Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sermon for 12/25/11--The Nativity of Our Lord (LSB 1-year)

The Word Became Flesh

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


Where is the Lord? How shall we find Him? Where do we go to receive Him? Many people search for God and go from here to there, from one religion to another, from one dose of “spirituality” to another, looking for whatever they think God is. And they don't find Him because they are not going to the place He Himself has promised He will be. The Lord is always where He promises to be. In the incarnation, the conception and birth of Jesus, God has come to us, and He does so in a way that is not difficult to receive: He has come in the flesh, as one of us.

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel camped at Mt. Sinai and the Lord was upon that mountain in smoke and fire. Yet the children of Israel couldn't stay there forever. They were bound for the land promised years before to their father Abraham. And the Lord would go with them. So Moses was commanded to make a tabernacle, a great big tent that could be put up and taken down. When the cloud of the Lord's glory stopped, the tabernacle was set up and the Lord's glory filled the Tabernacle. Whenever Moses would speak to the Lord and the Lord to Moses, it happened in the Tabernacle. There He was, the Lord, right there where there was no mistaking Him. If you wanted to find the true God who made the heavens and the earth, you went to the Tabernacle, and there the priests would intercede for you. But there was no mistaking that the Lord was there, in that spot. The Lord cannot be contained in one spot, of course. He fills heaven and earth. Yet, by His Word, He promised to be where the Tabernacle was; and the people who worshiped there were His people. But the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, as it was called, was only a shadow of things to come. The fulfillment of what the Tabernacle showed came in Christ.

St. John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But what he is literally saying is this: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” There is an important connection here. The same Lord who has come to His people in fire and smoke and cloud in the tabernacle now comes to us as one of us: in the flesh—in a specific place, a particular spot. Born of woman. “No one has seen the Father,” John wrote, “but He who was in the bosom of the Father has made Him known.” It is Jesus who reveals the heart of the Father to us. God, who pours out His judgment upon sinners, shows us in Christ that that judgment will instead fall upon His Son, so that those who are in Christ are now beloved of the Father. So the question is: Where is God? Where do we find the Lord? The answer: In Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, born of the virgin Mary. The celebration of Christmas is a celebration of the Lord Himself coming to us! And in that flesh, Jesus comes to live our life, perfectly obedient to the Father. He comes to die our death, suffering on the cross for our sins.

If all of our salvation is in Jesus, then where do I go to receive Jesus? Many will acknowledge that Jesus is God; but then, as we heard last Sunday, not all those who look for the Christ know how to find Him. So where is He? Many religions and preachers turn it back into something we must do, to figure it out for ourselves. They put Jesus in all kinds of places except the places He has said He would be. But Jesus comes to us. He is present in this place, His church; for He promises to be present where two or three are gathered in His name. He comes to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He continues to come to you in the Word of Holy Absolution and in His own body and blood. His own words tell you. “Go and baptize all nations.” “Whosoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” “Take, eat; this is my body; take, drink; this is my blood.” With these words and promises, the Lord tells us right where He'll be: in His church, where the ministry of the Gospel and Sacraments is carried out faithfully and in accord with His Word. The Word became flesh; and it does not stop being flesh. He has taken on a body for all eternity, and He gives us that very flesh and blood which was born in Bethlehem and nailed to a cross and rose from the dead—that very flesh to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. That means when someone asks, “Well, where is God?” you can say boldly and with confidence, “God is in the flesh in Jesus, and Jesus is in the church where the font and the altar are full of Jesus and His gifts.”

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us; and He continues to dwell among us. He's physically and eternally present in His church through His Word and Baptism and Supper. No longer do you flail about in the darkness, looking for the Light. He's right where He said He would be: present as He promised in the means of grace. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us—and we know right where He is for our salvation. 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, December 20, 2011

Sermon for 12/18/11--Fourth Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

The Season of Light

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


At the time of John the Baptist, many were in the dark. Oh, they knew that God had promised to send Light to His people. They knew that the same God who had led His people in the desert with a pillar of fire by night had also promised to bring light to those walking in darkness. And with His promise was also His admonition, as spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” The priests and Levites knew light was coming, but still they were in the dark. For one thing, they did not know when it was coming. But at the same time, they really did not understand what that Light was. And so, when it did come, they did not see it.

One of the tragic things about people walking in darkness is that many of them do not even realize their condition. It is like dressing yourself in the dark. Can you imagine what you would look like when you had no idea what clothes you were putting on? And yet, that is how we must look to God; people whose spiritual appearance reveals the darkness of our sin. Most people do not even realize this spiritually embarrassing situation. They are perfectly content to live in sin and ignorance, unaware of the will of God. They feel no need for light because they don’t know they’re in darkness.

Even you who know the Lord slip into this realm of darkness. You shun the light of God, and live for yourselves rather than for Him. You neglect Him in every day things, where too often the darkness of the world begins to overwhelm your faint reflections of the Light. You stand more like flickering candles about to be extinguished than as beacons guiding others to the Light of Christ. It is no wonder that John the Baptist, who came to bear witness to the true Light, also came with a message of repentance. The light of Christ exposes your deeds of darkness.

Of course, knowing that you need the light does not guarantee that you can find the switch that turns it on. Here is where the priests and Levites had their problem. They were looking for the Light, but could not find it. “Who are you,” they asked John? “Are you the Christ?" John humbly gave His answer: "No." He was not any of those; but he added, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.” The same ones who came looking for light missed it. And they would continue to miss it. Jesus, who gave sight to the blind, who said so clearly, “I am the Light of the world,” who would be put to death in a world and on a day noted for supernatural darkness; this Jesus was condemned by these men who were looking for the Light! How easy it is to miss the true Light by pursuing any number of false but flashy lights: the bright lights of materialism and the brilliant light of pride. And yet, how many today either miss or misunderstand the Light of God; and as a result, they miss the whole purpose of this season of light. Thank God that man’s light is completely overshadowed by the true Light of the world.

Thank God for John and the witness he gave to that Light who gives light to all men; for you cannot find it on your own. You need someone to show you the light, to turn it on for you. John’s witness comes to you once again in this Advent season. John points you directly to who that Light is: God’s true and only Son, who came to die bearing your sins, who came to redeem you from the power of darkness, who suffered the darkest depths of hell in your place, and who rose in glory to give His light and life to all the world.

When you come confessing your sin, when you admit that you are walking in darkness, then suddenly and wondrously the light comes on, and you see your Savior, Christ the Lord. You behold a baby in a manger, but you understand that this crib of Christmas will find its meaning fulfilled only in the cross of Calvary. This child has come to die for you, so that you need not suffer the darkness of death. You are led out of darkness into His marvelous light.

When the light of Christ is turned on, the world changes. You see your entire life in a new way. No longer do you need to live in a world of fear, for your sins have been forgiven and the power of Satan has been crushed. No longer do you need to grope about in the darkness, fumbling around in a futile search to find purpose amidst the confusion of life. For you have seen the true light. God has shown you the Truth. With eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, you can walk confidently in faith through your life on this earth to the everlasting light of heaven.

This is the season of light. You know the One true Light is coming; and you shall see Him in the full revelation of the glory of that Baby, a Savior who is Christ the Lord, whom we shall meet in the light of heaven, where we will live in His light forever. “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sermon for 12/11/11--Third Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)


“Should We Expect Another?”

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


Without a doubt, John the Baptist is the strangest figure in the New Testament. Outfitted in a suit of camel hair and living off a diet of grasshoppers dipped in honey, nothing was ordinary about John the Baptist. Even his birth was unusual. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were well past the age of parenting. They had prayed for a child but none had been given. Then one day, when Zechariah was taking his turn performing his priestly liturgy in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. Like Elijah of old, the son that was to be born to this old couple would be filled with the Holy Spirit and he would turn many to the way of the Lord. In time this angelic word was fulfilled as Elizabeth gave birth to a little boy named John.

John would grow into manhood, and in time, in God's time, he would appear in the wilderness surrounding the Jordan River preaching and baptizing, calling all Israel to repentance and faith in the Messiah whose coming he announced. John the Baptist was a servant of a Christ, a faithful steward of the mysteries of God. As Paul says of preachers in today's epistle, "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." John was faithful in the task that the Lord God had given him. He preached a sermon that was not popular. It can be summed up in a single sentence: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." John did not flinch in this preaching. To preach repentance is to name sin for what it. John proclaimed the law of God that calls the Pharisee, the Sadducee, even Herod—and you—to repentance. It was politically incorrect for John to expose Herod's adultery and ultimately it would cost him his life. Nevertheless, John the Baptist preached that Word to high and low alike. That was his calling, his office.

