Sunday, August 02, 2020

Sermon for 7/2/2020: Eighth Sunday After Trinity

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Fruit for Life


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


There are false teachers who are obviously false. They teach that all religions are the same, that all roads lead to heaven. They teach that Jesus is only a prophet, a misguided rabbi, merely a good example for us to imitate. These obvious false prophets—the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Muslims, the Jews, Buddhists, the various cults—these are not the people our Lord warns us about in today’s Gospel, though of course you should avoid them. But when Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets,” He is urging you to watch out for preachers who claim to be part of our fellowship. They urge unity at the expense of integrity. They let false teaching and worship live alongside the truth. They are more impressed with the world’s standard of success than with the kingdom of God. They quickly assign tradition to the trash heap and favor only newer, more modern ways. And they not only allow but encourage and even insist on innovations which sweep away what we have received from the Word of God. “Beware of them,” Jesus says. They are not obvious. They claim to seek fellowship, yet with their words they destroy it. They urge you not to get so riled, yet they rile you up. They speak of peace, but they persecute the peace-makers. You have known some of them all your life. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Beware of them.
Jesus goes on to say, “You will know them by their fruits.” You will know them by the false doctrine they cling to, by their desire to be popular with the world, by their insistence that the Word of God has mistakes or means something other than what the Church has always taught. You will know them because they welcome those who don’t believe what the Word teaches to their altars and pulpits. You will know them because they rejoice in the death of the unborn. They rejoice in those things our Lord calls sin.
How do you recognize a true teacher? Ask yourself this: Did they lead you to the Christ? Did they encourage you in what Scripture teaches instead of urging you to do your own thing? Did they provide you with true and lasting comfort in your hour of need? And did all their sermons, all their liturgies, all their ministry speak of the hope and salvation that is given only through Jesus Christ? What God used these preachers to produce in your heart—namely, a lively faith and godliness: these are good fruits, together with their bold confession of the faith and their willingness to suffer all, even death, rather than depart from the Church’s Faith. If these are the fruits, then these pastors and preachers are good trees, united to the Tree of Life.
But bad trees are like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, a tree that offers no life and no hope, housing the devil and his lies. Evil trees cannot bring forth good fruit. In the same way, false preachers and prophets cannot produce the good fruit of faith in their parishioners. Our Lord’s warning must be repeated frequently, lest we begin to desire bad fruit.
But do not let this warning trouble you. Our Lord does not say, “Beware” to frighten or scare you, but to comfort and strengthen you. When you know that there are false preachers and evil prophets; when you know that there are pastors who speak of their own dreams rather than of the Lord’s heavenly vision; when you know that there are preachers whom Our Lord never sent—then you are more intent to search diligently for the true bishops, the godly priests, the faithful pastors who will shield you and soothe you with the Lord’s undying mercy. You cry out for the Word of Absolution. You return to your Baptism daily. You beg for the Lord to feed you with His body and blood. You recognize the Lord through His fruits to you, and you rejoice to receive them. 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, July 26, 2020

Sermon for 7/26/2020: Seventh Sunday After Trinity

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Compassion

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


Our Lord Jesus has a way of caring for His children that is unlike any other way that the world has ever known. It is the Lord’s way to gather people unto Himself. It is the Lord’s way to feed those whom He gathers as His own. It is also the Lord’s way to give us what we need in order that our burdens may be lifted. The sort of Lord and Savior to which you and I belong looks beyond Himself to the needs of others. Jesus said to His disciples, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.” Don’t take this statement lightly. Jesus uses a word which means His concern for the people causes His insides to ache with sadness. What happens to His children affects Him deeply. The condition of the people affects His very being. He sees a people who are going through a spiritual wilderness, a people who are at risk, who are saddened and troubled. He sees disbelievers, sinners, people who are hurting, people who are troubled. We see those same people when we look in the mirror.
Jesus cares for them with a Divine love. We see in this text something that sounds very familiar to our ears: “He took the loaves and blessed them and broke them and gave them to His disciples.” Time rushes together in such a way that the event becomes timeless. Just as God placed Adam and Eve in a delightful garden filled with food they could eat just by plucking it from the tree; just as God provided manna in the wilderness for His wandering children; just as Jesus, God in flesh dwelling among His people, provided for these 4,000 hearers, He now comes to you in the Word, in the water, in the bread and wine here in the Divine Service, sustaining and blessing His people. It is for you, free, given without any work or worth on your part.
Did you hear it? Remember the words recorded by the Apostle Paul: “The Lord Jesus, on the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you.’” It is sad, though, that, in the midst of these blessings of bread come from God, Israel ends up grumbling about it. Many disciples in the Gospel of John stop following Jesus because of His Bread of Life teaching.
Even today we are sometimes guilty of despairing of ourselves, of not rejoicing in the Supper which is Jesus Himself, taking it for granted, saying it could be something less than special if we receive it more often. At times we are numb to its blessings, and we even neglect the opportunity to receive and find comfort in this gift of Jesus, present in and under bread and wine. We must repent of this apathy. We should thank God that He gives us this holy Feast, and we should cry out and beg Him for it when it is not made available to us.
What we see in the feeding of the multitude is Jesus pointing to the upper room and to Golgotha. Jesus looks upon you with compassion and love. Jesus has mercy for you and forgives your sins—even the sin of our disbelief that God would provide heavenly bread in the midst of the spiritual wilderness of the world in order to give us heavenly peace. The blood He shed, the body He gave as the sacrifice, is the sign of His compassion and love showered upon you. In the same way, the Church looks upon the holy Supper as the evidence of God’s love, mercy, and concern for His people. This is how our Lord operates. When you hear the Words of Institution in this place over bread and wine, God grant that you remember that it is the compassion of Jesus being showered upon you by Him directly. 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, July 21, 2020

