Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sermon for 5/24/20: Ascension of Our Lord (Observed)

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Ascended and Still Here

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

What a difference forty days makes! The Evangelist St. Mark records that, on Easter morning, the women fled from the empty tomb, saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Forty days later, everything changes! From now on, no matter what we face, God never abandons us, never leaves us alone. The apostles, once hidden in the upper room for fear of the Jews, now venture forth, armed with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Jesus has sent His men to preach His good news to all creation. He has put His name on us in the waters of Holy Baptism, promising that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. He has reclined with us at Table, feeding us His body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins.
God won’t abandon us. How do you know? Jesus was taken into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God. Jesus, who is both true God and true Man, sits right next to His Father and our Father, whispering in His ear that Jesus has died to redeem sinners. A flesh-and-blood Man has the eternal attention of the Father, speaking to Him on our behalf, and His innocent crucified body and shed blood testify on our behalf. This is the miracle of the Ascension of our Lord: in ascending to His Father, in sitting at the right hand of God, Jesus lifts and exalts humanity in Himself.
How often does the Ascension Gospel get bumped from your mind? Or to ask the question another way, how often do you think about the Ascension of our Lord and what it means for you? Do you consider it at any other time than when we mention it in the Creed? How often do other things take over and leave you sad, mopey, and despairing? How often do you wonder if God loves you—or does He even bother to think about you at all? How often do you allow yourself to believe that you’re too great a sinner, that you’re too bad a person for God to forgive? How often do you despair of God’s goodness for you?
When these thoughts confound you and cloud your thinking, remember that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. Don’t despair anymore! Whatever else is true about you and God, this is the most sure: the One who died on the Cross, who rose on Easter morning—Jesus Christ, God with us in human flesh—now sits at the right hand of God for you. Everything that God does, He does through His right hand for your good. Jesus is there for you: your friend, your advocate, your high priest, your Savior.
With Jesus at the right hand of the Father, there is no power, no event, no authority in heaven, on earth, under the earth, or anywhere else, that can lay back on you the sins you have committed, so that you need to despair ever again. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Satan may prowl around like a roaring lion, but his teeth have been pulled; he has no more power over you, no accusation to make against you. You belong to God; Jesus has set you free!
What a difference forty days makes! Like the disciples, we have been tempted to live in fear, whether from disease, financial disaster, or any other tribulation that afflicts our daily lives. But Jesus has entered into our shuttered, fearful hearts, and has breathed on us to give us His peace and the Holy Spirit. He has made Himself known to us in the breaking of the bread of the Holy Supper. And now He stands with us and promises to be with us now and always, even to the end of the age. We have nothing more to fear, for Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God, promises that He will be with us now, and He promises that we will be with Him forever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sermon for 5/17/2020: Sixth Sunday of Easter

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God Hears and Answers

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Our culture is big on hope, but short on belief. There is paganism and at least a touch of superstition dwelling in our hearts that still thinks dancing around the fire and peering into tea leaves has power. The popular opinion is that anything is possible; reality shouldn’t get in the way. Believe what you want about cancer, the moon landing, or 9/11, but nothing should be held rigidly; certainly nothing should be held to the exclusion of other opinions. We deny absolute truth, and gone with it is the concept of reality.
So it is that, when we find ourselves in a crisis, we are sorely tempted to call together all the religious leaders of the world and have them pray to the pantheon of gods. Just this week Pope Francis, the so-called vicar of Christ, called upon people of all religions to come together spiritually during this pandemic. We behave like a patient diagnosed with a terminal disease, going from one guru to the next, hanging on the words of every wacko in the vague hope of a cure. Maybe we are hoping that the gods would cooperate like comic book heroes. Prayer in such a context, even if the words are used, is not prayer in the name of Jesus. Jesus will not share the stage.
The One who hears His people’s prayers is our God by grace. He has made us His people. He is everyone’s God. It is just that everyone does not know it. In the end they will. Every knee shall bow and every tongue in Hell shall confess that Jesus is Lord. To pray to the Father through the Spirit in the name of Jesus is to confess that Jesus is Lord. That confession cannot stand alongside the rabbis who hold that Jesus is the deceased bastard son of a Nazarene peasant who was executed as a criminal. It cannot stand the idea that Jesus is merely a misunderstood prophet of Allah who did not make atonement for the world. Prayer in the name of Jesus cannot stand with witch doctors and shamans and druids. Prayer in the name of Jesus must condemn those demonic lies.
Jesus is the real God. He will tolerate no pretenders. The One who gave His life to make us His is the One who hears and answers our prayers. God is not like us; His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. He is good; His mercy endures forever. God’s will is always done, and it is always good. And even when it seems bad—even when the Father does not remove the cup of wrath from His Son, even when it means we suffer shame and hatred from the world—we will see that the will of God is always perfect. What we receive is what God’s children need.
Jesus tells His people to pray. You do not need to form the perfect request. Even before you ask, your Father knows what you need. You are not standing before an angry God, for Jesus has reconciled God and man with His blood. For the sake of Jesus, our Father welcomes your petitions. Through Christ, His Father is your Father, and your Father loves you. Nor must you seek vague signs in nature and wonder if, when the phone rings or the dog barks, it is a specific answer to prayer. God provides, not because you pray, but because He loves you. You do not pray to manipulate Him; you pray because that is what faith does. You call upon God because He will give you all things, and you know that somehow, in the end, it will be good.
You are not alone in prayer. God speaks to you in His Word. With that holy and inerrant Word, prayer is not a one-way conversation. In the Bible, God reveals His will for you. He exposes His loving mercy and kindness. This God of grace answers your prayers. He provides friends, family, food, and all things. But most significantly, He who provided the ram in the thicket so that Isaac would go free—He has provided His Son as a perfect sacrifice in your place, and He delivers that same Son to you in His body and blood. By His Word, He provides. He forgives. He renews. He strengthens and encourages. He hears and He answers. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sermon for 5/10/2020: Fifth Sunday of Easter

