Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sermon for 4/20/17: Funeral of + Bernadine Liefer +

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Rest for God's People
Hebrews 4:9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is from the fourth chapter of Hebrews. We consider verse nine:

There remains a rest for the people of God.


Death comes in many ways and at many different times in life. When we attempt to judge the way and time of death by our human standards and forget the will of God, sometimes it seems to come too soon. It may take an infant that has barely begun to live from the arms of its grieving mother, or a young man or woman in the prime of life, snuffing out the flame of life that seemed to burn so brightly for them. And the very purpose of their existence seems frustrated. At other times it may strike with apparent tragedy, taking a young mother from her children, or leaving a young husband without his wife. At such times, the question “Why?” haunts our thoughts and makes acceptance hard.
But no such situation meets us here this day. Yes, the family circle has been broken, and a dear mother and grandmother has been taken. But in the end, death itself came to Bernadine as another of the many blessings from the Lord she had known throughout her life. Her burden of suffering and weakness has been lifted from her. The Lord has given her a holy rest after long and painful labor. And if ever there was a person who was ready to rest—ready to be done with the pains of earthly life, ready to find the peace which comes at long last to God’s people, ready to be done with eyes that no longer saw and ears that could barely hear—it was Bernadine.
The writer of the words of our text drew on something from the past: the Old Testament Sabbath day. After God had created the world and everything in it, He rested in the seventh day; He ceased His creative activity. And in like manner, our Lord Jesus Christ completed the work of salvation for us, and then He rested. He went to the cross bearing our sins. As Peter reminds us, we have not been redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the holy, precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without spot or blemish. That blood of the Son of God cleanses from all sin. And when His suffering was complete, He said, “It is finished.” And then He rested in the grave before He rose in triumph on Easter morning. He then ascended to eternal glory, to that eternal day of heaven, where all the saints of God are gathered together. This is a rest that is to be shared, a “rest for the people of God.”
And this is where we receive our comfort, our hope—and yes, even our joy and thanksgiving this day: “There is a rest that remains for the people of God.” For those who hear the Gospel in faith, that rest comes from Jesus, who went to His rest after laboring for the salvation of the world. And just as Jesus said, “It is finished,” so now the work has ended for Bernadine; she has joined the saints at rest. Of those saints, Scripture says: These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
We do not grieve as those who have no hope. We do not begrudge Bernadine the fulfillment of God’s promise to her, the hope in Jesus Christ that so filled her life. The circumstances of death are seldom pleasant, but the fulfillment of God’s promise is pleasant. That promise rises above sin and death. And in this we find our comfort, joy, and thanksgiving. The eternal Sabbath day is a day of rest, and that rest is in Christ. After the suffering that often makes up the end of our days, we receive rest in Christ.
And so it is that we can truly take to heart those words of St. Paul: “Where , O Death, is Your Sting? O Grave, where is Your victory?” For Bernadine, the sting of death is gone, and the grave has been undone by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the victory of eternal life over death—a victory we rejoiced to celebrate this very week. God grant you comfort and hope from this. As we rejoice that Bernadine now rests from her labors without fear, without suffering or tears, we rejoice all the more in Jesus and His salvation—a fully-realized joy for Bernadine who now sees Him face to face, and the bright future for you who walk as yet by faith. He will comfort you in the days ahead, and, just as He has done for our beloved Bernadine, He will grant you that holy rest in His time. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
           
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sermon for 4/16/17: Resurrection of Our Lord

Sorry for the delay. I've been dealing with personal illness all week.