HYMN: Lord, Let Your Servant Now Depart

Not long after I started writing hymns, I thought it would be fun to write metrical versions of the canticles the Church uses in worship. That being said, it was hard for me to believe that I could do justice to them, which kept me from attempting to do so for a long time. I've written a text before concerning the Christ Child being brought to Simeon in the Temple, but it did not really cover the Nunc Dimittis, Simeon's song. I couldn't sleep last night, and somehow the first line of the text below popped into my head, and since I wasn't sleeping anyway, I went to work. After re-reading this morning what I wrote in the middle of the night, I decided it wasn't total garbage, so I'm sharing it with you. Feedback is love.

I didn't have a tune in mind when I wrote this, which is unusual. Lutheran Service Book doesn't have a lot of options for the LMD meter, so I chose the one which is in the public domain.



Lord, Let Your Servant Now Depart

1. Lord, let Your servant now depart
In peace which You alone can give,
For in the Christ, I taste and see
The promised Savior, and I live.
He is the one revealing Light
To gather wayward Gentiles near,
The glory of Your Israel:
The Church’s Head in flesh is here.

2. All blessing, honor, endless praise
To God, almighty Father, sing!
All worship, holy Jesus Christ,
Immanuel, the Savior King!
O Holy Spirit, Helper, Friend,
To you shall endless glory be!
O Triune God, all thanks to You
Both now and to eternity!

© 2020 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
LMD
O GROSSER GOTT (LSB 810)
Occasion: Nunc Dimittis

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Sermon for 7/19/2020: Sixth Sunday After Trinity

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Righteousness in Christ

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


People are always trying to tell themselves that they’re okay, that they are basically good. As long as they are surrounded by other people who are doing worse things than they are, they can feel pretty good about themselves. So then, how are you doing? How righteous are you before God? Are you doing enough—are you righteous enough—to earn your place in the eternal Kingdom of God? We don't want to be like the Pharisees. The Pharisees were hypocrites, right? So long as we please God and are sincere, we should be fine. So long as we avoid becoming narrow-minded like “church people”—like people who think they have everything figured out—we should be safe, right?
We like to pick on the Pharisees and call them names. And why not? They deserve it, don’t they? After all, they were a constant thorn our Lord’s side during His earthly ministry. They were His enemies. But if being righteous comes down to doing those things that make God smile, then we are in big trouble. The Pharisees were far more righteous than you or I will ever be. Many of them were not even that self-absorbed or hypocritical. And Jesus tells us that no one will get into heaven unless he is more righteous than even the most praiseworthy Pharisee. The Pharisees were great at being righteous. They kept the law better than anyone. But not even one of them was righteous enough.
You need to be completely righteous. You need to be sinless before God—sinless in thought, word, and deed, in what you do and what you leave undone. You must love God with all of your being; you must love your neighbor as yourself. And that is an insurmountable problem. Jesus says that those who have had a hateful thought, even if they haven’t acted on it, are guilty of murder. Someone who has an impure thought is as guilty of adultery as someone who is having a tawdry affair. And if you think neither of those apply to you, think about this: During this pandemic, do you love your neighbor by wearing a mask? Or do you love your neighbor by refusing to wear a mask? And which is better way? The righteousness of the sinner is the kind where we believe we are only guilty of those things our neighbors catch us doing. The righteousness of the sinner is the kind where we make our own rules, and those rules change all the time. That isn’t any kind of righteousness at all. We have no righteousness of our own.
This means that we must get our righteousness from somewhere else. The only place where this perfect righteousness can be found is in Jesus. He is the only One who is righteous enough. Therefore, if we want a place in the eternal Kingdom of God, we need His righteousness to get us through the door. And, sure enough, Jesus gives you His perfect righteousness. Of course, that righteousness much better than that of any Pharisee. It is the righteousness of the One who has paid the price for all our Unrighteousness with His own blood. You received that righteousness in the bloody waters of Holy Baptism, where all your sin was washed away and the perfect white robe of our Lord’s righteousness was placed upon you. This righteousness is more than you could ever imagine. How much righteousness does it take to get into heaven? It takes all of Christ’s righteousness. And His righteousness is sufficient for you, for me, and for everyone. 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, July 12, 2020

