Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sermon for 9/3/17: Twelfth Sunday After Trinity

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A New Creation

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

Mark is the only Gospel that records for us the details of Jesus’ encounter with this deaf man, this man whose friends brought him forth so that Jesus could give Him a blessing. And what a blessing he received! Jesus spoke the Aramaic word, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” And the ear in which Jesus had placed His finger was opened! He spoke the Word, and His Word made it happen! What a blessing that deaf man received from Jesus! And you receive the same blessing from Jesus today!
That word, “Ephphatha,” is the same Word that Jesus speaks today to each and every one of us. We are all born with the inability to hear the Word of God. When God created man, man had perfect hearing, of course; Adam and Eve listened to every Word from God with loving obedience and carried out God’s commands perfectly. But Satan got Eve and then Adam to listen to his words rather than God’s Word.
Only God’s Word has the power to create. Any other word is a destructive word. Think about the destruction our ungodly words of gossip cause, destroying good reputations, changing the way you look at people. Think about the damage we cause when we speak a word of judgment against another person, breaking that person’s trust in us, radically altering that relationship. And just as destructive was Satan’s word of deceit in the ears of Adam and Eve. The devil’s false doctrine left us completely deaf to God’s Word, and the man unable to hear God’s Word about his sinful condition is also not aware of sin’s wages.
But thanks be to God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. “He has given me my body and soul, my eyes, ears and all my members…and still preserves them.” He who created our ears knows how to re-create those ears and restore our ability to hear His Word. The Son of God, who participated with the Father and the Spirit to create of the world, came into the world in the flesh of man to re-create man’s fallen flesh. Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh, who came to live life fully by the Word of God for all, who came to suffer the full consequences of our inability to hear and obey God’s Word, suffering the sinner’s death and the sinner’s Hell for us. In doing all of this, the Creator once again was at work, restoring His creation by the forgiveness of our sins in Christ Jesus. By His life and death and resurrection from the dead for us, our salvation is complete. Nothing more needs to be done for our salvation; Jesus has done it all for us!
That Word of Jesus Christ has come to us today. It comes to us in the Word that is joined to the water of Holy Baptism, entering our ears, washing away everything that had been blocking them from hearing His gracious Word. The Word of Jesus comes to us, joined to the bread and wine at the Lord’s Table to be the very Body and Blood of the Christ Himself, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
The Word of God with all its creative power comes to us through the Words of Holy Scripture. It creates in us new life—a new life of faith for all of our days. In this new life we hear God‘s Word with loving obedience, carrying out His commands by His Holy Spirit. Having been washed in Christ’s blood, we are a new creation. We no longer speak our own destructive words. We share His Word with others in speech and in deed, so that, by our testimony, all the world might join us around the heavenly throne of Christ Jesus. And that is a powerful Word! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

CHILDREN'S STORY: Augustine the Hippo

Here's a little children's story that popped into my head. Take it for what it's worth. (And yes, I realize I didn't talk about baptism or confession or the Lord's Supper.)

Augustine the Hippo

There was once a hippo. His name was Augustine. Everybody called him “Gus.”

Gus was a smart hippo. He knew his letters. He knew his numbers. He listened to his mom.

Then his mom said, “Gus, you’re a smart hippo. You know your letters. You know your numbers. You listen to you mom.”

“Now I want to teach you the best thing of all. I want to teach you about God’s Word. I want to teach you about Jesus.”

But Gus said, “Mom, I AM a smart hippo. I know my letters. I know my numbers. I don’t need to know about Jesus. I need to have fun.”

And Gus went to play with his friends.

One day, Gus met Ambrose. Ambrose was a smart hippo too. He knew his letters. He knew his numbers. He listened to his mom.

Gus and Ambrose became friends. They played together all the time.

Then Gus saw Ambrose reading his Bible. Gus said, “Put that away! I want to have fun!”

Ambrose said, “I have fun reading God’s Word. I have fun learning about Jesus.”

Gus was surprised. He said, “You can have fun learning about Jesus?” And Ambrose showed Gus how he had fun reading God’s Word.

And Gus and Ambrose had fun together, reading the Bible and learning about Jesus.

Gus went home and said to his mom, “Mom, Ambrose and I had fun learning about Jesus.”

His mom hugged him and said, “Gus, that makes me very happy. Jesus is the best thing of all. You are a very smart hippo!

The End

© 2017, Alan Kornacki, Jr.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

GUEST POST: Sermon for 8/27/17: Eleventh Sunday After Trinity

Thanks to Stefan Gramenz, member of St. Peter and fouth-year student at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for bringing the Word to St. Peter and Bethel this morning!

