Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sermon for 12/24/16: The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord

No audio. My apologies. A blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours from me and mine.



"Unto You"


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


The words of our text may be the greatest good news ever delivered by angels to men. Those words, unto you, help us to understand both who Jesus is and why He came to earth. So who is Jesus? He is none other that the Son of God. He is the perfect image of His heavenly Father. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is the name above every name. And as the angel says to the shepherds and to us, this Jesus, this Son of God, this co-creator of the world and judge of all the earth, is born unto you.
What an amazing gift from God! It is a gift beyond price. Some of you have had children. Others have not, but might some day. Any of you who are parents know that there is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing that this is your child. This is your son in your arms; this is your daughter sitting on your lap: your very own flesh and blood, born into your family. Now take all the wonder, all of the glory and majesty of birth and family and life in your own arms, and look to the manger in Bethlehem. In that manger is born a Child. Isaiah put it so well: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
This child, this Son of God and Son of Mary, is born unto you. This child comes into our family, the family of the human race. This One comes to give what no other child can give. For no matter how wonderful human birth is, no matter how great a gift is family, we are all born into sin and death and heartache. But not This One. This one is born the Savior, Christ the Lord. He is God and Man. He is without sin and full of the Love of the Father for you. He is your peace and hope in this dark world. He is your life, He is your forgiveness, and He takes upon Himself all of your sin.
“For unto you is born this day…a Saviour.” Have there ever been more beautiful words spoken of in all the world? This perfect Son of God is born unto you. He is born in the darkness of our sin, but He brings light and life and salvation to all who trust in Him. He comes in silence, but the angels of heaven cannot help but sing out, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
The almighty Word of God descends from His royal throne on high, and takes the lowliest form of all: He takes on your form, your likeness. He does this so that you by faith may take on His nature: a child of God and an heir of eternal life. For Christ has entered into your family. He sits at your table; He rests in your bed. He is one of us as much as every other member of your family. Yet this new member of the human family comes to give us gifts like no other. For by entering into your flesh, by taking on your family, Jesus Christ has also adopted you into God’s family. You now bear God’s name as much as He bears your name. And through this Son, God and sinners are reconciled.
It is indeed no wonder that the angels in heaven sing, Glory to God!” But no matter how joyfully the angels sing, their joy this night cannot match ours. For this Jesus has made peace with God for all mankind. We are not separated from God anymore. He is one of us, and He is Immanuel, “God with us.” Rejoice in the mystery of God made flesh, for He comes to save you. And so we pray, “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sermon for 12/18/16: Fourth Sunday in Advent

No audio file today. Sorry! Some pastor who will remain nameless forgot to hit the "record" button.

                                   
What Really Matters

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


“Repent!” That’s the message John has for the people awaiting the coming of the Messiah. It is a tough, thankless message to preach. After all, how many illicit affairs took place last night? How many children were neglected? How many families charged up their credit cards to create the image of a perfect Christmas with a false appearance of abundance? How many try to buy or drink or sleep or cheat their way out of despair? How many words were wielded as weapons? And how many of you laid awake last night, lonely or afraid or angry or jealous, full of regret or scheming for the future? The enemy is all around us and even within us.
More than ever, St. John the Baptist is the man for our times. He has comfort for our broken-heartedness, an answer for our uncertainties. He is the voice crying in the wilderness, and we live in the wilderness. We walk in danger. We fight, flee, and die. We abandon our young, betray our friends, forget our spouses. We are not as civilized or sophisticated as we pretend. If we were, we would not have among us the homeless, the drug addicted, the criminal, the untended victim, or the adulterer. We would not lock our doors for fear of our neighbors. Our marriages would be stable. Our children would be safe. Our churches would be full.
John beckons us to open our eyes and acknowledge the wilderness around us and within us. John urges us to come out of our make-belief worlds, to face reality. Despite your pride in your strength, you are vulnerable and weak. You cannot stop a bullet. You cannot police your own streets. You have no safety in yourself or in man-made contraptions. These things only offer false comfort. Your life is fragile. Yet you sell your soul cheaply for things that rust and corrode and crumble and fade. You are obsessed with your own desires and dreams. You turn in on yourself, away from God. Wake up! Repent! You are in danger of losing everything. Repent before it is too late. Repent, for there is hope.
There is One whose sandals we are all unworthy to untie. He is not infected like we are. He is pure, clean, and righteous. He is God in human flesh. He gives Himself for and to you, to make you safe and whole and free and alive again. He baptizes with the fire of the Holy Spirit in waters filled with His Name. He bestows righteousness. He forgives and restores without an investigation of your credit history, without a payment schedule, without cost or demand or restriction! He forgives. He loves. He is the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He can overcome your lust, your anger, your past. He can give you a future again. And that is what matters. It’s not important who your pastor is, even if it’s John the Baptist himself. It doesn’t even matter who you are. What matters is that He is the Christ! He is the long-expected Savior, the One who loves you and restores you to the kingdom, who calls you to be His beloved Bride.
Here in the wilderness, it is hard to believe that is what matters. It seems at times like what matters is impressing your boss or getting the respect you crave from your neighbor. It seems like what matters is instant gratification. It even seems at times like what matter is justice: that life would be fair, that you and your loved ones would never be shorted or suffer in any way. But that stuff doesn’t matter on the Last Day. What matters on the Last Day is that the virgin’s Son went to the cross to redeem you, body and soul. He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He comes to you in the preaching of His Word and in His body and blood. He is the Christ. He is the One anointed to be your Savior. He loves you even when no one else does or can. Jesus is the Christ, and that’s what matters for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sermon for 12/11/16: Third Sunday in Advent