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Victory


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


The earth shook. The angel rolled away the stone. The seal is broken. The tomb is empty. Death is defeated. The evil one is cast down. The holy angels rejoice. Christ is risen from the dead! He has died for our sins and rose again for our justification. The battle is done. God has won.
Why does not all the world rejoice at the defeat of death, at the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Are there men so cold as to stay in bed this morning?
The ladies went into the tomb. They found the empty grave clothes, a blood stained shroud, and an angel with a promise: “He is not here. He is risen.” He also told them, “Fear not.” But they were afraid. When Mary Magdalene came back, she failed to recognize the Lord. She thought He was a gardener. She wept as though Jesus was dead and His body desecrated. The same is true of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Thomas in the upper room, those other ten who locked the doors: they were all afraid.
Jesus is risen. The tomb is empty. Some had seen Him; others had seen the empty shelf where His Body had been and heard an angel proclaim the Good News. But, still, they were afraid. What was it that those first witnesses of the Resurrection feared? Did they think that they would be held accountable for their Friday betrayals and cowardice, for denying Him or turning away? Did they know that it was their fault that Jesus suffered so and died? Were they afraid that He was coming for revenge?
You who live in fear: repent. There is no end of such things for which you should be afraid, according to the flesh. What if your spouse or your friends knew your secret thoughts and fantasies? What if your vain ambitions, your work failures, your lies, and all your sins were exposed? Repent…but do not be afraid. It was His heart and will to suffer, die, and rise again to free you from fear and death, from sin and Hell. He wanted to buy you back and set you free.
He rose not for vengeance but for mercy! He is the Alpha and the Omega. This is the way He has always been. Behold, I tell you a mystery. You were once dead. You were conceived in sin. You were born in death. You lived in fear and as an enemy of God. But by His grace, you were brought to life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God’s Holy Name and promise were placed upon you. You were joined to His resurrection. Now you are not dead. You are Baptized. You are filled with hope, awaiting the fulfillment of the promise and the return of Jesus Christ. And there is no stopping your heartfelt song of praise, even as His Body and His Blood are place within you, even as He declares you righteous from His grace.
The angelic prophecy made in the fields of Bethlehem has come true: “Peace on earth!” Peace has been won through the violence He endured on the cross. Peace is bestowed in His Body and Blood, by the power of His risen Word. You may depart this day in peace, for you are not God’s enemy. Your guilt has been covered. Your sins have been removed. There is no one to accuse you. Jesus loves and forgives you.
Jesus is the Firstfruits of them that sleep, the Firstborn out of death. He is the Resurrection and the Life, the Redeemer who buys back His wayward children with His blood. He is merciful, gracious, steadfast and loving. His humiliation is ended. Death is dead. Jesus is not. He lives. He is risen. And, as always, He bestows that hard won victory upon you without cost or price. He did it all for you. He gives it all to you. He applied that victory to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He feeds it to you in the Holy Supper. You have nothing to fear. He lives, and He loves you. Rejoice. Be at peace. Do not be afraid. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 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, April 09, 2017

Sermon for 4/9/17: Palm Sunday and Confirmation

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Sorrow


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


Don’t feel sorry for Jesus. It’s true that you can see in your mind’s eye the blood-lust of the soldiers. Your ears hear the jeers of the frenzied mob. Your heart feels the lurking of the devil. You can imagine all too well the grief of Mary, the horror of the scourging, the cruelty of the crowd, and the torture of the stakes driven into His hands and feet. Even so, don’t feel sorry for Jesus. After all, He doesn’t suffer anything against His will. Yes, He begged His Father to take this cup from Him if possible. Nevertheless, He submitted to His Father’s will. He drank down the cup of your sin and death, the cup of the full fury of the Father’s wrath. He drained it.
When you look at Our Lord Jesus suffering, as Luther suggests, “perceive and understand not only what He suffered, but also how it was His heart and will to suffer. For whoever looks on Christ’s sufferings without seeing His heart and will must be filled with fear rather than joy. But if you can truly see His heart and will in it, then it gives you true comfort, trust and joy in Christ.”
So no, do not feel sorry for Jesus. Or, as Jesus Himself says, “Don’t weep for Me. Weep for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus doesn’t need your sympathy or your weeping. The sorrow He requires of you is your repentance, your contrition and faith. He desires your confession that He endures His passion for you. This is your salvation, your hope, your joy, your life. Take to heart and always recall that it is accomplished for you.
Our Lord Jesus was the defenseless, forsaken Lamb, led to slaughter. He is the sacrificial Victim. He who was sinless is made to be Sin for the sake of sinners. Because of that, He becomes your Savior. Because of this Passion, He is your deliverance from slavery to sin, from the death-grip of Satan, from the gaping maw of the hell. He has not done this for His sake. Rather, “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” He has not done this to prove His righteousness, but to reconcile you to God.
How is that reconciliation accomplished? Jesus is your Passover Lamb. He who is beaten and bloodied; He who goes to His death—He is your food and drink. He is not killed to gain your sympathy; our Lord suffers and dies so that you might eat Him and live. This Passover Lamb is not killed simply to show perfect surrender or true obedience. This Paschal Lamb of God is killed to take away the sin of the world: to have His blood splashed on the door, to have His flesh eaten by all in the house.
Behold, this is the house of God, and the watered blood of the Paschal Lamb of God now marks the door of your heart and mind in Holy Baptism. And the One who was sacrificed for the sins of all—His body is given into death for you to eat; His blood is shed for you to drink. And in this food you receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. My dear confirmands, this is why we’ve spent the last two years learning about God’s gifts. This is how Our Lord Jesus makes all things new: Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, sits at the eternal wedding feast with the angels, the archangels, the saints and martyrs, the blessed dead, and all the company of heaven.
And what does that holy assembly say? What song do we share with them? “Holy! Holy! Holy Lord, God of Sabaoth! Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” For “worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” That is our song today, and it is the song of all the faithful as we partake in the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. 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, April 03, 2017

