Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sermon for 7/28/11--Tenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Know What Makes for Peace

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

The atmosphere was tense with excitement. Steadily Jesus and His disciples had journeyed to Jerusalem, the holy city. As He made His way to Jerusalem, Jesus predicted His coming Passion. Just a few days earlier, He had said to His disciples: "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him and on the third day he will rise." Then Luke adds that the disciples understood none of these things.

Approaching Jerusalem, the Lord sends His disciples to a nearby village to bring Him a donkey. Israel's King will come into His royal city, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah's ancient prophecy. The crowds welcome Him chanting: "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" The very stones would have broken forth in high doxology if the people were silent, for Messiah is here!

But note the turn in the opening verse of today's Gospel: "Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it." Jesus did not weep for Himself, although who would have blamed Him for doing so, as He looked on at the torment that faced Him that week. No, Jesus weeps for Jerusalem, the holy city, the apple of God's eye, the dwelling place of God's glory, the location of His presence. He weeps for His own people. In the opening chapter of John's Gospel, the evangelist tells us that the Son of God came to His own people and His own received Him not. In rejecting Him they reject the Seed of the woman who came to crush Satan's head. They reject the One who is the "I AM" who was before Abraham. They reject great David's greater Son who is also David's Lord.

Jesus weeps for His own people. As Paul recounts in Romans 9, they had received the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises. They had the patriarchs and the prophets. From their flesh came the Christ, who is the eternally blessed God. They will not hear Him. In stubborn unbelief they close their ears to His words of repentance and salvation. And in doing so they blaspheme the God whose name they claim to bless. Rejecting the One who came as the Lamb of sacrifice, they are left only with their sin and God's wrath against their sin.

So our Savior weeps for them. "If you had only known, even you, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." God hides Himself in order to reveal His mercy and love. He covers Himself in the lowliness of the baby of Bethlehem and the Man of Calvary. Wrapped in our flesh and blood, He comes in the likeness of sinful man to redeem the world. He exchanges the throne of His heavenly glory for the cross. He wears no other crown than the crown of thorns set upon His brow in ridicule and derision. Jerusalem cannot see in this Man the things that make for peace. The blind beggar knew who Jesus was and called out, saying, "Son of David, have mercy on me," but Jerusalem is blinded to this truth; she remains in the darkness of unbelief.

Jerusalem had a long history of rejecting God's call to repentance and faith. She had a reputation for slaughtering the prophets God sent to her. Now she would do the same with her Messiah. And without Him, Jerusalem would have no peace with God. The apple of God's eye would become the object of His wrath. His lament over Jerusalem would find its fulfillment in the devastation that would come in 70 AD. The destruction of Jerusalem stands as a sign for the fate of all who reject God's Christ. Jesus says that this fate befalls Jerusalem because she did not know the time of her visitation. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, sang in his Benedictus, that "the Dayspring from on high has visited us." When God visits His people, He comes with the purpose of bringing them salvation. The intention of this divine visit is blessing. But Israel did not know the time of God's visitation. She did not know the day of salvation; and she rejected the Son who came to be her Savior.

The words of today's Holy Gospel are not only descriptive of what happened to Jerusalem long ago. The Spirit inspired the evangelist to record these happenings for our instruction in repentance and faith. As we heard last week in I Corinthians 10, after Paul describes how the Israelites who had been baptized in the Red Sea and partook of spiritual food and drink only to come under God's judgment on account of their idolatry, he goes on to write, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition on whom the end of the ages have come." In other words, God is calling us to repentance and faith in the same Christ who came to Jerusalem.

Now is the time of our visitation. The Gospel which Israel rejected is now being proclaimed to us. God has preserved unto us His saving Word and His holy sacraments. These are the means by which He visits us today to bestow on us the salvation that He won on Calvary's cross. In Christ God was making peace through the blood of the cross. Peace with God is the forgiveness of sins. Peace with God means that God does not hold our sins against us but instead has laid those sins on His Son. To have the Son is to have peace with God. To have the Son is to be reconciled with God. To have the Son is to have life in that heavenly Jerusalem that will never be destroyed or pass away. To be without the Son is always to be at war with God. And if you fight God, you always lose.