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A New Song

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The Lord has done marvelous things. They are greater in number than our feeble minds might comprehend. He has called the galaxies to be. He has set the planets on their course. He has formed our bodies, wonderful in their complexity. Then again, according to those who imagined Zeus, Islam’s Allah, Ba’al, the Earth goddess, and all the other deities, those beings have done the same work. And the devil says, “See? All gods are the same. Any name will do. Call him or her what you want. It does not matter to him or to me. We have more in common than that which is distinct. Unity is the highest goal. We should all be nice.”
But the devil always lies. Those so-called divine beings might be marvelous, but they are not gracious. And morality is good. Where the pagans agree with God, thanks be to God; but there is no grace in morality. A false god’s idea of creation and morality reflect what a man imagines in his own heart, and it does not reflect what the True God demands. Repent.
The God of Abraham in the Flesh from Mary’s womb is not imagined, nor is He like us. He has remembered His mercy. His right arm has gotten Him the victory. He submitted to defeat in humility to break death’s teeth. He died and He rose again. He lives. Unlike Zeus or Allah or any imaginary god designed in human fantasy or demonic impulse, our God died to pay for the sins of men who rejected Him. Our God died for us; and He rose for us. No other god has died for His creation. No other god has the power to rise fro the dead; only the true God in Flesh, Jesus Christ, has done this. This is the Truth. He has sent the Comforter to comfort us with that Truth, and that Truth sets men free. His love is perfect and forgiving. It reconciles sinners to the Father. It gives us a song to sing—not of idle fancies, but of history and of the future we have in Him.
Though our God was angry with us for our vile and selfish deeds, His wrath has been turned to the cross. It has been spent upon the Son. Our God sent His Son to die for us and to rise again! We could not have guessed what God would do to make us His, to buy us back again. We could not have expected or imagined such love. He has become our salvation, our strength, and our song. He has taken the sins of the world into His Body. The accuser has been robbed of his accusations. Jesus died for us and crushed the liar’s head. He let us kill Him rather than send us to Hell where we belonged. He is not fair. He is just and He is merciful. He is gracious and forgiving.
Death has no more claim upon us because He took our place. He died our death. It is finished. Death is now empty. There is nothing left. He rose up out of the grave, alive in His body on the third day, reunited with His soul, the Victor over hell. The grave did not hold Him. It cannot hold us. Like unto His glorious body, our bodies will be raised and perfected. This is the most marvelous thing. It defines our God and gives us a song. Our Lord and the Holy Apostles call it the Gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation. It is the content of our song.
This is our song: He has ascended to the right hand of His Father. He rules with perfect grace in the hearts of those who believe in Him. They call Him Lord and King. Once He was mocked; now is He worshiped. He has sent the Helper, that Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who inspired the apostles and prophets to write His words, who delivers Jesus to us. And where there is Jesus, there is also life and salvation.
And where there is life and salvation, there is singing. We cannot help ourselves. It springs up from the depths of our souls, for we are forgiven. We are loved. Our lives have purpose and meaning. The Spirit inspires us and puts His words upon our lips, and we sing the new song of redemption. So “sing unto the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things.” ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Sermon for 5/3/2020: Fourth Sunday of Easter

