Thursday, December 01, 2022

Sermon for 11/30/22: Midweek of Advent I (Fear Not series)

With the pastoral vacancy at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wine Hill (Steeleville) and Immanuel Lutheran in West Point (Campbell Hill), and with my congregations not having Advent midweek services, I've been asked to fill in at St. Paul and Immanuel for their Advent midweek services. I am preaching on the "Fear Not" messages of the Advent season: how the angels speak to Mary, Zacharias, Joseph, and the Shepherds regarding the coming of the Christ child. My apologies for the delay in posting this.


 CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.


Fear Not: Mary

Luke 1:26-38

 

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

 

An angel appeared to Mary. It sounds so commonplace to us. “Oh, an angel. How nice. Ho hum.” When we think of angels, we probably think of those adorable little angel figurines with fat cheeks; maybe, if we’re old enough, we think of Michael Landon or Roma Downey and Della Reese. But this was no cutesy, chubby little cherub standing in front of Mary, no mild mannered, soft-spoken guardian in a sweater vest. This is a divine messenger from God, a being who reflects the holiness and righteousness of God. Some accounts count Gabriel among the archangels. A mere human standing before such a being would certainly have reason to be afraid—much like when a police officer, or maybe even a pastor, shows up at your door unannounced, only more terrifying, because at least the police officer and the pastor are common occurrences.

But that’s not what Mary finds so troubling, which is exceptional enough. But what about that news? “Mary, I know you’re a virgin, but you’re gonna have a baby. Oh, and it’s by the Holy Spirit.” How overwhelming is it to hear that you’ll be part of the fulfillment of the most important prophecies ever? You may recall that Isaiah said to King Ahaz, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” You may even recall what God said to the satanic serpent: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This Son, this Seed of a woman, this Child—promised to Adam and Eve, to Abraham the Patriarch, to King David, to King Ahaz, and to all those who clung by faith to that promise—this Child shall be the One to crush the head of the serpent. And Mary—sweet, virginal, innocent Mary—was chosen by God to be the Mother of God.

And that’s what so troubling to Mary. Gabriel wasn’t kidding when He said, “The Lord is with you.” The Lord through whom all things were made would reside in her womb. The Word made flesh to dwell among us would grow inside her until He would be born in Bethlehem. It would not be easy for Mary. She would be the object of scorn. Joseph, her betrothed, would seek to divorce her. And that’s just before the Child was born. Later, she would run through the streets of Jerusalem looking for the Child who had wandered away from her to be in “His Father’s house.” Finally, she would stand at the foot of the cross upon which her Son would hang, weeping as she watched Him die. She may not have known all the details at first, but she knew this would be a rough life. Nevertheless she answered Gabriel, Let it be to me according to your word.” And Mary would be okay. After all, the Lord is with her.

And the same is true for you: The Lord is with you. You may not have the same struggles as Mary—certainly none of you are pregnant with the Messiah—but everyone has difficulties. No matter your vocation—father or mother, son or daughter, boss or worker, teacher or student, pastor or layperson, and all the rest—the Lord has given you tasks, and each one carries its own troubles, especially when you try to live according to your faith. Very little is sure.

But the one thing you can be sure of is this: the Lord is with you. And this is not some wishful thinking presence. He is with you physically, in the flesh, just as present with you now as He was in Mary’s womb. The Word became flesh. He has never stopped being flesh, and He has never stopped being present with you. He placed His name upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism. He speaks His Word into your ear—the same Word by which all things were created. He feeds you with His own flesh and blood, hidden in and under the bread and wine. He is present with you. Find Him in the font. Find him on the altar. Find Him where His Word is preached in truth and purity. Don’t worry that you can’t see Him; you have His promise, and His Word does not fail. So whatever it is that you face in your life, whatever the challenge, know this: the Lord is with you. “Do not be afraid!” 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, November 27, 2022

Sermon for 11/27/22: First Sunday in Advent


 CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the sermon video.

