Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sermon for 7/23/06 -- The Sixth Sunday After Trinity (1 year, revised)

Working Your Way Up
Matthew 5:17-26

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


One of the charges that was often leveled against Jesus is that He came to destroy the Law. If you talk about grace and forgiveness all the time, people are just going to start sinning more, since they know they’re forgiven! This is what he Pharisees thought. They thought of getting to heaven kind of like a ladder: you work your way up the ladder. God’s mercy for them was that sometimes God holds the ladder as you climb. But it was still you working your way up.

Now this isn’t true. Getting to heaven isn’t a ladder where you kind of work your way up, and then sometimes you go down, and you have to work your way back up. If that were the case, we’d all be in big trouble. Think again to Jesus’ words: You have heard that it was said to those of old, you shall not murder…But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment. And whoever says, YOU FOOL, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Now let’s make sure we all understand what Jesus is saying here. What He is saying is that anger is the same sin as murder. We start going doing the path of measuring sins, trying to make yourself out to be less of a sinner; and once we start down that path there’s no end. So Jesus cuts this false thinking off, and says that one may break the commandments in thought, word and deed.

Obviously this puts all of us in a precarious position. If you believe that you can work your way up to heaven, then this understanding of sin means that you are in big, big trouble. It is always amazing to me how many people will say that so-and-so must be going to heaven because they were such a nice person, or they took good care of their family, or whatever the case may be. You hear a lot of this especially at funerals, and while I don’t like destroying people’s illusions in the midst of their grief, I do not preach the merits of the deceased at the funeral. If I preached on the merits of the dead, there would be nothing to say.

Think back again to the 10 Commandments as we heard them in our Old Testament reading for today. They are unbendable. They are absolute. They leave no room for compromise. We live in a society where it is assumed that anyone can do basically anything. But it’s not true. Not when it comes to salvation and the kingdom of heaven. Think again to Jesus’ words: For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now remember that the scribes and the Pharisees dedicated their whole lives to keeping the law. They obsessed over it, to the point where they added 614 extra laws as a hedge around the 10 Commandments. We often see the Pharisees portrayed as stuck up and self-righteous. But in many ways the Pharisees were the bedrock of the community. They were the ones who gave the most money; they were the ones who took care of the poor and the widows; they were the ones who were upright. So Jesus says to the people that the only way into heaven is for your righteousness to exceed the Pharisees.

How was this possible? How could they do it? The answer, of course, is that they couldn’t. Nor can we. Why do we have the Law of God? The Law shows us our sin. It shows us that we are not worthy, that we are not righteous. God gave us the Law so that we would know of our great need for Him and for the salvation that only His Son can give.

So what is the solution? How is it that we can exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? The answer, of course, is Baptism. Think again to the words from Romans six: Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

What this means for you is this: because you have been baptized, all of Christ’s righteousness is yours. In God’s eyes you have exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees. You have the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself. And His righteousness is indeed perfect, without spot or blemish.

So when you were baptized, whether it was a month ago or seventy-five years ago—it doesn’t matter when—Christ’s death became your death. You are still dead indeed to sin. You still sin now, and the Law always accuses us of that sin. The Law always seeks to show us where we have failed. But you are now covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Christ killed death and the grave. These things no longer have power over us. They are done.

So what does this mean for you as a Christian? It means this: cling to Christ and his work of forgiveness alone. Don’t fall into the false trap of thinking that now you are a Christian, you won’t sin anymore. You continually sin. But Christ’s forgiveness and mercy is greater than your sin. This is your hope and your life as a child 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.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Excellent Borrowed Article

Julie Martinez: Dealing with Congregational Antagonists

After my own congregation went through the devastating destruction and prolonged aftermath of an unconscionable attack on our pastor, I found that the many books and other resources available indicate that this antagonistic behavior is not new to the Christian Church, and is endemic in the LC-MS at this time. Why would this be?