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Jesus tells us the story of two men who went up to the temple to pray - two very different men. One, a Pharisee: a man respected by everyone; in fact the most respectable of all fine, upstanding citizens. While we’ve heard most of our lives that the Pharisees were the “bad guys,” those who were first hearing the words of Jesus had quite the opposite understanding. This Pharisee was a man who tithed - who gave 10% of all that he had to God - who fasted twice a week, who did his best to keep the Law, who avoided sins of the flesh. All of this is good and commendable, even admirable. But where this Pharisee goes wrong is when he thinks that he is “not like other men.” In fact, he goes so far as to thank God that he isn’t like other men - especially not like that man - that tax collector.
We have much the same attitude. We say to ourselves, “Thanks be to God that I’m not one of those people - those people who voted for the wrong presidential candidate, those people who don’t pull their own weight, those people who selfishly hoard away their money, those people who can’t seem to do anything right, those people who think they’re perfect. Thank God I’m not like those people. Thank God that my politics are right, that I watch the right TV shows and read the right books and newspapers and share the right articles on Facebook. Thank God I’m not like them.
Repent. It wasn’t the Pharisee’s tithing or prayers or fasting that condemned him. It was his pride and unbelief. Likewise, your offerings and prayers and fasting do not condemn you - but your pride. The pride that says that you have no need of forgiveness, that you have no real sins to speak of, and that at least you’re still doing better than those around you - those tax collectors over there.
The tax collector, or the publican, as he was called in the King James Version, looked quite different from the Pharisee. He wasn’t respected by everyone. Most likely, he wasn’t respected by anyone. This tax collector wasn’t like a mid-level IRS bureaucrat, just following the rules, collecting taxes, and doing his job. To his fellow Jews, he was a traitor and a thief: a tool of the occupying Roman Empire, who collected from his countrymen not only what they owed Caesar, but also more than enough to line his own pockets. To the Romans, he was just another Hebrew, just another member of a conquered nation that wasn’t strong enough to withstand the might of Rome, and a particularly detestable one who wasn’t even loyal to his own people. Nobody liked tax collectors.
But for all the external differences between the two, the true difference, the difference that finally matters the most, is in what they believe, and in what they then say. As the Pharisee lauds himself on his many good deeds, he commits the gravest sin of all: he tells himself that he is righteous, that he needs no help, and that he can stand before his Heavenly Father unashamed. He doesn’t see that no amount of tithing, fasting, and prayer can make him righteous in the eyes of God. At its heart, his sin is unbelief - well, unbelief in God; he replaces his faith in God with faith in himself.
The tax collector, on the other hand, recognizes his sin. He, unlike the Pharisee, sees himself as he truly is. He sees himself as God sees him - as a poor, miserable, sinner. And because he recognizes his sin, because he knows his failures and errors, he can do what the Pharisee cannot - he can repent. He can repent because he knows he is a sinner, and he knows that he is someone who, in the end, has nothing to be proud of. He can repent because he knows that he has no righteousness in and of himself, and he sees clearly the only thing that he can do: plead for mercy.
Our English translations, perhaps, don’t quite do his words justice. The Greek text of St. Luke’s Gospel relates that the tax collector prayed something to this effect: “O God, be propitiated to me.” He prays not only that God would look upon him with kindness and mercy, but that God would make it right - that God would provide atonement for his sins, and that God would fix what man had broken.
This is why the tax collector went down to his house justified. Because he had faith that God would do as he promised. He had faith that God would repair what was broken, and would make atonement for his sins, and the sins of the whole world.
And this is why you are justified. This is why you are made righteous in the sight of God. Not because of your good works, or your lack thereof. Not because of what you have done, or what you have left undone. You are justified because God has made atonement for your sins in the sacrifice of His Son. He has given to Jesus the punishment that you deserved, and given to you the mercy and love that a Father shows to his children. You are justified because God has credited to you the good works of His Son, rather than your own pride and your own vanity.
And today, in this church and at this altar, He gives to you that same sacrifice, that same propitiation of Jesus’ Body and Blood which the tax collector prayed for, and which was offered up for our sins and the sins of every tax collector and Pharisee and prideful, self-righteous sinner on the altar of the cross. He gives to you the promise that you are reconciled with God and that your sins are atoned for. And you who have come up to this church today will return to your house justified. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sermon for 8/20/17: Tenth Sunday After Trinity