Sermon for 7/12/2020: Fifth Sunday After Trinity

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“At Your Word…”

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


Peter may call Jesus, “Master,” but it's clear that he didn't truly believe. He already had everything figured out in his own head. He knew how to fish; he was an expert. He knew that he and his partners had worked all night, using the tried-and-true methods they had most likely learned from their fathers. Somehow, there were just no fish. If they couldn’t find any fish, how could this carpenter’s Son be of help? What could this Jesus know about fishing? He was probably thinking, “Stick to preaching and teaching, Rabbi, and let the expert do his job.” Like a child who listens to and obeys his parents but still thought he knew better, he grudgingly, condescendingly said to the Lord, “Nevertheless, at your word, I will let down the nets.”
The Word of God is powerful to do exactly what He says it will do. As the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, As the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. The Lord tells Peter to go drop the nets in the deep water, and when he does, his boat and the boat of his partners overflow with fish to the point that the boats begin to sink—and this is after these professional fishermen hadn't caught one fish. Peter finally recognized the power of the Word of God, the power Jesus wields as the Son of God. He fell on his knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” The Lord taught Peter to locate true faith in the right place: in His Word. Faith flows from the Word of God and receives what Jesus did for us by the power of the Word.
We have to repent with St. Peter too, don't we? How many times have we tried to find faith and salvation outside the words of Jesus? How many times have we tried to rely on our own reason and strength? In our sin, we've got it all figured out. We smile at our boss instead of complaining about him or posting vague condemnations on social media; we shut the computer down rather than looking at that pornographic website; we throw a vague prayer into the air to demonstrate our faith. We’ve got it figured out. We stop this sin, and God will love us. We do better, and we will catch God's favor. Do we doubt His Word and forgiveness? Our lives confess that we do.
The gift to Peter, James, and John that day was not fish. The fish were left on the shore when they left the nets to follow Jesus. The gift was faith: they received Jesus by the power of the Word. The boats would stay where they were; from now on they would fish for men. They would cast the very nets which caught them: the power of the Word of God. Our Lord sends His fishermen to preach repentance and faith, to share the good news that Jesus died to pay the price for sin. He sends His fishermen to wash those sins away with water and His Name, to make people His own children in those baptismal waters. He sends His fishermen with His own body and blood to feed and nourish that gift of faith.
And it is in those very nets that we have been caught. With water, bread, wine, and the Word of God, your pastors, fishermen sent by Jesus to speak His Word and act as His hands, have used those means to wash away your sin, to speak forgiveness to you, to feed your faith. Instead of departing from you in your sin, your Lord removes your sin. Having received these precious gifts, you are now invited and freed to follow Him. 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, July 05, 2020

Sermon for 7/5/2020: Fourth Sunday After Trinity

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Mercy for Sinners


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


“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” What does this mean? How merciful is our Father? While we were yet sinners, our Father sent His Son to die on the cross for us. That's how merciful He is. You can’t live up to that. After all, even if you have good intentions of being merciful, the old self is still right there. You remember what your fellow sinners did to you—ever slight, every insult, every injustice. And you want to get them back. You assume the worst about your neighbor because you think you know them and how they operate. You bring up people's old mistakes again and again. You get treated that way, and you do the same thing in return.
Sometimes that desire is even justified. It would have been reasonable for Joseph to have taken action against his brothers for what they did to him. He was the de facto ruler of Egypt. His brothers were guilty of a conspiracy to commit murder, of kidnapping, of wrongfully selling Joseph into slavery. It would not have been wrong for Joseph to do exactly what his brothers were afraid he would do.
And God would be perfectly within His rights to destroy you right now, to condemn you to the same eternal torment reserved for Satan and the other fallen angels. That us what sinners deserve. But that's not what He does. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”—not after we had repented, not after we decided we were going to do things God's way. That is how merciful our Father is.
God does not give you what you deserve, and He wants you to show the same mercy to your neighbor. He would have you overlook and forgive the sins of your neighbor. Yes, you should confront sin when necessary—after all, we don't want people to harm themselves or those around them by whatever it is they're doing wrong—but you must not hold grudges or let old arguments and animosities determine how you think about that person or act toward them. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
But the Old Adam is selfish. The Old Adam sees his god every time he looks in the mirror. And that false god, like any false god, doesn't tolerate rivals. When the false god within our own hearts is offended, he demands satisfaction. And there's nothing we can do ourselves to change that. Maybe we can improve our behavior somewhat, but the old grudges, the old hatreds, the old prejudices are still there in our hearts. The false god within us needs to be put to death, and our true God, Jesus Christ, needs to take its place.
And that is exactly what God does to us. He puts us to death. He drowns us in baptismal waters, not just on the day we were baptized, but daily. He puts us to death with Christ on the cross. And that means that He also raises us up with Christ. The Father’s mercy is not just an example for us to try to follow—though we should examine ourselves using His Word as a standard. Our Father's merciful example, and Christ's merciful example towards sinners He encountered in His ministry, is more than an example. It is a pattern, a mold in which God lovingly recreates us.
That incredible standard of mercy and love toward one's neighbor is how God actually sees us in Christ, because that's the standard that Christ lived up to. And that standard is therefore also what we really are according to our new selves. God says we are merciful, because He sees us in Christ, who is merciful. But He doesn't lie. His Word does what it says.
And that means that we who now are merciful will inherit the greatest mercy of all. God provides all our needs, not just for this life, but for eternity. Before we are even aware of a need, He fills it. And that is especially true of our need for His presence and love. We may be capable of having mercy on those who wrong us, but we usually don't like it very much, and we often don't necessarily like to be around that person a whole lot for fear he will do it again. But we who were sinners, for whom Christ died while we were yet sinners, He wants us to be in His presence forever. That's how merciful our God is. 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, June 28, 2020