The LC-MS is experiencing its own crisis at the Synodical level with those at the highest levels compromising, in the guise of tolerance and societal acceptance, many of the doctrines that Lutherans throughout the centuries have held to be true; such as closed communion, for only one example. Because of this, there is continual friction between those who want to change the practices of the Synod and those who believe that to compromise these doctrines is tantamount to betraying Christ.

This tension at the Synodical level filters down into congregations in which antagonistic members are given impetus in causing strife and turmoil over those same issues. These individuals are then able to grasp an opportunity to cause a great deal of harm, claiming that they are only advocating the changes that the Synod itself is pursuing.

Our congregational leaders are generally not trained to deal with antagonism, and tend to err on the side of tolerance and acceptance of their behavior in a misguided attempt to keep the peace. By doing this, however, they enable the antagonistic individuals to continue their attacks, causing great harm not only to the pastor and his ministry, but also to faithful members who suffer with him.

It is interesting to note that this kind of antagonistic behavior is rarely tolerated in the secular world. People exhibiting these kinds of attacks against the leadership of a corporation, or volunteer organization, are quickly shown the door.

Yet, our Lord has given us specific guidelines in dealing with sinful behavior in Matthew 18. These guidelines are given to us in order to confront an errant brother with his sinful behavior, bring him to repentance, and restore him to fellowship. There are increasingly severe measures, up to and including excommunication. Paul also addresses this issue in many of his epistles (Romans 16:17, 2 Cor.11:13-14, Titus 3:10). Unfortunately, when these steps are not taken, the antagonist remains unrepentant, and he continues in his unrepentant sin, raining destruction upon his congregation.

One excellent resource is a book by Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk(1) , a psychologist and pastor who offers many poignant insights into antagonistic behavior. He states that antagonists are antagonistic by nature. They want to be the center of attention, and will find ways to keep themselves in the spotlight. They find some practice to complain about, yet they do not particularly care about that practice one way or another. If they get their way, they will quickly move to another practice, in order to remain the center of attention and controversy. He writes,
“There is a reluctance on the part of pastors, lay leaders, and the entire congregation to apply Christian discipline. In the case of antagonists, this reluctance is extremely unfortunate and inappropriate. Once you have determined that you are dealing with an antagonist, you no longer need to be so cautious; indeed, you must not be!”(2)

When antagonists rise up in the congregation, all members need to know the steps of Matthew 18, and the purpose of church discipline. It is essential that they support their pastor and leaders in those steps, up to and including excommunication of the offenders. By doing so, not only will there be true peace and unity in the congregation, but the antagonists will be shown, in all kindness, the seriousness of their offense, and may, by God’s grace, be brought to repentance and restoration.

1 Haugk, Kenneth C., Antagonists in the Church, Augsburg Publishing, ©1988,
2 Ibid, pp 153-155
This article written by Julie Martinez, Pagosa Springs, CO. Permission to reproduce is granted ONLY without changes.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Aliens in Your Pew

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ll know that the debate in the United States over the issue of illegal immigration is loud and ugly. We’re not going to tell you whether it’s right or wrong to help people who are in this country illegally. However, we would like to talk to you about a group of immigrants. Another word to describe an immigrant, legal or illegal, is “alien”. Don’t worry—we’re not talking about little green men from Mars here. In this setting, The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines “alien” as “relating, belonging, or owing allegiance to another country or government.”

Every Sunday when you sit in your pew, you are sitting in the middle of a group of aliens. Next time you’re in worship, look around you. Mrs. Smith who always sits behind you? She’s an alien. Mr. Peters is an alien, too. And while you’re at it, look in the mirror, and you will see another alien.

You see, Christians live in this world, but we do not belong in this world. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created in paradise. They were supposed to live there forever in eternal communion with God. When they disobeyed God, they were sent away, sent into exile. They became refugees, people living in a country that was not their own. As their descendants, we also are living in a land to which we don’t belong. Oh, we’ve made ourselves at home here, but we don’t really belong here. We belong in paradise, where we can be in communion with God every day for eternity the way we were meant to be.