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The Reunion

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

As He had prepared them for everything He would lay before them in the days to come, Jesus prepared His disciples for His death. “A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me.” Death robs us of the visible, tangible presence of those we love. We long to see them, but we cannot. We long to hear their voice, but there is only silence from the grave. We remember all the good times we shared with the dearly departed. We remember all the joy, all the care, all the love. We mourn what we have lost—and rightfully so, for God has blessed us richly through those with whom we have shared our lives.
In that sense, we ourselves know the grief the disciples experienced, nor can we fault them for it. Lacking understanding of our Lord’s teachings, the disciples mourned their beloved teacher and friend. There was a great, fearful silence hanging over the world on that Friday we call good. Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” and then there was silence—a silent, breathless body; a silent, cold tomb; a silent, grief-loaded Sabbath. The enemies of Jesus doubtless rejoiced, for they believed they had silenced this troublemaking rabbi who called Himself the Son of God. In the meantime, His disciples were filled with fear and sorrow. They grieved as do those who have no hope, for Jesus, their Friend and Teacher, was dead. “Your sorrow will turn to joy,” Jesus promised them. “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” In the early morning, Christ’s followers, both the women and the disciples, saw the tomb; they saw that it was open and empty. They heard the good news: “He is risen! He is not here.” That evening they saw and heard and touched Him. And as they recognized their Jesus as the living Lord, their sorrow melted away into unspeakable joy.
Jesus compared that sorrow of grief over death to pains of a woman about to give birth. It’s true that her suffering is great, and it can last many hours. But then, when she delivers her child into the world, she forgets all the anguish—or, at least, that anguish is unimportant compared to the extravagant joy she experiences as she holds that newborn child in her arms. If that anguish wasn’t forgotten, it’s entirely possible that only the firstborn child in any family would arrive. But it doesn’t work that way. The anguish of labor, no matter how long or how bitter, gives way to the joy of a child who is born.
Thanks to our Lord’s death and resurrection, we are given to think of death as a new birth, and our suffering over death as labor pains that will give way to something of incomparably greater joy. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Our present sufferings do not compare with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” There is coming a Day of resurrection and reunion, a great and glorious Last Day. And on that day all the dead will rise, and we will be gathered together with Christ and all who have died in Him. There will be no more sorrow, for Jesus will wipe away all tears. There will be no more death, for our Lord Jesus has conquered death; death is now only the gate to eternal life. And then, as Jesus promised, at last, your sorrow will turn to joy, and your mourning into dancing. For now, we rejoice that we experience a humbler reunion, though no less joyful, when our Lord gathers us around His altar for the family feast. He brings us together “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” for fellowship in His body and blood. We will be reunited there soon, God willing, gathered together as a congregation to receive life. Soon and very soon you will see Him, and and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

HYMN: O Christ, High Priest and Sacrifice

As I go through the texts I’ve already written to see which ones I’d like to rewrite or write another text for, the Fifth Sunday in Lent was one of those that stuck out to me. My first text for Lent V is a metric Psalm, and it’s a decent text, but it doesn’t talk about the propers very much. Looking at the Gospel appointed for this Sunday, John 8:42-59, nothing stood out for me to wrap my head around for a hymn text. The Epistle, however, Hebrews 9:11-15, gave me plenty of inspiration. That being said, I’ve been pondering this text for about three months, and nothing major occurred to me. And then I came to the community where I spent my Vicarage year, Norborne, Missouri, and suddenly words started to flow. After writing “O Lord, My Soul Is Overcome,” I picked up my notes for Lent V again, and suddenly I had some new thoughts. This text is what came from those thoughts. I’m not quite as confident about this text as I am about my other two recent texts, but there’s at least something to build on here. Your feedback is appreciated. 

O Christ, High Priest and Sacrifice

1. O Christ, High Priest and Sacrifice,
Who bore our sins upon the tree,
Your blood has paid our ransom price.
Your sinless death has set us free.
O Paschal Lamb, You took our place
To give Your people endless grace.

2. O Man of Sorrows, holy Son,
The Father’s wrath You bore in flesh.
Our full redemption You have won,
Our souls with peace You now refresh,
For You have earned the victory
Upon the cross most willingly.

3. O Jesus Christ, the sinner’s friend,
Whose regal head was crowned with thorn,
With meekness, silence to the end
You felt creation’s bitter scorn.
As we adore Your holy scars,
Teach us to love Your cross as ours.

4. O Advocate, Your righteous blood
Before the Father ever cries,
The water from Your side, a flood
To cleanse the sinner in His eyes.
And as You draw us near Your throne,
Your Father has become our own.

5. O Savior, innocent in death,
In You our death has lost its sting.
Oh, grant that we with ev’ry breath
Rejoice Your endless love to sing.
O holy Lamb of God, we raise
To You glad hymns of thanks and praise.