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

Our world is full of regret. Our homes, our schools, our prisons, even our churches are full of regret. We all wish things were different. We all daydream about how things might have been. “If only I’d been a better parent.” “If only I had studied harder.” “If only I'd kept my mouth shut.” “If only I hadn’t pulled the trigger.” “If only our offering plates had been filled more often.” “If only Pastor had been more outgoing.” “If only I had asked her.” How much different our lives and our communities and churches would be if only we had done things differently. Who doesn't regret past sins and indiscretion? Who doesn't wish he could get back the money that he wasted? Or take back the words he said in pride or drunkenness? Who doesn't think about how different things would have been, how much better they could have been?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are sinners. We make horrible decisions. Our flesh is weak. We follow our bellies and our hormones. If only you knew what made for peace! If only you'd allow the Father to provide for you instead of seeking your own wealth. If only you would allow the Son to gather you in like a hen gathers her chicks. If only you would allow the Spirit to comfort you. If you look back at your life and regret what you have done, how much more obvious has it been to God all along? He has watched it unfold, stupidity upon stupidity, destructive behavior and bad decisions fueled by selfishness, greed, and lust. Repent.
Do not think that He can't see you in the dark. Do not think that, if you hide from Him, He does not notice or is not there. Jesus has wept over you and your rebellion. He has sweated and bled for you. As humans value things, God's love always seems reckless and wasteful, like employers paying laborers for work they have not done, like farmers sowing seeds on trodden paths and weedy or rocky patches. Repent…but do not despair. Jesus Christ has not abandoned nor forgotten you. He still wants you.
Jerusalem, the “city of peace,” was bent on war. But the Prince of Peace did not flinch. For even while they, and we, did not know, would not know, willfully refused the things that make for peace, He knew. He knew we would reject Him for a murderer. He knew that we would fall asleep and pretend to forget the vows we made. He knew we would betray Him. He knew the mocking and ridicule, the scourging and torture, the pain and sorrow that He would face at our hands. But He went anyway. Even if we did not know what made for peace, He knew.
And your peace was worth it to Him. You needed His Blood to be free. That was the cost of guilt, the demand of Justice. And so He gave it. So He still gives it. He sweated it out in the garden. He bled it on the pavement and on the place of the skull. He drained the cup of wrath that could not be removed so that Jerusalem, so that you, would have peace. Surely this is the Son of God, a righteous, selfless Man! Surely He has atoned for your sins. Surely He has won for you the peace that passes all understanding and bestows it upon you without cost or price. You are no longer imprisoned in your regret. The grave's victory is but an illusion. Death has no sting.
Let go of your regrets. Cast your burden on the Lord. He will sustain you. He loves you. He bears no grudge. He has no regrets. He was glad to pay the price to make you His. You are worth it to Him—worth every drop of blood, every moment of agony. And still He wants you. He has washed you in that watered blood from His side. He would gather you this day in that same Blood, given and shed for you. He declares you righteous and free: free of guilt, shame, and regret. He lays open the future before you, a future full of joy and peace in His presence. 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, August 13, 2017

Sermon for 8/13/17: Ninth Sunday After Trinity

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Shame and Mercy

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

The steward’s scheme would never work in America. In our culture, the owner would simply have the manager arrested, and his insurance would likely cover any loss. The worst that would happen would be some mention on the evening news. In order for us to understand the genius of the manager and the point of the parable, we have to get into the mind of first century Judaism. In our Lord’s day, the culture was much more closely defined by shame than we are. Reputation was everything. This wasn’t simply a matter of worrying about what other people think. They were a more community-minded culture. That means they value rugged individuality quite like we do. They had a much stronger sense of the group, of those around them, and how each person shaped and defined their neighbors, and how they in turn were shaped and defined by their neighbors. Sadly, we have lost a great deal of this sense of honor and shame.
The shrewd steward is counting on this. He is sure that, though the master would be perfectly justified in throwing him into prison, he won’t do it. He won’t do it because it would shame the master. If the master throws him into prison, then he has to admit that his steward swindled him, and more importantly, now he has to demand higher prices from all of his clients. This would ruin his reputation as a kind and benevolent master. He would now be seen as stingy, vindictive, and cruel.
The steward banks everything on the reputation of the master. He is willing to risk his well-being, prison, and even his own life to be sure that his future is secure. This steward may have been dishonest, but he knew that the master was honest and honorable to a fault. And to be fair, in the eyes of the steward, it was no risk at all. He knew his boss. His boss could no more turn him in than he could change his own skin.
This is our lesson on the parable of the unjust or shrewd steward. But what’s the point? Where is Jesus and the Gospel in all of this? It is a great temptation to make this into a stewardship sermon. The Law would be pretty clear: nothing that we own is really ours, so we must be wise in using what God has given us to His glory. This is true, and such a sermon would not be a bad thing. God has given us His gracious gifts, and we should use them to His glory, for the good of our neighbor, and certainly to fill the offering plate at Church…but that’s not really the point of the parable.
The point is this: the mercy of God is everything, and everything else must be seen and understood in light of this mercy. Jesus, the very Mercy of God in the flesh, does not lower your debt to a manageable amount; He cancels it. The Father does not commend your sinful lifestyle; He forgives your sin. If a worldly master can commend his servant for selfishness, how much more will our Father show mercy and forgive our sin? Because the mercy of God is everything, you can bank your whole life on it. You can live freely, knowing that you emulate God by handing out His gifts to you.
Finally, because God’s mercy is everything for you, you know that God will feed you and clothe you with the very best of food and drink, even the body and blood of His Son. You won’t have to dig your own grave. And although we are all beggars, as Luther put it, God does not require your begging. You are sons and daughters of the King. He has lifted you up to His heavenly banquet table, so that you need not be ashamed to stand in His presence at the Last Day.
Trust in the mercy of God. His wisdom is beyond all understanding, and His mercy toward His children knows no limit. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