I Peter 2:9-11 tells us, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” The Apostle Peter tells us the truth: we are aliens and strangers in this world. But when we were washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, we were restored. We became again God’s people. We were marked with the sign of the cross and the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and by this we were made citizens of the kingdom of God. When we approach the gate to eternal life, these marks will show, and our heavenly Father will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your lord.” We will no longer be aliens in this world to which we don’t belong. We will be home.

Monday, May 08, 2006

This is where I should have started . . .

My name is Alan. I'm a 31 year-old caucasian man. I'm a Lutheran Christian (of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod variety). I'm predominantly of Polish and German descent, but there's a decent amount of English in me as well. That makes me a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or WASP for short. And there are some circles in which these facts make me into some sort of oppressor.

But I have never owned a slave. As far as I know I have never physically, sexually, emotionally, or verbally abused a woman, nor have I paid a woman less money than I have paid a man for the same labor. I have never burned nor gassed a Jew--Orthodox or otherwise. I have never gone on Crusade to repel the Moor or Turk from the Holy Land, raping and plundering along the way. I have never mass-murdered "native Americans" in the name of Christ. I do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, or gender.

I have plenty for which I apologize. But I refuse to apologize for those things I am not or that I have not done. And I refuse to apologize for things that I had no choice about being. I had no choice about my gender nor my skin color nor the nationalities of my parents. I chose to be a Lutheran, and I see nothing in that of which I should be ashamed. There is nothing inherently wrong in being any of those things.

This is fair warning: I am who I am. If you don't like it, that's really just too bad. I'm not going to change who I am merely to please you.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A borrowed tidbit . . .


The Tenure of Pastors

The egalitarian belief that all people are ministers places the ministry and salvation of souls squarely in the hands of each Christian, not in the hands of God, who works through pastors. Pastors become expendable. Add the idea that the minister must be personally dynamic and the pastor is endangered.

What happens if a pastor is not dynamic, "sociable", or a master of American "folk religion"? The church may be dissatisfied or frustrated. Lutherans, however, have historically not tried to figure out ways in which they can dismiss their pastor. The historic position of the Lutheran church is that congregations may dismiss their pastors only for certain reasons. If a pastor is openly and scandalously immoral, he should be dismissed. If a pastor is unable or refuses to teach the true doctrine, he should be dismissed. When you think about it, this makes sense. The pastor's job is to teach. If he refuses to teach or teaches false doctrine, then he can't do his job. But you can't just fire your pastor like you could an NFL coach simply because he has had a couple of unsuccessful seasons or because there may be some friction on the church team.

-- Preus, Klemet I. The Fire and the Staff. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2004.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Statement of Purpose for Youth

I wrote this for my youth group in Ohio. I also submitted a slightly truncated form to Higher Things magazine, but they weren't interested. Anyway, here it is.

_______________________

Statement of Purpose for Youth

My name is Alan Kornacki, Jr. I began working with youth when I was 16, long before I even thought about becoming a pastor. Now that I’m a pastor, working with youth has become even more important to me.

I am a Confessional Lutheran pastor. The Bible, the Lutheran Confessions (as found in the Book of Concord of 1580), and the Divine Service of Holy Communion are the center of my life and work. I believe the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error. I believe the Book of Concord is a faithful and accurate exposition of God’s Word. And I believe that God uses the simple means of water and bread and wine to give us the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation—which God gives to us in the Divine Service through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

This is going to affect how I interact with you. The most important thing I can share with you is the message that, because we are sinners, Jesus suffered, died, and rose again so that we will live eternally with Him through faith. Because that is my most important task, I am constantly going to take you—kicking and screaming, if need be—back to the Divine Service, where that faith is fed and that message is preached with power. Game nights, servant events, and pizza parties are great; but they’re not the Gospel. These things pale in comparison to the message that Jesus died to redeem lost sinners. That will be my focus, and I will never apologize for that.

I want you to see Jesus. As you come to see and know Him in the Divine Service, I will do my best to help you see and know Him better. We will study the Bible together in meaningful ways. We will look at the life of Jesus and His saints to see what it means to live as forgiven children of God.