But God has brought that warfare to an end in the cross of His Son. His body carried the punishment of our sins and His blood blots out all of our guilt. The body and blood of Jesus Christ are the things that make for peace. And as surely as Jesus came to Jerusalem to suffer and to die, so surely He comes to give you the fruits of His redeeming sacrifice. God grant you faith to live in the peace that He bestows. 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, August 22, 2011

REVIEW: "Wrapped in Rain" by Charles Martin

I chose Wrapped in Rain by Charles Martin because I wanted a change of pace. The first two books I reviewed as part of the review program were books I chose to read because I was looking for something. This time, I just wanted to be entertained. I'm not always a fan of religious fiction. That probably sounds like an odd thing for a pastor to say, but I have the same problem with contemporary Christian music, too--too preachy, too touchy-feely, too over-the-top.

I downloaded the book with the intention of maybe reading a few chapters before I would put it down to take care of other things. The other things went by the wayside quickly. I couldn't stop reading--well, other than to feed the bottomless pits known as my children, of course. I finished the book in a single sitting. That's not unusual for me, but I certainly wasn't expecting it in this case.

What can I tell you without giving away the story? Two young boys have an abusive father, a man who gains enormous wealth with liquor distribution rights but then ends up falling prey to the temptation of the very thing he distributes. Wanting little to do with his sons, he hires help to clean the house and keep the boys. Miss Ella is a woman of faith, and she protects the boys as much as she can. The story develops as the boys become adults and have to deal with the aftermath of their tumultuous childhood. One escapes by traveling the world as a photographer; the other is lost inside his own mind. A reunion with a childhood friend brings all their issues to a head. All the while, Miss Ella's faithful influence guides the brothers in a godly way.
Vague enough? My summary doesn't do the book justice. Let me put it this way: this is the best piece of fiction, religious or otherwise, I've read this year. Give it a read. You won't be disappointed.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sermon for 8/21/11: Ninth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Commending the Unjust

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

At first glance, this is one of the hardest of Jesus’ parables to understand. What is the point of this parable? Are we to model ourselves after the unjust steward, and go cheating our employers so that we can gain benefit from others? Obviously not. The seventh commandment commands us not to steal or defraud. Are we to be wise in the ways of the world, and try and make the church more like a business that operates in the dog-eat-dog categories that we see all around us? Again, obviously not. As Saint Paul wrote in Romans, “Do not be conformed to the world.” So what is Jesus getting at? Let’s recap the story briefly. The steward of the house is accused of wasting the master’s goods. So the master tells him that he is going to fire the steward, and that he has to clear out his accounts. The steward is at a loss. He hadn’t prepared for this. He won’t dig ditches. He’s ashamed to beg. So this unjust steward does the one option left for him: he cheats his master out of money owed him, in order to curry the favor of these other people. One owes 100 measures of oil, so he cuts the bill to eighty. Another owes 100 measures of wheat, and he cuts the bill to fifty. When the master of the house finds out, he can’t help but compliment the steward on his shrewdness. Why? Because he had done the one thing that He could to insure the well being of his future. No matter the risk, this steward was so confident in the mercy of his master that he cheated him.

So why would the master commend that steward? The master commended the unjust steward, because he understood that the most important thing was to insure that he had a future, that he would be taken care of in the long run. What Jesus is saying is that the children of this world understand that you do whatever it takes to insure your future, for that is what finally matters. But the children of light, the Christians, don’t get this basic fact of life. They are deceived and distracted at every turn. Where is your future? Your future is in Jesus Christ as your receive Him in the proclamation of the Word of God and in His Holy Sacraments. That is your future, and the future of your family. This should be your greatest priority, to insure that the Gospel is proclaimed to you and to your family. That is more important than any money, wealth, house or anything else you wish to give your children.