Sermon for 6/28/2020: Third Sunday After Trinity

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Everlasting Mercy

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


“The Lord is good, and His mercy is everlasting.” But do not believe that the Lord’s mercy is nothing more than an attitude or a pose He strikes. If you believed that, why would you beg Him to “have mercy”? Your own prayers testify that your hope that the Lord’s mercy is more than a posture. Your prayers urge you to believe that the Lord’s mercy is active, dynamic, always working for you. You believe that He will engage Himself in your struggles and give you help that exceeds your expectations—help that goes beyond any help that you have ever given or received.

When you cry out “Lord, have mercy,” you believe that the Father will He deal with you as a father would, because you have begged Him and relied on Him. So we cast on Him every care, every need, every fear, every godly desire—especially the hope of heaven—whenever we pray, “Lord, be merciful to me.” We hope beyond hope that our Lord God truly does not forsake those who seek Him; that He really is merciful and gracious, full of compassion, and abundant in kindness.

In the Gospel, you hear the mercy of God, and it confirms that your prayer is not in vain. You see Jesus as the Good Shepherd seeking you out. You know that God the Father earnestly anticipates your return when you go your own way, living however you please, getting lost in your base desires and your sinful addictions. And then you begin to believe that, even though you deserve no kindness from God, our Lord receives you and eats with you. You have a place at His table; you are restored to communion in God through Christ. The Lord is determined, relentless, single-minded with His mercy. He pursues you. He hunts you down. He comes after you.

There is the love of God: not that we sought Him out, but that He seeks us; not that we decided for Him, but that He persistently chooses us; not that we’ve settled on Him as our Help and Savior, but that He is proactive and resolute in reconciling us to Him, in bringing us into His kingdom, in restoring us to full and wholesome communion with Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us.

And that is what you see in today’s Gospel. The woman sweeps the house. She peers in each nook and cranny. She will not give up until she finds that coin. This is the Holy Spirit working in and through the Church. The coin is you, minted with the image of the Son. The Holy Spirit knows you belong, for He knows you will never rest until you rest in Him. And the Holy Spirit knows you, even though you’ve hidden yourself under layers of sin and filth. The Spirit seeks and searches for you, even though you often resist Him and don’t wish to be found. The Holy Spirit is unrelenting. Constantly He calls you to gather away from your sin, away from the things that harm your soul. Constantly He calls you to gather at this table, to be fed by our Lord’s holy body and blood. And constantly, deliberately, He gives to you the Lord’s undying mercy to soothe, strengthen, and settle you, even as you suffer the many temptations and heartaches and assaults of the devil.

This is the true picture of the Lord’s mercy: a Spirit who will not be denied; a Church that stands ready to welcome and seat sinners at the Lord’s table; the sending and persistent activity of His Holy Spirit, doing whatever it takes to restore and keep you safely within His holy Church. This is what our Lord wishes to impress on your heart and soul this day. If you see His unwavering devotion toward you, take to heart the full measure of His mercy and love. You will resist the devil, steadfast in the faith. You will even be bold enough to live that same relentless and active mercy for His sake in your dealings with anyone you meet. 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, June 21, 2020