As we continue to grow in the Word, we will naturally continue to grow together in Christian fellowship. We will have fun! We’ll play games, watch movies, hold lock-ins, eat pizza, and take trips. We’ll serve as greeters. We’ll serve breakfast on Easter morning. We’ll chop wood. And we’ll do these things in thanksgiving to God for all His goodness to us.

As your pastor, I will make you these promises:

1. I will remain faithful to the Word of God. When I interact with you, I will speak the truth in love. I will not water it down. I will do my best to live in accordance with God’s Law in thanksgiving for God’s grace. When I fail—and I will fail—I will seek absolution from God, and I will also ask your forgiveness.

2. I will help you grow in the knowledge, fear, and love of the Lord. I will tell you the truth about yourself: that you are a sinner who has been forgiven by the God who loves you in spite of yourself.

3. I will be available to you. Did your significant other break up with you? Do you have a question about God? Did you have a fight with your parents? Is school not going well? Does all hope seem lost? Call me. Send me e-mail. Stop by the house. I can’t promise I will always agree with you. I can’t even promise the house will be clean! But I promise that I will listen, and I promise that I will stand by you, no matter what you say. I may or may not be someone you consider a friend, but I am your pastor, and it’s my duty and delight to care for you.

4. I will do my best for you. When I bring God’s Word to you, I will be as faithful as I can possibly be. When you come to me for guidance or help, I will do everything I can to help you move in the right direction. When I schedule and arrange events, I will try to accommodate as many of you as I can. When we work, it will be meaningful work. When we have fun, we’ll have a lot of fun.

5. I will be myself. You’re going to find out a lot about me just by being around me. Like you, I may be a saint, but I’m also a sinner. That means I will fail you. I am not always going to do things the way you want me to. Sometimes that will be because I’ve sinned against you; and if that’s the case, I will ask your forgiveness and try to fix things. Sometimes, however, it will be an honest disagreement. When that’s the case, know that I have your best interests at heart. You can count on me to be genuine. Even if I didn’t know that you can easily spot a fake, you deserve the real me. And you will get it.

I respect you so much that I expect things from you, too. You can tell me if you think I want too much. But I want you to grow, and that means I am going to push you from time to time. I have these expectations:

1. I expect you to be in the Word. If you never came to a single game night or never picked up a single piece of wood, if you came to the Divine Service to receive the forgiveness of sins and hear the Word of God, I would be satisfied. You know I’d miss you, but if you have to choose, I’d rather have you in church on Sunday morning than at the youth meeting on Sunday night. The Word of God and the forgiveness of sins you receive in the body and blood of Jesus are infinitely more important than who wins the Martin Luther Memorial Bobblehead Award for Excellence in Gaming.

2. I expect you to know that the youth group will not always be about having fun. Don’t get me wrong—we will have fun. But that’s not all we’re about. We are God’s children, and we have brothers and sister we can help. Helping them can be fun. But even when it’s not fun, we still have a responsibility to God and our neighbor.

3. I expect you to be honest with me. Have I offended you? Do you have a better way to do something? Do you have an idea? Tell me! I don’t want you to patronize me. I don’t want you to kiss up. Our success as a youth group depends not only on your participation; we need your feedback to be the best group we can be. And your feedback can help me to grow as a pastor and as a person.

4. I expect you to be honest with each other. The Eighth Commandment has two aspects: be honest, but don’t be brutal in your honesty. You are a Baptized child of God, and this group is for Baptized children of God. Treat each other the way you should treat family.

5. I expect you to be honest with yourself. Nobody knows you better than you know yourself. You can lie to yourself if you want to . . . but why bother? Lies come back to haunt you—truth always comes out. This is no less true when you lie to yourself. You won’t always like the truth, but truth can free you from fear and self-doubt.

