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.