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Doubt and Comfort


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


Jesus calls John the greatest person ever of those born of women. In truth, John is a man obsessed with the Lord. But at the moment, John is a prisoner on death row. He would not bend like a reed in the wind. He dared to speak against the king's immorality. He is more than a prophet. He is a martyr. He will lose his head rather than play along and pretend sin is okay. It is this focus and desire, this single-minded zeal, which has made him the greatest of those born of women. Yet, even he, great though he is, knows some fear, some uncertainty. He is not perfect.
On this side of glory, inside every man of faith, inside every zealous preacher, there abides doubt fueled by sin. John asks: “Are you the coming One, or should we expect another?” Do not be scandalized by John's question. It doesn’t matter if he asked for his own sake or the for the sake of his disciples. Faith that waits is not yet perfect. It coexists with sin. It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For a time, faith lives with doubt. In the kingdom of heaven there is no doubt. Yet here on earth we believe and we confess those things we cannot see, those things we cannot prove, yet know to be true, even while a part of us doubts them. And so frail are we that it seems we only use the language of faith to describe and confess those things we doubt.
Faith goes where God promises to be and, like a child asking to hear the same bedtime story once again, or a wife wanting to hear once more that her husband still loves her, faith asks again: “Are You the Coming One?” And Our Lord is quick to reply: “The blind see and the lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and deaf hear. The dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them.”
John stood as a man outside of time. He was both the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament prophets. Like Abraham, he lived by faith; like Jacob, he wrestled with God; like Elijah, he embodied repentance in his body and garments; and like Isaiah, he pointed to the One who came to redeem us. He preached his fiery sermons for his own hearing as much as for ours. He needed to bear fruits of repentance. He needed the Lamb of God and the forgiveness of sins. He heard the Father's voice. He pointed to the end of his father's office and his own office. Finally he was relieved and his burdens removed. Faith got what it waited for.
In the same way, we also straddle two worlds: the kingdom of heaven and the new man on the one side, and the kingdom of the flesh and the old man on the other. We believe those things we doubt, those things we cannot see, those things we cannot prove. We hope. We pray. We wait. And with the father of the demon-possessed child we confess: “Lord, I believe.” And then we add our prayer to his: “Help my unbelief.” And so He does. Jesus gave His life for yours. He died and He rose again to set you free. Soon your burdens will also be removed. In the meantime the fruit of the vine is for you, the Cup of the New Testament in His blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, and the kingdom of heaven is poured into you. “The poor have the Gospel preached unto them” says Jesus. And so it is. This is the comfort John proclaimed, and it is my privilege to preach that same comfort to you. The blind see and the lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The dead in sin are raised up in the waters of Holy Baptism. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. You have received double from the Lord’s hand for all your sins. And the Word of our God stands forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Called and Installed: A New Adventure

For my 700th blog post(!!!), I decided I'd go bigso big, in fact, that it takes a second church building and congregation for me to make it happen. Earlier in 2016, Pastor Mark Buetow, who had been serving at Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, Illinois, received a Call to serve a congregation a little ways outside Chicago. His acceptance of that call (the traitor! *wink*) led the members of the Bethel congregation to consider their future. And after much consideration, they decided to contact my congregation, St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. The members of Bethel asked the members of St. Peter to consider joining them in a dual parish arrangement. This meant, among other things, that they would share me as their pastor.

In July, after more consideration and prayer, not to mention a number of meetings full of questions and compromises to hash out details, both congregations voted overwhelmingly to join together as a dual parish. For various reasons, the agreement would not take effect until January 1, 2017. However, I would serve Bethel as their vacancy pastor until that time. I would have to be officially Installed as the pastor of the dual parish, and, having already been Installed at St. Peter in May of 2010, we made the decision to have the dual parish Installation at Bethel. I asked to have it the weekend after Thanksgiving so my parents could attend, since they had already planned to come for Thanksgiving.

So we went ahead with the Installation on the 27th of November. The Reverend President Timothy Scharr of the Southern Illinois District officiated at the Installation. Pastor Kirk Clayton of Zion Lutheran Church in Mascoutah was the preacher, and his sermon brought together the names of the two congregations. (I can't post the text of his sermon, since he preaches from an outline, but you can download the audio of his sermon here.) Pastor Peter Ill of Trinity Lutheran Church in Millstadt was the liturgist. A number of area pastors participated in the laying-on/holy-hover-of-hands. And then, after the Installation, most of us drove from Bethel to St. Peter, where the ladies of both congregations (and a few men, for that matter) put together an impressive meal.

For many of the members, this was their first interaction with members of their new sister congregation. Everything I'd hoped forlove, cooperation, and a joyful spiritcame together on that day. Campbell Hill and Du Quoin may be about 25 miles apart, but the love of Christ has a way of bringing people together, no matter how far apart they may live and worship.

This will change things for all of us. Both congregations are used to having their own pastor; they now share me. Both congregations originally met for Divine Service at 10am; St. Peter now meets at 9am and Bethel at 10:45am. Bethel was used to having the pastor at their preschool every day; now he's only there two days each week. There are others. Many others. Our task going forward together is to do our best to make the arrangement work. I don't think that will be a problem.

And things have changed for the Kornacki family, too. After leaving North Dakota, I said I'd never serve a dual parish again. After writing a book which could be seen as critical of Synod, I also said I'd never receive another Call. If you want to make the Lord laugh, tell Him your plans or say "never." I'm once again taking care of two congregations, which means I have more shut-in and hospital visits, more meetings, more responsibilities, and more time away from my family. It also means I get to work with two youth groups, two church councils, two wonderful organists, and a bunch of preschool kids. I also have a second set of bookshelves, which means I can buy more books! We were able to purchase a new vehicle, which, honestly, we needed. The Lord continues to provide for my family, just as He continues to provide for the two congregations it is now my privilege to serve.