(c) 2020 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
88 88 88
Fifth Sunday in Lent

Sermon for 4/26/2020: Third Sunday of Easter

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The Shepherd in the Valley

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Many images come to mind as we think of Jesus as our Shepherd. The Shepherd holds His sheep in His arms. He promises never to forsake the flock. When a sheep becomes separated from the flock, He carries it over His shoulders. Psalm 23 describes the relationship: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. …Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” But more than all that, Jesus is the Good Shepherd specifically because He lays down His life for the sheep.”
Israel had seen bad shepherds: cowardly prophets, faithless priests and Pharisees who opposed Jesus. When the wolves would come—when false prophets for false gods would arise, when the people did whatever they wanted in opposition to the Word of God—these hirelings would choose to take the easy road. They would choose their own lives and their own comfort over the welfare of sheep. They would leave the sheep to scatter and be devoured by the wolves. They even lead the sheep in their care to cry out for the death of their Good Shepherd.
But the sheep of the Good Shepherd have a way of straying on their own, even without being led by the hirelings, don’t they? Sheep are not the most intelligent creatures, and we prove it constantly. We try to come up with our own way of dealing with God. If we do more good than bad, if we help more people than we hurt, then we think that everything will be ok, that God will accept us as we are. Like all sheep, when we ignore the voice of our Shepherd, we wander off, and we end up lost and in danger. We become easy pray for wolves, unless, of course, we fall off a cliff first. This is exactly why we need a Good Shepherd.
And Jesus is content to be our Good Shepherd, even at the cost of His own life. He is the Good Shepherd who gives up His life in the place of the sheep, even when the sheep themselves try to trample Him. He doesn’t flee when the wolf shows up, for the sheep are His own, given to Him by His Heavenly Father. Despite our straying, He bore all our sins on the Tree. “The Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.” “By His stripes we are healed.” That’s what it means that He is your Good Shepherd: He laid down His life for you. He knows very well what it means to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death;” He walked that way Himself, dying as the Shepherd for “sheep who love to wander.” Because He walked that path, and because He walks with you as you pass through this vale of tears, you need “fear no evil.” You are passing through that valley even now, whether it’s this virus or cancer or depression or temptation or any other tribulation that afflicts you. But you are not alone. Your Good Shepherd is with you, to comfort you and protect you with His rod and staff, with His Word of life.
Your Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He knows you. He called you by name in the “still waters” of your Baptism and delivered to you what He won for you on the cross. He feeds you in these pleasant, “green pastures” with His Word and with His own body and blood. He knows you. And you know Him, for His sheep know His voice. You know His voice. His voice speaks to you in the life-giving words of Holy Absolution, where His under-shepherd says to you, “I forgive you all your sins.” His voice returns you to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul. His voice calls you back from your straying to new and eternal life.
What does it mean that Jesus is the Good Shepherd? Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gave up His life for His sheep. He gave up His life for you. And because He has given His life for you, you “will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Friday, April 24, 2020

HYMN: O Lord, My Soul Is Overcome

In His infinite love and mercy, the Lord gathered to himself a beloved friend and parental figure this week. Mary is the wife of my vicarage bishop (internship overseer for the uninitiated). The year I spent under her husband’s care was one of the best years of my life, and part of the reason the year went so well was that I became part of this wonderful family. I’ve traveled to be with the family, coronavirus be damned. I needed to be here. 

I wrote a hymn text in memory of Mary. I didn’t have a particular Biblical text in mind, but Easter is fresh in my head (as you can tell from my nod to “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”), as is my grief. Obviously it’s not profound. So be it. It also needs a new tune. 

O Lord, My Soul Is Overcome
(In memory of Mary Scharff)

1. O Lord, my soul is overcome.
My eyes are drenched with bitter tears.
In grace You called my loved one home
Whom I have loved these many years.

2. Your will, my God, I know is best,
But still my grief is hard to bear.
I cry aloud. I beat my breast
And seek the Lord of life in prayer.

3. I seek the comfort of Your grace
With faith that death cannot destroy.
With certain hope I lift my face
To find in You my Easter joy.

4. I beg You, wipe my tear-stained eyes.
You promised; I believe and trust.
The horn will sound; the dead will rise,
No more to rest as ash and dust.

5. As I await that great Last Day
When sorrow, pain, and death shall cease,
Oh, send Your Spirit, Lord, I pray
To be my deep and lasting peace.

(c) 2020 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
LM (88 88)
Temporary Tune: WINDHAM (LSB 429)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sermon for 4/19/2020: Second Sunday of Easter