We have a long way to go together. Everyone says that youth are the future of the Church. You are not the future; you are the present. The Church needs us to be faithful toward God and loving toward each other. May God bless you as you continue to grow in His grace, and may He continue to bless us as we continue to grow together!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Do unto others . . .

Matthew 18:15-17 states, "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."

This passage--and others like Mathhew 7:1-5 which deal with the same subject--confounds Christians. My misuse it. We misinterpret it. We deliberately ignore it when it suits us. But seldom do we live by it. We think a fellow Christian sins; so, instead of talking to that person, we decide to tell our twenty closest friends. We gossip about it before church services. We write anonymous letters to people in positions of authority. But we don’t talk to the fellow Christian we think has sinned. We don’t stop to get our facts straight. We skip right to the part where we treat the person "like a heathen and a tax collector".

As the liturgy--and indeed, our own experience--tells us, we are by nature sinful and unclean. No matter how hard we try to obey the Law of God, we cannot perfectly obey every mandate He sets before us. This includes the mandate contained in Matthew 18. We are all guilty. There is not one of us who can cast the first stone in this matter. Our sinful nature does not, however, excuse us from striving to treat each other as the Christian brothers and sisters we are. Notice that Jesus said right off, "If your brother sins against you . . ." We are not talking about dealing with strangers here; we are speaking of how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ! In the Lord’s Prayer we say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." God forbid our Brother, Jesus, would treat us the way we treat each other! Our Lord does not write our sins on the clouds for all to see. He deals with us individually through those who, by His command, stand in His stead.

The Lord lays it out step-by-step. When your brother sins against you, go to him and speak to him privately about the matter. Show him how he has sinned. If he repents, wonderful! There is joy in heaven over one lost soul who has been found! If he does not repent, take one or two people who are wise and discerning with you and try again. If he doesn’t repent then, tell it to the church, that the whole congregation of brothers and sisters might restore the erring brother. This is not a matter of "ganging up on" your brother; it is a way for this brother to see that his whole family cares for him.

It is never the intention of the church to permanently remove a brother who sins. We are all sinners. We know what it is to sin. We also know what a joy and privilege it is to be forgiven, and it is also a privilege to share that forgiveness with others. If you have an issue with me--if I have sinned against you--I fervently hope you will speak to me, so we may settle the matter as brothers and sisters in Christ. And if your brother sins against you, speak to him as a brother, so that our family may continue to grow together. May our risen Lord strengthen and aid you as you seek to treat your brethren as our heavenly Brother has treated us!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tolerance . . .

I open my blog with a post on tolerance. As you get to know me, maybe you'll find out why.


If you go to http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/tolerance, you will find their definitions of the word "tolerance". I've come to the conclusion that the world has become tolerant of just about everything but Christian values. Oh, people say that Washington is brainwashed by Christianity and that Christians are hateful and hypocritical and just mean-spirited; but that's not true Christianity, or maybe Christianity in the hands of people who use the name of "Christ" for their own selfish motives. People who would murder (car-bombing abortion clinics or mosques or physically attacking homosexuals or those of different faiths) in the name of Christ are not true Christians.

When you look at Christianity at its purest--that is, when you look at Christ Himself, who is the only perfect Christian--He loved people who were sinners in the eyes of the world. But this does't mean that He tolerated their sinfulness. He would by no means harm a sinner, but He would show the sinner his sin and bring about repentance, and then forgive the person of his sin.

Now I don't claim to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, except maybe being a perfect sinner. No one is perfect. We are all sinful and fall short of the glory of God. That makes me a hypocrite in some ways, sure. I am not always consistent, though I try to be; and when I fail, I pray for God's forgiveness. But as one who stands "in the stead of Christ" in my vocation as a pastor, I have a duty to speak the truth, even when that truth is not popular. That means I'm not going to tolerate abortion or pre-marital sex or affairs or anything else the world says I should tolerate, because to do so would to be unfaithful to my Lord Jesus Christ. I will show the love of Christ to homosexuals and Muslims and even to those who mis-use the name of Christ; but I will not tolerate their sin, any more than I tolerate my own.