For John, as for all genuine preachers, the law was preached in service of the gospel. The law was preached to lead sinners to repentance, that is, to kill in them any thought that they could right themselves before God. John was a gospel preacher. He proclaimed the Christ, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. John's whole life was spent in the service of this Christ. Of Him, John said, "He must increase and I must decrease." So it was that as the brightness of Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, dawned on this sin-darkened world, John the Baptist faded into the shadows. He was not the light. He came only to bear witness to the light. That was fine for John. He had no need to call attention to himself, to gain any kind of personal prestige or prominence. He was willing to be spent and consumed for the sake of making Christ known. And soon he was consumed. John's faithfulness landed him in jail. Soon he would be put to death for his faithful service to Christ.

John sent his disciples to question Jesus: "Are You the Coming One, or should we expect another?" In response, our Lord points to the messianic signs. "Go and tell John the things that you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." John’s preaching has not been in vain. Jesus is the Messiah. There is no other.

Is this the Jesus you’ve come here to seek this morning? Are you here because this Jesus can cure your depression, your poverty, your cancer, your humiliation? Jesus can do all these things. But is that all you want from him? John sent his disciples to Jesus to calm them of their doubts and fears. They had not followed John in vain, for John led them to Jesus. But look at how Jesus builds it up for them: the blind see, the lame walk—He cures the body. The lepers are cleaned, the deaf hear—He cleanses the body of things that make it spiritually unclean. The dead are raised, and the poor hear the Gospel—He gives life. This is the Jesus who comes to you this day. Not only does He remove your physical ailments—for those are but the wages of sin. He also cures your spiritual ailments, and in the waters of Baptism He raises you to new and eternal life with Him.

Jesus says, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." Those words spoken by our Lord to John are also for you. Your blessedness comes not by way of human approval, but through faith in Jesus Christ. He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to Father but by Me." The world judges that truth claim to be the highest form of intolerance. So Christians are branded as narrow-minded bigots. Those who claim to be so tolerant become very intolerant of the confession of Jesus. Jesus Christ is still the cause of offense.

"Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." You who were dead in your sin have been raised with Christ through Holy Baptism to new life, eternal life in Christ. By the faith you were given in Holy Baptism, you cling to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You who were silent before the Lord have been given the words to confess His holy name and to sing His praises. Your blind eyes have been opened to see your Lord, present in this holy meal. You who in sin were lame, unable to approach the Father, have been healed so that you may approach this altar. Expect no one else, for in this meal you receive the Christ who comes to you in His body and blood. 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, December 04, 2011

Sermon for 12/4/11--Second Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

Signs

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


The Lord is coming back any time now. Don’t expect your pastor to speculate as to the exact date, but the Lord is coming again in glory, and He is coming soon. If you doubt it, just listen to these words: “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring.” Now look around you. Look at the skies. Back in September, scientists observed two massive X-class solar flares. A total lunar eclipse occurred in June, and another is actually due to happen this weekend. Once again this past month we saw in our skies the annual Leonids meteor shower. And then look at the world around you. The world’s economy is in a nightmare state. Wars continue across the world. The tsunami in April devastated Japan, taking the lives of nearly 16,000 people, damaging or destroying 125,000 buildings, and causing explosions in at least three nuclear reactors.

So now that you’ve seen the signs, it’s time to speculate concerning the day and the hour in which the Lord will return—and that way you can know the exact moment when you should repent of your sins and make your peace with God; and in the meantime you can live exactly the way you want—right? You know better than that, of course. There are really two things that distract from Christ's return and hinder preparation. On the one hand, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the pursuits of the flesh that it seems like it doesn’t matter if Christ is coming. It’s easy to live as if there is no Last Day, no fearful judgment upon sin on that day. On the other hand, the cares of this life can be a heavy burden, and it’s hard to believe that there will be an end to all these trials when the Lord appears the final time. Either way, we live as if there is no Last Day, no Lord who is coming back to judge.

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Right there, Jesus has given you the answer. Everything around you is passing away. Some people live as if this life is it, and they decide to live as if there's no tomorrow. Some are so worried about the end of all things, they try to make themselves ready. But Christ gives us the answer: His Word never passes away. It's simple, really: heaven and earth will pass away. Christ's Word does not pass away. What about you? Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have His Word. You cannot pass away. You cannot perish. You cannot be destroyed. The Word of Christ spoken with water at the font means you will outlive the passing away of this earth and heaven. The Word of Holy Absolution spoken to you means you will not pass away with the unrepentant masses who despise Christ and His salvation. The Body and Blood of Christ Himself are your sure promise that since Christ can't pass away, neither can you.

Last Sunday we began our observation of Advent with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Advent begins with Palm Sunday to remind you that Christ came to die for you. You have Palm Sunday; and then five days later you have Good Friday. In Advent we have Palm Sunday and then a week later the end of the world. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, put these readings together to connect in your mind that the Last Day, Judgment Day, can never be separated from Good Friday. On Good Friday, on the cross, the sins of the world were judged, and the wrath of the righteous God poured out on Jesus. On that day, the sun was darkened and the earth shook, and it probably seemed like the end of the world. That's because the End of the World, Judgment Day, happened that day at the cross. There, on Calvary, The Son of Man was there in all His glory, saving you. When you think of Judgment, the Last Day and the End of the World, think first of all of Good Friday. Think of Christ suffering the judgment against your sins. Only with this Good News that your Savior has shed His blood for you can you truly lift up your heads and rejoice on the Last Day when He does come again.

Where Christ is present in His Word, Judgment Day has no power to terrify. The Last Day cannot bring fear to those who know their Savior has already undergone Judgment Day. But apart from Christ, apart from His Word, there is nothing but fear. In Christ, Judgment Day has already come; outside of Christ, Judgment Day is still coming. In Christ, the Day is joyfully anticipated; outside of Christ, that Day comes like a thief. Jesus tells you, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” How do you watch? How do you pray? The Lord invites you to this place, where you can confess your sins and hear the Good News that the Judgment upon those sins has already been placed on Him. He invites you to come to this altar and receive His body and blood in the Holy Supper, a foretaste of the eternal heavenly wedding feast that awaits all those whom He has made worthy and who cling to Him by faith.

The signs of the Last Days are all around. The world is going to pieces. Wars, rumors of wars, plagues, famine, and all sorts of natural disasters are all around. The nations are in chaos. You are living in the last days before the Lord returns. But you do not need to fear or despair. Lift up your heads, for your redemption is near. Right before your Lord comes to you in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, you hear, “Lift up your hearts!” And now you lift up your heads, for He will soon appear on the clouds with great glory. And that will be the day of rejoicing, the day of the end of all misery and woe. Your Lord is coming, and He Himself has prepared you by giving you His Word which will never pass away. And because you have been raised with Him in Holy Baptism, you won’t pass away, either. 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, November 28, 2011

Sermon for 11/27/11--First Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

Here's the audio for the sermon below.




"Behold, Your King Is Coming"

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


The world celebrates holidays all backwards. Have you ever noticed that? All of the celebrating is virtually done before the day ever arrives. This is especially so with Christmas. All the feasting, the decorating, the nostalgia are done up front. You've got Christmas movies and Christmas music not only before Advent but even before Halloween! By the time the actual holiday arrives, Christmas seems anti-climactic. By December 25th, you're tired of the songs and the phony holiday cheer, and you're ready to move on—especially when things didn't quite live up to Hallmark expectations. It’s not unusual to see Christmas trees out with the garbage the day after Christmas!

The church doesn't celebrate a holy day until it actually arrives, and in the days following. The 12 days of Christmas that you hear about in the carol are the days from Christmas to Epiphany on January 6th. That's the real Christmas season. What we're in now is the Advent season, and Advent is a time of penitent and hope-filled preparation. Believe it or not, in the early church, Advent was a time for fasting. This is a time not for mere sentimentality, but a time but to dwell more fervently on the Word of God to make ready the way of His coming to us. We eagerly anticipate Christmas, of course; but now is not the time for the full celebration. Now is the time for waiting and discipline and focusing on the coming of our Lord in the flesh to save us.