Thank you to everyone who made the day so special! I'll leave you with the picture of the pastors at my Installation. What a seedy-looking bunch of characters!
Left to right: Rev. Timothy Scharr, Rev. Peter Ill, Rev. Kirk Clayton, me, Rev. James Leistico, Rev. Chris Agne, Rev. Timothy Landskroener (also known as OP: Old Pastor), and Rev. Timothy Sims.

Sermon for 12/4/16: Second Sunday in Advent

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Stirred Hearts, Lifted Heads


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


My brothers and sisters in Christ, take heed! The fig tree is thick with buds. The nations are perplexed. Men’s hearts are failing. False preachers scratch the itchy ears of men: those vain liars who hide behind their wicked vocabulary, calling debauchery and vice “victimless,” naming babies “fetuses” and the slaughter houses “clinics;” who pretend as though sodomy is wholesome, who attempt to use the Church for their own gain. They will be exposed. All will be exposed. Repent. The Kingdom draws near. Your salvation is coming. Beware. And rejoice.
Last week we begged our Lord Jesus Christ to stir up His power and come. We asked this because of His enduring promise; because He has said that He will be Our God. He will save us. We want Him to fulfill His Word. We do not merely ask for a little something to get us by until we are on our feet again. We are asking for rescue. We are in mortal danger because of our sins. We are surrounded by demonic forces. We are cold, tired, and afraid. Left on our own, we’d have no hope. Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come. Do not leave us alone, for you are our Hope and your Word is true.
Stir up our hearts, O Lord. That is our prayer this week. We pray that the Power of God in the Flesh, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, would stir us up. Stir up our hearts, O Lord…for we are in danger of growing bored and cold. Our flesh is weak. We are tempted to neglect the watch, to indulge our baser desires, to forget who we are and what we are waiting for. We need the Lord to stir up our hearts, to rouse us from selfish slumber, to prepare and make us ready for His coming: now in Word and in Sacrament and soon in glory.
The Spirit stirs us to repentance. It is like being awakened too early on a dreary December day. We’d rather roll over and bury ourselves in the covers than repent. When they were frozen, our hearts were numb. But as they thaw at the Spirit’s stirring, they shoots needles of pain into our souls. Turning from our sin and towards God is difficult, painful. Nonetheless we pray that He would stir us up, for if He doesn’t, we die an eternal death. The Word of God is a sword. It is meant for killing. It cuts us off from our old life. It exposes our shameful weaknesses. We may have fooled men, but we never fooled God. He saw the things we did in secret. He heard the black thoughts and depraved fantasies that played out in the backs of our minds. Repent. God knows what you’ve done, what you’ve dreamed, what you’ve thought. And yet, despite that, He loves you.
He became a servant. He suffered under the Law you failed to keep. He did all that it demands. He abstained from all that it forbids. He then allowed the Law to do to Him all it should have done to you. He has fulfilled the Law; it can ask no more. There is no one to accuse you. He has gone to the sacrifice willingly, as the Lamb to the slaughter. He has counted you worthy of that price. He gladly paid for you. He does not regret it. He loves you. The promise made to the fathers is that this mercy endures forever. He is your hope and your salvation.
Look up. Lift up your heads. Your redemption draws near! His Word will not pass away. It is true. It is valid. It is certain. All will happen just as He said it would. This enduring and gracious Word made flesh was placed into you in the waters of Holy Baptism. He made you His. He cannot forget you. You are His Bride. God has joined you together. No man can put you asunder. You have left your father the devil and become one flesh with the crucified and risen God of Abraham. Heaven and earth will fail, but His Word will not pass away…and because of that, you will not pass away. You will live forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sermon for 11/27/16: First Sunday in Advent

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Anticipation and Fulfillment


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


What is it that drives millions to wait for hours in the dark and the cold on the morning after Thanksgiving Day for a department store to open? What is it that possesses young men to wait in line for hours to purchase the new video game console? What is it that keeps deer hunters on their stands for hours on end? It is what happens at the end of all of that waiting. Their expectations are met; their hopes are realized. Those who waited in department store lines get their bargains. The young men get their cool new video game console. The hunters tag their bucks and does. The waiting and the hoping are over, and what has happened has made the wait worthwhile.
This is the Christian life: a life of waiting and hoping, and then realizing that all that waiting was so worthwhile! We see this in the lives of the Old Testament saints. For forty centuries, they had waited. God had promised a Savior from sin immediately after man committed the first sin. And so the people of God waited for their hope for a Savior to be realized.
During the next twenty centuries, God continued to give descriptions about the promised Savior. Jeremiah, for example, proclaimed that the Savior would be born in the line of Judah. In giving prophesies, God showed His goodness and mercy toward His people, calling us to task for being impatient with Him and His ways and renewing our hope through His Word. And so the people of God waited for their hope for a Savior to be realized.
And, finally, the day was at hand! The long-expected Savior had come into the world! Jesus revealed Himself to be the promised King when He entered the city of Jerusalem on the donkey colt. The people of God had waited for their hope for a Savior to be realized…and it was. The waiting was over. What they had anticipated with hope had now happened!
And what happened made the long wait worthwhile! For the One who was paraded into Jerusalem and lauded as the King on that Sunday was paraded out of Jerusalem the following Friday, condemned as a criminal. The Lamb of God was being led out of the city to the slaughter. His day had come. His long wait was over, too. He had waited patiently from the very beginning of eternity for this day; He had been born in flesh for this very moment. The Father had held back His wrath against all the sins of the world, and now He was going to unleash His wrath against His only Son, the One carrying our sin in His Body. The wait was over. What the Triune God had anticipated was now happening: the Father put His Son to death for sin so that we, His adopted children, would not perish in sin. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death, the Father forgives the sins of the entire world: from the original sin of Adam to the final sin of the last man on earth.
Like the Old Testament saints, our lives also are lives of waiting. We await the Second Coming of the same Savior. And we, too, have waited long. It has been nearly twenty centuries since the Lord ascended with the promise that He would come again, to usher in the new heavens and the new earth, our eternal dwelling place with Him and with each other.
In the meantime, we wait for His final coming. But as we wait, He comes to us in humbler ways—but these ways are no less fulfilling for us, for He comes to us in the mouths of pastors who speak His forgiveness to us. He comes to us in the preaching of His Word. He comes to us in His body and blood. And all these humble comings of Christ prepare us for that final coming in glory, when He will come to us, when we will never again be able to be parted from Him…and it will be worth the wait! 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, 2016