Sermon for 4/3/17: Funeral of Donald Beckman

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Comfort


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


It’s hard to imagine a time where we might feel a greater sense of sorrow than when someone we love passes away. At such a time, we reflect on the happy memories, the lessons learned and shared, and the blessings God has given us through our departed loved one. And in doing so, we hope to ease the sadness and sorrow we feel. I was fortunate to share in that experience on Friday when Don’s wife, mother, kids and their spouses, and grandchildren gathered around the table in the very room where Don’s earthly life ended. As relatives, as friends, we may comfort each other and share our sorrow, and in doing so we might ease the sense of loss we feel. This is a blessing of God; we call it the communion of saints.
But in addition to that comfort which friends and family members seek to share with you, we also consider that comfort which we receive from our Lord. This comfort goes above and beyond anything we might receive from our fellow man. And it is this divine comfort which it is my privilege and pleasure to deliver to you this day.
The Bible tells us that death is the punishment for our sins; death is all we deserve. We see that demonstrated all too clearly in the coffin before us. Scripture teaches us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Only the sinless can enter into eternal life. Our sin bars the gates through which we would enter the kingdom of heaven. It should be impossible that anyone would enter into everlasting life—not Don, not any of us. If that is our last thought on the matter, there would certainly be no comfort.
But that is not God’s last word. In our text, our Lord tells us that there will be no more death. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” God has made us perfect in the blood of Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus have restored to us the righteousness which was ours in creation. Jesus did not go through suffering and death for His own sake; our Lord shed His holy, innocent blood, and He died that sinless death, so that we would be saved from the power of death, so that, even though we die, death will not have the victory. We will not die the eternal death we deserve because of sin, for our Lord has taken that sin from us. He has carried that sin to the cross, and He has left that sin buried in His otherwise empty tomb. He has applied that work to us, marking us as His own, marking us as forgiven children of God in the waters of Holy Baptism. As St. Paul tells us, God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” This is God’s promise to you. All those who believe that Jesus died for the sake of their forgiveness will have eternal life.
And to all those who believe this, God gives comfort. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” God has taken away from Don the physical pain and suffering he experienced especially in the last decade of his life. God has taken away Don’s grief in losing a father, a brother, and a son, and what’s more, our Lord has reunited them in a rest that will last forever. This is already a reality for Don, and it is both a present reality and a promise for your future too. Even now He brings you comfort in His Word. He is wiping away your tears of sorrow, so that you do not grieve as do those who have no hope. He has prepared a place for you in the Kingdom, and that eternal reunion with your departed loved ones awaits you, as well. We will stand together before the throne of God forever, praising Him for His marvelous work. 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, April 02, 2017

Sermon for 4/2/17: Fifth Sunday in Lent

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“I Am”


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


Once again Jesus finds Himself at odds with the Jews. They take their bloodline connection to the patriarch Abraham very seriously. The problem they have with the words our Lord speaks to them is not His claim to be eternal. After all, only a lunatic would claim to be older than Abraham, their famous ancestor who had lived centuries before them. They could dismiss that. And if Jesus was only referencing how old He was, He probably would have said something like, “Before Abraham was, I was.” But the words that Jesus uses, confess something so full of the Gospel that the Jews pick up stones to kill Him for saying it.
When Moses was standing before the burning bush in Exodus, he asked the name of God. And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” So when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” He is not only claiming to be older than Abraham; He is also claiming to be the Lord God Himself! When Jesus says, “I AM,” it means that He is the God that walked in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden. It means that He is the God who spoke from the burning bush. It means that He is the God who brought the children of Israel out of the bondage in Egypt. He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is the God of the Old Testament. And the power of that identity, and what that says about Jesus, is enough to drive the Jews into a rage.
When Judas and the detachment of troops came to seize Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked them whom they were seeking. The Scriptures say: “They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, ‘I am,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” When they came to seize Him, He identified Himself as God, and they fell to the ground. That’s what we sinners do before God in His glory: we fall!
Adam and Eve reacted the same way in the Garden, once they had fallen into sin. They knew that they no longer were worthy to be in the presence of the One True God. They heard God walking in the Garden, and they hid themselves. That’s the way we sinners operate. Sin does not like to be seen, and sinners do not like to have attention drawn to their sin. When we do something sinful, we do our best to make sure no one is around. And when we think we’re in trouble, we find a hiding spot. Think of how people in the Bible react when an angel appears to them. They fall on their faces in fear. The angels must comfort them: “Fear not.” Only then can they give their message. The power of God and His glory overwhelm the sinner. Either we cower in repentant fear, or we strike out in unrepentant anger.
But just as the angels comforted those who are brought to their knees by the reflected glory of God; just as the Lord comforted Adam and Eve with the comfort of the promise of the Savior; in the same way our Lord lifts us from our fear with the forgiveness of sins. This is our Lord Jesus, the great I AM, who led the children of Israel from captivity to the Promised Land, from the shadow of death to the fullness of life. And He is the One whose day Abraham was glad to see—and whose day this is. And so He cares for you by bringing you to this day. For this is the Lord’s Day, where He gives Himself to you. This is the day you taste Life so that you might never see death, but only the fullness of Life in God. This is the day He feeds you with His Body and Blood, so that you will stand before Him one day, face to face, in your renewed and glorified flesh. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sermon for 3/26/17: Fourth Sunday in Lent