Misplaced Trust
Jeremiah 23:5-8

 

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

 

 

The Kingdom of Judah, through its heritage as an offshoot of Israel, began as a “theocracy.” Though both Israel and Judah had kings, the church was still the state, in a sense, and the state was the Church. Political leaders also served a spiritual purpose; they were to protect the nation from which Messiah would come. But they had not faithfully done what God had given them to do. These leaders were unfaithful stewards. Many of them had actively advocated the worship of pagan gods. And instead of trusting the Lord, they put their trust in alliances with neighboring nations, to protect them from their enemies. In the end, it was a first commandment issue; who did they really trust? And if that was not bad enough, the nation as a whole had done the same thing. Yes, there was a faithful remnant. There always is; that’s the promise of God. But warning after warning had fallen on increasingly deaf ears. God had told them what the consequences of their lack of trust in Him would be. And that was why Jeremiah saw what was left of a nation, groveling in the dust. Never again would Israel, as a nation, rise to the heights they had once known. David had put the lesson they needed to learn very simply in one of his Psalms: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Is there something here for us in the experience of Judah and Jeremiah? Do we have issues with misplaced trust? There has always been in American history a kind of Messianic hope: the idea that America serves some godly purpose beyond other nations of the world. It’s almost a modern day continuation of the theocracy of Old Testament Israel. This probably stems from the Puritan and Reformed theology of many of the nation’s first citizens, who came to a new land with the belief that it was God’s will that they establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Never mind the fact that Jesus and the New Testament both assert that there is no such earth-bound kingdom. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Have we inherited a misplaced trust in the political and social structures that surround us? Are we waiting for the next big political election to solve our problems? Are we placing our hope in the next decision handed down from the Supreme Court? Is that where we put our trust? And if we know better than to put our trust in these mortal authorities, does that mean that we should just ignore what is going on around us? Of course it doesn’t. We are still our brother’s keeper. We Christians are living in two worlds at once, balancing precariously. Though this world is passing away, it is still our responsibility to do what we can, under God’s Word, to bring a godly influence to the workings of this world.

Instead of mortal princes, we must seek out and put our trust that One who came riding into Jerusalem, the One proclaimed as King, the One whom Jeremiah in our text calls “The Lord our righteousness.” He was King of the Jews, to be sure, but He did not enter His city to establish an earthly kingdom. Jesus was, and is, King of the Jews, but only in the way of the Gospel. As St. Paul tells us in His Epistle to the Romans, true Israel consists of all those, both Jews and Gentiles, who follow and belong to Christ by faith in His work of salvation. Jesus is King of an Israel of faith, not of place or space.

And this, then, is how we must see this One whom Jeremiah presents to us. When Jesus entered Jerusalem that day, it was the fulfillment of all the promises that had been made to David and his kingly descendants. Since all of Judah’s kings had failed, the Lord Himself would step in, not merely as king, but, above all, as Savior. This branch of David, of whom Jeremiah prophesied, would be righteous in every way. He Himself would be righteousness, and so He would rule righteously. He would supply the righteousness before God which we all lack. Here the whole Gospel, the whole message of Scripture, is summed up in a few glorious words: “The Lord our righteousness.” But for that to be true, the Lord Himself must have become one of us, having taken all that we are upon Himself.

These words point us to Advent’s great focus: the miracle of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh. They point to this most comforting truth: through His perfect obedience, suffering, and death, the Messiah has won for us reconciliation with God and the forgiveness of sins. What He is and what He has done—all of that is for us. He has given us righteousness which we could never have gained for ourselves. Here is the door that opens heaven and keeps it open: “the Lord our righteousness.” What He did, He did for us. He has made us His own. This is our sure and certain hope.