HYMN: O Lord, Where Are You Going?

After a bit of a dry spell, and after working on this trying to figure out the third verse of this text for about two months now, I've finally finished another text. (Not like my life hasn't been crazy lately, but it's nice to get another text out of me.) This one is based on the propers for the Fifth Sunday of Easter in the LSB one-year lectionary and around the Gospel text, John 6:5-15, in particular. The disciples are sad because Jesus tells them He will be departing from them, but none of them asks Him where He will go or why. Anyway, here it is. Let me know what you think.


O Lord, Where Are You Going?

1. O Lord, where are You going?
My fear is freely flowing.
You say You must depart.
I want to have You near me.
Stay, Lord! In mercy hear me.
The weight of sorrow fills my heart.

2. Lovingly You address me.
You say You leave to bless me:
The Helper You will send.
Comfort He will provide me
And in all truth will guide me.
Oh, I could ask no better friend.

3. Send, Lord, Your Spirit to me,
And let Your Word renew me,
That I may sing Your praise.
Thus will Your Spirit render
Peace, life, and solace tender:
My joy in sorrow all my days.


(c) 2016 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
776 778
Tune: O WELT, ICH MUSS DICH LASSEN (LSB 453)
Occasion: Easter V
John 16:5-15

Sermon for 11/24/16: Thanksgiving

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Abundance


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


The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on the television, and then you can find college basketball and pro football on pretty much any channel. Meanwhile, the table groans with turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and corn and green beans and dinner rolls, and the sideboard is covered with pies. There’s beer and soft drinks in the fridge and wine waiting to be uncorked. And trough it all, we make our plans for Black Friday shopping. It seems Thanksgiving has become the holiday which celebrates overindulgence. But what are we indulging in? Everything set before you on the Day of National Thanksgiving is a gift from our heavenly Father. Those things are a gift.
Idolatry happens when you turn the gift into the most important thing:  when you deem these things to be more important than the Giver. Who hasn't been so invested in something that they've forgotten about God, deciding that whatever they like is much more interesting than the Lord's Word? Think of it in terms of the rich man. Perhaps you don’t have a grain silo. But how about this? What shall I do, since I have no room for my big screen TV, my new sewing machine, my new rifle, and my new SUV and boat? I will do this: I will pull down my house and garage and build bigger, and there I will store all my worldly possessions. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ There's some Thanksgiving Day repentance for all of us! While the Lord is generous in giving us stuff, that stuff isn't the center of our life. After all, those things will pass away. Your TV will short out. Your sewing machine will get knocked off the table. Your rifle will misfire. Your car will break down. Your boat will sink. The earthly gifts you treasure will turn to dust, just as your body will one day.
Your life doesn't find its value in the abundance of your possessions. Your life finds its value in Jesus. In Him you have everything you need—and this is so much more than just material possessions and daily bread. In Him you have the sacrifice that has taken away your sins; the resurrection that has conquered death for you; and the sacramental water, Word, Body and Blood by which you have forgiveness: the heavenly treasures that will not rust or fade away, that thieves cannot steal, that no one can take from you.
Jesus being your Savior means that every sin which has made into an idol the gifts creation is forgiven. It means every gracious gift from our Father can be recognized as a gift instead of a god. It means you have from our Lord far more than you could ever ask for or dream of or imagine. You have life beyond this earthly life, bread beyond your daily bread and turkey sandwiches, joy and gladness beyond even your favorite sports team winning or losing!
Some folks have traditions of helping others on Thanksgiving. Many more have traditions of helping themselves to seconds and thirds. Either way, as Christians, we recognize all these things as gifts from our heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. But above all, in Jesus, you have an abundance which is beyond anything in this world, for in Him you have eternal life. Thanks be to God! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sermon for 11/20/16: Last Sunday of the Church Year