Sermon for 6/21/2020: Second Sunday After Trinity

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The Kingdom Is Now

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


The Kingdom of God is not some event in the distant future. It is now. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God now. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven now. Blessed is he who recognizes in Mary’s Son the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world now. Blessed is he who eats bread in the Kingdom of God now. The Kingdom of God belongs to them. The Holy Trinity rules in them by grace even now.
All things are ready—all things, that is, except the guests. They have lingering commitments and desires for themselves that rank higher somehow than God and His gifts. The Host is ready; they are not. Here come the excuses. They don’t come right out and say that they don’t want to come. They just don’t want to come now. We can clearly see the foolishness of such behavior. We are pleased that the host invites the dregs of society—the poor, the lame, the maimed, and the blind—and that still there is room. We are glad because that means there is still room for us.
But for how long will there be room? This is a parable about urgency, about the desperate and present need we have. We scoff at the men in the parable who thought themselves too busy to attend. But what about us? Are we ready for the final summons? Are we eager and expectant? The truth is, we have plans and dreams. Yes, we want Jesus to return, but first we want to see our children grow up. We want to reach our goals. We want to see if George Martin will ever finish his Game of Thrones series. Repent! No believer will be disappointed in that eternal Day. No believer will look back longingly on this vale of tears or desire anything in it.
In twenty years as a pastor, I’ve had several homebound and shut-in church members tell me how frustrated they are that God keeps them here. They are ready, and they don’t know what purpose they can yet serve. I tell them I don’t know either, but with those who love God, all things work out for good; surely He will bring them home soon, at the perfect time. But that plaintive cry, that desire for the Last Day, should be in us all, regardless of age, health, or occupation. Farmer, spouse, laborer, professor, or pastor—what do any of us add to this world? God does not need us. This is not out home. “Come, Lord Jesus,” should be more than a mindless table prayer. We should want Him to return; and as we wait, we should desire that He should come to us every Lord’s Day in His body and blood.
And, yet, the sad fact is that we have believed we might be bored in heaven, that we might miss our beer, our video games, our lust, our pride. Eternity is not going to be a utopia of golf courses, stocked ponds, and TV shows. It is far better than that—the most interesting, delightful, wonderful thing, far beyond what we can imagine. We will be free of sin. We will stop hurting ourselves and those we love with shameful, selfish behavior. We will bask in the presence of our loving Father as His adopted family, perfected in grace. We will have no regrets, nothing lost, everything gained.
But that joy to come, that glory to be revealed, is already present now. For those with eyes to see, we are already God’s adopted children in whom He abides. And already now, here, He gathers us to Himself. He feeds us with food that money cannot buy, with bread that will not waste, with crucified flesh and spilled blood that satisfies righteousness.
Everything is ready. It is all finished. All debts are paid, all sins removed, all shame forgotten, for Jesus died once for all and rose to give us new life. There is nothing left to do but to receive. Come to the Feast. Be filled by Him. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
           
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Twenty Years a Steward of God’s Mysteries

June 18, 2000 was Father’s Day, and it started out right: with the 8am service at my home church, St. Mark Lutheran in North Tonawanda, New York. I was there with my parents and with Pastor Kim Scharff and his wife, Mary. Kim and Mary had left their seven children at home to be with me on one of the most important days of my life: the day I would be Ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry. It was appropriate that my biological and spiritual fathers were both there. I learned from Alan and Kathy what it means to be a Christian; I learned from Kim and Mary what it means to be a pastor and serve God’s people in the Holy Ministry. (It was also one of the last times I would see my maternal grandparents.)

That afternoon we gathered again at St. Mark. A small group of pastors gathered together along with friends and family and members of St. Mark. This collection of saints had seen me grow from childhood, supported me when I was still studying to be a Lutheran high school English teacher, and had the misfortune of hearing the first sermon I wrote during college. Fortunately, I was a much better preacher by the time I was placed there for fieldwork during my final year at the seminary. 

Pastor Scharff preached the sermon—I’ll include it at the end of this post. Pastor Doellinger, who was serving St. Mark at the time, administered the Rite of Ordination. And then I took over, celebrating the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time as the Officiant. A little over a month later, I would be Installed in my first parish. But June 18, 2000 was the beginning.

I’ve been a pastor for 20 years as of today. I’m right around middle age for a pastor, and I can feel that in the aches in my body and the increased confidence I have in using the gifts God has given me to serve His people. There are many joys in being a pastor—baptizing newborns and adults, teaching young people the Christian faith, delivering God’s gifts to His people (this is not an exhaustive list)—and these are rich blessings from the Lord of the Church. Still, it is not an easy path. The four years and seven months I spent without a Call, not to mention the two years leading up to that, certainly attest to this reality. The trials of the Ministry can be heartbreaking, and that heartbreak wears on a man. I love what I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I wouldn’t mind If God were to help me to be able more fully to enjoy the wonders a little more often and to endure and focus less on the sadness. That I do not always live and serve this way is my failing, not His.

