Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This is where the pastor goes all geek on y'all.

I've been playing video games for a long time. It all started with Pong, of course, and my first love was the Commodore 64, which I still contend had the best, most entertaining collection of video games. (Anyone have one they're trying to get rid of?)

But I always thought that the Nintendo Entertainment System was where I grew up as a gamer. The first game I beat was Super Mario Bros. But my favorite to play was Metroid. Pictured above is Samus Aran, the heroine of Metroid. And wasn't that a surprise?! Who knew that a girl could be a video game action figure instead of the damsel in distress?

Anyway, someone finally decided to bring the best of the NES into one game. Click here to play Super Mario Bros. Crossover! It has to be the coolest thing ever happen to video games!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Sweetest Sorrow

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. -- Philippians 1:3-8 (NKJV)

The Apostle Paul, by the grace of God and the eloquence of the Holy Spirit, has put into words the joy I experienced today. The saints of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, Louisiana, welcomed me into the pulpit one last time this morning. I'm not a big fan of gushy personal outbursts from the pulpit, as I'm sure you could guess by now, so the sermon wasn't a farewell speech, instead focusing on the Gospel appointed for the day. Yet the Lord's sense of timing is divine: the Gospel reminded us that the children of God are heirs of a joy that will never fade away.

Between the services, the congregation welcomed Faith and me to a cake reception. Yet sweeter than the cake and richer than the gifts we received was the love which they shared with Faith and me in their kind regards for the times we spent together and their fond wishes and prayers for my family's move and our service in Illinois. After the sorrow of my experience in Ohio--though I know many members of the congregation in Zanesville loved me and continue to love me today--the warm welcome and the continuing affection of the people of Mt. Olive has been a balm to my soul.

It may be some time before I return to Mt. Olive. My wife's family living in Louisiana, we will no doubt have the opportunity to return from time to time. It will not be the same; nor would I wish it to be. These people took me in during a time of sorrow. Through the love they have shown me and the gifts of God they partook with me, they are sending me forth in joy, and I hope that every return to them will reflect that joy. Though it is very likely that I will eventually forget the names of these saints, I will always remember the love they shared with me.

Pastor Drew, brothers and sisters in Christ at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. We will meet again: maybe here, certainly at the Lamb's High Feast, and unto eternity by the grace of God.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sermon for 4/25/10--Jubilate: Fourth Sunday of Easter (LSB 1-year)

I will be preaching this Sunday at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, Louisiana. Barring some emergency or some crazy occurrence, this will be the last time I preach in Louisiana . . . for now, anyway. The people of Mt. Olive have been a wonderful blessing to me and to my family for the past three years and more. Thanks to Pastor Drew, I've had the opportunity to preach there more than any other congregation during my time between parish pastorates. Each time I have been welcomed with love. This is a congregation which hungers and thirsts for the Word of God, no matter how much of it they have already received. This will be a bittersweet experience for me, I'm sure.

Thanks to Faith's mother, my dear wife will be able to join me. If you're in the area, we'd love to have you join us. Worship is at 8 and 10:30 AM. Pastor Drew will be teaching Bible class at 9:15. Y'all come!

How Long, O Lord?
John 16:16-22

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

Historically, the Fourth Sunday of Easter has been known as Jubilate. This Latin word is the first word of our Introit, in which we sing, “Make a joyful shout to God!” It seems strange, then, that the Church should choose the verses of our Gospel reading—verses recording an event which takes place right before the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion—to be read and preached on one of the seven Sundays of Easter. There’s an awful lot of sorrow in this text, and it doesn’t seem quite right in what is supposed to be a season of great joy for the people of God.

In fact, it seemed as though the disciples were already in the midst of their sorrow. Jesus wasn’t even gone yet from them for that little while, and in their confusion regarding His words, it was as though Jesus had already left them. The thing is, Jesus wasn’t delivering the goods the way they expected. They expected an earthly King, an Anointed One who would restore the earthly Kingdom of Israel. This business of Jesus going away for a little while, of Jesus going to the Father—it made no sense in their vision of the Messiah.