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Wise Virgins


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


Ten virgins pure, watching and waiting in the flickering light. Outwardly they were all clean and undefiled. Nonetheless, these handmaidens of the Lord were overcome. Their flesh was weak. They were seduced by sleep, enticed to slumber. Their eyes grew heavy and they gave up, gave in. They quit fighting. They let the night have its way with them. The oil’s light burned in vain while they satisfied their flesh in slumber.
And then came the midnight cry. It caught them unaware, their duties forgotten. The oil was gone. They had forgotten to trim their lamps. And then the cry came, and then the panic, and then the begging: “Give us some of yours!” But there was none to spare. No one can believe for another. So out went the five fools into the night, seeking to buy what can only be given. They returned empty-handed, too late. The door was shut. Therefore, watch! Beware! Repent!
It is hard to stay awake these sleepy days, as Peter and James and John know all too well. We abide at the end of time. Temptation grows stronger deeper in the night. It seems so futile to keep watch. We’ve waited already all our lives, and still He has not come. There are pleasures all around, and no one seems to care if we slip in a few winks or go off for a while, if we go and do those things that sinners think to be their right. If we behave like the ancient men of Rome or the modern men of New York or San Francisco or Amsterdam, who would blame us? We are who we are. Must we really be so vigilant and suffer through this night of days and months and years? Can’t we just have our fun and then repent at the end? No. We cannot. That way leads to death. Now is the hour of salvation. Even if Our Lord should continue to delay, no man knows when his last hour will come. Repent before it is too late. Repent and watch.
And for the sake of hope and confidence, notice this: all ten virgins fell asleep. All ten. All ten were outwardly pure, yet all ten failed in their vigil. What made five wise and five foolish? The wise still had oil. By the grace of God, despite their weakness and self-pity, they never stopped believing that He would come. They trimmed their lamps, and whatever little oil was left, it was enough. It was multiplied like the widow’s oil in Zarephath. Their oil was given by God. For if He desires to be greeted and ushered into the chamber by virgins pure, He must create them. By grace, by what God supplied, five wise virgins were spared the coming wrath and saved.
And so there is hope even for us. You have not defiled yourself so gravely that you cannot be cleansed. Your God has not forgotten you. He brought you here this day for a purpose: to forgive you anew, to restore your purity, to recreate you immaculate, strong in faith, undefiled, righteous and holy, and mostly wise. You have the oil of faith, given in the waters of Holy Baptism. The world scoffs at this true wisdom, but it comes from God: He is coming back.
He does all this for and to you through His Word. By the Word He creates and restores. He called you by Name in Holy Baptism. You were born in those waters from above and made alive. He speaks these saving, cleansing words in the Scriptures, in the absolution, in the preaching, in His Church. He feeds these Words made flesh to you in the Holy Supper. He wants to be met on the last day with faith and praise and rejoicing. His work outside the city gate will not be in vain. He has not fallen asleep. He does not forget His promise. He still and always loves you and makes you again virgin pure.
Concerning then the time and the seasons, you have no need to know. Even Jesus doesn’t know. All you need to know, the best and surest wisdom in all of creation, is that the day is surely coming. It will come suddenly, unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. God in His great love will steal you away from the darkness, death, and chaos of this fallen world. He will pull you from your bed and trim your lamp. You will again be pure and undefiled. You are not of the darkness or of the night, no matter how sleepy and lazy you might feel. You are of the day. You are of Jesus Christ.
So watch and wait. Do not be afraid. Surely the day is drawing near. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly! 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, November 13, 2016

Sermon for 11/13/16: Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

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There Will Be Goats


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


There will be no goats. That is how most people picture it. That is how most people envision the outcome of the final judgment at the end of the world: there will be no goats. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory… He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.” That is the picture that the Lord Jesus paints for us. But most people envision a lot of vacant space on the left hand side of the judgment throne because they see no goats.
That, of course, would be a great thing to see. It would be wonderful to see everyone in the world standing at the right-hand side of God, and to have no goats on the left. After all, those on the left will go away into everlasting punishment, while the right-hand side is destined for eternal life. It truly would be marvelous to have a picture with no goats. But those who see a picture with no goats are using the lens of human opinion, and not divine truth. They are seeing something other than what God Himself presents in His Scriptures. They are envisioning matters according to a different spirit, rather than the Holy Spirit. They envision a god of their own imagination: a false god so loving, so forgiving, that He will ignore the faithlessness of those who ignored His Word, who forsook His gifts, who did not love and serve their neighbor.
Here is the divine truth, depicted in the Holy Scriptures, revealed by the Holy Spirit: there will be goats. In fact, there will be more goats than sheep. Sadly, we will see a lot of vacant space on the right hand of the judgment throne. Our Savior desires all men to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved, and He has made room for many sheep. But that open space on His right hand will remain unfilled. There will be many goats on the left, for they have spurned the salvation Christ has won for them.
But the Good Shepherd has come to separate the sheep from the goats, and He does so without hesitation. Judgment Day is not a day of timid hesitation; it is the final day of ultimate action. This is the Day on which evil is consigned to the fiery abyss. This is the day of the righteous justice of our God. On the Last Day, the Lord Jesus Christ will not need to sit and ponder His judgment, wondering what He will do with those who are sitting on the fence. There is no doubt at all who is a sheep or a goat. He is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep by name, and He has come to take them home.
How long has he waited for this day? How long has he anticipated our arrival and waited in eager expectation for our release from this world of suffering and sorrow? How long has he waited to bring us to the green pastures and still waters of our eternal home? He has waited long for this day, for He will finally say to His faithful people, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” You cannot earn your status as a sheep; it is a free gift from God, won for you by Jesus, given to you in the waters of Holy Baptism.
You who are blessed by the Father; you who have been filled with the Holy Spirit and born again in the waters of Holy Baptism; you who have been given the gift of living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and who trust in His suffering and death for your salvation; you who have fed upon the Bread of Heaven and have supped at the Table of the Lord: your wool shines whiter than snow, washed clean in the Blood of Him who died and rose again! He knows your name. He has been waiting since the beginning for you, and on that day He will rejoice to welcome you home to His Kingdom. 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 08, 2016