Why is it that we Christians don’t understand this? Think of your own life and your priorities. We spend a fair amount to put a roof over our head and food on the table and clothes on our bodies—necessary things, to be sure. But then, most Americans spend exorbitant amounts of their income on entertainment of some sort. Then if anything is left over, that goes to the church. A dollar here, two dollars there, and somehow this is doing the Lord a great favor. Where is your treasure? The same may be said for time. How much time do you spend teaching your children the Christian faith? I’m not asking about time you spend at church or doing things at church, although I suppose we could ask that. I mean simply teaching your family the faith. Do you pray together? Do you read God’s Word together? Do you teach your family the great hymns of the faith? For most of us, we spend a lot more time watching television that we do teaching and hearing the Word of God. I know that this is a hard message to hear—it’s no easier for me to hear than it is for you to hear. If it’s any consolation, it’s also a hard message to preach. But the question remains: where is the one thing that is needful in your life? Think of our Epistle lesson. The people of Corinth had become complacent. They forgot that they were so dependent on God that they couldn’t make it themselves. They fell prey to temptation. They forgot that the only way of escape is through the blood of Christ.

This draws us back into the Gospel for today. Jesus says, “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say if you fail; no, He says when you fail. All things in this life come to an end. As weak, sinful human beings, your lives are frail and seem to fall apart at every turn. Jesus calls you to put your trust in Him, and not in the things of this world. Don’t be so possessive and greedy with the possessions of this world, because they won’t gain you eternity in the end. What was it that made the unjust steward go and cheat his master? The unjust steward believed in and relied on the mercy of his master, because he knew that the master was merciful.

You are that unjust steward. You squander the gifts our heavenly Father gives you left and right. Whether they are the little things, like the possessions of this life, or the big things of forgiveness and salvation, you have tossed these gifts of God aside like they were nothing. But more important than that, you also know that your heavenly Father is the merciful master. His righteous Steward, Jesus, cancels your debt. Even though you don’t deserve it, He brings you into His house and gives you eternal life. Even though you don’t deserve all of the great things He gives you, the Lord still gives them for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Father looks at the cross of His Son, and He honors the canceling of your debt which Jesus accomplished there. You are free!

Just as the unjust steward used the things of this world, oil and wheat, to further His own good, so also your heavenly Father uses the things of this world, water and bread and wine, to bring about the forgiveness of your sins. He gives you a portion of His treasure, an eternal inheritance, an everlasting home. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, August 19, 2011

REVIEW: "Peace Be With You" by David Carlson

These days, I don't make a habit of reading books that I think I will end up arguing with as I read. Keeping your eyes and ears open is a good idea, and it's never to your advantage to close your mind. That being said, sometimes you've had the same argument enough times that you don't need to have it yet again. I suspected such would be the case with Peace Be With You by Dr. David Carlson (PhD); that being said, I chose the book against my better judgment. I struggle with the role our military has played in world affairs since 9/11, and I thought that there might be some wisdom to be found on the subject in this book.

Dr. Carlson interviewed monks, nuns, and others who sought refuge either temporarily or permanently in monasteries and retreat centers, trying to find what he calls a "word of life" in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the response of the leaders and citizens of the United States. Carlson is a disciple of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who died in 1968. Merton espoused what Carlson calls a "radical unity" in humanity, one in which we see Christ in all our neighbors in light of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 25. With that as the foundation of his research, Carlson asked his subjects what he thought were the lessons of 9/11 and what America did or didn't learn from what happened.

My major beef with the book is that Carlson repeatedly asserts the superiority of the monastic vocation. Citing the lives steeped in prayer and contemplation, the innate spirituality of monastic life, the ability to view the world without materialistic eyes, throughout the book he asserts that those who live the contemplative monastic life are able to escape the worldliness that fuels the fires of war and vengeance. Because they spend their days praying the daily office (the monastic prayer cycle), they do for the world what the world cannot do for itself: they hold the world together (p.118).

Maybe I'm too Lutheran to appreciate Carlson's approach. The Lutheran Church in its major permutations is one of the few bodies that does not have what Carlson calls a "contemplative" branch. At the same time, many within Lutheranism (and other bodies) seek to live lives of contemplation within their chosen vocations, pastors and laypeople who, though not withdrawn from the world, pray part or all of the daily office, people who pray the psalter each week or month.

I do appreciate Carlson's disdain for American civil religion. The invocation of Jesus by leaders and citizens in support of the war on terror is an abomination. I'm not saying that the war is just or unjust. But naming Jesus as an ally in attempt to prove the rightness of the cause makes Jesus into a man who loves one brother better than another. Whether or not someone believes in Him (and make no mistake, Muslims do not believe in Jesus as God), he is God's creation, and the Father does not rejoice to see His children fighting each other.

