pas. You’ve got sins. So, the Church says to Her ministers: “Do whatever He tells you.” And so, you’re served!

You are served with the finest feast Jesus could deliver. From His side flowed water and blood. He filled up the font of Holy Baptism to wash you clean and prepare you for the eternal banquet. And with His blood He has filled the chalice, giving us His body in the bread and His blood in wine, so that you eat and drink your life, forgiveness, and salvation at this Table. With these, Christ for you is also in you, to work and to labor and to bear abundant fruit. Christ is in you, for the sake of one another, making sure the wedding party does not end. Taste and see that the Lord is good. He is…better than you can possibly believe. And now that His hour has come, He never tires of proving how good He is. 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 1/11/15: Baptism of Our Lord/Epiphany I



Someone in the Water; Someone in You

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

I’m not a huge fan of modern country music. However, a few weeks ago, our organist asked me about the lyrics to a song released by a popular country artist, a song called, “Something in the Water.” It’s a song about the power of baptism in the life of a believer, and it’s surprisingly powerful. But there’s one thing missing in the song, and that is the explicit statement of what actually is in the water. That’s the nature of popular culture, though: it does not dare look very closely at what it cannot fully understand.

But the Holy Spirit has made plain to us the purpose and power of Baptism. Two important facts stand before us. The first is this: Jesus is baptized. The second is this: you are baptized. But these events are not quite the same. Jesus is perfect and holy. You are a sinner. Jesus is baptized to take on your sins. You are baptized so that your sins are washed away. Jesus is baptized so that He can go and face the devil. You are baptized so that you are delivered from the devil. Jesus is baptized so that He can go and die on Calvary. You are baptized so that you rise to new life in Him. Jesus, the one through whom all things were made, is baptized to be made into a sinner. You, the crown of creation, are baptized to be made into a new creation. Jesus is baptized to fulfill all righteousness. You are baptized to receive His righteousness. Jesus is baptized to show that He is the Lamb of God. You are baptized so that the blood of that Lamb is sprinkled on you. Jesus is baptized to be declared God's beloved Son who willl be forsaken for sinners. You are baptized so that you, the Father’s child, are never forsaken. Jesus is baptized for you. You are baptized to receive all that He has done for you.

The big deal about God becoming a man is that this man, Jesus, goes where the sinners are. He's not out looking for those who are perfect and without sin. He has come to take our sin and make it His own—so much His own that He will suffer everything our sin has earned and deserved. We hate God. Jesus makes that His in this way: the Father Himself forsakes His Son as He hangs on the cross in darkness. We hate our neighbor. That's what we do. Jesus makes that His in this way: He suffers all the abuse and mockery and nailing to the cross that wicked men have to offer. In His perfect love for the Father and His neighbor, Jesus takes our sin against both, bearing it as the Lamb of God. And it is for this reason that the Father is pleased with Him: the Father looks down upon His Son in the Jordan River and knows that's what Jesus is going to do for you.

The world pretends that this doesn't change anything. But it changes everything! Jesus came up out of that water covered in your sins. He came up out of that river a sinner. When you are baptized, you come forth as a new creation. The New Man in Christ is no sinner. You are set free—free from sin, free from the judgment of God against sin, free from selfish futility. You are free to love others and do good for them whether they appreciate it or not. You are free to let go of the sins of others, to let your grudges die for good. You don't need to live like the world with its addictions and selfishness. All that belongs to Jesus now. Let Him deal with it. You are a new creation. You are a lover of God and of those around you.

You may object, "But what happens when I don’t love God and my neighbor?" Then you return to your baptism, where Jesus is in the water for you. Then you live in that baptism. Confess your sins. Hear the Good News of Absolution. Rejoice in your baptism where those sins are Christ's and you are set free. Feast on the body and blood of Jesus which by which Christ lives in you. When Christ lives in you, by His Word and water and body and blood, you too are declared by God the Father to be His beloved Son! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sermon for 12/28/14: Christmas I