Have you misplaced your trust? Is it in men or nations, in political systems or social structures? Are you seeking a Messiah from among men to redeem you from the evil of this world? Wait no longer. He has come, and He is here. Place your trust where it must be placed: in Jesus Christ, “the Lord our righteousness,” who loved you and gave Himself for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Sermon for 11/24/22: Day of National Thanksgiving


 CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

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“Forget Not All His Benefits”

Psalm 103:1-5

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

We know all too well how prone we are to forget the Lord and His blessings. We forget because we are wrapped up in our own little worlds. We forget because we are tempted to think that it’s to our own credit that we have gotten where we are in life. It is as Moses warned Israel: “Beware, lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.” Then Moses counsels us: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.” In other words, don’t be so wrapped up in the things of creation that you forget the Creator. Honor Him as the source of all that is good.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Do not forget material gifts God has granted you. In the Small Catechism, we confess that our Father gives us daily bread—“…everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” All of these and more are gifts from God.

God has given you all that you are and all that you have. No doubt you have worked hard for what you have. But who gave you the ability to work? Who gave you your ability to think and speak, to see and hear? Who continues to sustain your bodies in such a way that you can enjoy these blessings? It is your Father in heaven. He does all this for you—not because you have earned or deserved it, but simply because He is good and merciful. He is your Father, the God of love who delights in giving you His good gifts.

Again, we confess in the Catechism, “God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people. But we pray...that God would lead us to realize this and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” God doesn’t ask us to pray as a condition for receiving our daily bread, or as a threat that, if we don’t pray, He will take it all away. God asks us to pray for daily bread so that we will be reminded where it comes from and whom to credit and praise for it. But God even sustains and cares for those who don’t recognize Him as the Giver. There are plenty of unbelievers out there who are doing as well as, and many even better than, Christians in the daily bread department. That is because God is unfailingly good. He even provides for the needs of those who reject Him. And He does this so that, in seeing His kindness, perhaps they might come to repent of their sin and believe and be saved.

But then, the question arises: What about those times when it seems that God’s kindness has been taken away? What about when the job situation doesn’t look so good? What about when the vision and hearing fail and health deteriorates? What about when people turn against us? Do we still have reason to give thanks to God? Can we still say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits?” And the answer to that question is, undeniably, yes!

To be sure, in this fallen world we are bound to experience troubles of various kinds. Temporal blessings are just that: temporary. Sin ruins everything in the end. The fact that God restrains the effects of evil as much as He does in this world and protects us and allows us to enjoy anything is a sign of His mercy. But the greatest and truest sign of God’s kindness toward us, the greatest benefit for which we give thanks to the Lord, is that He has granted us every eternal blessing in His Son, Jesus Christ. Sin may eventually ruin everything in this world, but our Lord conquered sin in His death on the cross; through His resurrection He has made all things new. Jesus has redeemed this fallen creation from the curse by bearing that curse in His own body. He broke the curse on Good Friday, and set us free to live in a never-ending Easter of life and immortality.

And so, in Jesus we have not only daily bread, but the living Bread from heaven, His life giving flesh and blood which He offered up for the world. In Him we have not only earthly clothing, but the robe of his righteousness which we were given to wear at the baptismal font. In Him we have not only a temporary house to live in, but an eternal home which He is preparing for us even now.

That is how St. Paul, when held in prison in Rome for preaching the Gospel, still could say: “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Even when Paul was beaten and deprived of everything but the clothes on his back, he still had Christ. And the truth is that, if we have Christ, we have everything. For all things belong to the risen Christ, and through Christ, the Father will graciously give us all things.

Is there no peace in this world? In Christ you have the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that guards your hearts and minds, the peace that comes from the full and free forgiveness of all your sins. Does financial difficulty threaten you? In Christ you are rich with heavenly treasures that will never pass away. Are there those who harass you or make you fearful? In Christ you have deliverance from all enemies by His crushing of Satan’s head at Calvary. Is your health failing? In Christ you have perfect health in the resurrection of the body. Has death separated you from a loved one? In Christ you have the promise of a joyous reunion with those you love who have departed in the faith. If you have Jesus, you have it all—by faith now, and by sight when he comes again.

The Samaritan leper understood this. Like him, let us bow down before Jesus in faith, thanking Him for daily bread, for family and friends, for this good land, but above all, for the holy cross, for His saving Gospel and life-giving Sacraments, and for the real and everlasting life we have in Him. Truly, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sermon for 11/20/22: Last Sunday of the Church Year


 CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the sermon video.