This anniversary is just a touch bittersweet. As I thought about this day over the past few months, I’d planned to call Pastor Scharff and thank him once again for sharing that day with me. I can’t make that call; Kim is no longer there to answer. The Lord has given him rest from his labors. But I learned from Kim to be a pastor, and I wouldn’t have made it to this day—or even to that day 20 years ago—without him. 

So...here’s to another twenty years. At least. To God alone be the glory.

____________________

Here’s the Ordination sermon preached by the Reverend Kim Scharff. How right and fitting that he should share his wisdom with me once again. This is just as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.


What is a Pastor? What Can He Give?

In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ours is a cynical age. What do you mean, pastor? Do we even know what “cynical” means? The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “cynic” as “one who has little faith in human sincerity.” And so, again, ours is a cynical age. Isn’t it true that we tend to assume, as often as not, that people just aren’t being truthful with us? What do you think when a politician tells you something? Aren’t you just a bit skeptical about whether or not he is telling the truth? What about the newscaster who peers at you through the television monitor; don’t you wonder just a bit about whether or not he is telling you the whole story? I think it was Mark Twain who said that he did not believe anything he heard and only half of what he could see. That’s just healthy skepticism, some would say; a good thing. But, is it a good thing? Is it a good thing over against the things of God? Is it a good way to approach the Office of the Holy Ministry?

Just a little over a hundred and fifty years ago, our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was born in the midst of cynicism over against the Office of the Holy Ministry. If you are not aware of this fact, you really should do some reading on the early years of our Church; you will find it interesting and enlightening. Some have even questioned, justifiably in my judgment, whether or not we have ever really gotten over those particular birth pains of our church body. Is there cynicism out there in the Church now about the Office of the Holy Ministry?

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ, from St. Luke’s Gospel, address this issue straight on. “He who hears you hears Me…” --- What is a pastor? If we are going to avoid being cynical about the Office of the Ministry, then we need an answer to this question. How does Jesus answer it? “He who hears you, hears Me…” The Office of the Holy Ministry is the voice of Jesus Christ in His Church. A pastor is the man God has put in His Church for the specific purpose of carrying out these words of our Lord: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (St. Matthew 28:18,19)

When our pastor faithfully speaks God’s Word to us, we are hearing the voice of Jesus. When he baptizes and offers us the body and blood of the Lord, his hands are the hands of Jesus. When he hears our confession and speaks the words of absolution to us, it is the voice of Jesus that we are hearing. Now, some would suggest that this is being a bit presumptuous. Jesus faced the same criticism when He told the paralytic not only to rise and go home, but that his sins were forgiven. They said of Him: “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (St. Mark 2:7) St. Matthew offers this commentary: “When the crowds saw it they were afraid, and they glorified God who had given such authority to men.” (St. Matthew 9:8)

But, again, some would say that this is rather presumptuous. And yet, isn’t this precisely what we believe and confess? Listen to the Small Catechism on this matter: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, especially when they exclude manifest and impenitent sinners from the Christian congregation, and, again, when they absolve those who repent of their sins and are willing to amend, this is as valid and certain, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us Himself.” --- Admittedly, this is a position that gives some people trouble. If a pastor is merely a “man among men,” then what he says and does carries no more weight than anyone else; it is only his opinion in the midst of many other opinions that bear equal significance. But, if the pastor is the voice of Jesus Christ; if he truly is the one God has put there to forgive the sins of the penitent and to retain the sins of the impenitent; if he is the one who is there to speak God’s words of life and hope; if he is, in fact, the one whom God has given to feed His people with the blessed Word and Sacraments, then we dare not take a cynical attitude toward what he says and does. “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” This is what is at stake in our view of the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Now, you may say: “But isn’t it true, pastor, that there are some who abuse the Office of the Ministry by their teaching and by their actions?” Of course, that is true, and those who would abuse the Office of Jesus Christ in such ways are not fit for the office and should not hold it. Indeed, they should be removed from it, if necessary. But, at the same time, we need to be very careful that we do not cynically assume that every pastor will do this, if given the chance. Faithful pastors are a great blessing from God, and we can never honor that office highly enough because it has been given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, out of His love and mercy toward His Church.

So, this is what a pastor is. But, there is another question, of equal significance, for which we need an answer if we are to avoid being cynical towards the Office of the Holy Ministry. What can a pastor give? The Augsburg Confession, which we believe to be a faithful exposition of the teaching of Holy Scripture, says: “In order that such faith may be obtained, God has instituted the Office of the Ministry, for the preaching of the Gospel and administering of the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel…” --- I remember one of my seminary professors telling us that the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and administering the Holy Sacraments, is a full time, and more than a full time, vocation. Any pastor, He said, who does this work faithfully and fully will have neither time nor inclination to do much of anything else. After nearly two decades in the ministry, I think I am beginning to understand what he meant, and it goes right to the heart of what we are discussing. --- The Lord of the Church very carefully prescribes what a pastor can give. And I use the word “prescribe” purposely, because there are limits that have been set. Creating and sustaining faith is the “business”, if you will, of the Office of the Ministry. “In order that such faith may be obtained…,” the confession says.