That's why we have the Gospel that we do today. The Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem may seem out of place at first here in Advent, but in fact it dramatically emphasizes what this season is about. Advent means "coming." This Gospel teaches that our Lord comes to us humbly, whether on a beast of burden or in a lowly manger. Jesus comes not simply to be born; He is born to humble Himself even to death on a cross, to give His life to rescue us from sin and death and the devil.

Jesus rides two donkeys: an older one, the mother, and a younger one, a colt, the mother's foal. These two donkeys represent God's Old and New Testament people. First, Jesus rides the old, to show that He is the fulfillment of all that Israel was about and all that its prophets foretold. Then Jesus rides the new, which is born from the old. Our Lord comes to make all things new by dying and rising again. Out of the old order of death comes a new order of invincible life for us in Jesus. He unites all believers, from the Old Testament and the New, from every nation and race, together as His true and everlasting Israel.

And do not forget that you are the donkey: a very stubborn animal, hard-headed, set in your sinful ways, eager to go your own direction. You must be driven. Christ rides you; and gently but firmly He drives you toward the cross. He drives you to die with Him, to die to sin, so that you may also rise with Him to new life. He drives you to repentance through the Law, so that through the His redeeming work you may have His full and free forgiveness.

That's the sort of king you have in Jesus: not one who forces His subjects to serve Him, but one who lays down His life to serve His subjects. Every other king sends out soldiers into battle to fight on His behalf. But this King goes into battle Himself to fight on your behalf. He rides not on a stallion with glittering armor, but on an ordinary donkey, an animal of peace; for He comes to bring you peace. This King will ascend His throne, not by wearing a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns; not by defending Himself, but by becoming defenseless; dying so that you may live. This is the King who comes.

And do not fail to note that He's the One doing the traveling. You don't have to go out searching for Him, as though He were some far-off guru sitting high atop a Himalayan mountain. No, Jesus searches you out and comes to you. You don't come to God through your own spirituality or works or emotions. But God can and does come to you in His grace. He came down from heaven right to where you're at, taking up your human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. He even went so far as to come into contact with the filth of your sin and death on the cross so that you might be cleansed and rescued from them by His precious blood.

And the Lord comes to you even today to dish out all the benefits He won for you. But don't look for glitter and fanfare. You must learn to see the meek and humble ways in which Jesus still enters into this place and into your lives. This church is Jerusalem. And the gates through which Christ enters this holy city are the Word and the Sacraments. The King rides to you on the waters of Holy Baptism. He travels to you through His spoken and preached words. And indeed, you have the triumphal entry in every celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. The Lord who came in His flesh and blood to Jerusalem comes also to you here in His body and blood to give you the forgiveness of sins which He purchased on Calvary. That’s why we sing the Sanctus which contains the very same words that were shouted to Jesus: "Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest."

Let us, then, come forth to meet our King Jesus with heartfelt Hosannas. Hosanna means "Save now." "Save us, Lord." It is a cry of praise, a cry full of the sure and certain hope that the Lord will help you. Jesus comes to you here, to give poor beggars His royal and divine treasure. While the world madly rushes by seeking to create a perfect moment of nostalgia and find peace and comfort, let us receive Him who alone gives real peace and lasting comfort, who comes to you humbly and lowly. "Daughter of Zion, behold, your King is coming to you. He is righteous and having salvation!" 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, November 25, 2011

Audio: Sermon for 11/24/11

Here's the audio of today's sermon.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sermon for 11/24/11--Harvest Festival/Day of National Thanksgiving

Sometime during this week, my blog passed the 20,000 visitor mark. Thank you, loyal readers! Of course, I'd continue blogging if no one read what I wrote, but it's nice to have visitors from time to time. If you haven't already done so, please feel free to introduce yourself and tell me where you're from.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry

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


Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. That’s worth some serious thought. To illustrate this truth, this warning, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool. The rich man’s land produces plentifully, so much so that he doesn’t have enough room to store all of his crops. So he decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones so that he can store more grain or goods. Then he gives one of the silliest speeches recorded in Scripture: “Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” After all, isn’t that what the soul is all about?

Hardly. God has the final word in the parable, saying to the rich man, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” There’s nothing inherently evil about relaxing, eating, drinking and merriment: but these are helpful for the body and mind, not the soul. The rich man expects his riches to take care of his soul for years to come. But saving souls is the work of God, and there’s the rich man’s problem—as soon as he’s declared that his good will take care of his soul, he’s made them into a false god. When God requires his soul that night in the parable, the relaxing and eating and drinking and merriment do nothing for him in the Judgment. So the rich man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. They cannot prevent his death; and when he dies, they do nothing for his soul.

The parable is a clear warning: beware the sin of greed. Obsession with possessions is a terrible temptation. It leads you to value things over God. It leads you to put your trust in things that fall apart and pass away. It tempts you to resent God if you don’t have all you want. It seduces you to believe that your soul is good in God’s eyes because you have enough things. Greed is a dangerous idol, and it’s never satisfied: the more you have, the more you want.

You don’t even have to have possessions to be guilty of the sin. While the rich man in the parable already has all sorts of wealth, Jesus tells the parable because of a man who desires wealth. This whole thing begins with someone saying to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It’s a family squabble, with an inheritance to be shared. Though as God He provides all things, Jesus isn’t there to divide out the family farm: He hasn’t come for such temporal things. He’s come to do what goods and grain, what relaxing and eating and drinking and merriment can’t do: He’s come to save their souls for eternity.

So Jesus warns, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.” And then He adds, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” We should expand that, too, because you’ll covet and be greedy for more than grain and goods. Your life does not consist in the abundance of your popularity. Your life does not consist in the abundance of your looks or fashion sense. Your life does not consist in the abundance of your health. Your life does not consist in the abundance of the knowledge you’ve accrued, or the peace within your family, or the goals that you’ve attained, or the promotions you’ve received, or the items you’ve crossed off your bucket list. But you’re tempted to covet all of these things, to believe that they are what give you life, and to believe they are good for your soul. But none of these things give life to your soul. Flee these temptations, and repent when you give into them. All of these things are false gods when you put your trust in them, and putting your trust in them reveals even more about you than greed or covetousness.

Now all of this is true, but please note: we’ve answered this all according to the Law. The Law says to guard against all covetousness because it’s a sin, because it’s a sin to believe that your life does consist in the abundance of your possessions. However, there’s some very good news to be found here. If your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions, then of what does your life consist?

The Lord gives you so much more than the abundance of possessions or other things that will pass away. He gives you gifts that do not pass away. He gives you life that does not pass away. Jesus became flesh and went to the cross for you. He died for you, bearing your sin—including greed and covetousness and every evil desire. He died your death for you, so that you might not go the way of all things in this world which pass away. He rose again to give you life—eternal life in heaven. He has made you a child of God in Holy Baptism, so that now you’re an heir of the kingdom of heaven.

You still have the specter of death hanging around, but you also have hope in Christ. Where you worry about what you do not have, you consider the lilies of the field and the sparrows of the air, knowing how much the Lord cares for them: because you know that Jesus didn’t become a lily to redeem lilies or a sparrow to redeem sparrows. He became man to redeem you: and if He redeemed you at the cost of His own blood, He will not fail to give you forgiveness and life.

You have hope— not nebulous, pie in the sky wishes, but sure and certain hope—and you have this hope because your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. You have a much greater abundance than that: your life consists of Christ in you, the hope of glory. Your life consists of His life, because He’s joined you to His death and resurrection so that you might live forever. Your life does not consist of things that pass away, but of Christ who keeps you for eternity. You are rich in heavenly treasure because the Father pours out His riches upon you—grace and life and every blessing in Christ—and you will dwell in His house forever.

You’ll always be tempted to hear Jesus as a killjoy as He warns you against love for the things of this world. But ultimately, His message is this: He has better things to give—eternal things. Your life isn’t the sum total of your possessions. The Lord is your life and your salvation. Eternal life is yours because Jesus pours out abundantly on you the riches of His grace, so that you are forgiven for all of your sins. Thanks be to God for such bounty! 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, November 22, 2011

"What did I do to deserve this?"

I hope you'll pardon this departure from my usual fare. This has been on my mind for a long time, and it's time to get it out.