Repent and Pray

I Thessalonians 5:1-11

 


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

 

 

At some time in the past, this last Sunday in the Church Year was observed among some Lutheran churches as Repentance and Prayer Sunday. This is certainly a fitting approach to this last Sunday. Today our thoughts turn to last things: the Last Day; the return of Jesus, the Bridegroom, to gather His Church; and our need to be prepared for that return, as reflected in today’s Gospel. In his 95 Theses, Luther began with this assertion: “The entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance.” Every day is a day of repentance. But if we are honest, we will admit that our human frailty makes us prone to spiritual “drowsiness.” It is a good and salutary thing that we be given a bit of a jolt to awaken us to our daily need for repentance and prayer.

We need to repent and pray because either death or Judgment Day will eventually overtake us. God’s unerring Word tells us that; that is as sure and certain as anything can be. These Thessalonians believed that the Day of the Lord’s return would come in their lifetime. St. Paul had taught them about the signs that would precede our Lord’s return in judgment. But for some reason, they had gotten the impression that those who were still alive when that Day came would have some advantage over those who had died. The Day of Judgment was an unceasing topic of conversation with them, and uppermost in their minds was the “when.”

There is certainly nothing unique about the concerns of these Thessalonians. Luther himself was convinced that his generation would be the last to know life on this earth. Many were the times when he opined that the earth was so evil that the Lord could not let such things go on much longer. 500 years later, many of us have thought and said the same things. And we have good reason for thinking and saying such things. This is an evil world that seems to be in a hurry to go to hell.

Like those Thessalonians, we are as sure of the coming of the Lord as is a woman with child that she will give birth. And that comparison is an apt one, as any woman who has given birth to a child can testify. She knows the struggle that goes on inside her body as the end of her time draws near. She feels for herself the kicking and pushing that precedes the emergence of the child. But she cannot say with precision when that will occur. In the same way, we do not know when Jesus will return. Yes, we know that He will come! But perhaps we are unmindful of what the return of Jesus must mean to us. We, too, often need an awakening jolt. We need to be reminded often that, without repentance, without sorrow for sin and the desire to be rid of it, there can be no real preparation.

We need to repent and pray because we know that Day will come, as Paul says, “...like a thief in the night.” It will occur when we least expect it. We may or may not have some warning that our death is near. But there will be no warning about the return of the Lord beyond what has already been given to us in the Word. And yet, that doesn’t mean we should be afraid of our own shadows. Instead, we should faithfully go about our callings in life with all the hope and confidence that belong to the faithful of Christ.

In other words, we can be prepared. For the baptized child of God, repentance is a daily thing. We daily acknowledge our sin and seek the forgiveness of God. We pray that our faith would be strengthened against the temptations that would lead us away from our Lord as the End of days draws near. And in this there is a real and godly confidence that comes as we live daily in sight of our own end or the Lord’s return, whichever comes first for us.

And we need to repent and pray because we are set apart for salvation through the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul raises this issue here because he wants us to grieve over the death of Jesus rather than over the thought of our own. His was the real death, suffered under all the wrath of God; our death is merely sleep because He died to save us. The slumber of our bodies in the grave is only preparation for their reuniting with our souls on that Day when our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. This sure and certain salvation is what repentance and faith cling to.

On this last Sunday in the Church Year, let us repent of our sin and pray for the strength of God to uphold us in the times that are ahead, however many or few those days may be, however full of struggle and affliction they may be. For we know with certainty, as St. Paul says here: “God has not destined us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with Him.” And so we pray with the whole Church on earth and with the whole host of heaven: “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.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sermon for 11/13/22: Twenty-Second Sunday After Trinity


 CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

No sermon video this week. Sorry.


What God Does to You

Micah 6:6-8

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


It is man’s natural inclination to want to do something to earn God’s favor. By nature, man knows that there’s a problem; by nature, man knows that he’s a sinner. So by nature, man also knows to try and fix the problem; to mend the fracture and make things all better. “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Israel certainly knows better. God Himself has made the answers to these questions abundantly clear, again and again and again. This is just stubborn, obstinate foolishness and stupidity on full display. It’s enough to make God very frustrated and angry!