Of course, it’s easy for us to look at this text through the lens of hindsight and know exactly what Jesus is saying. In fact, as we look at this text, it might be easy for us to suppose that the disciples are rather foolish and thick-headed. After all, Jesus had told them more than once that He would suffer and die and that He would rise from the grave. This would be the last time Jesus would share this message with them before His betrayal and arrest, trial, conviction and crucifixion. These words would begin to be fulfilled before that day had even ended. It’s obvious to us. But we have the luxury of hindsight and the understanding given to us through the Holy Spirit.

Then again, Jesus doesn’t always deliver the way we think He should, either. Jesus tells us, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” Sorrow, and anguish, and the cross will define your life; but your cross will yield to the resurrection!

These are wonderful words. But let us be honest: they are not really the words we want to hear. What we want to hear is that the life lived in Christ is a life of ease. We want to hear that being a Christian means that we will always be treated fairly in this life, that others will love us because of who we are. We want to hear that our blessed Lord has not only taken on our sin and died our death, but has also taken away everything that annoys and frustrates and bothers us, every bad thing that can happen to us, every evil word or deed that might be said or done against us. This is why men like Joel Osteen are so popular: they deliver the message we want to hear.

But instead of telling us what we want to hear, our Lord tells us what is true and real. He says: “A little while, and you will not see Me; and, again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” The message is plain for us who live under the burden of the Law and who daily earn the wages of sin. We need Jesus every moment. It is only the presence of Christ in us that allows us to do good works, that gives us true joy, that opens the gates of heaven to us. But we separate ourselves from Him in our sinfulness, and we become mired in sorrow because there is no hope or help or comfort for us apart from Him. Apart from Christ, the sorrow seems endless because the sorrow is endless apart from Christ.

But this is where we see the great blessing of holy absolution. When we find ourselves deep in sorrow over our sinfulness, when it seems as though the despair cannot be conquered, when the world is rejoicing because you have fallen, when it seems that sin and death will have their way, it is then that the Lord says to you, “You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” When you are in sorrow over your sin and crying out, “How long, O Lord?” with King David, Jesus answers you by saying, “A little while.” ‘I will bring your anguish to an end. I forgive you your sin, removing it as far from you as east is from west. My righteousness covers your sinfulness. And I will give you great joy that will never end.

Even though we may be unable to see the end of our sorrow, our Lord sees it. The suffering in sorrow will end; and until then, He gives us the strength to bear it, nourishing our souls with His body and blood. “A little while,” He says to you. That is all the longer your cross will last. That is only how long it will be until your heartache passes. That is the length of Christian sorrow and pain—only a little while. It may seem like an eternity, as those three days between cross and resurrection surely did to the disciples, and the devil will want to consume your whole life, but it is really only a little while. It will feel as if it is always raining, but after the rain comes the sunshine.

And what happens after that little while? Then comes the long while, the unending Day of the Lord. Sorrow and despair lasts but a moment. And then comes the joy which knows no end and the peace which surpasses understanding and the blessing that far outweighs any blessing in this life, the time when the sufferings of this present life can in no way measure up to the glory that our Lord has fully stored up for you.

But first, the little while. Though for now you have sorrow, the Lord even now comes to you when He gives you His life-renewing flesh and pours into you His life-saving blood. Even now the Lord sees you again as He smiles on you with His forgiving Word, even as the angel promised the shepherds when he said, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Even now the Lord creates in you a clean heart, and renews His righteous Spirit within you, and restores to you the joy of His salvation.

As St. Peter wrote: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now, for a little while, if need be, you are grieved by various trials.” But even in this little while of grief, your heart rejoices, for you have been plunged into a joy that no one can take from you. You hear a Word of blessing that no devil nor any other enemy of God can undo. And you feed on Jesus, whose life no one now can take from you.