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No Longer Cut Off

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

            Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. This pandemic seems to be going on forever, and it’s hard to imagine the future after the emergency ends. For many of us, it has been over a month since we have received the body and blood of Jesus. We’re down to our last spiritual straw, reading our Bibles at home and watching videos on Facebook of a pastor who doesn’t like to hear the sound of his own voice. How can we continue on?  Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. We ourselves are cut off. How can faith persevere?
Thomas dares to voice our rebellion: “I will not believe.” He does not say to Peter: “I do not believe you. I think you are lying or delusional or playing some cruel joke.” He says: “I will not believe.” He will not allow himself to be vulnerable. He will not take the risk and be disappointed once again. He is done playing the fool for God. In his self-absorbed pessimism he issues a dangerous ultimatum: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side”—unless God jumps through my hoops—“I will not believe.” Thomas seems hell-bent on denying the truth…all the way to hell.
But Ezekiel cries out after us. “O dry bones! Hear the Word of the Lord: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.'” Ezekiel prophesied in a valley of dry bones. The Word of God in flesh came to that awful place. He suffered our betrayal, stretched out His arms, and died. And then, with a rattling, the graves in Jerusalem let out the dead.
Ezekiel foresaw this. Bone came to bone, sinew and flesh came upon them, and skin covered them. But despite what he had said, there was still no breath in them—dry bones no more, but still lifeless corpses lying in the valley. So Ezekiel prophesied again: “Thus saith the Lord: 'Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.'” Breath came into them and they lived. Three days after the soldier plunged His spear into the side of God, God in flesh lived again. The upper room had a valley of dry bones in the grief and fear of the disciples. He breathed on them to bring His peace to them.
The pride and doubt of Thomas is not as great as the love of God in Christ. Jesus says to Thomas: Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.” Look at My hands. See where they drove the nails that held Me to the cross. Reach your unblemished hand and put it here into My side. Feel the hole from which water and blood flowed. Eat and drink of the true Passover Lamb. The atonement is full. I bring you life and peace. “Do not be unbelieving, but believing. The breath Jesus breathed on the disciples now came to Thomas, and he lived. Death died in him. Doubt was gone. He was reborn. His faith burned once again and he confessed: “My Lord and my God!”
The dry bones now have flesh and breath. Thomas has faith and a confession. So Jesus turns His gaze to you and says: “Behold, O My people! I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it.” That Holy Breath from Jesus was breathed into you in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. He called you by name out of death. He made you His people. He has given you faith and bestows His peace on you. He will not give up on you. He loves you. That Holy Breath is breathed out again by His ministers to forgive your sins and join you forever to His death and resurrection.
In the midst of all the world’s fear and panic, you may be tempted to say, “Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. We ourselves are cut off.” But your bones have been given life in the waters of Holy Baptism. You see the crucified and risen Lord of Life in His Word and in His body and the blood. Do not be afraid, for the Lord has given you His peace. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sermon for 4/12/2020: The Resurrection of Our Lord

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Reunited as Promised

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

Christ is indeed risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus is the glorious triumph of God over Satan. It is the resounding victory of the Lord of Life over the prince of darkness, for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus is the raising up not just of His flesh, but of ours as well.
Yet is this what the women believed on their way to the tomb? Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint the body of Jesus. But the question uppermost in their mind was not the victory of their Messiah and Lord, nor how His resurrection impacted their life. They were not thinking about how the Christ who had raised Lazarus, the little girl, and the young man from Nain would now raise Himself. They were not imagining how the Lord who saved others had now saved them. Instead, they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?”
Surely the women do not believe that the Lord is in the tomb. Could the One who provided the breath of all that moves possibly have been held breathless forever? Do they really believe that He will lie forever in a grave? Perhaps the women are not deceived. Perhaps their question about the stone is not one of doubt or fear. Perhaps they wonder about the stone in the same way that Isaac wondered about the lamb for a burnt offering. Perhaps, like Isaac, they trusted their Father and simply were wondering how it would happen. In either case, they hasten to the tomb to anoint with spices the life-bearing yet buried body of the Life of the world who now hides in death.
Perhaps, sitting in our homes right now, it seems the Lord of Life is powerless. Perhaps it seems like the grave is winning. Certainly many are cowering, hopeless, wondering if this virus is ever going to end, if we will ever be able to resume what had been our daily lives. This Easter doesn’t seem very happy, does it?
In answer to that despair Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” These women at the tomb would understand these words in their fullness, for they would be comforted with a never-ending comfort. When they stopped looking down and instead looked up, they were alarmed, for they saw that the stone had been rolled away; they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.”
The Lord will not abandon His own. He had been moved with compassion for the crowds, who were like sheep not having a shepherd, merely because they had continued with Him three days. Would He now leave them to fend for themselves? Would He give them nothing but the fruit of disappointment? Of course not; the Lord never forsakes those who cry out to Him. When they cry, He hears. When they seek, He allows Himself to be found. Maybe you expect Him in the grave, the place you last saw Him. But He is not there. He is exactly where He said He would be: present where two or three are gathered in His name; present in His word of Absolution; truly, bodily present in bread and wine to be your Food and Drink.
As we shelter in our homes this Easter day, let us imitate these women. But do not imitate their questions or their fear. Instead, let us imitate their faith in the message of the angel, leaving the tomb with haste when the angel reminded them what Jesus said. They went out quickly, knowing that, just as Jesus promised, they would be reunited with Him. And we will be reunited again as well: reunited with each other; reunited with the Body of Christ, the Church; reunited with our Lord in His body and blood. We will see our Lord Jesus, just as He promised. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Sermon for 4/9/2020: Maundy Thursday