In the verses before our text, God Himself speaks to Israel, and He’s not happy. Micah gives us the image of a courtroom; God, the prosecuting attorney, questions the criminal defendant Israel. Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, O you mountains, the Lord’s complaint, and you strong foundations of the earth; for the Lord has a complaint against His people, and He will contend with Israel. O My people, what have I done to you? And how have I wearied you? Testify against Me.” God then lays out examples from their past where He has delivered them, not because they deserved it or earned it, but because they were poor and miserable. “Exhibit A: I brought you up from the land of Egypt; I redeemed you from the house of bondage.’ Exhibit B: ‘I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam…’ as my voice; I have never forsaken you. Exhibit C: ‘Remember Balak king of Moab.’ Remember how I turned his wicked plans into your blessings. The evidence is clear. Why do you keep doing what you’re doing? Do you not hear Me? Do you not care?”

This is when Israel looks up from their phones and asks Micah, “Man…God sounds angry. What do we need to do to get back in His good graces?” You can almost hear Micah’s eyeroll. “God has already told you. He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? What does the Lord require of you but to simply live faithfully; to be just and right; to rebuke sin and praise righteousness? What does the Lord require of you but to love as you’ve already been loved by Him?”

They just didn’t get it. And as we look throughout Scripture, this was a recurring problem. Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What must we do to be saved?” What do we need to do to make things right? Ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, man has been trying to figure out the answer.

Do not look down your noses, because we’re not immune to this foolishness. We think foolish things about God, too. “What can I do to get a little good karma headed in my direction?” “What can I do to get back on God’s good side?” “If I put more in the offering plate, do you think that would win God over? Do you think He’d answer my prayer then?” “How can I know God’s purpose for my life?” “What do I have to do in order to be a good Christian?” “What do I need to do in order to get a little peace and joy in my life?” “Am I going to heaven?” “Why is this happening to me?” “Don’t you care, God? Don’t you see?”

The answer to such foolish questions is simple, and I know you already know it. After all, I’m speaking to a bunch of Christians. You may not like the answer, precisely because it’s so simple, but this is the answer. Look here! Look to the cross of Jesus Christ! “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Behold! “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son…” In Him and because of Him, it is finished! You are saved by His grace, His mercy, His unconditional, cruciform love. Here is all of God’s wrath against sin; here is God’s unconditional love for you. Here is God’s love for all the world. Go and share and proclaim this life-giving Word to anyone who has ears; to anyone who is a sinner who Christ loved enough to die for! Go and tell all that Christ has done for you!

It’s that simple! And praise God that it is! May He grant us the wisdom and humility of faith to simply believe Him, hold fast to Him, and proclaim His Truth in all our daily thoughts, words, and deeds. 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, October 30, 2022

HYMN: O Lord, You Made the Waters


 For about a year and a half now, I’ve been working on writing a hymn text for each reading in the Easter Vigil. I’ve turned each reading into a metrical text, and for most of them I have included a stanza for an introduction and/or a conclusion. Now that I’ve completed the first draft of a text for every reading, I want to write a stanza of introduction and/or conclusion for any text that is missing one. That way, if someone wants to read the Biblical readings and sing just the introductory and concluding stanzas, it’s not a full repeat of every reading.

Here’s the last first draft, a text covering the Flood in Genesis 7-9. Feedback is love.


O Lord, You Made the Waters

for the Easter Vigil

The Flood—Genesis 7, 8, and 9


1. O Lord, You made the waters

And sent them to the earth.

Though water brings destruction,

It also gives new birth.

Oh, pour on us a wellspring,

A great baptismal flood,

To drown old wretched Adam

In Christ’s own watered blood.


2. The Lord said unto Noah,

“My faithful servant, heed:

Go, you and all your household,

The creatures I have made.

Now board the ark of gopher

And seal yourself inside,

For I will drown creation;

You only will abide.”