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"The Passover Is Near"


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


St. John wrote, “The Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. As we continue our journey to the cross, that statement provides focus for us. The true focus, today and every day, always ought to be on Our Lord and what He has in store for us: the great feast and celebration of His mercy. And the wait will not be long. This feast of Our Lord’s mercy and compassion and kindness is coming soon. Not too much longer, and then our joy will be full and free. It’s soon, and very soon.
But it’s not just Easter. St John is pointing us far beyond a particular Passover and even beyond this year’s Easter. St John is urging us to fix our hearts and minds on the marriage feast of the Lamb in the kingdom which has no end. To be sure, it’s present now, here in this place. Even today we are with the Lord in Paradise, but we are not able to experience it yet with all our senses engaged. The Old Adam within us dulls our vision and stops our ears to what is true and real right now. It is a wonderful reality that we stand even now in the Lord’s Kingdom and feast at His table, joining our departed loved ones and the angelic host. But we barely believe it because we can’t see it. St John knew this. And so he wrote, “The Passover is near.” He urges us to keep pushing forward until that day when the cloud is lifted and we know as fully as we are known, until we see as clearly as we are seen.
But until that day, as we journey first to the cross, we fast. We abstain—not just from foods, but also from the things the world insists are vital. We step back from the things that gratify our passions and perversions, from the things that we are sure make for the good life, from the things that lead us down the wrong path. But most of all, we fast and abstain because we’ve been enticed by Our Lord to follow in His footsteps, in the way that leads to everlasting life. And Our Lord’s footsteps mark a path that sets our hearts and minds, our stomachs and desires, not on the things of this earth, but on the heavenly food that He so earnestly, so lovingly, so freely provides us.
But then, here comes the devil in concert with the society surrounding us. They play on our hunger. They urge us to listen with our doubts, not our ears. And so, at their prodding we ask, “Can God provide food for us here in the wilderness? Can He give us bread? Can He provide meat for His people?” That’s what the children of Israel asked in the wilderness. And that’s what’s behind Philip’s question when he says, “Where shall we buy bread that these may eat?” Notice the unbelief in this question. Notice the fear. Remember Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment, and ask yourself: Do I really fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Do I trust God to provide my daily bread?
The answer Our Lord gives to our cynical, distrustful, prideful question is to feed us. And the food is His holy Body, which is the Bread which came down from heaven so that we might eat of it and live. And the food is the heavenly manna, laid out on this altar, so that whoever eats of it in true faith has everlasting life and will be raised up on the Last Day. With that Bread of Life, we move forward again. We no longer gaze longingly at the past. We no longer focus merely on the present. We live in the Day of the Lord. That Day is the marriage feast of the Lamb. And now we live in that Day—not yet fully, but by faith. And since that Day is both now and near, you no longer need to live as if death is running your life. You no longer need to live only for whatever you can get out of life. Life Himself is here, and He gives you all you need. He gives you the Bread of Heaven, which is the ultimate answer to all your prayers. 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, March 19, 2017