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Fasting from the Feast

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

It’s Maundy Thursday, and the altar is bare. We are sheltering in place, and even if we weren’t, it would be impossible to give you the Lord’s Supper in a way that was both faithful to the Lord’s institution and in line with the recommendations put forth by the government. Jesus says, “Do this,” but we can’t. This is not how we expect to worship during Holy Week. So what are we to do? We love the Lord’s Supper. We love the fact that on this night nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus instituted a holy meal for us. He gave to the church as a meal the very body and blood which were going to be sacrificed for us on the cross. The giving and receiving of our Lord’s body and blood in His Supper has been the central act of Christian worship ever since the Lord instituted it. It is the place where the Church is most clearly and visibly constituted: our Lord’s very body and blood in our mouths for the forgiveness of sins. We are never more the body of Christ than we are when His body is in us through the gift of Holy Communion.
But right now we are in the midst of a fast, one which will continue all the way through tomorrow and even to Easter itself. It’s important to remember that a fast is not an evil thing when the Lord gives it. God instituted the governing authorities for our good. The president, the governor, and the health department are God’s servants to protect us. Americans that we are—sinners that we are—we do not like to submit to authority. We chafe at not being able to do what we want to do. We read through the orders, and then we make lists of all the loopholes, all the exceptions, all the ways we can talk ourselves into doing what we want to do, even if what we want to do threatens the well-being of our neighbor.
            Tonight we contemplate the institution of the Supper when we are unable to receive it. Since it is by the Lord’s working that we cannot partake this evening, let us wait eagerly and earnestly for the day that we can receive the Supper again. We should not let the Supper’s absence tempt us to downplay its importance. If it were not as important as it is, we would not feel its lack so acutely.
            The fact that we can also receive the forgiveness of sins through baptism, absolution, and the proclaimed Word does not make us miss the Supper any less. When a Christian knows that the Lord desires to give a gift, they desire to receive that gift. Jesus says, “I want to give eternal life and salvation to you in this way!” The Christian says, “Yes, please!” God comes to us in several ways, and we should respond to each and every one of them with the same eager and pious joy. God unites His Word of promise and institution to plain water, to common bread and common wine. When you receive these gifts, you receive with them forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.
            The operative thing is the promise of God. In the Supper, the promise is attached to the bread which is Christ’s body and the wine which is His blood. In the same way, in Baptism and in Absolution, the Word runs the whole show. Everything comes back to the Word itself. When you study the Word at home, listen to it in a service, or hear your pastor proclaim it, the Holy Spirit is going to be at work doing just what it is that He wants done. He will convict you with His Law, and He will forgive you with His Gospel. The Word does what it says and it says what it does. And so, while we all feel the lack of the Supper, we can rejoice in the certainty that attends to the Lord’s Word whenever it is delivered to you.
            I encourage you to pray for an end to this current plague so that we can again gather together to receive the Supper with great joy. But as we wait for that day, as we look forward to our reunion around the holy Table of our Lord, I encourage you to rejoice that our God showers us with His gifts in many ways. He won our eternal life and salvation once and for all when He suffered and died on the cross, and we receive that whenever the Holy Spirit works through the Word studied, heard or proclaimed. We receive this forgiveness in the particular gifts of baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, and we receive it whenever the word of the Lord’s promise is proclaimed and applied to us sinners.
We look forward together to the day we can receive this gift again. We rejoice that the Lord desires to give it. We anticipate the happy day and long for its coming. Rejoice, people loved by God. Your sins are forgiven, and you are free. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

HYMN: In Babylon We Weep

This novel coronavirus has brought about strange circumstances for the Church. We are unable to gather together for worship in the manner in which we are accustomed. For many of us, if not most of us, that means we are also unable to receive the Lord’s Supper. As a pastor, I am devastated to be unable to serve the sacrament to the mast majority of my congregation members—especially to my shut-ins. I know my flock is hungering for the Sacrament, and while I have been able to serve a small number of them, most are staying in their homes. I know their hunger because I feel it too.

This reminded me of the Old Testament people of God in exile in Babylon. Psalm 137:1 says, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.” This verse sparked an idea for a hymn text for those who are hungering for the Lord’s Table right now. It’s a simple text, but it doesn’t have to be complex. We hunger for the Supper. Until the Lord brings us back to the Table, we pray for His Word to sustain us.

As always, I appreciate all feedback.

In Babylon We Weep

1. In Babylon we weep.
Your house is dark and still.
Our woe in exile, Lord, is deep,
Our grief, a bitter pill.

2. Your people stand apart,
Dispersed by earthly care.
The devil aims his fiery dart
Of doubt and deep despair.

3. We hunger to be fed
As You have bid us do:
To dine upon the living Bread
And sing Your praise anew.

4. Until that happy day
When saints may reunite,
Sustain us with Your holy Word
To guide us through this night.

5. And as our hunger grows,
As we desire the Feast,
Fill us with grace which ever flows
For greatest and for least.

6. We beg, O Christ: with haste
Let blood-bought mercy shine
Until the day we joy to taste
Of You in bread and wine.

(c) 2020 Alan Kornacki, Jr
S M (66 86)
Hunger for the Lord’s Supper

Sermon for 4/5/2020: Palmarum, the Sunday of the Passion

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Blood and Innocence
Mark 27:11-54