Sermon for 11/06/16--Feast of All Saints (observed)

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Saints by Grace

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


There's a reason why the heavenly elder, the servant of God, calls it "the Great Tribulation." The Lord does not promise that the life of a child of God will be easy. In fact, the opposite is true. If the world treated the promised Messiah like a common criminal, the world will certainly not treat those who cling to the Christ with any more compassion. And it’s not just the world which hates you. Your own flesh betrays you, taking comfort in worldly treasures and rejoicing in sin. Woe to you whose heart is not pierced and broken by the Law, for whom all the answers are easy and excuses plentiful, who has never struggled against sin or doctrine! Woe to you whose conscience is hard, who is comfortable in this living death, who has sought honor, prestige, and approval from men! Woe to you who is proud. You have your reward. Woe to us all, for the flesh is weak. Its seduction always betrays you. It never satisfies. It is always shameful. Repent. Be emptied of yourself.
Blessed are those whom the world counts cursed. The Kingdom of God is built upon suffering and blood. When you are poor, sad, meek, hungry, and thirsty, then you are His. You do not yet have your reward, but the suffering you now endure is not worthy of comparison to what you will enjoy. You will be comforted. You will inherit the earth. You will be satisfied. You will obtain mercy. You will see God. You will be called the sons of God.
But not yet. Not now. Now you are poor, sad, meek, hungry, and thirsty. You are taken advantage of for your mercy. Your purity in heart is mocked and challenged. You receive violence for peace. You are falsely accused and reviled. So was He. And as He now is, you will be, for you are Baptized. You are a Christian. You are blessed. Yours is the Kingdom of God, now and forever, delivered and bestowed in time and in eternity by grace. Now is the peace that passes all understanding. You belong to Christ. You are a holy one, a saint, by divine redemption and atonement, by prophecy and promise, by the cross and resurrection, by the victory of the Messiah, the crushing of the serpent’s head, and the defeat of Hell. The Kingdom of heaven is is a present reality. It is yours.
You live in this Kingdom of grace by faith. It cannot be seen with mortal eyes. But faith knows and trusts Jesus died and rose again, that the victory of God over Hell was won by suffering violence in meekness and poverty, by being falsely accused and betrayed, by pain and sorrow, hunger and thirst upon a cross, and finally by being overcome to the point of death in an execution reserved for the guilty but foisted upon the innocent. Faith lives what faith believes. Blessed are those, then, who are like Him: poor in spirit, sad, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Blessed are those who are suffering, falsely accused, and reviled. Blessed are those who are killed all day long for His sake, for they are like the One who lived and died without sin to make men free again. They are like the One who did not love His life to death but who instead loved His murderers so much that He laid down His life for them! The kingdom of heaven is theirs—not by works of righteousness which they have done, but according to His mercy. This is not a to-do list; all of this has been done by our Lord Jesus for you.
The Kingdom of heaven is yours. You are killed all day long for His sake. The old man in you is daily drowned in contrition and repentance. The new man emerges and arises. It seems as though you have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed, but some martyrs bleed on the inside. Indeed, the greatest heroes of the faith are the ones who go unknown and unsung by men, who are poor in spirit. They bear their burdens as silently as lambs to the slaughter. But the angels know. And so does the Lord. The reward will be given. The seats at the right and left hands of Jesus that John and James sought for pride’s sake will be filled by grace.
Rejoice and be glad. Your suffering will not last. Your tears will be wiped away. Even now the saints in glory pray for you. A great cloud of witnesses surrounds you. The saints have been delivered and enjoy their rest because Jesus rose. So will you. God be praised. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Sermon for 10/30/16: Festival of the Reformation

Sorry for the delay. Life intervened.


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Abiding in Christ

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

The struggle was over how sinners become free from sin. It is akin to the struggle going on in the Gospel for this festive occasion. In fact, if we were to do a quick scan of church history, we would find that this battle is always being waged. How does one become free from one’s sins?
Today we remember Martin Luther and all the Lutheran fathers who confessed the faith boldly in order to restore the gospel to the church. Today we stand as Lutheran Christians, following in the heritage of these Lutheran reformers.   We see it in Jesus’ words to the Pharisees as He teaches in the temple. We see it in the early church fathers and the Council of Nicaea when the factions fought over the doctrine of Jesus Christ—who He is and whether or not He was God. We see it in Martin Luther as he spoke against the selling of indulgences for the paying off of sins. We even fight that battle today. Satan and his false preachers are constantly trying to creep into the church in order to replace the truth with the imaginations of sinful hearts.
It is always a battle between Christ and Satan. This battle, while being waged in the Church, is also being waged in your life. You have to cope with your sinful urges. You also have to cope with the stark reality that you spend more time in the world than you do in the church. This means more time is spent listening to TV, radio, and popular opinions, and less hearing God’s word and keeping it. Jesus never intended for people to half-heartedly take the salvation that He won for them on the cross.  The church is the place where new lives start. The church is the place of new beginnings for sinners. 
Once you get a new beginning in the waters of Holy Baptism, you pass through the waters of Holy Baptism. The old Adam dies, and you begin to live your new life in Christ. You abide in Christ and His Word, and you are His disciples, abiding in Him forever. You make your home with Him. If you are to abide with Jesus, if you are to make your home with Jesus, then you must spend time there. Jesus must become your dwelling place. This is more than just making occasional or even regular visits. You must be in God’s word constantly. You must be in prayer without ceasing. 
So...are you just a visitor to Jesus? Or do you truly abide with Him? You must come on your knees to the altar.  Abiding in Christ first means that you confess your sins—not just once, but constantly. You need Jesus to cover up your sins.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is why Jesus came in the flesh.  Jesus came to keep the Law and then bear all sins to death on the cross—including yours. Abiding with Jesus means you dwell in His mercy. The church is a mercy place. It has to be. Where there is repentance, there is forgiveness. When your sins continue to frighten you or place doubt in your mind, Jesus brings you here, where He frees you from that terror.
Jesus beckons you with the gospel, and He continually reminds you that you have a home with Him in His Church. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden,” He says, “and I will give you rest. …For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
You cannot trust in yourself or wait until things are perfect in your life before you can abide in Jesus. Abiding in Jesus means that you place on Him all of your wretched and nasty sins, along with all of your imperfections. Jesus has paid for all of those sins. Your only hope of release from sin and the world is to abide in Christ. He will be your home. And abiding in Him, you will receive every good and gracious gift of God, including the resurrection of the body and eternal life, abiding in Him forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sermon for 10/23/16: Twenty-Second Sunday After Trinity