HYMN: Oh, the Joy of Eden's Bounty

I've been stuck with my wheels spinning for about six months, trying to come up with a text for the Seventh Sunday After Trinity. It was hard enough to write a text for the feeding of the 5,000, but then to write one for the feeding of the 4,000? I looked through my notes over and over again, and then, finally, the connection came to me: the bounty of Eden restored in the bounty given to the 4,000 and in the Lord's Supper. I don't think this is my strongest text, but getting this out will allow me to move on to something else. (Being stubborn is oh so much fun.) There's a couple word/rhyme repeats in there that I'll fix eventually. Feedback is appreciated.

HYMN: Oh, the Joy of Eden's Bounty

1. Oh, the joy of Eden's bounty:
Food in plenty, free from toil,
Free to walk with God forever.
Only sin this bliss could spoil.

2. Adam ate the fruit forbidden,
Ate against the Lord's command.
He was exiled from the Garden.
Eden's bounty now was banned.

3. Then came Christ to feed the hungry.
Bread of Life to feed the soul,
Bread and fish to feed the body:
Flesh and spirit, fed the whole.

4. First He satisfied the spirit,
Serving them His holy Word,
Preaching both the Law and Gospel,
Filling them with what they heard.

5. Then He blessed the bread and broke it.
Daily bread from Christ the Lord,
Food without the toil or labor:
Eden's bliss for once restored.

6. Bread is blessing, but remember:
Man can't only live by bread.
Man is satisfied receiving
Ev'ry Word which God has said.

7. Eden's bliss and Eden's bounty,
Peace with God again restored,
To the saints of God is given 
At the Table of the Lord.

(c) 2017 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 
Tuner: MERTON (LSB 345)
Occasion: Seventh Sunday After Trinity

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sermon for 8/6/17: Eighth Sunday After Trinity

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Steadfast in the Word

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

Jesus said, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” What a dire warning. No one wants to think that there are people hiding within the Church who would seek to lead astray the sheep of our Good Shepherd’s flock. No one wants to believe that there are preachers who call themselves Christians, but they teach and practice contrary to the Word of God. But at one time or another, we have all encountered them within so-called Christian congregations. These preachers have told the Church that it is okay to murder babies in the womb in the name of convenience and empowerment. They have said that it is okay to live in unrepentant sexual immorality, whether by living together, homosexuality, promiscuity, or pornography. They have told you that even those who believe falsely about Jesus should be welcomed to receive the body and blood of Jesus. They have told you that a truly faithful Christian will be healthy and wealthy and successful, because Jesus gives earthly prosperity to those who have strong faith.
It’s bad enough that these false prophets exist. But the truth is, they would be powerless without our desire to hear their blasphemous sermons. In speaking to the young pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” There is a market for the Joel Osteens and Joyce Meyers of the world because there are people who want to believe their false teachings, because there are people who would pick and choose what they want to believe instead of clinging to God’s Word, because there are people who hunger for worldly wealth rather than the body and blood of Jesus.  
When our children are holding something poisonous or dangerous in their hands, don’t we swat it away? Don’t we warn them of the danger? Why do we not defend the doctrine of the Church with that kind of zeal? This is a First Commandment issue. This same sin entangled Adam and Eve. They were not content with God’s Word. They wanted more than what God promised them. They coveted the forbidden fruit. That is our way too. False doctrine is not looked upon as bad anymore. We tolerate it because we think everyone is entitled to their opinion. We would rather be comfortable and turn a blind eye to sin rather than confront it and root it out.
Why does God permit false teachers to come among His faithful? Is He not able to prevent it? Of course He could! But like all the suffering that our Lord allows afflict us, the presence of the false teacher works to our good. As St. Paul wrote, “There must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.” By allowing factions and divisions in His Church, the Lord reveals those who belong to Him.
Do not treat the Word carelessly. This Word you have in your ears is not the mere word of a man; it is the holy Word of God Himself, the Maker of heaven and earth. This Word in our ears is the Word made flesh, the Word who dwells among us, the Word who comes into our ear and into our mouths—not to give us mere early blessings, though He does generously give us our daily bread. He comes to give us the Bread of Life, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life with Him. This is a precious Word, and it satisfies more than anything our itching ears and selfish hearts can devise.
There are very few who stand steadfast anymore. Denominations outside the Lutheran church and divisions within it abound. There are few who contend against error and preserve the true doctrine. May it not be so among us. God grant us faith to cling to His promise, courage to confess it before the world, strength to persevere and contend for the truth, and love to serve both Him and our neighbor.
“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, August 04, 2017

