Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sermon for 3/19/17: Third Sunday in Lent

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The Stronger Man


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


Satan is strong. Jesus says so here Himself. Jesus calls this Beelzebub a “strong man.” You have seen how strong he is throughout Scripture: how he deceived Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; how he turned the life of Job into a living hell, taking the lives of his children and servants, destroying everything he owned; how he uses his minions to possess bodies and minds, stealing the physical abilities and sanity of ordinary people; how he sought to tempt even Jesus into abandoning His work of salvation for worldly fame and goods. On your own, you are no match for the devil. Satan is the father of lies, and, as Luther wrote in his hymn, “On earth is not his equal.”
St. Luke in his Gospel is the only writer to mention that, “when the devil had finished, he left [Jesus] until an opportune time.” The “strong man” is persistent. He tried three times in the wilderness temptation to turn Jesus from His journey to the cross. Many times in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus encounters Satan’s “opportune time.” He encounters demons and their awful work. Each time, Jesus casts them out and silences their cries. But Satan doesn’t give up. He keeps on tempting and testing Jesus.
And if he seeks to overcome our Lord, he certainly won’t give God’s children a pass. Satan is hard at work in your life, too. Just as he deceived our first parents in Eden’s paradise, he seeks to deceive you. His tools are deadly. He uses the fashions of the world to tell you it’s no big deal to view your neighbors as eye candy. He uses the leaders of our nation to tell you that it’s okay to murder the unborn in the name of convenience, to tell you it’s okay to give into depraved lusts. He uses even those who call themselves Christian preachers to tell you it’s okay to give in to your sins, that it’s okay to ignore those things in God’s Word which you find uncomfortable. And Satan’s temptations are appealing; if they weren’t, we wouldn’t find them tempting. And they are tempting—so much so that we give in to his lies and take what the Old Adam within us desires.
So no, you are no match for him on your own. But Christ is. He is the Stronger Man! Jesus overcame the evil one in the wilderness through the Word of God. He cast out demons and undid their afflictions. And finally, Satan saw his most “opportune time” arrive at the end of Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus is nailed to the Cross, and the voices of those around Him become the mouthpieces of Satan: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God!” “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” Yes, there at Calvary, Satan saw his most opportune time to tempt Jesus to abandon His divine mission of salvation. But Jesus stayed the course for you. Jesus destroyed death itself by His death. And when He destroyed death and the devil’s power, He destroyed your sins as well. Now nothing can separate you from Jesus—absolutely nothing. You were united with Him in his death when you were baptized, when the Old Adam within you was drowned. At your baptism, you were asked: “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” And you, probably with someone speaking for you, replied: “I do.” There was no neutral ground there.
Your soul was once captive, bound for Satan’s kingdom. You were dead in your sins and an enemy of God. But through your Baptism, the Lord Jesus snatched you away. The Stronger Man, Jesus, plundered the strong man’s house, the devil’s kingdom of hell, and took you as His prize. And He isn’t giving you back. You belong to Christ 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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sermon for 3/12/17: Second Sunday in Lent

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Dogs, Children, and the Master Who Hears


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


This morning we prayed, Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses.” It might seem at times as if our Lord has forgotten us in the midst of our trials. We certainly believe Him capable of such forgetfulness. “Where is God in my trouble?” “Does He not see me in my pain?” “Does He not hear my prayers?” It’s odd that we ask God to remember us when we are the ones who forget. That awful trait belongs solely to us. When times are good, we think that it all comes from our own effort. When times are tough, we blame God for our troubles. Our sinful flesh is so focused on itself that it constantly forgets its Lord and Master.
And the devil certainly doesn’t help. The evil one is always trying to implant in us a gut-clenching doubt and a trembling fear. “Why would God listen to you?” he says. “You are no Christian! Your faith is miserable and weak! You have to be worthy before God will help you. Why do you bother Him with your prayers? Can’t you see that you are not worthy of His attention?” The devil afflicts us constantly with this stuff.       
The Canaanite woman’s daughter was plagued by the devil. The woman comes to Jesus for help. She had heard of Him and has come to believe that He is the Messiah. She cries out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” She acknowledges that Jesus is true God, the Messiah promised of old. Yet, she is a Gentile, not part of the ancient people of God, not included in the old covenant. Still, she pleads, “Have mercy on me!” But our Lord seems to ignore her. He answers her not a word. This woman is shameless. She cries out loud in public, “Lord, help me!” She falls down at His feet and clings to Him. She worships her God and pleads with Him, “Lord, help me!”
The Lord finally speaks to her: “It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs.” The banquet is not meant for you. You are a dog not fit for the banquet. It sounds like a refusal, but the woman hears an opening. “I know the banquet is meant for the father and his children. Even so, my Lord and my God, even your dogs are fed with the scraps!” That little bit will be enough. What a great and tenacious faith is displayed here! The woman clings to Christ when all seems dark and a failure. She has only a Word to cling to: Jesus helps sinners. So she persists in her prayer though the devil is shouting in her ear, “You’re not worthy!”       
My brothers and sisters in Christ, faith does not cling to the things perceived by the senses. Faith has only the Word, the promises of God. Faith clings to the promise of mercy even when the senses lose hope. As it was with this woman, so it is with you. We are Gentiles and sinners, not worthy for the things for which we ask. We pray, and the answer seems to be a refusal. His deliverance seems to us to be slow. He does not act when we think He should act. Rather, He acts when it is it is good for us. 
Gentiles, sinners that we are, we are the baptized child of God. We are no longer merely dogs, waiting for a scrap. We are the true children of Israel. We are children of God who bear the name of our Father upon our foreheads. He has brought us to His table to eat and drink. He has placed us at His right hand where He hears and answers our prayers. We are true children of Israel, walking by faith and not by sight. The Lord always hears, and the Lord always—always—answers. Our Lord tells us, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” He is faithful and true to His Word. And if the world considers us to be dogs, then so be it, for our faithful Master will always take care of 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.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sermon for 3/5/17: First Sunday in Lent