Sermon for 3/19/17: Third Sunday in Lent

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The Stronger Man


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


Satan is strong. Jesus says so here Himself. Jesus calls this Beelzebub a “strong man.” You have seen how strong he is throughout Scripture: how he deceived Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; how he turned the life of Job into a living hell, taking the lives of his children and servants, destroying everything he owned; how he uses his minions to possess bodies and minds, stealing the physical abilities and sanity of ordinary people; how he sought to tempt even Jesus into abandoning His work of salvation for worldly fame and goods. On your own, you are no match for the devil. Satan is the father of lies, and, as Luther wrote in his hymn, “On earth is not his equal.”
St. Luke in his Gospel is the only writer to mention that, “when the devil had finished, he left [Jesus] until an opportune time.” The “strong man” is persistent. He tried three times in the wilderness temptation to turn Jesus from His journey to the cross. Many times in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus encounters Satan’s “opportune time.” He encounters demons and their awful work. Each time, Jesus casts them out and silences their cries. But Satan doesn’t give up. He keeps on tempting and testing Jesus.
And if he seeks to overcome our Lord, he certainly won’t give God’s children a pass. Satan is hard at work in your life, too. Just as he deceived our first parents in Eden’s paradise, he seeks to deceive you. His tools are deadly. He uses the fashions of the world to tell you it’s no big deal to view your neighbors as eye candy. He uses the leaders of our nation to tell you that it’s okay to murder the unborn in the name of convenience, to tell you it’s okay to give into depraved lusts. He uses even those who call themselves Christian preachers to tell you it’s okay to give in to your sins, that it’s okay to ignore those things in God’s Word which you find uncomfortable. And Satan’s temptations are appealing; if they weren’t, we wouldn’t find them tempting. And they are tempting—so much so that we give in to his lies and take what the Old Adam within us desires.
So no, you are no match for him on your own. But Christ is. He is the Stronger Man! Jesus overcame the evil one in the wilderness through the Word of God. He cast out demons and undid their afflictions. And finally, Satan saw his most “opportune time” arrive at the end of Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus is nailed to the Cross, and the voices of those around Him become the mouthpieces of Satan: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God!” “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” Yes, there at Calvary, Satan saw his most opportune time to tempt Jesus to abandon His divine mission of salvation. But Jesus stayed the course for you. Jesus destroyed death itself by His death. And when He destroyed death and the devil’s power, He destroyed your sins as well. Now nothing can separate you from Jesus—absolutely nothing. You were united with Him in his death when you were baptized, when the Old Adam within you was drowned. At your baptism, you were asked: “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” And you, probably with someone speaking for you, replied: “I do.” There was no neutral ground there.
Your soul was once captive, bound for Satan’s kingdom. You were dead in your sins and an enemy of God. But through your Baptism, the Lord Jesus snatched you away. The Stronger Man, Jesus, plundered the strong man’s house, the devil’s kingdom of hell, and took you as His prize. And He isn’t giving you back. You belong to Christ 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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sermon for 3/12/17: Second Sunday in Lent

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Dogs, Children, and the Master Who Hears


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


This morning we prayed, Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses.” It might seem at times as if our Lord has forgotten us in the midst of our trials. We certainly believe Him capable of such forgetfulness. “Where is God in my trouble?” “Does He not see me in my pain?” “Does He not hear my prayers?” It’s odd that we ask God to remember us when we are the ones who forget. That awful trait belongs solely to us. When times are good, we think that it all comes from our own effort. When times are tough, we blame God for our troubles. Our sinful flesh is so focused on itself that it constantly forgets its Lord and Master.
And the devil certainly doesn’t help. The evil one is always trying to implant in us a gut-clenching doubt and a trembling fear. “Why would God listen to you?” he says. “You are no Christian! Your faith is miserable and weak! You have to be worthy before God will help you. Why do you bother Him with your prayers? Can’t you see that you are not worthy of His attention?” The devil afflicts us constantly with this stuff.       
The Canaanite woman’s daughter was plagued by the devil. The woman comes to Jesus for help. She had heard of Him and has come to believe that He is the Messiah. She cries out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” She acknowledges that Jesus is true God, the Messiah promised of old. Yet, she is a Gentile, not part of the ancient people of God, not included in the old covenant. Still, she pleads, “Have mercy on me!” But our Lord seems to ignore her. He answers her not a word. This woman is shameless. She cries out loud in public, “Lord, help me!” She falls down at His feet and clings to Him. She worships her God and pleads with Him, “Lord, help me!”
The Lord finally speaks to her: “It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs.” The banquet is not meant for you. You are a dog not fit for the banquet. It sounds like a refusal, but the woman hears an opening. “I know the banquet is meant for the father and his children. Even so, my Lord and my God, even your dogs are fed with the scraps!” That little bit will be enough. What a great and tenacious faith is displayed here! The woman clings to Christ when all seems dark and a failure. She has only a Word to cling to: Jesus helps sinners. So she persists in her prayer though the devil is shouting in her ear, “You’re not worthy!”       
My brothers and sisters in Christ, faith does not cling to the things perceived by the senses. Faith has only the Word, the promises of God. Faith clings to the promise of mercy even when the senses lose hope. As it was with this woman, so it is with you. We are Gentiles and sinners, not worthy for the things for which we ask. We pray, and the answer seems to be a refusal. His deliverance seems to us to be slow. He does not act when we think He should act. Rather, He acts when it is it is good for us. 
Gentiles, sinners that we are, we are the baptized child of God. We are no longer merely dogs, waiting for a scrap. We are the true children of Israel. We are children of God who bear the name of our Father upon our foreheads. He has brought us to His table to eat and drink. He has placed us at His right hand where He hears and answers our prayers. We are true children of Israel, walking by faith and not by sight. The Lord always hears, and the Lord always—always—answers. Our Lord tells us, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” He is faithful and true to His Word. And if the world considers us to be dogs, then so be it, for our faithful Master will always take care of us. 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, March 11, 2017

Sermon for 3/5/17: First Sunday in Lent

Sorry for the delay. Life intervened.