What do we expect of our pastors? What expectations will the members of St. Paul and St. Peter have of Pastor Kornacki? If our expectations fall beyond the boundaries of Word and Sacrament, then they are expectations we really should not have. I am not speaking here about questions of morality and ethics; that is an issue unto itself. I am talking about the work of a pastor. It is not the work of pastors to try and solve all the world’s problems, though it is their task to apply the healing balm of the Gospel to the problems of the heart and soul. It is not the work of pastors to build the communities in which they live into little “divine fortresses,” though it certainly is their work to build up those committed to their care that they might, in turn, bear a righteous witness among the neighbors. It is not the work of pastors to “fatten” the church’s bank account, though it surely is their work to hold before the people of God that wonderful generosity of the Father in heaven, who not only provides all that we need to support our bodies and lives, but who also gave His own dear Son into suffering and death as the sacrifice for our sins; the price of our redemption. --- “In order that such faith may be obtained, God has instituted the Office of the Ministry, for the preaching of the Gospel and administering of the Sacraments…” That is all, but, surely, that is enough! It is enough because, in the end, it is all we really need. It is enough because, in His wisdom, this is the boundary that God Himself has set for this office He intends to bless.

In the eyes of the world, the Church is a strange enterprise. The same can be said for the Office of the Holy Ministry. Success and validity in this world are measured by what and how much you produce. What do you have to show for what you are doing? What’s your “bottom line?” Or, to put a more “religious” cast on it, how many new members did you gain last year? How many converts have you had in the last five years? When that is the standard by which both Church and Ministry are measured, we will, most often, to quote (or should it be misquote) the prophet Daniel, be “weighed in the balance, and found wanting.” But, what if someone had come to Jesus after His “Bread of Life” sermon in John 6 and asked Him about how His following had grown? What could He have said? His followers were leaving Him like rats leaving a sinking ship. Only twelve remained, and, no doubt, some of them were weighing their options. And yet, that may be precisely what happens when the Church and the Ministry are saying and doing what God has given them to say and do.

The Kingdom of God is hidden; it is hidden behind the cross of Christ. May we never forget that the blessed Gospel, which we hold so dear, and to which we cling with all our might is, at the same time, the greatest offense the world has ever known. It insists that as man is helpless, so God reigns supreme. As man can do nothing to save himself, so God can and has and will do everything. And therein lies the cynicism of the world over against what you and I, as pastors and as the people of God, believe and do. We walk by faith, not by sight, and that is something which a cynic, whether inside or outside the church, can never accept. --- And yet, this is just what moves us to rejoice on this day! We give ourselves over into the hands of God, convinced of His love for us and His intention to bless us. As the Church, we rejoice that the Church’s Lord has called and now sends another man to serve in His holy office. And you, brother, rejoice in that same certainty that it is the call of the Lord of the Church that you have heard and now will answer. The time has come to lay aside whatever doubts and fears we may have. The God of all grace lives and reigns forever and ever. He gives His people faith in His lovingkindess and tender mercy. And He places into the hands and hearts and voices of His pastors the Word of life. “He who hears you hears Me”, to which we joyfully give answer, “Thanks be to God!” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sermon for 6/14/2020: First Sunday After Trinity