3. So Noah, as commanded,

With all his family

Did board with all the creatures,

Obeying God’s decree.

The heavens then were opened

With fountains from the deep.

God drowned His fouled creation,

But Noah did He keep.


4. The rain to earth descended.

For forty days it fell.

The ark, it rose and floated

Upon the mighty swell.

But Noah and his household

Were safe amidst the gale.

The boat which God commanded

By grace would never fail.


5. Then Noah sent a raven

To wing into the blue.

It rose into the heavens;

Above the deep it flew.

A dove he sent to flutter;

Of ground it found no trace.

On Noah’s hand it settled:

Its only resting place.


6. For seven days he waited,

Then sent the dove again.

An olive leaf she brought him;

The flood began to wane.

Once more, then, Noah waited,

And let the dove take flight.

She left, no more returning,

To Noah’s great delight.


7. Then Noah moved the cover,

The ark bared to the sky.

The water had subsided. 

He saw the ground was dry.

“Go forth,” God said to Noah.

“Bring out your sons and wife;

Bring out the living creatures

That they may bear new life.


8. “Now hear My word of promise;

Oh, hear My sure decree:

With you and all creation

My covenant shall be.

All flesh shall never perish

Nor floods the earth will raze.

Behold this sign, the rainbow:

My vow through endless days.”


9. Oh, grant us faith, dear Father,

Through this baptismal tide,

To trust Your Word of promise

And in Your grace abide.

Protect Your chosen children

Who shelter in Your nave,

Who bear Your name forever,

Who trust Your might to save.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Sermon for 10/16/22: Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

No sermon video. My apologies.

Grace and Peace
I Corinthians 1:(1-3) 4-9

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

 Christians hear those words a lot. Many pastors begin their sermons, newsletter articles, and other correspondence with their congregations with those words. After all, if it’s good enough for the Apostle Paul, it certainly must be a salutary greeting between Christians, especially when a pastor communicates with the people he has been Called to serve. There’s nothing wrong with starting a sermon without those words, of course.

But there is something a little deeper behind this greeting. In our text, Paul lauds the church in Corinth for its faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the church in Corinth is not without its problems. They have become complacent and even arrogant in their faithfulness. The church itself has divisions and factions. If you read on through the rest of this epistle, Paul takes the congregation in Corinth to task for a number of things: a laxity in church discipline, tolerance of sexual immorality, the tendency of congregation members to bring civil law suits against each other, and even a tendency to practice open communion, inviting the uncatechized and the unreprentant to receive the body and blood of Christ to their judgment.

With all these problems, you might expect Paul to open his letter with a scathing rebuke of the people. But Paul is their pastor. Yes, it’s his job to lead God’s people to the truth of the Word, and he would do them no favor by letting them remain in their sin. However, he is also Called to preach the Gospel to them. He is Called as their pastor to love them with Christ’s love. And he does precisely that. Even with all the problems this congregation is struggling with, Paul says, “I thank my God always concerning you.” And he does this in quite a few of the Epistles we have recorded in the New Testament. We should always be thankful to God for the brothers and sisters we have in Christ.

This is not always the easiest example to follow. We in the Missouri Synod should understand that very well. We are a body divided. We don’t agree on what hymns should be in our hymnals, how we should interact with those Christians around us with whom we have doctrinal differences, where our mission money and efforts should be focused. Even at the congregational level, the fight can be fierce. Every congregation has its disagreements. And when we Christians fight, we tend to “lose our religion.” Disagreements between Christians often turn ugly. The Eighth Commandment? Throw it out the window! Matthew 18? Why would I speak to my brother who I feel is sinning against me when I can tell fifty of my closest friends? We call each other hypocrites. We assume the very worst about the people with whom we disagree. And then we threaten to stop coming to worship altogether or leave the congregation entirely if our way isn’t found to be the “right” way. Even in the most faithful of congregations, we allow disagreements to divide us, distract us, and turn us away from what our Lord Jesus calls “the one thing needful.”