Perhaps I've allowed my patriotism and my own theological background to darken my view of this book. I was disappointed with the methodology, but there's certainly something to be said for taking a more contemplative look at how we respond to Islam, to foreign policy, to our individual relationships with each other. If for no other reason than that reminder, I cannot regret reading this book . . . no matter how much I argue with it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

GUEST POST: Sermon for 8/14/11--Eighth Sunday After Trinity

This is the sermon preached by Pastor Robin Fish, Jr., this past Sunday at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. This is copied from his blog, where he posts sermons, hymns, theological reflections, book reviews, and any number of other things. Thank you, Pastor Fish, for filling in ably and willingly while I enjoyed my first vacation as a parish pastor in six years!

How to Listen to a Sermon

This is awkward. I stand before you for the first time as a guest preacher. You don’t know me, I don’t know you. Your pastor and I barely know each other. He isn’t here to criticize me or to defend himself. And yet the lessons drawn for this week of the church year, oblige me to talk about your pastor, and any preacher or teacher you hear—whether in this church or another, on TV or radio, through the internet or in a book. The question is how to listen to them, how to judge them, how to tell whether they are feeding you or misleading you, how to spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You have no personal knowledge of whether I can preach my way out of a wet paper bag, and yet I am here to tell you HOW TO LISTEN TO A SERMON. I can only suggest that you pay careful attention; then, after comparing what you hear to the doctrine you have learned from faithful, reliable, and legitimately called teachers, you can make up your own mind.

Let’s start with half of a verse from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:18a, Jesus says, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” Suppose that a minister told you that these words mean that infants need not be baptized. He reasons: God creates each of us and gives us our spirits, so we must be born sinless. God would never create anything evil. And if we’re good by nature, we cannot sin. Just like Jesus says in Matthew 7:18a, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.” As ridiculous as it sounds, many people are taken in by that very argument. But you should not be. Either because you were taught to know Scripture better, or because you are wise enough to look up passages quoted at you to see whether they are used correctly, you will quickly find the minister was twisting Matthew 7:18. You only need to read the second half of the verse, which says, “Nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” This doesn’t support the spin that we are born in sinless innocence.

Or step back even further. In Matthew 7:17, 19, Jesus says: “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit... Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Now suppose a minister tells you that Jesus is talking about sins versus good works. Jesus would be saying, “Only sinful people commit sins. Godly people do only godly works.” What do you do? You recall where Paul writes in Romans (3:23) that no one is without sin, even the best among us stumble in our weakness (Romans 7:7ff.). And we also know God is the One who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). He overlooks our sins and declares us righteous for the sake of His Son. If we could not please Him except by doing only good works all the time, none of us could be saved.

But again, when you hear a preacher putting that spin on Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, you are equipped to judge whether he is feeding you or misleading you. Remember the Word of God that you have been taught; or, if you cannot remember, look it up. And observe what else is missing from the context. In verse 15 Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” Then He says, “You will know them by their fruits,” and so on, until in verse 20 He concludes, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” “Beware of false prophets” is Jesus’ topic sentence for that whole paragraph. It tells us what He’s talking about in all those other statements. Taken by themselves, those statements could seem to be about sins versus good works, saints versus sinners. Taken with their topic sentence in verse 15, their meaning totally changes. Jesus is talking about prophets. Which is to say preachers and teachers of God’s Word. And so Jesus’ sermon, like mine, will eventually explain HOW TO LISTEN TO A SERMON.

From the top: Beware. You have been warned. Remember this warning, and be on the lookout. False teachers will come. They won’t be wearing black cowboy hats, or horns, or a sign around their neck that says “Your Enemy.” They will come to you like wolves in sheep’s clothing. There won’t be any visible mark to distinguish them from true preachers. They may seem just as charming and learned and well-spoken and reasonable as faithful preachers and teachers, if not more so. Their manner of life may be exemplary. There may be a certain something about them that you instinctively want to trust or imitate. But Jesus warns us not to be deceived by a handsome face, attractive clothing, a noble character, or a warm personality. You will know them by their fruits.