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“The Just Shall Live by Faith”

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


To live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is to live by faith. Faith is a painful and awkward thing. It is not at home in our flesh, for our flesh is weak. It wants its own way. It wants satisfaction. We like things that we think are strong. Our flesh prefers bread for our bellies to the Words of God’s mouth. But “the just shall live by faith.” It is in weakness that God’s strength is made perfect.
“The just shall live by faith,” but it will hurt every step of the way. On this side of glory, the just struggle with the old Adam. They are still attacked by the devil. Satan dislikes nothing so much as faith. His temptations lead us to the things he thinks are concrete: works and success; fame—things that can be measured, seen, heard, or felt. Satan would have us live by reason, experience, or even feelings—anything but faith. But “the just shall live by faith”…whether they like it or not.
Faith wants us to live now as we will live forever: by the Word of God, without concern for food or any bodily needs, and certainly without sin. On this side of glory, where Christ is, there the devil is also. That’s why Luther says, “Where God builds a Church, the devil builds a chapel.” Where the Lord gives faith, the devil does his most ardent work. That is why you face so many temptations. That is why the prophets were persecuted and the apostles were martyred; this is why Jesus was killed; this is why the world hates you. Satan doesn’t attack those he owns.
Satan has had the entire history of man to practice his craft. Logic, reason, works, tradition, history, and experience are of no help on their own. Only Christ, the Word of God made flesh, can come to our aid. Satan’s wisdom is thwarted by the statement, “The just shall live by faith.” God is for us in Jesus Christ, fighting the battle. The devil seeks to conquer by violence and threat. Christ defeats Him by submitting to violence. Satan’s power is not unlimited; but until the last day he is a formidable enemy. He attacks on every side. But Christ’s power is unlimited. It is wider than the world and longer than time. 
In Christ have an Advocate with the Father, a Hero and Champion who has destroyed your enemies. He has taken up your flesh, suffered for your transgressions, and has died and risen to redeem your soul. He gives you His Name. He places His Spirit upon you. He was tempted in every way, but He did not fail. He has even believed for you. He alone lived by faith. For your sake, He overcame the devil’s lies with His own Word.
When His trials in the desert had ended, angels ministered to Our Lord. In the same way they also minister to you.  That is not to say you won’t be tempted or suffer. God forgets our sins and casts them into the deepest part of the sea, removing them as far as the East is from the West. Still, our fallen minds and bodies remember. They still crave forbidden things. And our fallen spirits are timid. They are afraid to believe. But God does not break promises. His angels protect you and pray for you.
Stop trying to figure it out. Don't analyze it. Let God do all the work, even the thinking. Jesus died on purpose. He also rose again. He knows what He is doing. He has overcome all these things for you. You are forgiven, made clean, pure, holy, and righteous in these baptismal waters, and there you are given the faith by which the just live. This is true whether you feel it or not, whether or not it makes sense. Jesus died and rose. But He didn't just die and rise again. He died and rose again for you. “The just shall live by faith” in this death and resurrection. And that faith is our Lord’s gift to 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.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

HYMN: The Son of God, Triumphant

Life has kept me pretty busy the past few months. I've done some prep work for hymn writing, but I haven't really had the time to write anything other than sermons, newsletter articles, and bible studies for my parish. (Oh, and I haven't forgotten about posting sermons. I'll get to them soon, I promise.) Anyway, during the circuit pastors meeting yesterday--yeah, I know, I'm a lousy circuit visitor--this idea came into my head for an Ascension hymn. The hymn "A Great and Mighty Wonder" has this line: "The Word becomes incarnate/ And yet remains on high." That gave me the idea of how the Ascension responds to that: Christ ascends on high, and yet He does not leave us. This text is the result. Feedback is love, especially when it comes to the last line of verse 4. It originally read, "Redeemed are ushered in," which leaves off the necessary "the" at the start of the line. "The saints," on the other hand, might give the impression that only the big saints--Apostles, martyrs, etc.--are included.




The Son of God, Triumphant

1. The Son of God, triumphant,
Ascends to God’s right hand
With hymns of praise from angels
And all the heavn’ly band.
            (refrain) All hail, ascended King!
O Christ, enthroned in splendor,
Your glory do we sing.

2. The Word ascends to heaven
And yet He still is here,
For in the Holy Supper
He draws the sinner near. (refrain)

3. He stands before the Father
And for us intercedes.
The wounds of Christ defend us;
His blood our pardon pleads. (refrain)

4. Through Christ the gate of heaven,
Which once was barred by sin,
To man has now been opened.
The saints are ushered in. (refrain)

5. “We praise you, holy Brother,”
His ransomed people cry,
For in His own ascension
He raised our nature high. (refrain)

6. The Lord in all His glory
Shall come again to reign,
And we, with eyes uplifted,
Shall never wait in vain. (refrain)


© 2017 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
76 76 6 76
Tune: ES IST EIN ROS (Isorhythmic) (LSB 383)
Occasion: The Ascension of Our Lord

 



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sermon for 2/26/17: Quinquagesima

Sorry for the delay. Life intervened.