Paul calls the congregation at Corinth—and us—back to this one needful thing, reminding us of what unites us. He names us “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ....” This brings us back to the Apostles’ Creed, where we confess, “I believe in the holy Christian Church, [which is] the Communion of saints.” We first confess who God is and what He has done, and then we confess what we are through Christ: the communion of saints, the body of Christ, God’s holy people.

As we see in how Paul greets the congregation in Corinth, it begins with grace. It begins with God giving us life, with Christ giving us new life, with the Spirit granting us faith as we live that new life. Without these gifts, without this grace, we have nothing and we are nothing. The grace of God is not something we have earned or were born with or have made for ourselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died in our place, and He rose again so that we would rise with Him and so that we would receive all the blessings and benefits God has for us.

Once that grace has been applied to us, peace follows it. In Baptism we are made children of God. When we speak of ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, this is no hyperbole, no metaphor. We truly are brothers and sisters in Christ. And because we are family, we should treat each other as family. The people in the pews around you and in the Church at large are not enemies to be overcome, no matter how much we may disagree with them. They are brothers and sisters in Christ, family to be loved fiercely, forgiven freely, and, yes, sometimes endured patiently. We bring our Christian siblings before the Lord in prayer, thanking God for them, no matter how much we may disagree with them. We thank God that He has loved our brothers and sisters in Christ, that He has died for them, that He has made them His own through Holy Baptism, that He forgives their sins with the Word of Holy Absolution, that He feeds them in the Holy Supper.

That grace from God is the source of the peace we share with each other. Because Christ has brought us to reconciliation with the Father, we are now also reconciled to each other. And now, because it begins with grace, let us live our lives sharing that grace, and let us rejoice at what follows behind. 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, October 15, 2022

GUEST POST—Sermon: Funeral of Michael Kornacki


We buried Buggy a week ago today. It was a difficult day, a day of tears and memories. It’s a truism: No parents should have to bury their children. And yet, it happens. Sin has brought death into the world, and death comes for all people, even for children, and some parents are given that burden to bear. I never thought Faith and I would be among them, but everyone—including every member of every congregation I’ve ever served—knows I was absent the day they taught omniscience in seminary. 

It was a difficult day, but it was not without its blessings. Our families were able to be here, to share our mutual grief. Two of our best friends were able to come from distant places to add the comfort of their presence. It was a day of singing, with at least a dozen pastors joining their voices to the congregation’s song, And it was a day where the Word of God clamored forth to kick Satan and death in the teeth, as the Reverend Timothy Scharr, President of the Southern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, brought it with authority. After the committal—“O death, where is your sting?!”—the saints of my parish provided an excellent meal. So it was a difficult day, but life does go on as we await the resurrection on the Last Day. 

I would like to speak a public word of thanksgiving to and for Pastor Scharr for faithfully serving my family through this experience. He was a soothing presence when it felt like the world was a screaming tornado of despair. His calm application of the Word was a gift of life in the midst of death.

Here is the sermon Pastor Scharr preached for Michael’s funeral. I only wish I had remembered to hit the record button.

____________________

All Things New

Revelation 21:2-7

 

Dear Alan and Faith, Alexis, Molly; Deborah, Kathleen, family, friends, and fellow pastors; “Peace be to you and grace from Him who freed us from our sins. Who loved us all and shed His blood that we might saved be,” our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. Today we gather for one of the more difficult tasks that parents and grandparents go through. It is painful, tragic, and unnatural to bury a child or a grandchild ahead of our own death. No doubt you would have volunteered to die in Michael’s place than to see him pass from earth at the age of 16. We know from Holy Scripture that the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is everlasting life in Jesus Christ. Moses reminds us “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!” You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For all our days pass away under Your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh” (Psalm 90:3,5,9).

 

We cry out with the psalmist. “So, teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord, how long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you afflicted us, and for as man years as we have seen evil” (Psalm 90:12-15).