Ready to Go

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

Simeon was not afraid to die. He was ready to depart this life. But how can he go quietly and peacefully? The Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Christ. Once Simeon holds Baby Jesus in his arms, he is certain that his salvation is assured. He knows that now he can "depart in peace according to God’s Word." It is Jesus and His Word that prepare us for death. Christ comes into this world so that we might depart this world, not in terror of judgment, but in peace.
When the hour of your death comes, will you be at peace? Or will you thrash around in the terror of your sins? Perhaps the greatest reason people fear death is because of the judgment they think they will face. Even Christians fall into this trap. We imagine that we will stand before the Lord and have to answer for every sin, have every bad thought, word, and deed displayed, that all the sins we tried to hide will be exposed for everyone to see. Not so! Isaiah tells us that the Branch of Jesse's stem will not judge by what He hears and sees but will judge with righteousness. That means that when you die and stand before the Lord, He won't expose what He's seen and heard. He will judge you based on righteousness, on His own works and life. You are judged on the basis of Jesus. Christ was born to set us free from sin and death. He took our place under the Law and paid the price of His own blood to buy us back from sin and death.
Simeon rejoices to hold the infant Christ in his arms and he sings a song of rejoicing. Why will Simeon die in peace? He will die in peace because he has seen the Lord's salvation. He has seen and held Christ. Simeon knows that, now that the Christ is here, sin and death can't hurt him. The Devil, hell, the judgment of the Law itself: they all fall down, powerless. Simeon, an old man, can stand tall and drive away the Devil and all fear and terror because he holds in his arms the Son of God who came to save him. And Simeon is under no illusion as to how this happens. He isn't saved because he gets to cuddle little Baby Jesus. He turns to Mary and tells her that a sword will pierce her soul. She will stand and look on as her son is nailed to a cross. Simeon knows that his peace comes at the price of this Child's death. Simeon can depart in peace because this Child was born to suffer and die and rise again. Simeon departs in peace because he knows that this Child has come to take his place under the Law. Simeon departs in peace because, having seen Jesus, he has seen the Lord's salvation.
Now, like Simeon, you can depart in peace. There is a reason we sing Simeon's song after we receive Christ’s body and blood. At the altar, you've just been given Christ Himself, the One who was crucified and risen from the dead. Whatever comes your way this week, you will face it as one who is full of Jesus. And even if your life ends, it ends in Jesus. To come and receive Christ's gifts is to hold the Lord's salvation just as Simeon did. That's why your pastor tells you to "depart in peace" after you partake of the Holy Supper. Having been given Christ and all His gifts, we are ready to die.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian murdered by the Nazis, once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” We know that life in Christ is not all wine and roses and prosperity. Life in Christ is lived under the cross, and your faith in Christ may result in your physical death. Even if it does not, the day will come. You will die. Whenever that day and hour comes, know that you have seen the Lord's salvation. You will depart in peace, according to the Word of God. When you hear this morning to "depart in peace," stand up. Brush death aside, confident in the gift of salvation which is yours in Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sermon for 12/25/14: The Nativity of Our Lord



Wrapped in Flesh

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

In the Old Testament, God built a dwelling place for Himself in which to live among us. There was a beautiful tent built by Moses and the people of Israel. Inside this tent was the Ark of the Covenant, and the glory of the Lord came and stayed there in a pillar of cloud and fire. The tent is where God was. But now there is a new and everlasting Tabernacle. It is the flesh of the Son of God. By the Holy Spirit through the Word of the angel Gabriel, Jesus, the Word of God, the only-begotten Son of God, became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God has come to live among us, as one of us!

Why would He do that? Why would the Son of God who is holy and perfect come down to this world that is full of darkness and death? Why would the Son come to this world which is full of people who hate Him and despise His Word and want nothing to do with Him? This world and everything in it was made by the Word, and yet the world paid Him no attention, passed Him by, could not have cared less! But He also came to His own, those who should know Him from the Scriptures and expect Him to show up. They didn't receive Him either! Not only did the world not care; His own people didn't care.

And do we? Here we are on Christmas day, but it's just a brief pause before we go back out to our lives in which we live as if the Lord hasn't really come, as if God is not really in the flesh, as if none of it is any big deal. Why on earth would the Son of God come to such a place as this earth? St. John answers when He writes: “In Him was Life and that Life was the Light of Men. The Light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it.” The Father sends His Son into this dark world to be its Light. The Father sends His Son into this dead world to be its Life! That is why the Son is made flesh. Recall how, when He was grown up and crucified for us, darkness covered the land. The darkness of our sins piled upon Christ who was judged there for them. The darkness fell upon Christ because He was exchanging it for His light! And then on the Third Day, our Lord rose, conquering death. Death is final enemy we cannot defeat. We cannot avoid it or cheat it. So Christ comes to be our Life by rising from the dead. Death has been robbed of its power! The Light of Christ the Savior shines forth in the fields over Bethlehem and from the cross, as a beacon in the darkness; our sins are forgiven. The Life of Christ burst with Him from the tomb on Easter and upon us who are now also in Him, born of God, given light and life.
But Christ doesn't just come to give us Light and Life and then leave us to ourselves once more. St. John says, “To those who received Him, He gives the right to become the children of God.” He comes to make us once again God's children. The Son of God comes as a child so that we will be God's children in Holy Baptism. That is your new birth. Christ comes to dwell as God among us so that He can save us from our sins and make us God's children, part of the Lord's family.
Today God has built a house among men: the tabernacle of His Son in the flesh. Today God Himself is born among us, and although He has ascended and we cannot see Him, Christ still dwells among us in His church. By the preaching of the Gospel and the giving of the holy Sacraments, Christ Himself lives among us and in us, making us his dwelling. God Himself indeed lives among us because the Son has come in the flesh. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” By coming in the flesh, Christ has brought light to our darkness, life to our death and made us children of His heavenly Father. There is no better gift wrapped up in this world than that given when the Son was wrapped in human flesh for us! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sermon for 12/24/14: Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord



Peace on Earth

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

In just a few verses, Luke shifts us from the king of the known world, Caesar Augustus, to the Roman Governor Quirinius, to a nobody named Joseph and his betrothed wife, Mary, who was with child. If you blinked, you’d miss this humble family. Mary and Joseph were a lowly and insignificant couple in the eyes of the world as they make their way to David’s city, Bethlehem. Luke tells us, “While they were there, the days were finished that she should be delivered and she brought forth her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

While Caesar slept in comfort in his magnificent palace in Rome, the Savior of the whole universe was tightly wrapped up in swaddling clothes and laid where animals were kept. Where we would least expect it, at a time when no one was around, shoved into a dirty, smelly corner because our world was too busy for Him, God Himself comes to save us. Mary’s Son is born—born to carry our sorrows and to be acquainted with our grief. He is born to cure our sicknesses and diseases. He’s born to give us life by the nails that will be driven into His hands and feet. He’s born to die on the Cross and rise again on the third day.

If the story had ended in some corner of Bethlehem, no one would have been saved. Certainly no one would have noticed. So an angel brought the message to all creation. But the angel didn’t come to Caesar, nor to the governor, to announce the birth of God in the flesh. The word was not given even to the Mayor of Bethlehem. Instead, the angel appears to shepherds out in the fields who were watching their flocks. They appeared to these lowly men to proclaim the good news of great joy, which would be to all people.

Today, the angel’s Christmas Gospel has made it into your ears, too. Come out of your gloom. Leave behind your despair. Give up your loneliness. Wipe away your tears. Part ways with your fear and doubt. The heavens once again declare the glory and majesty of the eternal Son of God! God in flesh rests in his manger throne. He did not come merely for mighty Caesar. He did not come merely for the powerful Governor. He has come to you, poor and miserable sinner, to save you from your sins. God and sinners are reconciled. The song is for you: “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men!” 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, December 21, 2014

Sermon for 12/21/14: Advent IV



The Greater One

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

The people wanted to know about John the Baptist. In last week’s text, Jesus asked them, “What did you go out to see?” What did you expect? Did you expect to see someone immaculately dressed? Did you expect to see someone feasting like a king? In the same way, why are you here this morning? Did you come to this wilderness expecting to see Joel Osteen with his pressed suits and perfect hair and shiny teeth? It may surprise you to hear that people don’t come to Campbell Hill for the fancy restaurants, the boutique shopping, or the perfect spa treatment. They don’t come here because the goofy bald guy is so interesting. So why are you here?

Everybody wants to know what the big deal is about John the Baptist. The Pharisees come to find out about this enigma. But all John has for any of them is Jesus. John is a prophet. John is just a voice, preparing the way, telling you the Christ is coming. When they want to know why John is baptizing if he’s nothing special, John calls it a sign of the One to come. The One to come is among you, and He will appear shortly. He is the important one. He is the Lamb of God, coming to take away the sins of the world. John is just here to point Him out to you. The Pharisees wanted some spectacular religion and a hero for a Messiah and Savior. But here is this crazy, camel hair-wearing prophet. To their frustration, he will only point them to Jesus. Jesus is coming after John, even though He is before John as the eternal Son of God. John points to Jesus, and Jesus shows up the next day.

The same is true for your preacher. All the man in this pulpit has for you is Jesus, the very Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Often you want to know why the cancer came back. You want to know how to fix your marriage. You want to know how to deal with your family member who won't stop stirring up trouble. You want to know why the world is going crazy and bad things are happening. Your pastor knows you want answers for all of it. Your pastor does not have access to the full counsel of God. But all I have for you is Jesus, who is far greater than I am. Like John, all I have for you is the signs I’ve been called to administer: Baptism, Absolution, the Word, and the Supper. All I have for you is Jesus, which you receive in these gifts: the Jesus who gives you forgiveness, life, and salvation. When you find yourselves thinking that religion and faith is supposed to be something other than those things, something other than Jesus, then repent.

And what good is Jesus? He's the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He gives Himself into death so that, through your baptism, your sin dies with Him. He rises from the dead so that, in feasting on His flesh and blood, you will rise from the dead. Cancer can't keep you down. Nothing another person does to you can harm you eternally. Nothing in this world can undo what Jesus has done for you. Nothing. Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death, devil and hell.

We fall into the trap of trying to get something other than Jesus. We want the answers. We want to read the last page of the story. But for the Pharisees, John has only Jesus. For you, there is only Jesus. And He is enough. And while we may have to wait to open our Christmas presents, today we receive the gifts of Jesus with all their forgiving and saving power. We'll receive them again on Christmas and the Sunday after that and again and again. After all, though your pastor doesn’t have all the answers, the one thing he has for you is Jesus…and that’s the one thing you need. 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.