Sermon for 7/30/17: Seventh Sunday After Trinity

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Compassion and Food

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

Everything our Lord said and did throughout His earthly ministry, He did for you. And everything He continues to do today during the Holy Supper, through the sacred mysteries of the faith and in our lives, He does for you. What man can take seven loaves and a few small fish, and make enough to feed such a large crowd? What man would be tender-hearted enough to have compassion on four-thousand people? And what man can order sinful, unworthy men to use bread and wine to give you His life-sustaining flesh and blood? What man would have such compassion, such love, that he would lay down his life so that you might draw near to God in this Holy Communion? But that is what we receive today. We hear of our Lord feeding the multitude that had faithfully come to Him, and we receive from His own hand the Bread of eternal life and the Cup of salvation.
Our Lord makes use of simple elements of bread and wine. He converts them for a higher use than we can understand. He does these things willingly and gladly, and in doing so He shows us His remarkable love and compassion. Consider how costly it is for Jesus to bless and consecrate the bread and wine. This is not some empty ritual. It’s not a metaphor for His care. It is not merely a visual demonstration of what He can do for you. What we receive at this altar is the Lord Jesus Himself. It is His true and actual Body and Blood, which was born of the Blessed Virgin, and then was crucified under Pontus Pilate, suffered, died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. At the expense of His entire life, we get the medicine of immortality, salvation from our mortal enemies, and real unity and fellowship with God.
The expense is not only what Our Lord Jesus endured for our sake. The expense is also what we must suffer and endure from the devil, the world and our own sinful selves—because we are baptized in the bloody water from His side, and because we eat His Body and drink His Blood. That expense, though heart-wrenching, is not worthy to be compared with the glory that these Holy Sacraments usher us into. That is the lesson of today’s Gospel. Like the disciples, we’re worried about how our Lord can feed us, how He can take care of us, how this Holy Supper will truly satisfy us and make a difference. And while we worry, our Lord Jesus is already blessing the bread and making sure it’s distributed.
When we hear His words, when we see His loving desire to feed us with Himself, we would be fools to absent ourselves from this altar, to do anything to cut ourselves off from this Holy Communion, to assume we can receive this Sacrament too often. Knowing that we are sinners, knowing that sin infects every breath we take, we should be crying out for the Holy Supper every time we gather in His name.
In today’s Gospel, Our Lord Jesus shows us His undying love and compassion. He says, “I have compassion on them. I will not send them away hungry. I will feed them.” And in the Holy Supper we receive this day, He keeps His pledge and promise—not just to the crowd, but also to you. Here He is, having mercy on you, showing you a compassion that surpasses human understanding. Here He is, and even though we are not worthy of His mercy, He will not send us away hungry. Here He is, feeding us with His own flesh and blood.
Let us rejoice to receive this grace of God in Christ Jesus, who invites us to His Supper. He is the Priest, the Victim, and the Feast, and He is here to feed you and give you life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

POEM: The Least of These

Not a hymn. Just a poem, but fun anyway. 

The Least of These

Oh, who would be "the least of these":
The "brothers" we despise?
And why do we ignore the Christ 
Who comes in humble guise?

Perhaps it's just the preaching slave
Who comes in Jesus' stead,
And when the Law shows us our shame, 
We hold back daily bread. 

Or maybe, when we want him to
Commune our Druid aunt,
We lose our minds and kick him out
When he says, "No, I can't."

When we, with itching ears, have made
Unreasoning demands,
Why shouldn't we just vote him out,
With Pilate wash our hands?

Have mercy, Christ, on those who claim
To praise and worship You, 
Yet treat Your stewards shamefully.
Their words do not ring true.

Lord, grant us faithful hearts to love  
The pastors You provide,
To listen to the Word they preach
And cast them not aside.

(c) 2017, Alan Kornacki, Jr.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sermon for 7/23/17: Sixth Sunday After Trinity

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Who Can Be Saved?