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Moses and the Prophets

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


At first glance, the account of the beggar Lazarus and the unnamed rich man might seem to be right out of modern reporting: a tale of equality or vindication. Some might say that the moral of the story is, “All things will come out even in the end.” Others might say that the story means that the rich will become poor and the poor will become rich. But neither is true; it doesn’t always happen that way. Nor does suffering earn favor with God. The difference between Lazarus and the rich man is not found in their wallets, nor in their deeds, but in their hearts. For while it seems as though hungry Lazarus has nothing besides the mercy of canines, in truth, he has riches the world can scarcely imagine. He has Moses and the prophets; he has the Word of God.
The rich man rejected Moses and the prophets. Even in the fires of hell, hearing the truth from no less of an authority than Abraham himself, the rich man refuses to believe that Moses and the prophets can save his brothers. The hard-heartedness of the faithless goats perseveres into eternity. They want to be judged by their works. They want a god of their own design, a god or goddess who looks like them. And in the end, they get what they want. At their own urging, our Lord calmly hands the Pharisees and priests over to their self-chosen fate with one of the saddest sentences in all of the Scriptures: “They have their reward.”
Longing for crumbs from the table while dogs licked his wounds, miserable Lazarus found no mercy from the rich man, no crumb to abate his hunger, no balm for his wounds, no camaraderie to soothe his lonely exile. The kingdom of men rejected him. But in the end, Lazarus found what he sought. He found mercy that endures forever. He found Living Water and Bread from Heaven. He found eternal satisfaction and health. He found it in Moses and the prophets. In the Word of God he found a Man in worse shape than himself; a Man condemned for sins He did not commit; a man in whom there was no beauty, no comeliness, not even any dogs to lick his wounds. That Man bore the iniquity of all the evil which fallen men have done, so that fallen men like Lazarus and the rich man and all who ever lived might go free.
In His mercy, God lowered Lazarus to the point where he was not too proud to beg, for, as Mary foretold, “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” God gives to His children a harvest where they did not sow, wine where they did not tend, grace they have not earned. The God of Abraham, the Baby of Mary, the Messiah prophesied by Moses; God in flesh in the person of Jesus has come to Lazarus. And now Lazarus, for all his trouble in this sad life, knows perfect joy and peace, for the holy angels have borne him to the bosom of Abraham.
Thanks be to God for His abundant grace and wisdom. He has made us like that holy beggar: helpless, weak, and dependent, trusting in no one but Him, satisfied with no other food, drinking no other wine. He has soothed our wounds with the balm of baptismal waters. He has fed us undeserved crumbs from His table, humble gifts of bread and wine in which our Lord hides His glorious body and blood. He has given us Moses and the prophets in His holy Word, which is our great comfort and joy as we sprawl here in the world, awaiting the eternal joy of the Lord, because for us—for dogs and children, drunks and outcasts, beggars and sinners all—for us is the Kingdom of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Sermon for 6/7/2020: Feast of the Holy Trinity

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Mysteries

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


Although many people try, you can’t gut, poke, prod, and dissect the mysteries of God to the point of being able to fully grasp them with your human reason. It can’t be done. There is no fancy computer equipment or technological gadget that’s going to give you all the answers you seek when it comes to the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. And if we’re honest, the Holy Trinity is one of the best examples of that. How can there be three persons in the Trinity, yet they are only one God? We don’t know. We know that Scripture teaches it and so we believe it.

Many aspects of the Christian faith are beyond human reasoning, not just the doctrine of the Trinity. That doesn’t mean these teachings ought to be rejected. Most people have no idea what goes on to get the car to start and run, but that doesn’t mean they reject the car. Sure, there are people who know all about how a car works. God also knows all about how He works, but even if He told us and let us in on all His mysteries, we probably wouldn’t grasp a bit of it. That’s why Paul writes, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord?” God tells us what He wants us to know; He explains what He wants us to understand; and He leaves it there. His mysteries aren’t given to us for our speculation, as some sort of intellectual exercise. His mysteries are given to us to receive and to accept by faith. After all, man is not the measure of all things; God is.

In the Christian Church, we should keep the sense of wonder and mystery. We should refrain from poking and prodding at the mysteries, the things that the Lord hasn’t given to us to know. Too often, even people within the church have rejected God’s Word just because they couldn’t understand it. They’ve even gone so far as to teach false doctrine in order to explain God’s mysteries. That gets you in real trouble. Trying to look into the hidden things of God is even more inappropriate than asking a woman’s age. Certainly you should ask questions, but you must realize that the answer may not always satisfy you here and now. Pray that the Holy Spirit would grant it to you to receive God’s wisdom in faith and to believe, even when you can’t seem to understand. We know God’s will toward us is gracious because of what His Son did for us. There is no greater love than this.

This is the depth and beauty of the mysteries of the Kingdom: they are for us and for our eternal good. When you receive and believe God’s mysteries to be true, you no longer want to dissect them; you want to stand back and admire them with awe for all their beauty and wonder. It’s like looking at a wonderful painting filled with meaning, or a glorious landscape exuding the majesty of God’s creation. Admire them; take them in; rejoice that our Lord shares with you His blessings, which are beyond anything we can ask, imagine, or understand. Tearing those things apart and dissecting them would ruin them for you. So it is with the mysteries of God. Apart from faith, they lose their beauty for you.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born of water and the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus doesn’t get it. He gets hung up on the word “born.” He even asks a silly question— “silly,” because he is a teacher of Israel and should know better— about how someone could be born out of his mother’s womb a second time. Jesus is talking about the rebirth that occurs in Baptism. It is in Baptism that the name of the Holy Trinity is put upon you: the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This marks us as those who have been born again from above. It marks you as one who has been redeemed by Christ the crucified.

When you come into contact with the mysteries of God, with His holy Word and Sacraments, you are cleansed of all sins, just as Isaiah was when he was touched by the coal at the Lord’s command. “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged.” Though you did not deserve it, your sin is removed, even the sins of doubt and disbelief. This is a great mystery: by the grace of the Triune God, all who believe in Him receive forgiveness and everlasting life. We don’t need to understand how or why it works. It works, and that is enough. 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.