Sorry for the delay. Life intervened.

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“The Just Shall Live by Faith”

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


To live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is to live by faith. Faith is a painful and awkward thing. It is not at home in our flesh, for our flesh is weak. It wants its own way. It wants satisfaction. We like things that we think are strong. Our flesh prefers bread for our bellies to the Words of God’s mouth. But “the just shall live by faith.” It is in weakness that God’s strength is made perfect.
“The just shall live by faith,” but it will hurt every step of the way. On this side of glory, the just struggle with the old Adam. They are still attacked by the devil. Satan dislikes nothing so much as faith. His temptations lead us to the things he thinks are concrete: works and success; fame—things that can be measured, seen, heard, or felt. Satan would have us live by reason, experience, or even feelings—anything but faith. But “the just shall live by faith”…whether they like it or not.
Faith wants us to live now as we will live forever: by the Word of God, without concern for food or any bodily needs, and certainly without sin. On this side of glory, where Christ is, there the devil is also. That’s why Luther says, “Where God builds a Church, the devil builds a chapel.” Where the Lord gives faith, the devil does his most ardent work. That is why you face so many temptations. That is why the prophets were persecuted and the apostles were martyred; this is why Jesus was killed; this is why the world hates you. Satan doesn’t attack those he owns.
Satan has had the entire history of man to practice his craft. Logic, reason, works, tradition, history, and experience are of no help on their own. Only Christ, the Word of God made flesh, can come to our aid. Satan’s wisdom is thwarted by the statement, “The just shall live by faith.” God is for us in Jesus Christ, fighting the battle. The devil seeks to conquer by violence and threat. Christ defeats Him by submitting to violence. Satan’s power is not unlimited; but until the last day he is a formidable enemy. He attacks on every side. But Christ’s power is unlimited. It is wider than the world and longer than time. 
In Christ have an Advocate with the Father, a Hero and Champion who has destroyed your enemies. He has taken up your flesh, suffered for your transgressions, and has died and risen to redeem your soul. He gives you His Name. He places His Spirit upon you. He was tempted in every way, but He did not fail. He has even believed for you. He alone lived by faith. For your sake, He overcame the devil’s lies with His own Word.
When His trials in the desert had ended, angels ministered to Our Lord. In the same way they also minister to you.  That is not to say you won’t be tempted or suffer. God forgets our sins and casts them into the deepest part of the sea, removing them as far as the East is from the West. Still, our fallen minds and bodies remember. They still crave forbidden things. And our fallen spirits are timid. They are afraid to believe. But God does not break promises. His angels protect you and pray for you.
Stop trying to figure it out. Don't analyze it. Let God do all the work, even the thinking. Jesus died on purpose. He also rose again. He knows what He is doing. He has overcome all these things for you. You are forgiven, made clean, pure, holy, and righteous in these baptismal waters, and there you are given the faith by which the just live. This is true whether you feel it or not, whether or not it makes sense. Jesus died and rose. But He didn't just die and rise again. He died and rose again for you. “The just shall live by faith” in this death and resurrection. And that faith is our Lord’s gift to you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

HYMN: The Son of God, Triumphant

Life has kept me pretty busy the past few months. I've done some prep work for hymn writing, but I haven't really had the time to write anything other than sermons, newsletter articles, and bible studies for my parish. (Oh, and I haven't forgotten about posting sermons. I'll get to them soon, I promise.) Anyway, during the circuit pastors meeting yesterday--yeah, I know, I'm a lousy circuit visitor--this idea came into my head for an Ascension hymn. The hymn "A Great and Mighty Wonder" has this line: "The Word becomes incarnate/ And yet remains on high." That gave me the idea of how the Ascension responds to that: Christ ascends on high, and yet He does not leave us. This text is the result. Feedback is love, especially when it comes to the last line of verse 4. It originally read, "Redeemed are ushered in," which leaves off the necessary "the" at the start of the line. "The saints," on the other hand, might give the impression that only the big saints--Apostles, martyrs, etc.--are included.