Now let’s all have our laugh out at Jesus’ mixed metaphor. What could He possibly mean by the fruits of a sheep, or the fruits of a wolf? More pertinent is the question, what “fruits” come from a prophet, false or otherwise? What fruit does a preacher or teacher yield? His fruit is the direction His teachings lead you in your faith and life. If his teachings lead you away from Christ and His doctrine, if they lead you into sins forbidden by God—or even into “good works” not commanded by God—then the fruit is bad and the tree is bad; the man is a false prophet, and you must not listen to him. On the other hand, if his teaching confirms you in the doctrine and way of life you have been taught on the basis of God’s Word, then you must listen to him, support him, cherish him, encourage him, pray for him, and give thanks for him, as though God Himself was speaking to you and opening the doors of Paradise before you.

And now we come to an even tougher question: How are you supposed to tell whether his fruit is good or bad? You really only have two choices: Either to be firmly rooted in the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)—so firmly rooted that you can readily tell the difference between truth and false teaching, and can fight firmly for the true faith—or to be like the Jews in Berea, who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If your faith has not yet been planted very deeply and firmly, that leaves you only one option: to be daily and constantly in the Word. Besides the Bible, read as much as you can understand in the Lutheran Confessions, the writings of Luther, and other authors who bear witness to the same doctrine.

Don’t stop learning Christ’s doctrine until you know the biblical answer to every question. If that time ever comes—though it is most unlikely—then keep studying the Word so that you may not forget. And if you love your children, teach them well, so they may be fully armored against false prophets, whether they come to them clothed in the sport coat of a high school science teacher, or in the comely form of a future husband or wife, or in all their busy lives’ tempting alternatives to going to church. If you want to protect them from false prophets, know your doctrine, teach them to know it, and teach them why it matters.

Why? Because you are on a spiritual battlefield. You can’t afford to go without the weapons and armor of a spiritual warrior. The devil is not only a fierce and active foe, but also a wily one. Sometimes he tries to crush us by brute and sudden force, while at other times he works at slowly and quietly undermining us. His aim is to destroy our faith, to take us away from Christ, to rob us of salvation. And when he isn’t beating us into despair through suffering, conflict, pressure and temptations from the world around us, he may be trying to tempt us into complacency and to sneak into our midst without our noticing. Persecution is one of Satan’s bold plays, right out where Christians can see where the evil lies; the only question then is whether we can bear it. But with false teachers, Satan infiltrates the holy of holies, disguised as people we respect and trust. And the seeds of false doctrine that they sow grow into trees whose fruits make us sick, and whose roots and branches tear us apart. They, mind you—the false teachers, not the faithful—cause the divisions that rend the body of Christ, the scandals and controversies that embarrass us, and the doubts that make us even readier prey for the wolves.

The only armor that can protect us is God’s Word. And that’s not just a piece of pious, figurative language. It doesn’t mean idly accepting the status quo. It means constantly grappling with the holy Word, and wrestling strength out of the holy Sacrament. And this grappling with the Word is not like wrestling with a padded dummy that you can easily throw down. It’s more like clinging to a huge rock with nothing but your fingers and toes. If you want to stay there, you need to get as strong and deep a hold on it as you can.

How can you tell whether someone is leading you astray? How can you measure his teachings against the Word of God? In a commentary on this text, Martin Luther answers: “Everyone should see to it, above all, that he is sure of his cause and of the doctrine. In his heart he should be so well grounded in it that he can stick to the doctrine even though he sees everyone on earth teaching and living contrary to it. Anyone who wants to move along in safety simply dare not pay attention to any of the outward masks in Christendom and guide himself by them. He must pay attention only to the Word, which shows us the right way of life that avails before God. For example, you must hold on to the chief part, the summary, of Christian teaching and accept nothing else: That God has sent and given Christ, His Son, and that only through Him does He forgive us all our sins, justify and save us” (LW 21:254).

Again, Jesus tells us: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Even some who call upon Him by name, and preach in His name, will hear that awful sentence. The question for you is whether they spoke according to His Word, whether they led you toward or away from Christ, whether they held up as God-pleasing the works God commanded or ones invented by themselves. Say to yourself as Luther says: “I shall test them where they ought to be tested, as to whether they serve to strengthen my faith in the Word: that Christ died for me; that through Him I may obtain piety and salvation in the sight of God; and that I should carry out my station [in life] and pay faithful attention to it” (LW 21:273–274).