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

Sinners that we are, we are constantly looking for ways around the law: loopholes, exemptions, exceptions. That’s why the law books are so thick, why the legal code is so ponderous, why the lawyers are well-paid, and why new laws must be passed every day. The same is true of our attitude toward God’s Law. We’re always looking for the “It doesn’t apply to me” clause. Yet, God’s law and His commands are really quite simple. They can be reduced to one sentence: “Trust Me and so do what I say.” And how should we reply? “All the words which the Lord has said, we will do.” But we often don’t say that. Instead we wink and say, “Sure, we’ve done that. We’ve kept the letter of the law.” But don’t you know? “The letter kills while the Spirit gives life.”
Our Lord Jesus came into our world not to kill, but to give life. He did not come to add to the laws and commands of God, but to accomplish them. He did not come to add to the burdens of the law, but to give us the Holy Spirit who applies to us Christ’s fulfilment of the Law, the commandments, the ordinances, the precepts, the statutes, and the decrees of God. Jesus came in our flesh precisely because we do not keep our word; because we do not do and heed all that the Lord has said; because we come up with ways to skirt the law of God; because we do not trust the laws of God. But if you will not trust His Law, how can you believe His Gospel? If you will not be afraid of His threats, how can you be comforted by His promises? If you do not love His commandments, how can you live from His life-giving Word?
When He says, “I came to fulfill the Law,” our Lord is not thinking like us. He’s not crossing His fingers. He’s not using legal trickery. He’s saying that He did what we could never hope to do: He accomplished the fullness of God’s law. Perhaps a person might be able to keep perfectly the letter of the Law. The Pharisees certainly thought they did. But who can completely, absolutely, every minute of every day keep the Spirit? Our Lord wants you to know that He has fulfilled the Law in its fullness and spirit, but He also requires you to believe that you cannot.
If you wish to live the law of God and to do all He commands, if your heart-felt desire is to attain the kingdom of heaven and to live in God, then you must not ever, in any way, believe in yourself. If you rely on yourself, then you will not be able to resist even the smallest attack by the devil, the world, or your own selfish desires. These enemies feed on your self-delusion that you can do what God requires, even for only a moment. And in the moment you believe that, then you are lost. You have placed yourself and your self-confidence ahead of loving and trusting God above all things.
Our Lord Jesus draws out the full implications of God’s law and increases our understanding of righteousness so that we might see and know and believe and confess that we are the most vulnerable, the most helpless, the weakest—and so the person in greatest need of the Lord’s mercy. For when you hear Jesus say, “Whoever is angry with his brother”—you must reply, “Lord, who then can be saved?”
But that’s the beauty: nothing you are and nothing you have depends on anything you have done. It is all because of the Lord’s mercy. Even the good you do to others traces back to the mercy of God which Jesus died to give you; the mercy you received in the waters of Holy Baptism; the mercy which is nourished and strengthened at this holy altar; the mercy which now lives within you, which has planted God’s kingdom in your heart. That is why you live. That is why you have the hope of the resurrection of your body. That is why you look forward to the life of the world to come. 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, July 19, 2017

Sermon for 7/16/17: Fifth Sunday After Trinity


The Sinner’s Fear

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

Peter was afraid. When he saw the catch of fish—how great it was, and how miraculous the miracle—then he was afraid because he knew he was in the presence of the Son of God. And so down on his knees he went. And up went his prayer, his cry for help. He was not sarcastic. He was not demanding. He did not try to spin things so that he was in control. He was not manipulative. He simply said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter confessed who he truly was—a sinner. He confessed that he was unworthy to stand in the Lord’s presence. And he confessed that his labors, his fishing skills, his wit, his wisdom—they all added up to nothing. This catch of fish was entirely the Lord’s doing, and it was marvelous in Peter’s eyes. And while it astonished him, it also scared him. He was afraid. Peter was afraid of standing before the living God. It’s not that Peter was afraid of what God might do to him. Peter was afraid because Peter knows himself. Peter knows that he doesn’t deserve to be in the Lord’s presence. He knows that God in the flesh is slumming, visiting the little people.
Some would say that Peter was suffering from low self-esteem. Others would say that Peter was emotionally distraught and not in his right mind. Still others would say that Peter was making a fool of himself. And some might say that Peter was overwhelmed by the power and majesty of God. But in truth, Peter says what Cain should have said; what Saul should have said; what Judas should have said. And Peter says what King David said, what the Apostle Paul said, and what all the saints and martyrs have said. Peter says what should be in our heart and mind when we cry out, “Lord, have mercy”; or when we pray, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.” Peter’s prayer is not the whine of a whimpering coward; it is the truthful confession of a man who sees his Maker and, at the same time, sees himself.
Listen to what Peter says, because his confession belongs in your mouth. And it doesn’t take a miraculous catch of fish for you to realize it. As you examine your life according to the Ten Commandments, you recognize yourself for what you really are. You are a sinner. Like Peter, you know you don’t belong in the presence of the Lord. Like Adam and Eve, you hear the Lord, and you hide from Him because you know you are naked in your sinful nature; you know that you are no longer the “very good” creation He made you to be.
You’ve heard Peter’s confession of sin, and you recognize it as your confession, too. With that in mind, listen to what Jesus says to Peter and to you: “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid—not because there is nothing fearful in God; and not because your fears are misplaced. But do not be afraid, for He has taken into Himself your sin and your death. Do not be afraid, for He has restored the relationship between God and man by drawing you into Himself. Do not be afraid, for He is your Life—so much so that your sinful self has being drowned in His undying love and mercy in the waters of Holy Baptism. And do not be afraid, for He is your Strength, your steady Rock, your Salvation, your Hope, your Consolation, your Joy.
So what are you afraid of? Losing father or mother or children? Are you afraid of what life in the Church means, what sacrifices it requires? Are you afraid of the journey or that you will sin? Listen again to your Jesus: “Do not be afraid.” You have nothing to fear. He knows what you are. He knows you will sin. Our Lord forgives you. He washes you clean. He welcomes you into communion with His holy Church. So do not be afraid. He has come to be Immanuel—God with us—God with His people 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.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sermon for 7/15/17: Funeral of Barbara Lampe