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

There are two reactions to Jesus being sent to death. The first reaction is that of Pontius Pilate. He washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person.” It's not my fault. Caesar told him to keep the peace. So he made a grand show of washing his hands and pretending he couldn't do anything to keep an innocent man from getting nailed to a cross. Sound familiar? “It's not my fault. Christ’s death wasn't caused by my sins. Well, maybe a little bit, but I’m not as bad as everyone else!” No, Pilate doesn’t get off the hook like that, and neither do you. You are responsible for sending Jesus to the cross. It was for your sins that He suffered and died. You can't say that the harsh words you said to someone aren't your fault. You can't get away with saying, “They did it first.” There is no claiming, “I'm not to blame,” or, “I have an excuse.” You sin against God and your neighbor all the time, and it is because of your sins that God in flesh is nailed to the tree. You don't get a pass just because your sins make you nervous.
The other reaction is that of the Jews. “His blood be on us and on our children!” They so hate and despise Jesus that they don't care if they are judged for killing God Himself. They hate God in the flesh so much that they want Him dead, and they'll gladly take the blame so long as it gets done. Pilate's answer is to claim innocence. The Jews' answer is to disregard sin. Even if they know it's wrong, they'll do it anyway. And that's your reaction too. “I know what I'm about to do is wrong, but I'm going to do it anyway. What matters now is what I want to do. I don't care if my sins killed Jesus. You can't tell me what to do!” How did that work for those called Christ’s blood upon themselves? Forty years later, the city of Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans and the inhabitants were slaughtered. How will it end for you if you disregard your sin?
Pontius Pilate and the Jews show us pictures of ourselves and how we react to the suffering and death of Jesus. And yet, what Pilate and the Jews say is true! Jesus goes to suffering and death to take away your sins. When Pilate says that He is innocent of this man's blood, by the grace of God, He really is! And when the Jews say that His blood should be on their heads, by the grace of God, it really is. And because He shed His blood for you, you are innocent of His death. God doesn't count your sins any longer as your own; they have become Christ’s sins. You are innocent, and He is made guilty. His blood is on your head. It has been sprinkled upon your head in the waters of Holy Baptism. The blood brings you forgiveness which is preached into your ears and even given you to drink in the Sacrament.
For those who no longer desire to claim innocence or disregard their sin, the waters of Holy Baptism join you to the death of Jesus, a death that is caused by your sins. But even as Jesus rose from the dead, you rise from those waters of Baptism to new life in Christ, a washing that takes those sins away. They are no more. Understand this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ: it was your sins that sent Jesus to Calvary. But when He hung upon that cross, those sins were no longer your sins; they became His sin. And now, cleansed by the water and the blood which flowed from His pierced body, you have everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. It's not that you have gotten away with your sins, and it’s not as if your sins are not important. But your sins were taken away by your Savior. He took those sins upon Himself. He bore them the cross. He paid the wages you have earned with those sins. His blood is upon you by grace, and by His blood He has made you innocent. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Sermon for 4/1/2020: Midweek Lent V (UnChristian World Series)

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Christianity in an UnChristian World: Glory
I Peter 5