Meanwhile, real prophecy is taking place here. Called by God to serve in an office commanded by God, a man of God stands here every week to proclaim to you the Word of God. And if he doesn’t exactly predict the future, your pastor is called to tell you things that you cannot learn by experience or with the senses. Nevertheless, these things are as true as though God Himself spoke them. Things such as, “Your sins are forgiven.” And as for miracles—how about Baptism? All your pastor does is say the words by which Christ commanded us to baptize, and add water; but miraculously, the water becomes a bath in the Holy Spirit, and you or your baby becomes God’s newborn child. Or how about the Lord’s Supper? We put in bread, wine, and the words of Christ. What comes out is Jesus’ true body and blood, which we can physically eat and drink, and which actually gives us the forgiveness of sins.

A false prophet can indeed give you these things, because these miracles are tied to the office instituted by Christ and the words spoken by Christ. Even an unbeliever could preach the Gospel to you without any additions or subtractions, and so comfort you and build up your faith, though he would not share in the salvation that he brings to you. Jesus does not tell you to look into your pastor’s heart. He tells you to observe his fruits, which is to say, his teachings. What does he tell you to believe? How does he tell you to live? And do these teachings match the right interpretation of Scripture, in which you have been so carefully instructed?

Jeremiah (23:16–19) tells us that God does not want you to listen to false prophets. He means that you should not obey what they teach. Jesus, on the other hand, tells you to listen and to beware. But He tells you this so that you may safely eat of spiritual food, drink the spiritual drink, and take the spiritual medicine that He so richly serves you in sermon and liturgy, in Word and Sacrament. He wants you to feel free to follow the faithful shepherd He has given you, so that through your pastor, Jesus may protect you from wolves and fill you with His precious gifts. Jesus wants you to hear God’s Law in its fullness and purity, so that you know how to live in a God-pleasing manner, and so that you recognize when you are not doing so; and He wants you to hear His Gospel in all its sweetness and power, so that when you falter and stumble along the way, you may not despair but believe that your sins are forgiven through Jesus’ willingly shed blood and through His slain and risen body. And finally, He wants you to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and with the confidence that, as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

Friday, August 12, 2011

HYMN: O Jesus Christ, O Groom Divine

In honor of Evan and Bethany, whom God joins together tomorrow.

O Jesus Christ, O Groom Divine

1. O Jesus Christ, O Groom divine,
You cleansed Your Bride with blood outpoured.
In turning Cana's casks to wine
Your joy in marriage You afford.
Stretch forth Your mighty hand to bless
These two whom You unite as one
That in both peace and in distress
Their prayer may be, "Thy will be done."

2. As You have loved Your spotless Bride,
Let this man his dear bride adore
That, faithful, loving he abide
And seek no other evermore.
Teach him to honor and protect
This helper whom You freely give
That he may prize and not neglect
The treasure he does now receive.

3. As Your Bride clings to You alone
Let this, Your daughter, look to him,
The husband You in love made known.
Let her devotion never dim,
That she be steadfast, blameless, true--
A faithful helpmeet to the end.
Grant her forgiveness ever new
That he may be her greatest friend.

4. O God the Father who bestows
On Your dear children lavish love--
O God the Son who, herebelow,
Has raised Your Bride to dwell above--
O Holy Ghost, O God of grace,
Inspire the hearts of brides and men.
O Triune God, shine forth Your face
To bless this bride and groom. Amen.

© Alan Kornacki, Jr.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

HYMN: O Lord, I Am Not Worthy

After a lengthy absence, here is my latest offering. Constructive criticism desired--especially in v.2.

O Lord, I Am Not Worthy

1. O Lord, I am not worthy
That You should come within,
For trespasses pervert me
And I am lost in sin.
You lead me to Your altar,
A beggar at Your feet,
But mired in shame I falter
And flee Your mercy seat.

2. Yet speak Your Word of favor,
And, lo, my soul is healed.
O Christ, You are my Savior.
In You is grace revealed.
You set the Feast before me--
Your body and Your blood.
You veil Your heav'nly glory
Within this earthly food.