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Mercy on the Road to Jerusalem

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


Last week, we came to know that, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, only the deaf will be able to hear. This week, the blind man sees what the Twelve cannot see. He sees that everything depends on the mercy of God. He sees that, whatever the Lord does—even the things that seem absurd to us, even the most painful things, even the things that feel so unmerciful—all things work together for good to those who love Him and hold to His mercy. And so the blind man sits by the road begging for Jesus, the Son of David, to have mercy on him.
His plea is the Church’s plea. His prayer is our prayer. So we join the blind man when we cry out at the beginning of the Divine Service, “Lord, have mercy!” We are headed to the grave and feel the weight of sin and death. Yet it’s not just our prayer. The saints of old and, indeed, the whole heavenly host, also sing the same prayer. After all, the Lord’s mercy brought the world and all life into existence. The Lord’s mercy sustains us amidst joys and sorrows. The Lord’s mercy gives us hope for the fullness of heaven. The Lord’s mercy is not simply His kindness, His favor, His goodwill and affection, for the Lord in mercy wills to have us live in Him with an intimacy that is exceeded only by the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. In a word, the Lord’s mercy is communion—Him living within us, making His home in us, living His life through us, and, in turn, His creation made from the dust of His earth lives and dwells in Him.
So what is the blind man begging for? He wants to see—but not that he might have earthly sight. He wants to see and know that this Lord Jesus is truly the Father’s well-beloved Son who has come into the world to restore that intimacy and communion with God that was broken and severed by Adam. The blind man doesn’t just want to see so he can look at disease and suffering and death. The blind man wants to see Jesus. So he doesn’t first say, “Lord, let me see. Lord, heal me.” That might be our selfish prayer. But instead, the blind man cries out, “Lord, have mercy.” Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. Restore me to communion with You and Your Father.
For the blind man, that communion with God begins with Jesus opening his eyes. How can Our Lord restore our relationship with Him if He does not also restore us according to His original design? How can He restore our souls if He does not also renew our bodies? And how can He re-establish our participation in His holiness if He does not also release us from our bondage to sin and death? So He gives the blind man back His sight as a sign of what will be. He also heals the lame, cleanses lepers, gives hearing to the deaf, raises the dead, and preaches the Gospel to the poor—and all as a sign that His mercy reverses the evil and chaos that Satan planted.
That reversal doesn’t take place, however, with a few miracles. Where the curse is overturned and death undone; where the full restoration begins; where the prayers of heaven and earth are answered; where the Lord’s mercy is fully seen—this happens when the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners, when He is mocked and spit upon, when He is scourged and killed by them, and then rises on the third day. That Passion of the Christ is the fullness and gift of the Lord’s mercy. And the body and blood of that sacrificed and resurrected Jesus, given from the altar, is the restoration of the communion which our Father created us to have with Him.
So it is necessary for the Son of Man to go up to Jerusalem—but not to put a dramatic finishing touch on His life, nor merely to give an example of self-sacrifice and unselfish love. It is necessary to accomplish the Lord’s mercy with such finality that the devil and all hell cannot undo it. Our Lord Jesus does not shrink away. He set His face toward Jerusalem. And we go with Him, our eyes opened to see our Savior as He delivers true mercy to us. 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, February 19, 2017