It was September of 1984, and I was coming off one of the best summers of my life. That summer my baseball team went 10-2 in the regular season and in the playoffs won the North Tonawanda American Little League minor division championship. Baseball was everything to me back then, and, in all modesty, I was a big part of why my team did so well that year. I was the star pitcher. Of course, it wasn’t hard to be a star pitcher when you’re one of the biggest people in the league and all you have to do is throw a baseball as hard and as straight as you can. Even so, it meant a lot to me, and that accomplishment had the potential to boost me into a great school year.

I don’t remember how it happened. Maybe my classmates had a meeting to decide who the whipping boy for the year would be. Maybe I did something really stupid on the bus on the way to school that first day—though I don’t recall doing anything any more stupid than usual. Maybe it was just that at age 10 or 11 you discover just how great is your potential to be beastly to someone else, and you want to try it out as often as you can. Whatever it was, from that first day onward throughout my whole fifth grade year, I was at the receiving end of daily bullying—and when I say daily, I mean every day, throughout the whole day. If the teacher’s back was turned, my ears would be finger-flicked or my back would be poked with anything from a finger to a ruler to the point of a pencil. Walking down the hall, I would be tripped or punched or kicked or pushed into a wall or mocked by a collection of my classmates. A couple of my more creative classmates made up a song about my underwear. In the lunch room, crumbs would be dropped on me or drinks would be spilled on me or my sandwich would be smooshed or my bag lunch would be taken and hidden or thrown away. In gym class and recess Dodgeball was the big game, and when we played with multiple balls, the biggest and fastest and strongest boys on the other team would line up with all the balls and throw them at me as if this were an execution and I was the one with the cigarette in my mouth and the blindfold over my eyes—and they didn’t even have the decency to give me a cigarette or a blindfold. I couldn’t avoid gym class, of course, but for recess, my teacher actually gave me permission to sit in our classroom, where I would play games on the computer while everyone else ran around and worked out at least some of their aggression on someone other than me. All of this took place at a Christian day school.

I don’t know how I survived that year. I guess, in a way, I was fortunate. I wasn’t the biggest kid in the school, but even as the youngest kid in our class I was one of the biggest. I wasn’t the fastest kid, but I was one of the fastest. I wasn’t the smartest kid, but I was one of the smarter ones. I did what I could to outsmart the fastest kids, outrun the biggest kids, and use my size to my advantage in dealing with the smarter boys. I couldn’t escape most of the time, but at times I was able to avoid some of the worst of the abuse. Nevertheless, it was a long year, full of physical and emotional pain and the constant demolition of my self-confidence.

The thing about bullying is that it doesn’t just affect you where it’s taking place, and it doesn’t just affect you while it’s happening. During the worst of the bullying, it wasn’t just that I was being hurt. I had trouble paying attention in class because I was constantly worrying about where or when the next attack would be. I sat in the front seat on the bus and tried to stay away from the rest of the kids—most of whom weren’t in my class, many of whom weren’t even from my school. When I got home, I didn’t say much to my parents, and I don’t think I ever told them why I was so withdrawn all the time. And I certainly couldn’t tell them I was being bullied—after all, I thought, who wants a son who whines to his parents about his problems instead of taking care of the problems himself? My teachers knew, and while one of them was at least sympathetic enough and let me hide in the classroom during recess, the other teacher (who doubled as the principal) seemed content to let it go, as if our classroom was the world of Lord of the Flies and my daily swatting was just a natural part of our world.

And the consequences of that one year of bullying? Where do I begin? The next summer, playing baseball, my favorite thing in the whole world, I constantly had to fight the voices in my head that kept nagging that I wasn’t good enough—and at times those voices were too loud to overcome. I had a lousy season, and that, of course, ruined my whole summer. But that’s a relatively minor aftereffect. Much bigger than that was the horrible state my self-confidence was left in after that year. I had become mired in indecision, fearing where any decision would take me. I was riddled with self-doubt. Nothing I did was good enough. And I wasn’t good enough. Nothing about me was good enough. My relationships with family members and friends suffered because I felt I couldn’t talk to them about what was going on or what had gone on in school. And I tried never to stand out too much at anything, for fear that standing out would make me a target again. My lack of self-confidence helped cut-short or delay my dreams of professional baseball (which were probably unrealistic anyway, but dreams are allowed to be that way), teaching music, writing novels, and a great many of my other desires. I didn’t date at all in high school and very little in college, in large part because I never had the confidence to ask out even girls who seemed to like me. (And yes, as an adult I know that dating in high school can be rather silly, but tell that to my fifteen year-old self.) And the one girl I did date in college for more than the proverbial cup of coffee was someone who lived hundreds of miles away, and we seldom saw each other, so I always had time to screw up my courage and hide my self-loathing before we got together in person.

To this day I don’t understand it. Was it because I was the youngest person in the class? Was it because I was skinny as a twig back then? Did I stutter back then—or was the stuttering problem I have to this day caused by the bullying of that year? Were my classmates jealous of me for some unknown reason—and if so, what on earth could I have possibly had that would make them jealous? If it seems like I’m grasping at straws, it’s because I have absolutely no idea what it was about me that would make me a target. I think about the reasons kids are bullied today—homosexual tendencies, being the member of a minority in society, having different religious beliefs, coming from a poorer household, whatever—and none of those really applied to me. (And I’m not saying any of those traits make someone worthy of being bullied.) Oh, sure, my family didn’t have a lot of money, but that wasn’t really something we talked about back then. I wore sneakers and jeans and t-shirts or polo shirts just like everyone else.

It’s been twenty-six years since that school year ended. I’ve come a long way since then, of course—graduating high school and college, earning my Master of Divinity degree and my certification for Ordination, meeting Faith and getting married, surviving my unceremonious dismissal from a congregation I was Called to serve, having kids, managing a community center for three years, writing two novels, and a host of other accomplishments which my nine and ten year-old self would have thought impossible. But the aftereffects linger even today, whether it’s my discomfort on the telephone and in large groups of people, the fact that I’ve written two novels and nearly two-hundred poems and have never sought publication for them, my temper combined with my passive-aggressive nature, indecision… The list could go on and on; and as I said, I’ve come a long way in a quarter-century.

Some psychologist or some other mind-bender once said that bullying is as harmful for the bully as it is for the victim. In the sense of eternal life, I suppose that could be true. But as one who was bullied and who has fought for over twenty-five years to overcome the damage which being bullied did to my psyche, I doubt that the psychological damage done by beating up on someone day after day is as profound as the psychological damage done by being beaten up physically and mentally without reprieve.

I do not say all this to garner pity, and I don’t say all this because I hold a grudge. In the time that has gone by, I’ve grown and become a loving and God-fearing adult, and the man I am today has a lot to do with what happened in fifth grade (and seventh grade, too, by the way, though not as badly). And as for a grudge, I’ve since become friends with some of the people who participated in my bullying. Though I’ve never spoken this to them—why bring up bad memories for me or shame for them—I do forgive them. But there are lessons to be learned from all this.

The bullying on which the mainstream media seems to be focusing most these days is the bullying homosexuals receive—and rightly do they focus on it, because it seems to be the most pervasive bullying today. Numerous homosexual friends have commented about the bullying they’ve received from their peers and the complete condemnation they’ve received from the Church. As a Lutheran pastor who believes that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God, I cannot condone the homosexual agenda or the active homosexual lifestyle. That being said, bullying someone for their homosexual urges is evil, and we as individuals and as citizens of a nation that claims to be a melting pot must be more loving toward our fellow man. And as the Church, while we must of course continue to speak forthrightly regarding all sin and must not give in to the postmodern “tolerance” which says that each person decides what is right and wrong for himself, we must not fail to demonstrate the love of Christ, the One who loved all sinners so much that He died for them.

Bullying comes in all forms, and it is aimed at people of all shapes, sizes, races, colors, creeds, languages, and all other differences. You don’t have to be a homosexual or a racial minority or a woman or a Muslim or Jew or speak with an accent or have a physical or mental disability to be the victim of bullying. Sometimes bullies are people who are just like you.

But more important than that, bullying doesn’t have to be the end. It hurts. A lot. Believe me when I say that I know just how badly it hurts and how much someone being bullied just wants it to end. But what someone else thinks of you or even what someone else does to you doesn’t mean that you have to believe what they say, and you don’t have to allow yourself to be victimized by what they do. Tell your parents. Tell your teachers. If your teachers are unsympathetic, tell your principal. If your principal is unsympathetic, tell your school board. Tell a police officer. Tell anyone who will listen. Seek support from wherever you can. Don’t let someone else’s evil bring about your destruction. Don’t even think about ending your own life. There is more to you than what anyone else can say or do to you. And no matter what, even if you can find no other avenue of support, you can commend all this to your Father who is in heaven. He will never leave you or forsake you.