3. This Supper gives forgiveness,
A truly bounteous meal.
Its benefits are endless--
The power hearts to heal,
Delivering salvation
To all God's children dear
From ev'ry tribe and nation
Who seek their pardon here.

4. O Lord, I am not worthy
That You should come within,
But speak Your Word unto me
And I am freed from sin.
I trust Your mercy solely
My soul and flesh to feed,
For You can make me holy,
My Lord and God indeed.

© Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr.
76 76 D

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sermon for 8/7/11: Seventh Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Daily Bread

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

It’s Sunday morning. Apparently you don’t have to work this morning. The kids don’t have school right now. As residents of the United States of America you have the freedom to be doing pretty much whatever you want right now. You could be sleeping in, golfing, cleaning your garage, swimming, surfing the web, working on the Sunday crossword puzzle—any of a billion things in which we find contentment, enjoyment, order, or some other kind of satisfaction. For some reason you have chosen to spend part of your Sunday morning here. But weren’t you just here last week? Didn’t you hear the Word of Holy Absolution, spoken from the pastor as from Christ Himself? Didn’t you force yourself to stay awake for a sermon then? And what about the Lord’s Supper? Most of you just did all this seven days ago. What brings you back here so soon?

Put simply, we have come here because we are in need. Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s entirely possible that you like coming here. But it’s not your pastor that brings you to this place on this or any Sunday morning. You are here because God in His goodness has gracious gifts to give you, and you recognize that you need what only He can give you. I can’t speak for the state of your soul, but I know that I need what God has for me more often than once a month. Sometimes even once a week doesn’t seem to cut it.

Our Gospel for this morning tells us that Jesus had been preaching to a gathering counted as four thousand men, and they had been attentive to the Word for three days. Jesus seemed to be done with His lesson, though in truth He had one more lesson for the disciples. Jesus stated the dilemma Himself: “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Jesus Himself had experienced the pain of hunger during His time of temptation in the wilderness, so He spoke with authority on the matter. And in this case, these people faced the danger of physical hunger because they had so eagerly fed on the Word of God which Jesus delivered to them. He felt responsible for them, and He had compassion on them

The disciples, as always, seem to forget what Jesus has already taught them. “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?” they ask Him.The odd thing is, this is not the first time the disciples have been in these circumstances. Jesus has at this point already fed a gathering of five thousand men in a miraculous way. And these men would surely be aware of how God had fed the entire of nation of Israel in the wilderness for forty years! Surely one meal for four thousand people wouldn’t be beyond the means of the promised Messiah. They still didn’t understand the nature of the Man they followed; but this time they didn’t tell Jesus what to do. They waited for a word from Him, at least trusting that He could do what they could not.

In a certain sense, as much as you appreciate what God delivers to you in Christ when you gather here, you feel a certain obligation to show up here on Sunday morning. And that is not necessarily wrong. Father Luther tells us in his explanation of the Third Commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” You give honor to God and His Word when you come here to receive the Word, whether it’s the spoken Word of forgiveness, the Word preached to you, or the Word fed to you in the Holy Supper. But if it is only obligation which brings you to this place on a given day, if you’re not here because you hunger and thirst for God’s gifts of forgiveness and life, then you too are living in ignorance concerning Jesus. Jesus forces no one to believe, and you’re free to walk out that door and never to look back.

But for those willing to live according to the good and gracious will of God, Jesus does not—and, indeed, cannot—disappoint. He told the people to sit down, and He took the loaves and the fish which the disciples brought to Him and gave thanks to the Father for providing for His people. When He gave the food to the disciples to be distributed, the people ate their fill, and seven baskets worth of food remained when the meal was finished. You’ve heard your pastor say this before, but he will say it again: Jesus is the living fulfillment of the Magnificat which His mother Mary sang:
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.
When Jesus sent them away, none of them were hungry. He had fed both their bodies and their souls, giving them everything they needed for this life and for the next.

He does the same for you today. When you pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus is gracious to give you “all that we need to support this body and life”—and even as He delivers to you the physical necessities you need day by day, Jesus gives you all that you need to refresh and sustain your spirit, as well. There is nothing lacking in the daily bread you receive today. The forgiveness of sins which you receive in the Word of Holy Absolution is complete forgiveness for all your sins of thought, word, and deed, whether it’s something you have done that you ought not do, or something you have not done that you ought to do. Jesus died to take your sins upon Himself and rose again to give you new life in His name. The salvation you receive in the Lord’s Supper is complete salvation for all eternity. And while you receive these gifts with thanksgiving often, they are not made complete by receiving them more often; these gifts are complete every time you receive them.

