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