Be still, and know that I am God…
—Psalm 46:10

Monday, November 21, 2011

Audio: Sermon for 11/20/11

Click this link to download and hear the audio from my sermon for November 20, 2011. Or check out the sermon, which is embedded below.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sermon for 11/20/11--Last Sunday of the Church Year (LSB 1-year)

Wise Virgins

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


The point of today's parable is preparation. Simply put, there were five virgins who were prepared to meet the bridegroom and celebrate his marriage; and there were five virgins who were not prepared and were excluded from the festivities. Both preparation and the lack of preparation carry consequences in every area of life. The student who refuses to prepare for a difficult exam will likely fail the test. The athlete who neglects preparation will likely lose. But the consequences of the lack of spiritual preparation far outweigh a failed test or a lost game. As our parable shows us, the consequences are eternal.

Jesus calls the five virgins who were prepared "wise." Now, in the Scriptures, wisdom is not equated with a high IQ or great learning. One may be wise without being very smart. In the Bible wisdom is seeing things from God's perspective. It is no wonder, then, that Moses prays in Psalm 90, "Teach us so to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Moses' prayer is not simply that we might be smart, but that we might see our fleeting days from God's perspective. And so, five of the virgins were wise. They did not live for the moment. They lived as those who had been invited to a wedding. They did not know at what hour the bridegroom would come and lead them into the wedding hall. But they knew that the bridegroom was coming; they were his invited guests. So their lives are lived toward that wedding. Nothing else was as important as was that wedding. So they are prepared for the wait. They check their lamps. They buy extra oil. Their flasks are full. No doubt they seemed kind of foolish lugging around those extra jars of oil. Maybe they were told to loosen up and have a good time, instead of running back and forth to the oil shop. Nevertheless, these wise women paid attention to the oil and when the bridegroom finally arrived, they were prepared ready for the marriage feast. But it was too late for the five foolish virgins. The bridegroom arrives while they’re off to purchase oil. They are unprepared for the feast and unable to enter into the joy of the celebration. The door is shut and they are excluded.

What does this mean for us? Jesus' own explanation of the parable says it all: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." We do not know when the Lord will return. He will come with the suddenness of the flood of Noah's day. He will come with the suddenness which caught the unbelieving population of Sodom and Gomorrah off guard. So Jesus tells us to watch. Watching does not mean speculating about the day or the hour. In the early years of the church, the Apostle Paul had to correct the Thessalonians on this very point. At the turn of the years of both 1000 A.D. and 2000 A.D., the world was predicted to end. And, of course, we’re all familiar with the failed predictions of Howard Camping, who said the world would end two different times this year. And there are many more.

As surely as our Lord came in flesh and blood to suffer and die for the sins of the world, even so He will surely come again to judge the living and the dead. But we do not know the day nor the hour. God calls us not to speculate but to be prepared. Jesus says, "Watch." We are called to vigilance. A church that ceases to watch will lose the Gospel. A church that becomes lazy or complacent regarding God's doctrine is in danger of apostasy, of loss of faith. Therefore, the Apostle Paul writes to Pastor Timothy and all pastors: "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." Our watching is not a gazing up into the heavens, but attentiveness to the voice of our Good Shepherd as He speaks to us in His Word. Again Paul wrote to Timothy, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from the truth to wander into myths." We are now living in that evil age. And so we are to watch. We are to watch by clinging to God's Word, hearing it, learning it, and taking it to heart. We, like the virgins in today's parable, are living in the evening of the wedding feast.

We are living in the time when the oil of the Word is still available. In fact, there is more than enough oil. For the oil of the forgiveness of sins purchased and won by our Savior through His atoning death on the cross is for the whole world. There is no shortage of supply in His grace and mercy. This oil is distributed now in the preaching of the Gospel and the giving out of Jesus' body and blood in the Holy Supper. The wise cannot get enough of these for they always give us more of Jesus; and the more we get of Him, the more ready and eager we are to receive Him when He comes again in glory.

The wise know the One for whom they wait. The One who is coming is the Bridegroom, Christ Jesus. He is the Lord who loves His church "and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water and the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." He is coming to take the Church as His holy bride. What awaits those who are prepared for the Lamb’s High Feast? What awaits us is a new heaven and a new earth; an end to tears and sorrow; the consummation of our redemption; the fulfillment of our salvation. But for now, we wait for the Lord. The Lord said, “Behold, I am coming soon.” And even as we wait for His glorious return we pray with John, “Amen. 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.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Audio: Sermon for 11/13/11

Click this link to download and hear the audio from my sermon for November 13, 2011. Or check out the sermon, which is embedded below. I'm using a different podcast service than before, and this one, buzzsprout.com, is so much easier to use.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sermon for 11/13/11--Second Last Sunday of the Church Year (LSB 1-year)

The sermon hymn this morning is The Son of Man Returns in Glory, which is based on the Gospel appointed for the day.

Sheep and Goats

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


Jesus is coming to judge. The task of judgment has been entrusted to Him by the Father in heaven. All nations will be gathered before His glorious heavenly throne; all the living and the dead from every nation, tribe, people, and language. All will be gathered before Christ, who will appear, enthroned in heavenly splendor surrounded by His angels. Everyone must appear at His summons—there will be no exemptions.

When you hear this Gospel reading, as it was with the Beatitudes last week, the natural reaction of your sinful nature is to take it as a set of guidelines for what you should be doing so that Jesus will allow you to enter heaven. Your fallen human nature concludes from the Word of God that you need do good works if you are going to be counted worthy to enter heaven. It is a constant temptation to take the Word of God and turn it into a list of requirements that you can fulfill that will make you right with God.

Your works will be judged on that day; but we will not be judged by your works. The judgment on that day will not be based on what you have done or left undone, but on what you are. Are you a sheep, or a goat? It really is as simple as that. What you are determines where you go, and the sheep on the right hand hear nothing but blessing. "Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” You will receive a gift that has been in the works since before the creation of this world. God was at work preparing this gift of salvation for you even before you were born. And please note that it is an “inheritance” that you will receive at God’s right hand, not wages for work done. An inheritance is a gift based not on what you have done, but on the good pleasure of the One who is giving out His gifts.

Simply put, this is the Scriptural doctrine of election, a teaching that unfortunately frightens more people than it should. God has been working for your salvation since before the foundation of the world. He made His promise to Adam and Eve in the garden for you and your salvation. For you He guided Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land. For you He caused His Son to be born of the blessed Virgin Mary, the Son who suffered and died, and rose again, for you. God brought you to His Word through Baptism. Everything has been worked out by God so that His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, could hand over the kingdom to you on that day, and say, “Here; it is all yours. Your Father in heaven has been working on this for a long time.”

On that day, the works of the sheep will be judged righteous. You will be lauded for your works. “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” Actually, you have not done any of these things by yourself. Jesus did them, and He does these things for others even through unbelievers. After all, plenty of unbelievers do good works for the needy. What’s the difference? The difference is that Jesus receives those works done in faith as works done for Him. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” You will be amazed to learn that you were doing any of these things for the Lord. “When did we do these things?” you will say. You did not see Jesus when you did them. You saw only someone in need and did what anyone would do. Doing something for Jesus was the last thing on your mind. Faith gives food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, welcome to the stranger, comfort to the sick and imprisoned. Faith in Christ does what needs to be done even before the Law demands it. 

Jesus is hidden behind the mask of “the least of these My brethren.” The One who fasted for us in the wilderness is hidden in the hungry. The One who cried out from the cross, “I thirst,” is hidden in the thirsty. The One who came as a stranger, despised by His own people, is hidden in the stranger in our midst. The One who became sick unto death with our sin is hidden in the sick. The One who became a prisoner under the Law in our place is hidden in the one who is in prison. Jesus became the least, so that through His poverty we might become rich in God’s mercy. When we love the least, we love Him whose love for us took Him into death.