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Out of the Depths

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is Psalm 130. 

Imagine being in a small boat on the ocean in a storm, and the waves swallow the boat in an instant. One minute you are safe inside the boat, and the next moment you are swept away. While drowning is not a pleasant death, you usually don't have a whole lot of time to worry about it. But what if your boat is sinking slowly over the period of years? The water slowly creeps up from ankles to knees. After a year it gets to be waist deep, then slowly rises to the chest. Then it reaches the neck. Any higher and the mouth will have to be closed. But as long as one's nose is in the air, one can stay alive. That’s the kind of experience the Psalmist describes.
That's what it must have been like for Barb in the last years of her life—only instead of it being water that rose up to overwhelm her, it was Alzheimer's. Alzheimer’s is a disease which takes away your memory. It affects language skills and decision-making ability. It impairs judgment, attention, and other related areas of mental function and personality. Eventually your body even forgets how to breathe.
Perhaps the greatest frustration for those who spend time with an Alzheimer’s patient comes from trying to make a connection with them. You know that this is the person you love, but they often don’t recognize even their own children of spouse. But Barb was a Christian, made a child of God through Holy Baptism. God had made a connection with her through His Son in those holy waters. He placed on Barb the spotless white robe of His perfect righteousness, and nothing could take that away from her: not Satan, not the disease which took so much else from her, and certainly not death itself. While Satan used this illness to take from Barb’s mind the knowledge of the Lord, nothing could remove from her soul the washing of Baptism and the mark of one who has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. All along, even when she knew nothing else, Barb’s soul cried out, Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Lord, my mind has been taken from me, but I belong to you.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, hear the Good News: Jesus, the Son of God, your Savior, takes the guilt, the shame, and the punishment of all your sins of thought, word, and deed, and He carries them to the cross. He pays the eternal price for them. The wrath of God is released upon Jesus instead of on you. His blood cries out for your pardon: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the price of your sins. This is what your salvation is worth to the Father. He marks you as His own and makes you His child in Holy Baptism. And He sends His Word and His messengers to proclaim it. When the pastor, speaking for Jesus, says to you, “I forgive you all your sins,” Jesus cleanses your soul. Jesus announced your complete forgiveness when He said, "It is finished!" And like He did for Barb and for all who know Jesus as their Savior, He has given His life to you so that you will live with Him forever.
The strength to remain faithful unto death is the strength that the Lord gives through His Word and Sacraments. The Psalmist prays, “O Israel, hope in the Lord. For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel From all his iniquities.” This is the promise Barb clung to when she knew so little else. This is the promise which has been fulfilled for her as she rests from her labors. And this promise is also for you as you await the reunion with Barb and with all those you love who have gone before us in the faith. 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.

HYMN update 2: Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

I'd updated this text once before, and it was better than where I started, but there was still a lot of Yoda language (backwards talking). I've updated the hymn, cleaned it up a little, fixed some of the Yoda speak (leaving it only where the emphasis strengthens the text). The last update can be seen here.

I Peter 5 and the Sermon on the Mount influenced this text. I wanted to talk about persecution and how the three Persons of the Trinity answer it. Whether or not I succeeded, well...I'll leave that for you to say.

Saints of God, the Devil, Prowling

1. Saints of God, the devil, prowling, 
Seeks God's children as his prey.
All his demon horde is howling
With no mercy to display:
Tempting, blaming, sin-befouling. 
Who on earth can win the fray?