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Forgiven


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


It seems like Peter always knows what’s truly in the sinner’s heart, and he’s never afraid to say it. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” In other words, how long do I have to put up with my neighbor? What is the bare minimum I have to do to love my neighbor as myself? Yeah, I know that God is merciful to me, but how long must I be merciful to my brother? This is a dreadful way of thinking! We must all learn some repentance today, before we are thrown into prison forever.
That’s what Jesus says. But don’t try to make Him say that God’s forgiveness really depends on how well you forgive your neighbor, as if you could forgive your neighbor as much as Jesus forgives you. Jesus knows that God’s mercy rests entirely on the Father giving of His Son over to death, and He applies that work to you through Word and Sacraments. God has paid the penalty for sin by killing Jesus on the cross. All your debt is paid. What you owe, Christ bought. Though you deserve to be cast into prison until you’ve paid every cent, Jesus went to prison for you. He paid the whole amount of debt for every man, woman and infant: from the vilest murderer to the meekest child. Jesus rescued you from ever thinking there is anything you have to do or give or show to gain God’s heaven. So do not believe that He will withhold God’s grace until sinners makes full repayment for their sins.
But also don’t believe that He wants you to cast them off or make someone suffer a little longer before you give them forgiveness. Jesus speaks today the way a king would if, having forgiven one servant an incredible amount of money, he then finds out that that same servant turned around and had a fellow servant put in prison for a debt far less than what was owed the king.
It is the pastor’s lot to stand in the middle of these two errors. Pastors hear the sins that people confess. They watch the lives of God’s people fall apart because of sin. They hear criticisms and accusations and complaints, sometimes against the pastor himself. Still, a pastor stands before the altar and says: “I forgive you all your sins.” He hears your sins and he forgives, admitting poor sinners like themselves to Christ’s altar. By the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ in bread and wine, your sins are done away with, forgiven and forgotten. Learn from the Ministry that’s here for you! Learn from how God deals with you, and from that, learn how to be toward one another. Jesus takes your sins, dies for them, and pours out His forgiveness.
Pay attention to the Gospel that has been set before you. Has there ever been a time when a sinner does not receive absolution when he comes with repentance and confesses? If you don’t know, you have not been paying attention. Your pastor promised to forgive repentant sinners, and he can be removed from the Holy Ministry if he doesn’t forgive repentant sinners. So come and learn the Gospel of Jesus. Learn that, when you sin, the Lord will use your pastor to hear your confession and speak forgiveness. He will use your pastor’s mouth to preach to you that Jesus died so that you will live. Your sins now belong to Jesus, and He calls them all forgiven. He will feed you with His body and blood, bringing forgiveness, life, and salvation to your lips. From these, you learn to use your lips to forgive others.
Like Peter, your pastor is under orders to forgive as often as you come repenting. And if you are not yet strong enough to let go of someone’s sins, confess your weakness and your lack of faith and love. For the sake of Jesus, and in His stead, your pastor will say, “By the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” He will urge you to receive the Holy Supper. And with such forgiveness, we, who ought to pay forever, will “sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us,” no matter how many times we have to do it. 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, October 17, 2016