For the goats the situation is entirely different. They are cursed instead of blessed. “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The goats hear nothing but condemnation. They rejected the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and imprisoned because they rejected the Christ who was hidden in them. They rejected the One who comes, humbly hidden in water and Word, in bread and wine. They did what comes naturally to unbelief; they refused and rejected the gifts of God. Though God desires none to be condemned, the faithless have rejected God’s goodness. There is no place for them in the Kingdom.

This parable demands a question. Are you a sheep, or are you a goat? Your sin and the Law tells you that you are undeniably a goat by nature. You have neglected those who have required your care; and whatever you have done is not enough. And yet, your Baptism and the Gospel tell you that you are sheep. You have been “branded” with His cross, the seal of Him who died for you. Through His Word, God raises His sheep, those who trust in Jesus and not in themselves. He buries the goat in you in the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He raises the sheep in the life of the Lamb who now lives and reigns forever. This is what the Christian life is about. Scripture calls it “repentance.” And it is what this parable is intended to work in you; to turn goats to sheep. That does not mean that a sinner can make himself into a saint. The sinner must die, and the saint must rise. Only God can make sheep out of goats.

Repentance means to be turned around, to be changed in mind and heart, to have a new name and a new way of seeing things. Once you saw yourself as a goat, with Christ as your Judge. Now you see yourself as sheep with Christ as Your Savior and Shepherd. Remember, you are not judged by what you do, but by what you are. You do not do good works in order to inherit the kingdom; you do them because God’s kingdom is already yours through faith in Jesus Christ. What you do reflects who you are. And the Lord tells you that you are His blessed sheep! 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, November 10, 2011

I've been there, too!

I don't remember what it was that first gave my wife cause for concern. Make no mistake: my wife has always been more perceptive about our children than I am, though I would guess that comes naturally after bearing them in the womb for nine...well, in this case, eight months. Anyway, I don't remember what it was that Faith noticed, but after visits with the doctor, a hearing specialist, and a neurologist or three, my son finally received an official diagnosis just before his third birthday: autism.

When the twins were about a year old, before we had noticed that something wasn't right, I remember saying a prayer in which I thanked God for giving us healthy children. I am not a brave man, I admit. Especially after having been forced to make a long-distance move so late in the pregnancy, I had been terrified that one or both of the twins would be born with a developmental disability or some rare disease, something that would require of me reserves of courage or strength or patience or strength of faith (or all of the above) that I'm not sure I have. So when we received the diagnosis of autism for Michael, it was a bit of a kick to the stomach.

So we began to run the gamut: speech therapy, occupational therapy, special education. Meanwhile, here we had a three year-old boy who has all the physical size and strength of a six year-old (Michael may someday play on the offensive line for the Bills or Saints), but he was unable to communicate to us his needs except through screaming fits and tears. Very seldom do Faith and I have opportunities to spend time together alone outside the home. We can't leave Michael with just anyone. It's not that we don't trust our friends or congregation members, but if one of us (or his maternal grandmother) isn't around, it's an invitation to a screaming fit that won't end until one of us is there to comfort him. And taking him out in public isn't always a very good option, either, because he still does have those crying and screaming fits. (Have you seen the dirty looks people give when they hear a screaming kid in a public place? And how long before they call Child Protective Services?)

Michael turns six next month. It's been three years this month since he received his diagnosis. Michael has come a long way. He willingly looks us in the eyes more often. At times he asks for things using complete sentences, though even when he asks for what he wants with one or two words ("grey" or "yellow" meaning jellybeans, "two breads" meaning two slices of bread, etc.), it's still a vast improvement over what used to be crying and screaming jags that could last a half-hour or more. He smiles more often. He kisses us more often. He has even made progress with potty training, though his current "Angry Birds" addiction has put a damper on that. (Long story.) We still don't get out much, though we're thankful that Michael has been able to go sometimes to worship and Sunday School (which Faith is teaching).

I don't write any of this to garner pity. One of the real blessings of all this is the understanding we've been shown by those around us, especially by the members of the congregation I've been called to serve. I've had to regretfully refuse a lot of offers from members to watch the kids--again, not because we don't trust the members of the church, but because of Michael's reactions to the unfamiliar. The members of St. Peter Lutheran in Campbell Hill, Illinois, have been wonderful in their understanding and acceptance of the unusual circumstances surrounding their pastor's family, and that has made our life here so much easier.

God is good. Even in the midst of affliction, tribulation, trouble, our Lord Jesus Christ remains our Rock, our Refuge and Strength. Nothing--and since death can't do it, autism certainly can't: not screaming fits, not crying jags, not changing diapers at an age where most children have been potty trained for over half their life, nothing--will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


For an excellent insider's view of autism and how it affects parents and families, listen to this November, 2008, Issues Etc. interview with Pastor David Petersen of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Right-click on this link to save it to your computer and listen to it at your leisure, or hit play on the embedded player below. Perhaps the most comforting part of this interview for me was knowing that someone else out there can relate, someone who can say, "I've been there, too. Hang in there. You're doing okay."

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sermon for 11/6/11--Feast of All Saints (observed)

Blessed
Matthew 5:1-12

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


You’ve all heard the hard sell before—the laundry list of benefits that will be yours if you will only do or buy or be a part of something. “Join this fitness club! We’ll make you into the best you that you can be.” “Apply for this job! We pay top dollar and let you make your own schedule.” “Come to our college! Not only will we give you a full scholarship for a top-rate education, but we’re the best party school in the nation.” But here’s the best one: “Follow me! Be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus! You'll be hated and persecuted!” Wait a minute. That doesn't sound very much like an enticing benefits package. Jesus had all this great stuff to say about being a Christian: be comforted, inherit the earth, see God. That all sounds great—except for the whole “they're going to hate you and kill you” part. Seriously? Does Jesus actually want disciples? If so, this doesn't seem like a very attractive sign-on bonus to advertise. It doesn't seem like a very good way to bring in new folks. And the older you get, as you face a world that really could care less that you're a Christian, or worse, hates you for being one, it's going to seem like the glorious things of the kingdom of God are farther and farther off and the hassles of being a child of God are less and less worth it. Now at this point, a cheerful and happy and worldly preacher like Joel Osteen would tell you: “Just hang in there. Stick it out with Jesus, and everything will turn out all right.” If he mentions Jesus at all, that is.

In many ways the Beatitudes are among the most misunderstood, misapplied words in Scripture. And if they are read wrongly, they can suddenly snap shut on our unbelief with the strong jaws of God's law. If they are romanticized into a pretty slogan appropriate for a wall poster, they suddenly leap from the page and engage us in a battle over who we are and who God is. With that way of looking at the Beatitudes, the Christian faith becomes a religion of payoffs. "God, this morning I was really humble and contrite and sorry. Just look at my face! Now will you give me what I'm asking for?" "God, I pray each day. I study hard. My modesty is a beacon in this dark night of vanity and arrogance! Now will you give me an 'A' on the exam of life?"

We may not be quite as crass as all of that, but the fact is, we live the Christian life grudgingly, with getting a payoff from God the only goal in mind. If I do these things, then I'll be blessed by God. And it's just at this point that the words of the Beatitudes suddenly snap closed on us, for Jesus told His disciples how they were to keep these commands and all other Laws of God. "Be perfect, therefore, as Your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus didn't say just be good. He said be perfect. You can't mess up even once. Thus, the Beatitudes are no longer words of blessing, but words that curse. All of us are sinful from birth. The "If/Then" formula condemns us, for no one can live by that formula.

On the other hand, if the Beatitudes are just slogans placed on a wall with a pretty picture, read once in a while and forgotten or ignored, then a person is trying to live in two worlds. One is a spiritual world that only exists on Sunday, and not even all day on Sunday. And the other is the real world where the practice is "Blessed are the rich in things, for theirs is prosperity. Blessed are the ones who seek pleasure, for they will always be happy. Blessed are the proud, for they are the movers and shakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for more at any cost, for they shall succeed. Blessed are the powerful, for they will never need anything from anyone. Blessed are the impure in heart, for they will keep one step ahead of everyone else. Blessed are the cut throats, for they are the winners."