2. Saints of God, our holy Father, 
Looking from eternity, 
Saw our fall, and He would gather 
All who see the foe and flee. 
He sent Christ to be our Brother;
He sent Christ to set us free. 

3. Saints of God, the Son, our Savior,
Born of woman, born of God,
Bore the brunt of man’s disfavor,
Bore the curse: death’s savage rod.
Now death’s sting is gone forever.
Overcome is Satan’s fraud.

4. Saints of God, the Spirit crying
Comforts us in ev’ry need.
Death, the world, the devil’s lying
Fall before the Church's creed.
Now the Spirit, ever vying,
Calls God’s children free indeed.

5. Saints of God, our flesh betrays us.
See the prince of earth cast blame.
All who hate the Word would slay us,
Sentence us to angry flames.
Though they beat us, mock, or flay us,
We still bear Christ's holy name.

6. Saints of God, the world deplores us.
Rage and spite, our earthly lot.
Boldly face the cross before us.
Let the faithless scheme and plot.
We, though all the world abhors us,
By Christ’s holy blood are bought.

7. Saints of God, though death comes near us,
Blessed are we to face the blade.
Rise to pray. The Father hears us.
Tremble not! Be not afraid!
Sing for joy! The Lord will cheer us
With white robes which never fade.

∆ 8. Saints of God who live hereunder,
Hail Him with the angel host.
Martyrs, make your praises thunder:
Sing the name of which we boast,
Worshipping in endless wonder
Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

© 2014 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 87
Suggested Tune: Ascended Triumph
(LSB 491, © 1973 Henry Gerike--ask him for permission to use)

PUBLIC DOMAIN TUNE: Westminster Abbey (LSB 914) 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sermon for 7/9/17: Fourth Sunday After Trinity


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

“Be merciful just as your Father also is merciful.” This is what Jesus requires of you. But it’s not easy. Mercy requires that you always act for your neighbor’s welfare without considering yourself. Mercy demands that you seek only to serve others. Mercy insists that you be quick to forgive, slow to get angry. It demands that you bear no grudges. Mercy teaches you to suffer undeserved punishment quietly, to shoulder the blame for wrongs you have not done—and even wrongs that have been done to you. Mercy orders you to love the unlovable, to help those who abuse you, and to reach out to those who spitefully and meanly mistreat you.
That is what your heavenly Father has done for you. That is what our Lord Jesus endured for your sake. That is how the Holy Spirit deals with you. You were not turned away from the waters of baptism. And even though you continue to abuse God’s kindness, He does not refuse to forgive your sins. And the Holy Spirit still gathers you within the Church, still invites you to pray to the Father, and still allows you to partake of God when you turn to Him in repentant faith. In fact, the Lord eagerly waits to embrace you, to shower you with the riches of His mercy—riches you don’t deserve.
Do you see, then, how mercy goes? Mercy requires you to lose yourself entirely, to give yourself over to another—even a stranger—without any hesitation, without any question, without any fear, without any vengeance, without any thought for your own well-being. After all, that is what our Lord Jesus did. And He is the Mercy of God in the flesh. But who can “be merciful just as your Father is merciful?” Does that not ask the impossible? Does that not demand that you somehow become like God?
That is precisely the point. Our Lord is not demanding that you be something you cannot be. He is not commanding you to change yourself from imperfection to perfection. He is not ordering you to change from creature to Creator, or from human to divine. Rather, our Lord is urging you to become more and more what you already are.
And who are you really? By God’s grace, you are a child of the heavenly Father. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, you are born of God. And by the kindness of the Holy Spirit, you are no longer a child of disobedience, a child of fear, a child of rebellion, a child of slavery to sin and death. Instead, you been freed to live in holiness and righteousness. You have been delivered to live without fear of being short-changed or abused. You have been rescued to live as you ought to live. You have been freed by the Spirit to live the mercy that Jesus lives in you.
So Jesus is saying that you should become merciful, just as God your Father has been merciful and gracious towards you. Become as merciful as Jesus has been to you. He became what you are. The Son of God joined your death-riddled, sin-filled flesh to His holy and life-giving divinity. In the unity of His Person, He joined God and Man, joining you to Himself. He did this so that in His Body you would become what you can never be apart from Him: so that you would become the mercy that He is.
So become merciful—that is what the Mercy of God urges you to be. Become merciful—that is what the Spirit of Mercy invites and implores you to be. Become merciful—that is why Mercy died and rose, why He ascended, why He then descended into the font and continues to descend upon this altar in His body and blood. Our Lord Jesus comes to you in His Supper so that you would become the person He died for you to be: a child of the Father who resists the evil spirit of revenge, who strives in Christ Jesus to live the spirit of patience and love that He has graciously given 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.