Sermon for 10/16/16: Twenty-First Sunday After Trinity

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Your Son Lives


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


“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” Why should we believe without signs and wonders? What good is faith if it does not deliver? The nobleman had left his dying boy to bring home a miracle worker. That took some small, burning ember of belief that Jesus could help. But the miracle worker who turned water into wine would not go with him. He would not leave Cana. It must have seemed as though the faith and hope, the desperate prayers from Capernaum to Cana, had all been in vain.
Jesus would have surely failed at the seminary. In the face of such desperation, He dares to preach the Law. He sees that faith is still lacking, still imperfect, and He will not pretend that it is good enough. He will not be winsome or polite. He will not be patient or seemingly even kind. He will not meet felt needs. He sees into the man's heart by the man's words. He rebukes. He brings faith to its knees. He makes the father come to full desperation and forget his nobility. Then He commands: “Go your way,” and all he adds is, “Your son lives.” But what does that mean to a father full of fear? Does it mean that his son lives in heaven? Does it mean he lives right now but will die within the hour? Or does it mean—dare he hope?—that the fever has left him? The nobleman is not told. Nothing is explained. No promise is made. It is a simple declaration in the present tense: “Your son lives.” That is it. Nothing more. Take that and go on your way.
Miracle of miracles: that mysterious sentence changed the nobleman. He had tried to command Jesus. He did not ask. He commanded: “Come down before my child dies.” But Jesus said: “Your son lives,” and everything changed. It was not the nobleman who believed. It was the man, the father of the son. His nobility was stripped away. The Word of Jesus changed him. He went on his way. He obeyed and believed as a simple man, stripped of pretensions, no longer glorying in his faith, no longer making demands of God, but resting in the Word of Jesus. He still doesn't know just what it means, but Jesus said it, and that is good enough. This is how faith lives between Cana and Capernaum without signs or wonders.
He was not the first parent to get a son back from the dead. The widows in Nain and Zarephath had experienced this miracle as well. The Syro-Phonecian woman got her daughter back from demons. Abraham got Isaac back from the mountain, and Issac got Joseph back from brotherly murder. God provides. He always does. But most significantly Our Father in heaven got His Son back from the dead. When it was finished, He gave up His spirit. That Son didn't have to die. He didn't have to be forsaken by the Father and feel the hatred of the mob burning in His hands and feet. He didn't have to… except that His love demanded it. Love drove Him to the cross. Love desired to drive off the fever in Capernaum and change water into wine in Cana. Love demanded death to put death to rest, so that Jesus could stand in the upper room and pronounce peace upon the Church and establish the Ministry of reconciliation. The Father lost the Son on the cross. He went to heaven and told Our Father what He told the nobleman: Your Son lives. The Sacrifice is complete. The Father's wrath has been appeased. Hell has lost its claim. God's good will has been restored.
Jesus lives. Go on your way this dying, autumn day. Take this with you: Your Son lives: not the one that has come from your our union with your spouse, but a different Son, a Son more fully yours than those temporarily placed into your care. Your Son lives—even if you are yet a child or never had a child. For this Son is your Son, but you are not His father or mother. He is the Son given to you in the waters of Holy Baptism. He is placed upon your tongue in the Holy Communion. You are His and He is yours. He is your Son, even as His Father and His Spirit are your Father and your Spirit. He has caused Himself to become your Lamb, slain for your transgressions and raised for your justification. You've come this day to modern day Cana, not where water is turned into wine, but where wine carries the Blood of Christ and makes glad the hearts of men. You've got your miracle and sign. It is the Body and Blood Jesus. Be strengthened and encouraged as you go on your way. Go back to your daily life. Your Son lives. So will your children. So will you. Jesus lives. This is enough for faith. It will see you through. 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, October 09, 2016

Sermon for 10/9/16: Twentieth Sunday After Trinity

Sorry about the sniffle sounds on the audio recording. My allergies have been very nasty this weekend.


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Heeding the King

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


There’s something that people always seem to get wrong about parables. The Kingdom of Heaven is not like a wedding banquet. It is like a King who gave a wedding banquet. It is like a Man who owns a vineyard and goes to hire laborers, a Man who sows good seed, or a King who wished to settle accounts. The Kingdom of Heaven is not found in abstract notions. It is found in a Man: our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why St. John the Baptist cried: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” when Jesus appeared. He was saying: “Repent. Jesus is here.”
Few would refuse an invitation from the President of the United States, whether or not you like him or voted for him. He is the President. If he summons, you go. You do that even though his term and power are limited. You show your respect for the Office of the President. You don’t ignore him, and you certainly don’t ignore his invitation.
But that is how men treat God. They spit on His invitation. They do not believe that Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the King. They don’t believe He has power. Satan deceives them by the humility of the invitation. They think God can't see them in the dark. They think they can lie to Him as easily as they lie to men. They'll make amends later, when it is more convenient. And God is so gentle in His invitation, so meek, that they think He can be ignored and mocked. He is so gracious that they think they can they treat His servants shamefully without consequence. Repent.
Do not think this door will always remain open. Do not think you can ignore the invitation without a cost. Do not think the Word of God belongs to you and will always be here. Ignore it, abuse it, neglect it, and it can be taken away. Look to modern day Europe and Israel. Let them be signs to you. Once they were nations teeming with the Word. Now they are nearly godless. The Good News of Jesus Christ is rarely heard and nearly forgotten. The Christians remaining in those countries suffer in ways we have so far been spared. Be warned. The King in the parable sent His army to those who refused Him. He destroyed them and burned their cities. Repent.
The King is still inviting. Your pastor has been sent here on His behalf: Come to the Wedding Feast of the Son! He wants you. It does not matter how bad you have been, what you have done, what you have said, who you have hurt, or how many times you have spat on this invitation in the past. Now is the hour of salvation. He loves you. He wants you. Rich or poor, smart or dumb, young or old: it doesn't matter. He will fill the banquet hall, and He wants you there. Everything is ready. There is nothing for you to do. Come, eat and drink a food better than that of the kings: the body and blood of Christ, laid before you in the humble means of bread and wine, hidden from those will not believe, but given and shed for you to unite you to Him and forgive all your sins. Come, eat and drink, without money and without price.
Do not worry about what to wear. Christ provides His own righteousness for you. He covers all your iniquities, all your shame and guilt. You are immaculate, without blemish, spot, or stain. His name rests upon you. You have been washed and clothed with Him. He has shown His love for you in the cross. He has taken up your flesh and made a Sacrifice of Himself to buy you back out of Hell. He has shut the devil's mouth, and there is no one left to accuse you.
Such love exists only in one place: in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for He is love. God has loved you since the beginning of time. He has called you by name. He is worthy. His invitation awaits you. Christ can do what He wants, and what He wants is to have you with Him as a His Holy Bride. The marks of His love are still upon His hands, feet, and side. He is the Lamb who was slain but who lives. He is the Voice from the burning bush who led His people out of slavery. He is still leading out of slavery and into freedom. Come, eat and drink. Be free. Be forgiven, renewed, strengthened.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a King, a Man. The Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus. And the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

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