The people came out and listened to Jesus, and He fed them in both body and soul. He does the same for you when you gather here to hear His Word and receive His body and blood. Whether it’s a baptismal blessing or His own body and blood, Jesus will never send a beggar away empty. 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, August 02, 2011

Update: HYMN--Fear Not, O Virgin Mild

I have updated my hymn Fear Not, O Virgin Mild, which I wrote before Christmas last year. The first verse originally read as follows:

Fear not, O virgin mild—
Dear Mary, favored maid—
For you will bear the holy Child
As I have bade.
Your Child shall conquer death:
The Son of righteousness.
Rejoice, O Mary, child of faith
Forever blessed.

The re-write reads:

Fear not, O virgin mild—
Dear Mary, favored maid—
For you will bear the holy Child
For whom Eve prayed.
Your Child shall conquer death:
The Life, by all confessed.
Rejoice, O Mary, child of faith
Forever blessed.

Let me know what you think. Should I change the fourth line to "Be not afraid!" to play off the first line?

Monday, August 01, 2011

REVIEW: The Nook Color from Barnes and Noble

To this point my reviews have been of books. But my wife bought me a Nook Color from Barnes and Noble for Father's Day this year, and I thought I'd share the wealth of my experience regarding this e-reader device.

The Nook Color is a full-color 7-inch touchscreen device. It has a high-resolution screen with 16 million colors. The words and images are sharp, and the font size is adjustable. Barnes and Noble have over 2 million titles available to download from their store, and with the ability to sync from a computer, you can add epub books from any source ( and others). The Nook is also compatible with pdf files, but the built in pdf reader is not very user-friendly. For 99 cents the user can download an application ("pdf reader") that gives you a more user-friendly pdf experience, but it only works (despite claims by the app provider) when the pdf files are on a micro SD card (which does not come with the Nook Color) in the built-in micro SD slot.

Using the micro SD slot, I've also been able to watch mp4 files on the Nook Color. Thus far I've only watched classic Doctor Who episodes, so the source pictures weren't the best to begin with. The built-in speaker isn't spectacular, but it's enough to watch shows or listen to music while you read, and the device does have a built-in stereo headphone jack. Pandora is provided in your app menu, so those of you who use that for your music experience will not be disappointed.

It's been about two months now that I've had the device, and to this point I have been quite impressed. By the time I received the Nook Color, Barnes and Noble had upgraded the device into a veritable Android tablet. As it stands, the Android application store is not accessible; but Barnes and Noble has its own application store where one can find games, practical applications, and more. For example, instead of buying a New King James Version or using the built-in wi-fi to access, I downloaded a $5.99 application called "NKJV Bible", strangely enough. I can access the Bible by chapter, add notes, highlight text and more.

The reader itself is intuitive. You turn the pages in your epub format books the same way you turn the pages in a print book: by swiping the page you just read from right to left. As I said, the words appear crisp and clear. I've even converted my own novel into an epub file, and it's a novel experience (pardon the pun) to read my own novel in electronic format.

The device is solidly constructed. The screen, of course, has all the fragility of your average touchscreen, but the user can purchase a screen-protector that does not interfere with the function of the screen.

Oh, and I have downloaded the $2.99 Angry Birds application. Surprise, surprise.

There are a number of things I haven't tried to do yet with the device. I don't use the Nook Friends application, so I don't know how the book lending works. I don't use the built-in web browser much, as I have gotten used to using my phone for my browsing--and the same goes for the built in e-mail application.

Even within those limitations, I would highly recommend the Nook Color, especially for someone who travels. I took mine with me to a youth conference, and it was nice to have over 200 books with me (with the space for more) while carrying only the weight of one book. It also comes in handy around my children, as my son is rough on paper books but has not been able to destroy the device as of yet. (Give him time, though, as he is a highly determined kid!)

(Oh, and if you have a Nook Color and want to preview my novel in epub format, let me know. Always looking for readers!)