Sermon for 2/19/17: Sexagesima

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Ears to Hear


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


            “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” What an odd thing to say. After all, most people have ears, and most people who have ears are able to hear. But “ears to hear” aren’t made of cartilage and skin. “Ears to hear” only hear when they have been stopped to the babbling of the world. In the Kingdom of God, only the deaf can hear. In the Kingdom of God, only the blind can see. In the Kingdom of God, only the fool will believe.
            God hides Himself in parables. Simple words conceal God’s message from men too proud to see that He doesn’t work the way they work. But that is precisely the point: God is not like us. This is baffling to the worldly wise. He sows His seed in foolish, impossible places, with no thought of gain or loss, only conscious that the seed is good and men are in need. He sows on the trodden path, the rocky patch, the thorny ground, into the deaf ear, the blind eye, and the hard heart. He sows where no drunken farmer in his darkest hour ever sowed. 
            Most is lost. Most is trampled, snatched, withered, or choked. Most is wasted. This Sower is more inefficient than the government! But still the Sower sows. It’s His seed to sow as He sees fit. He never counts the cost. He does not sow for profit. He does not sow for fame, honor, or prestige. He sows because men are in need. He sows because He is love. He sows in ways that men think foolish, for He provides, gives, and loves for free.
            The seed finds the earth—miserable, scorched, dry, rocky ground though it be. Miraculously some grows! Some transforms that trodden, rocky, thorny place into soil rich enough to bear a crop a hundredfold! It grew to life in dark corners where men had given up and moved on. It bestowed wisdom in the midst of foolishness. Always it bears a crop—just not where men think it ought. For this Kingdom is not ruled in the ways of men. It is a Kingdom of grace, bestowed without thought to cost or fear of failure, motivated by perfect love. The Seed, the Holy Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, never returns to the Father void. He completes the good work that He was sent to do: He saves the world. He forgives sins. He loves men. He sows. And what He sows is the power of God for salvation. And though it seems wasted, what He sows changes lives. He never leaves things just as He found them. It is the Word, the creative force of God Himself.
            This same Word called forth a Messiah into Mary’s womb through her ear. This same Word called forth a water of renewal and regeneration in John’s timid washing of the Christ. All who are joined to Him in those burial waters are His sons in whom He is well-pleased. Their sins wash off of them and onto Him, and He raises them up again to life. This same Word calls forth His true body and blood out of ordinary bread and wine. His people eat and drink and proclaim His death until He comes again. This same Word calls forth a holy nation from sinful people. You worship one Lord, and you know that, whatever the future brings, this is not your home.
            You are the hundredfold harvest of grace. He transformed you by His Word, watered you with His Blood, sheltered you in His love so that you grow and live. By the power of His unfailing Word, you are His own, His beloved, His precious, spotless Bride. He has placed His Word into you. And by that Word you live. Soon He will return to bring the harvest home, to complete what He has begun in you. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 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, February 12, 2017

Sermon for 2/12/17: Septuagesima

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The King and His Kingdom


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


I’ve said this before, but the Kingdom of heaven is always like a person. It is not like the Roman Empire, the city states of Greece, or even the United States. It is not at all like the kingdoms of men. It is not like any group or organization. The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner. It is like a man, a person. That is because it is the Man, Jesus Christ.
The Man Jesus, body and soul, is the King and the Kingdom. He is no mere man, for He is also God. He does not rule in the ways of men. He neither commits violence nor threatens violence. Nor is He King by popular acclaim or vote. He has not seized the throne in any way. He just is. He has the right to rule anyway He chooses. But He chooses to rule through generosity, like a landowner who overpays, who gives away the Kingdom to greedy souls that hate Him and seek His destruction, to those who betray and forget Him. He bears the heat of the day, the burdens of all humanity, on His outstretched arms. He is thirsty, hungry, and dying so that men would be spared the eternal damnation they had earned. He defeats the devil and breaks you out of Hell. He declares you innocent and adopts you as His.
It is hard for us to imagine because we know what we are like, and we are not like that. Our kingdoms are not of grace. Our wisdom states: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Our wisdom states, “You get what you pay for.” Mothers always remind their children, “Life is not fair.” Yeah, that helps! So much for the wisdom of men.
The Truth is that Life is not fair—but not in the way that your mother meant it. He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life is not fair. He is driven by a Justice that exceeds man’s limitations and imagination. He is not fair in His punishments or chastisements. Instead, He is merciful and kind. He bears the burdens for men in Himself. For even though it isn’t fair, even though we should pay for our sins and die the death we’ve deserved, He has done it for us, in our place, as our perfect and holy Substitute. It isn’t fair. But it is generous and wonderful. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace and reversals. The last are first. Those without right to demand, those without resources or hope, eat and drink without money or cost. You who were dead are made alive.
We’d like to end there, but the parable keeps going. After all, the Kingdom of heaven exists in this world, and this world is hostile. The grace of God is always rejected by sinful men. Fallen men want to tell God how to dole out His goods. The landowner’s final verdict is a sad one: “Take what is yours and go your way.” What belongs to us by nature? Death. What is our way when we act according to our nature? Hell. Repent. For we have dared to complain that the generosity and grace of God is not good enough, not generous enough. We have dared to challenge the purity of God’s motives. We have blamed Him for wars and famines and disease and heartache in our world. We have complained against Him as though we deserved more. We’ve hid our light under a bushel. God forbid we should be so vain as to reject the gifts of God as not enough!
The hour is now. Salvation is upon us. For a time you will suffer. Your heart will grow weary. You will be attacked by temptations of doubt and fear. But nothing will overcome you. The Lord Jesus has claimed you. He works in own way and time but always for your good. It is already the eleventh hour. Soon you shall be relieved at last of the world, the devil, and your old sinful nature. For Jesus Christ did not die in vain. He does not lie. He has not forgotten you. He loves you and forgives you. Easter is coming. The dead, even you, will rise again. The Kingdom of God belongs to 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.