Let the world have its rejoicing while you weep and lament; for that joy will only last a little while. In His time, the Lord will grant you joy that will never fade away. 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, April 15, 2010

An Exile No More?

Since I received the Call to serve as pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois, the one question that I have received most frequently is this: "Are you going to change the name of your blog?"

Louisiana is not Patmos--and I am certainly not St. John. It is neither Assyria nor Babylon--though I imagine Pat Robertson and the "God Hates Fags" people might be inclined to disagree regarding the latter. It is not even Elba--and I don't like pointy hats, anyway. Yet for the past four years and more, Louisiana has been the place of my exile from parish ministry.

What is exile? How does one become exiled? The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the noun "exile" as "the state or a period of forced absence from one's country or home". In my case, rather selfishly, I gave the blog its name because of my departure from parish ministry. I've told the story before. I don't need to do so again.

Now my time outside of parish ministry is coming to an end. Do I change the name or not? Since I received the Call, that question has crossed my mind from time to time--usually when someone asks me, but sometimes on its own when I have a free moment in my head that isn't echoing the refrain, "I'm returning to parish ministry! I'm returning to parish ministry!" My first instinct is to keep it the way it is, and there's a number of reasons for it.

First, heaven is my home. I am in the world but not of it. Until the Lord calls me home, I am an alien and stranger, as Peter says in chapter 2 of his first epistle. Second, as a matter of practicality, this is how the blog started, and changing the name and how it appears in blogrolls is just a big pain in the behind. Besides, the subtitle of the blog reads, "A Confessional Lutheran blog begun from the place of my exile".

But third--and most important--in the Bible, usually God's children were sent into exile because of their sinfulness. Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden because of their disobedience to the Word. Cain was exiled for the murder of his brother, Abel. Judah and Israel were exiled to Babylon and Assyria because they had fallen away from the Word of God and into apostasy. In my case, no matter what the motives of others might have been, I sinned in writing negatively about certain aspects of my congregation in my original blog. Whether or not it was the reason I was asked to resign, it was the reason I was given. And whether or not it was the reason I was asked to resign, my sinfulness in posting what I did gave me enough reason to acquiesce to the demand. Keeping this name has served and will continue to serve as a reminder that I must continue to love, thank God for, and speak well of the flock entrusted to my care, no matter the circumstances. God help me to do so.

What do you think? Keep it? Change it? If so, to what?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hymn: Alleluia! Christ Is Risen

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

Last night, I was putting Michael to sleep, singing hymns like "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing" and "Jesus Lives, The Victory's Won" and "Love Divine, All Love Excelling" as lullabies. As I was singing the last, a hymn idea popped into my head. It's not easy to put a child to bed when you keep repeating ideas under your breath so you don't forget them.

A blessed Easter to you and yours!

Alleluia! Christ Is Risen

1. Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Jesus, firstborn from the dead,
Burst the gates to hell’s dark prison.
Christ has triumphed as He said.
To the cross He bore sin's burden.
There He suffered grief and shame.
Rose again to earn our pardon--
Rose our freedom to proclaim.

2. Lo, His tomb now stands deserted.
Hark, the stone now rolled away.
Satan's power fails, diverted,
Hell's dark fury held at bay.
Now end's Satan's insurrection.
Hear the truth we claim by faith:
Through His mighty resurrection
Jesus bears the keys to death.

3. Sinful Adam, die with Jesus
In the great baptismal flood.
Washed of all sin's dread diseases,
Cleansed, we rise, in Jesus blood.
Where, O Hades, is your vict'ry?
Where, O Death, is now your sting?
Death, now toothless, falls before me.
Hell bows, mute, before my King.

4. Alleluia! Christ is risen,
And with Him the saints shall rise.
Death is nevermore our prison;
Now the gate to paradise.
Pow'r, dominion, glory, honor
To the Lamb who once was slain,
Who, with Spirit and the Father,
Now and evermore shall reign.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 D
Tune: HYFRYDOL (LSB 700)