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

As he addressed these Christians living in an unChristian world, Peter directs the attention of his scattered flock to the glory Christ promised. This is important. After all, it is quite easy in the midst of trials and suffering to focus only on the struggle; to be unable look beyond the problems. When there seems to be no end in sight, when you do not even know how you’re going to make it to tomorrow, it is easy to wallow in self-pity and resignation and think about nothing else.
            Peter knew it. He was, as he says, “a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” He saw Jesus arrested while Peter was still wiping the sleep from his eyes. He saw Jesus on trial while Peter was busy denying Him. And then he saw Jesus hung on the cross; He saw Jesus dead, and he was too scared to help take down his Friend and bury him. He knew the terror of hiding behind locked doors with his friends and thinking he was next. He knew what it was like to be arrested and abused for following Jesus. If anyone knew what those scattered Christians were going through, it was Peter.
            Though they are suffering now, he reassures them. “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Of course, Peter is talking about the Last Day when Jesus comes again in glory. But there’s another layer that can help us now. Think about Peter on that Easter night. He had witnessed the sufferings of Christ and was living with his own cowardice and guilt. And then the chief Shepherd appeared. Locked doors couldn’t stop Him. He gave His disciples peace, not fear; forgiveness, not punishment; hope, not despair; joy, not sorrow. Everything Peter needed, Jesus provided, for the chief Shepherd is alive and caring for His flock.
            He continues to care for His flock today. He does that now, after His ascension, through His elders, the biblical word for pastors. Peter wants those pastors, those undershepherds, to do what Jesus, the chief Shepherd, had done for him. He wants pastors to give them the Word of peace, forgiveness, hope, and joy. He wants pastors to preach to the flock that the victory has already been won, that there will be an end to the suffering, to sin, to the scattering. When the chief Shepherd appears, it will be the same for the flock just as it was for Peter that night. So Peter tells the pastors, “As a fellow elder...shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” Wherever the flock is, whatever form the ministry takes, be there as Christ for them so that they will not be alone.
            Peter then adds this admonition: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility.” Though Peter may be speaking to the pastors, it applies to all of us. Pride is the great enemy of faith. Pride has two dangers: thinking too much of self and too little of others, and trusting too much to your own abilities and strength. Those are the enemies of faith because faith always looks outward; faith always looks to God in faith and to others in love. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” God humbles the proud so that we will instead turn to Him in repentance. God humbles us so that we trust only Him and His strength and forgiveness.
            But while God opposes the proud, He gives grace to the humble. Peter urges his flock, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” His hand, not yours, is mighty. He, not you, will lift up. Humble yourself under Him in faith and trust. “Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” He truly does care for you. Do you need more proof than the cross? He cares for you. The devil certainly doesn’t; He is looking to divide and devour you. The world does not care for you; it is often the cause of your suffering and anxiety. But your God and chief Shepherd does care for you. And at the proper time, “He Himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you,” because He “has called you to His eternal glory in Christ.” He has called you by the Gospel, baptized you into His flock, and has promised you eternal glory. Locked doors could not stop Jesus from appearing to Peter and his frightened friends; and no grave will stop Him. What He has promised, He will do. For “to Him belongs all dominion”—all power and authority and rule and strength—“forever and ever. Amen.”
            A letter which began with the certainty of baptism now ends with its fulfillment. It is a letter of encouragement, for it will never be easy to live as Christians in an unchristian world, especially as that world becomes increasingly anti-Christian and opposed to the truth. Satan is an equal opportunity attacker. The world around you will always hate you as much as it hates your Lord. Your own sinful flesh will constantly battle against the new man in you. But in the midst of all that is Christ, who has planted His cross into the earth like a battle flag and has claimed the victory. That victory is given to you and all the faithful through the Word preached, through the Word in the water of baptism, through the Word in your mouth in bread and wine. This glorious victory is now hidden in these ordinary means, but the Day is coming—coming soon—in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” 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 28, 2020

Sermon for 3/29/2020: Fifth Sunday in Lent

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John 8:42-59

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

How could Jesus speak as if He was older than Abraham? Certainly the Jews didn’t understand what Jesus meant. How could this man standing before them, a man not yet fifty years old, have existed before Abraham? These are important questions. Jesus is teaching you an eternal truth. He is teaching you that He is God. As God, He has existed from eternity. Before the world came to be, the Son of God was there. All things that were created—the heavens and the earth, light, the sun and moon and stars, and even you—everything was created through Jesus.
But in this truth, there is another mysterious truth: time on earth is not the same thing as eternity. In eternity, everything is now. There is no past, no present, no future as we understand time. Before the world came to be, the Son of God is. I know that sounds awkward, but that’s the truth that Jesus is teaching in this lesson. Whether it happens to be the time of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, the Apostles, Martin Luther, or now, Jesus is. 
Jesus is plainly teaching them about the Incarnation. Here stands Yahweh, the God of eternity, in human Flesh. Yes, it is true that Jesus is not yet fifty. As we understand time, as time exists for fallen humanity, it would have been impossible for Him to have been in existence before Abraham. But being the eternal Son of God, Jesus not only is before Abraham; He created Abraham. And in the Incarnation, Jesus comes to His creation in flesh and brings eternity to earthly time. “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus plainly tells the Jews that He is the Son of God.
That they did understand, and it made them violently angry. Truth doesn’t sit well with sinners. We don’t even like to acknowledge that we are sinners. And while we like to look down on those Jews who heard that Jesus is God in the flesh and rejected Him, the truth is, we don’t want to accept truth, either. We are tempted to think that the faith is a ticket to health and wealth and fame—all the things the world considers the good life—if only we believe in Him strongly enough. We are tempted to think that the presence of Christ in His Church ought to mean pews overflowing with people and cash streaming into our bank account.  But these ideas originate in the sin-infested, selfish minds of the Old Adam within us, at the encouragement of Satan. Such thoughts come very naturally to our sinful flesh. But it is not the truth.
The truth is full of life, more glorious than the Old Adam in us could ever imagine. See the truth in the mystery of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus died on the Cross two thousand years ago. How can He now give His body and blood to you today? He can do that because His sacrifice to the Father on your behalf is an eternal sacrifice. Being eternal, the body of Christ is always the body of Christ—eternally present, eternally forgiving, eternally for you.
At the Lord’s Supper, Jesus comes to you and brings eternity to earthly time. The Lord’s Supper Jesus brings heaven to earth. To feast on His body and blood is not only to receive a foretaste in earthly time of the Feast to come; it is also to truly feast at the heavenly Banquet itself, in eternity. This is the truth, and the Truth has set you free. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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