The Son of God, Triumphant

1. The Son of God, triumphant,
Ascends to God’s right hand
With hymns of praise from angels
And all the heavn’ly band.
            (refrain) All hail, ascended King!
O Christ, enthroned in splendor,
Your glory do we sing.

2. The Word ascends to heaven
And yet He still is here,
For in the Holy Supper
He draws the sinner near. (refrain)

3. He stands before the Father
And for us intercedes.
The wounds of Christ defend us;
His blood our pardon pleads. (refrain)

4. Through Christ the gate of heaven,
Which once was barred by sin,
To man has now been opened.
The saints are ushered in. (refrain)

5. “We praise you, holy Brother,”
His ransomed people cry,
For in His own ascension
He raised our nature high. (refrain)

6. The Lord in all His glory
Shall come again to reign,
And we, with eyes uplifted,
Shall never wait in vain. (refrain)


© 2017 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
76 76 6 76
Tune: ES IST EIN ROS (Isorhythmic) (LSB 383)
Occasion: The Ascension of Our Lord

 



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sermon for 2/26/17: Quinquagesima

Sorry for the delay. Life intervened.

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Mercy on the Road to Jerusalem

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


Last week, we came to know that, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, only the deaf will be able to hear. This week, the blind man sees what the Twelve cannot see. He sees that everything depends on the mercy of God. He sees that, whatever the Lord does—even the things that seem absurd to us, even the most painful things, even the things that feel so unmerciful—all things work together for good to those who love Him and hold to His mercy. And so the blind man sits by the road begging for Jesus, the Son of David, to have mercy on him.
His plea is the Church’s plea. His prayer is our prayer. So we join the blind man when we cry out at the beginning of the Divine Service, “Lord, have mercy!” We are headed to the grave and feel the weight of sin and death. Yet it’s not just our prayer. The saints of old and, indeed, the whole heavenly host, also sing the same prayer. After all, the Lord’s mercy brought the world and all life into existence. The Lord’s mercy sustains us amidst joys and sorrows. The Lord’s mercy gives us hope for the fullness of heaven. The Lord’s mercy is not simply His kindness, His favor, His goodwill and affection, for the Lord in mercy wills to have us live in Him with an intimacy that is exceeded only by the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. In a word, the Lord’s mercy is communion—Him living within us, making His home in us, living His life through us, and, in turn, His creation made from the dust of His earth lives and dwells in Him.
So what is the blind man begging for? He wants to see—but not that he might have earthly sight. He wants to see and know that this Lord Jesus is truly the Father’s well-beloved Son who has come into the world to restore that intimacy and communion with God that was broken and severed by Adam. The blind man doesn’t just want to see so he can look at disease and suffering and death. The blind man wants to see Jesus. So he doesn’t first say, “Lord, let me see. Lord, heal me.” That might be our selfish prayer. But instead, the blind man cries out, “Lord, have mercy.” Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. Restore me to communion with You and Your Father.
For the blind man, that communion with God begins with Jesus opening his eyes. How can Our Lord restore our relationship with Him if He does not also restore us according to His original design? How can He restore our souls if He does not also renew our bodies? And how can He re-establish our participation in His holiness if He does not also release us from our bondage to sin and death? So He gives the blind man back His sight as a sign of what will be. He also heals the lame, cleanses lepers, gives hearing to the deaf, raises the dead, and preaches the Gospel to the poor—and all as a sign that His mercy reverses the evil and chaos that Satan planted.
That reversal doesn’t take place, however, with a few miracles. Where the curse is overturned and death undone; where the full restoration begins; where the prayers of heaven and earth are answered; where the Lord’s mercy is fully seen—this happens when the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners, when He is mocked and spit upon, when He is scourged and killed by them, and then rises on the third day. That Passion of the Christ is the fullness and gift of the Lord’s mercy. And the body and blood of that sacrificed and resurrected Jesus, given from the altar, is the restoration of the communion which our Father created us to have with Him.
So it is necessary for the Son of Man to go up to Jerusalem—but not to put a dramatic finishing touch on His life, nor merely to give an example of self-sacrifice and unselfish love. It is necessary to accomplish the Lord’s mercy with such finality that the devil and all hell cannot undo it. Our Lord Jesus does not shrink away. He set His face toward Jerusalem. And we go with Him, our eyes opened to see our Savior as He delivers true mercy 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.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sermon for 2/19/17: Sexagesima

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Ears to Hear


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


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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sermon for 2/12/17: Septuagesima

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The King and His Kingdom


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


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

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

Monday, February 06, 2017

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

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Light in the Darkness


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


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

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

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

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

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Human Fear


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


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

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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

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The Powerful Word


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


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

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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

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Power and Mercy


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


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

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

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

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Soaked in Sin


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


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

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

Monday, January 02, 2017

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

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Promised and Fulfilled


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


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

Sunday, January 01, 2017

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

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Light in the Darkness

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


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

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