That is clearly the choice that the Beatitudes present. Either be blessed by the world's standards, or be blessed by the Lord. And so we see a war raging between the Preacher of the Beatitudes and the world. The Beatitudes, then, are fighting words. They have to do with attitudes, with our style of life, with the way we believe and think and live. It is a war against the proud, against those who worship themselves and make themselves gods, against the forces of evil that bless rebellion against God. In either case, when the Beatitudes are misread or misapplied, they lead us to a sense of helplessness. And the Beatitudes are meant for those who know they are helpless! The Beatitudes are meant for those who know they are helplessly lost in sin. And then, once we are helpless and know it, we know where our Help is! Then and only then do the Beatitudes become blessings. If they are read rightly and understood through the eyes of humble faith in Jesus Christ, then they describe the life of blessedness that God has already bestowed on us through the atonement of His Son.

All of Holy Scripture tells us that Jesus is the true Blessed One. He is the Poor in Spirit. He is the One who mourns for the earth. He is the meek and gentle Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh, who humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin and was laid in a manger in Bethlehem. He is the One who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, for it is only because He fulfills all righteousness as our Substitute that we can be blessed. He is the merciful One, for only by God's mercy can sin be conquered and forgiven. He is the pure in heart who is holy, the lamb without spot or blemish who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Peace-maker who brings us peace with God. He is the persecuted One who suffered and died for our sins. And that is where the battle ends, the battle between the world and Jesus with His beatitudes. It ends at the cross where Jesus was despised, mocked, and forsaken. At the entrance of the empty tomb, we realize that the Preacher on the mountain was not a mere teacher who spoke fine words. He is the Word made flesh. He is the Savior who spoke and acted for our blessing that we might receive the Beatitude, that we might receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Through Him we receive every blessing.

The Beatitudes are the promises of the Kingdom, and they are yours already now through Jesus Christ. Blessed are you who know, believe and trust in Jesus Christ. Blessed are you who have been baptized into Jesus Christ. Blessed are you who receive Holy Absolution from the mouth of the one who speaks in the stead of Christ. Blessed are you who receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in His Holy Supper. Blessed indeed are you, for you live before God in the righteousness of Jesus Christ! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

HYMN: O, Come and Let Us Sing (Venite: Psalm 95:1-7)

I was sitting in the family minivan yesterday, waiting for Pastor Buetow to return from a meeting so we could do our Greek Study on the pericope for the observation of the Feast of All Saints this coming Sunday. While I was waiting, I thought about Setting Four of the Divine Service in Lutheran Service Book and how the canticles have been made into hymns. I thought about the Matins service and how the Te Deum has been hymnified more than once (my favorite is "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name", Hymn 940 in LSB). But I've not seen the Venite written as a hymn. It exists, I'm sure, since it's Psalm 95, and every Psalm has been hymnified by someone or other. But I don't remember ever singing one.

Since I'm supposed to be working on my novel for National Novel Writing Month, of course a hymn idea popped into my head. Take this for what it's worth, since it took about, oh, twenty minutes to write. But here it is, anyway.

Oh, and yes, I do know that "hymnified" isn't a real word. I made it up myself, and I like it. Sue me.


O, Come and Let Us Sing


1. O, come and let us sing
Unto the Lord Most High,
And praises to the Rock we bring
Who brings salvation nigh.

2. O, come before His throne
To thank Him for His grace.
O, shout to God, for He alone
Is worthy of our praise.

3. The Lord our God is great—
Above all gods the King.
The deepest depths He did create.
The hills His wonders sing.

4. His are the earth and sea—
He formed them by His Word.
O, let us bow and bend the knee
Before our holy Lord.

5. O sheep, with heav’nly host,
Let us our voices raise.
To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Forevermore be praise.


© Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr.
SM (66 86)
Tune: ST. THOMAS (LSB 651)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I don't live to write; I write to live.

Starting on November 1, for the first time since 2008,  I will be participating in National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo participants spend the month of November trying to write at least 50,000 words toward a novel. This is my third attempt. Surprisingly, I have been successful in the first two attempts.

I will be working on the sequel to my 2007 NaNoWriMo project, which was called "Love Divine" and which I may or may not attempt to publish before too much longer. The new project will be called "A Great and Mighty Wonder". I have to say, I'm very excited about this. This new project comes hot on the heels of being published in Higher Things Magazine. It's been three years since my last NaNo attempt, and my life has changed a great deal since the last time I participated. Last time, I was running a community center in southeastern Louisiana. Now I am a pastor in southern Illinois. Last time, my children were young enough that they were taking naps and were generally pretty quiet. Now the twins are nearly six, and they are anything but quiet and sedate. The differences might make the process more difficult, especially since I have no intention of letting the writing process interfere with my various vocations.

If you're taking the ride with me, good luck and God bless you. If not, WHY NOT?!?!? But seriously, if you've ever thought about writing a novel but haven't done it, give NaNoWriMo some thought. Even if you don't make the 50,000 word goal for the month of November, anything you write puts you that much closer to a finished novel. And if you do it in November, you know you'll have hundreds of thousands of other people taking the journey with you.

Good luck, and good writing!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Exile In Print

Once again the editors of Higher Things Magazine have demonstrated poor judgment and questionable taste by publishing in their fine magazine an article I wrote. I received my print copy in the mail this weekend, and even knowing the article would be in there, it still gave me a jolt of pleasure to see something I wrote in print. It always does--always being twice so far.

It's funny--not really 'funny ha-ha' or 'funny strange', maybe more like 'funny amazing'--how life works sometimes. I've been writing for pleasure (in other words, for purposes other than schoolwork or as part of my employment) since I was probably fourteen years old. I'd show what I wrote to a few trusted people, but that was it. And after taking a lot of guff while I was in high school from people I trusted about a writing project I had undertaken--I started to write a young adult novel when I was barely a young adult myself--I stopped even showing it to trusted people for a while. I kept writing, but I never thought it was worth anything. I've still got most of those old writings in a file, though I threw out that YA novel start, sadly. But I never really did anything with them.

It wasn't until I was in my junior year of college that I actually submitted something for attempted publication, and that was for the fledgling college newspaper at Concordia College in Bronxville, New York. By the time it was in print, it had been edited so much that I barely recognized it as mine. I didn't submit anything again until I was in my late twenties, and that was the first time I was published in Higher Things Magazine: an article about online relationships.

There is a point in all this, and I swear that I'm getting there.

Once I started blogging, it got easier to attempt to increase the amount of people who read what I wrote. All I had to do was e-mail the web address of my blog to people I hoped would read what I wrote. And now that I've started writing hymns, I've been able to use this gift which God has given me to give glory to Him, not only in my vocation as pastor, but even through something I consider a hobby.

So what's the moral of this story? The point of me saying all this is that I hope that, if you're someone who has something to say, don't be afraid to share it. I lived in fear for much too much of my life. There are things that I could have or should have said, but I left them unsaid because I was afraid of what people might think. Don't be afraid to try. I will never receive as many notices that my work has been published as I have received rejection letters, but that's okay. What I wrote won't always be received as I would hope, but it's not going to stop me from writing. I'm about to begin writing my second novel now, even though I've not fully finished editing the first. God has given me a gift, and I intend to use it as much as possible to the best of my ability. Don't be afraid to do the same. Enjoy what you do, and don't let the critics get you down. Write, paint, compose, or do whatever it is you do for the glory of God and for the sake of your own joy. Even if no one else appreciates it, at least you've found joy in what God has given you.


By the way, if you're not a subscriber to Higher Things Magazine, WHY NOT?!?!? Click here and get started!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sermon for 10/23/11: Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

What Matters Most

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


If someone were to ask you what matters most concerning the Christian faith, what would your response be? Would it be the Golden Rule? Would it be the Ten Commandments? Would it be the virgin birth of Jesus? Would it be the miracles of Jesus? His teachings? His mercy? When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, Jesus told him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then He added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole Law of God hangs on these two things: loving God above all things and loving your neighbor as yourself. But is that the central teaching of the Christian faith?

If it is, you’re in deep trouble. If that’s the center of the Christian faith, the foundation upon which everything else rests, then you must ask yourself the question: How am I doing with that? Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? Is the Triune God the One you look to for every good thing and seek refuge from in all distress? Do you trust the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with your whole being? And if you think you can honestly answer those questions by saying “yes”, ask yourself when the last time was that you had an impure thought or an evil impulse or even said something that was cruel or hurtful. For sinners it is all too easy to spend time and energy on things that seem much more interesting than God’s Word. And what about your neighbor? Can you honestly say that you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself? Do you grow frustrated with yourself as quickly as you do with the moron in the car that cut you off? Do you lavish on your neighbor the same kind of luxury to which you treat yourself? Do you even offer him the loan of your lousy second-hand golf clubs? And even if you do, do you do it for your neighbor? Or do you do it so you can feel good or so you can receive their gratitude? Love God, and love your neighbor. It sounds so simple. Jesus says that all of Scripture hangs on these two things. That is the religion of works, the religion of the Law. If that is the most important aspect of the Christian faith, then you must ask yourself, “Have I done enough? Am I worthy? Have I earned my salvation?”

All the Law and the prophets hang on those two things. But thanks be to God, Jesus is not saying there that everything depends on the Law or on our obedience to it. Look at what he says. “All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” So what is the Law? Who are the prophets? And what does Jesus mean by that? The Law and the prophets are what constitute the Old Testament. And what is the Old Testament about? Look at the third chapter of Genesis. Man falls into sin. He cannot live in perfect obedience to the religion of the Law. So the Father promises to Adam and Eve a Savior, One who will crush the head of the satanic serpent. And the rest of the Old Testament points forward to that One, the One who will win the victory over the sin and death which are the price for our inability to perfectly obey the Law. In other words, when Jesus says, “All the Law and the prophets,” Jesus is talking about Himself.

Jesus is the sum of the Law and the prophets, the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” It’s oddly appropriate that Jesus should use that word “hang”, because that is precisely what Jesus, the sum of the Law and the prophets, does. He hangs on the cross. He hangs on that cross, bearing the punishment we deserve for our lack of obedience to the Law and the prophets. He hangs on the cross as the perfect obedience to those two commandments. In perfect love for His heavenly Father, Jesus hangs on the cross, obediently bearing our sins according to His Father’s will. In perfect love for you, His neighbor, He dies the death your sins deserve, keeping the commandments which you in your sin could not keep. He’s hanging on cross for you, hanging in perfect obedience, hanging in perfect love.

The Pharisees and teachers of the Law have it all wrong. They want to make the Commandments the main thing. They believe the Messiah should give them more Law. They believe He should be a new Moses. But more Law can only increase the burden; it cannot take away the burden of sin. So Jesus goes on to tell them about what truly matters: Himself. He is the Son of David. But He is more than that, He is the one promised to Adam and Eve. He is the one for whom Abraham and Isaac and Jacob waited. He is the one for whom Moses longed. He is the one for whom David prayed. Jesus is both David’s Son and David’s Lord. He is the son of Mary, a direct descendent of King David. But He is also the Son of God, begotten from the Father before all eternity. Only one who is both can save you. Only One who is true God can be perfectly obedient to the Law and the prophets. But only One who is true man like us can die, paying the wages of sin. And only One who is both true God and true man can die that death on behalf of all of mankind.

So what is the most important thing, what matters most in the Christian faith, is this: Jesus, true God and true Man, loves the Lord your God with all His heart, with all His soul, and with all His mind; and Jesus, true God and true Man, loves your neighbor as He loves Himself. This is what matters most, because your salvation hangs on His love. Your salvation does not depend on your diet. It does not depend on your clothing. It does not depend on your obedience to the Law. Your salvation is this: Jesus Christ has died bearing your sins, and He has risen to raise you up with Him. This is the center, the foundation, the cornerstone of your faith and life. 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, October 19, 2011

Sermon for 10/16/11: Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Sorry for the delay on this one. This weekend and week beginning has been insane.

Once again I found myself preaching on the Lord's Supper on a non-Communion Sunday. It's strange, pointing to an empty altar and inviting people to partake of what's not there.

___________________________

Table Manners

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


Upon hearing today's Gospel reading, you might think that Jesus is simply giving us some advice about good table etiquette. It could seem as if he's just outlining proper protocol when you're at a special meal or banquet. However, Jesus is obviously doing more here than teaching etiquette. First of all, he's exposing our sinful tendency to exalt ourselves. In Jesus' day, there would be a very clear ordering to the seats at a special meal, from the greatest to the least. Jesus' spoke these words when he noticed how everyone was trying to get the most honored places for themselves.

I'm sure that every one of us here can identify with that desire. At a wedding reception or out with friends at a restaurant, we want to be seated in the right place and be associated with the most liked people, to exalt and build ourselves up before others. We even want to pick the perfect pew. Jesus exposes and condemns this urge in us to put ourselves first. He says, "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled."

In fact, so ingrained in us is this sinful urge, that we hear Jesus' words and turn them against their intended meaning. We say to ourselves, "Oh, so that's what I should do next time I'm at a special meal. I should choose the worst possible spot so that someone will be sure to invite me over to a better spot, and then I'll look good in front of everyone." Thus, even our humility is shown to be tainted and false. It's just another technique to get where we want to be. It is self-centeredness wearing the mask of modesty. If nothing else, our lack of humility is revealed in the fact that we pride ourselves on being fairly humble people. No one who thinks he's humble actually is.

In this Gospel, then, Jesus is calling you to true humility, the humility which St. Paul speaks of in Philippians 2: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each consider others better than himself." Jesus is calling you to the kind of humility that is not only outward but from the heart, that is modest not only before other people but also meek and lowly in the eyes of God. Ultimately then, Jesus is calling you to the humility of repentance, of confessing your self-exalting sin, of acknowledging that you have no power to achieve real humility and that you don't deserve any place at God's table, high or low.

The humility which God seeks is a lowly and contrite and penitent heart, a heart which says, "There is nothing in me that merits anything from God or that requires Him to do any good to me. Therefore, I trust not in my own works but in the works which He has performed for me in His Son Jesus. My help does not come from within but from outside of me, from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. My hope is in Him alone." It is this repentant faith which God seeks, to humble yourself before God that He may lift you up, that He may say to you, "Friend, come to a higher place," to receive your place at the table as a gift from the Master of the feast–not because you've finagled it for yourself, but because out of His great love and mercy, the Lord has freely exalted you and has earned for you the privilege of sitting at the heavenly banquet.

Jesus earned this privilege for you by fulfilling His own words. He put Himself in the lowest place in order to save you. He who is the Almighty Son of God, having taken on your humanity, was born in a lowly manger, lived as a poor and humble carpenter, had no home of his own during His ministry and no place to lay his head. He finally died the way the worst of criminals died, by being executed on a cross. Christ didn't claim glory and honor for Himself but laid aside His majesty as King of creation to be crowned with thorns and to be made the lowest of the low. All this He did for you. He received the punishment you deserved so that you might be released from your sin and set free. In Christ, the humble Redeemer, you now are forgiven. Jesus has fulfilled these words for you, "He who humbles Himself will be exalted."

Our Lord Jesus is indeed the most honorable one at this feast, the one who took the lowest place and who has now been called to the highest place at the table by His heavenly Father. For this is Christ's own wedding feast, the celebration of His holy union with the Church, His bride. And if He is honored, then she also is honored with Him. By faith in Christ you are joined to Him in such a way that you now share in His exaltation. Even as Jesus took your death into Himself and destroyed it on the cross, so now by the power of His resurrection He lifts you up in His new life. To you who humble yourself before God, who repent of your sin and trust in Christ, the Father says, "Friend, go up higher." And He seats you with Christ in the heavenly places and gives you to partake of His glory, a reality that will be revealed in all its fullness at the close of the age. This is what Jesus means when He says, "He who humbles himself will be exalted." You who in lowly faith follow Christ and share in His cross in this world will ascend with Him in the next and share in His everlasting life.

As you await that day, the Lord invites you to come to His table, to the foretaste of the wedding feast. You are bidden to take the lowest place, that is, to come in all humility before God as a repentant sinner. No one who comes to the Lord's Table is any better or higher than another. All are unworthy to take part in the feast. All are as nothing before the King. To claim otherwise is to dishonor the King and to be cast away from His presence. You are urged, then, to come to the Lord's Supper as beggars, as ones with nothing to give and everything to receive. Come as the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. For in the Supper the Lord Jesus bestows upon you the greatest honor that heaven has to offer, to receive His true and living body and blood. Here Christ comes to you personally and concretely to lift you up out of the pit and to raise you to heaven. Just as Jesus healed the man in the Gospel, so also in the Sacrament He heals all your ills of body and soul. Through His holy Meal, He cleanses you of your sin, He fills you with His life, and He prepares your body for the resurrection on the Last Day. God grant each of you, then, to have those heavenly table manners Jesus speaks of, that humbling yourself with Christ, you may also be exalted together with Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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