 

The Lord hears your sighs. He responds to your prayers. You loved Michael. Jesus loved Michael even more. It was impossible for any of you to give your life in place of Michael. Jesus did. Not for Michael only but for everyone gathered this morning. The Lord saw humanity’s rebellion against Him. Rather than destroy His creation, He acted to save it. God the Father sent His beloved Son into human flesh to take the sins of the world onto Himself. This burden includes all of Michael’s sins, all, your sins, my sins, and the sins of all time, past, present, and future. Jesus exchanges our iniquities for His forgiveness. His forgiveness blots out all our transgression. He atones for all our trespasses.

 

In the water of Holy Baptism, Michael and you are joined into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. His death becomes your death, and His resurrection becomes your new life. You are born from above by the work of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through the washing of the water and the Word. This is all a gift from God. The Lord declares in our reading from Revelation. “Behold, I am making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The One who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and he will be My son” (Revelation 21:5-7). This has been the promise of God and the hope of His people from the beginning.

 

Michael had autism. This presented a challenge for him and the family. It can be very frustrating to work with a son or brother who has autism. Their learning and development are different. It’s not an issue of intelligence. People with autism can be extremely bright and talented. Michael was. Other things we take for granted can be difficult. Communication is one. Speech is another. Physical development yet another. Coping with emotions and reacting to disappointments may be particularly challenging. None of this means they are less loved or less capable of loving. Quite the contrary. God uses their uniqueness to open our eyes and appreciate life and love from a different perspective. We are the richer for it.

 

The patriarch Job had his challenges. A prosperous man of the ancient near east. He enjoyed many good things and especially devotion to the Lord. Satan seeks permission to test Job. The Lord allows it. In quick order Job loses all his livestock. His ten children are killed when a roof collapses on them. Shaken, but not broken, Job declared that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. His body is afflicted next with painful boils from head to toe and everywhere in between. Friends try to console Job and chastise him for some great evil he will not acknowledge. Pushed to the edge Job confesses his faith. “I know that my Redeemer lives. In the end He will take His stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God. I, myself, will see Him with my own eyes. I and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:25-27). Job confesses the same resurrection of the body to life everlasting when Jesus returns on the Last Day.

 

Meanwhile, there is mourning and grieving like there was in Bethany when Jesus’ friend Lazarus died. Sisters Mary and Martha hoped that Jesus would come quickly and heal their sick brother. He did not. Jesus was moved by the deep grief of these sisters. He wept as they went to the cemetery. There Jesus show His power over death and the grave. He calls Lazarus out of the tomb. He is alive by the Word and promise of God.

 

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Who believes in Him, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in him shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:26-27) Jesus is coming back. He will bring with Him the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. This is the church, a bride adorned for her husband. There is more. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, no crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. Write this down for these Words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:2-5).

 

Family and friends of Michael Kornacki, you loved Michael and miss him. Jesus, who gave His own life into death, came to bring Michael into His nearer presence. He is with the Lord. No more autism, mourning, crying or pain. These former things have passed away. Together, with Michael, we await the resurrection of the body when Jesus returns. Then we shall behold all things new as the Father intended from eternity. This, too, is your inheritance in Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever, Amen.

 

Rev. Timothy J. Scharr, President

Southern Illinois District - LCMS





Sunday, October 02, 2022

GUEST POST: Sermon for 10/2/22--Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity


Our guest preacher at St. Peter and Bethel this morning was the Reverend Raymond Holman. He brought the Word, including a great deal of comfort to me and the congregations who mourn with me and my family. Thank you, Pastor Holman!


CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the sermon video.


God Hears

In the midst of a sin-stricken world, God listens to the painful cries. / God hears weeping words. / And God speaks the promises in His Word of Truth. / This is God’s pattern: He listens. He hears. He speaks. He promises. //
The prophet Elijah had just begun his ministry. Called by God, Elijah preached in an evil and faithless generation. God’s anger for such sinfulness caused a drought. / No water. / No food. / Sinners helplessly crying out. “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper” (Psalm 30:10)!
Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah. “Go to Zarephath, a region of heathens and idol worshipers. Speak to a widow. A helpless woman. A hopeless woman. A woman questioning the point of life. In her distress, bring her good news.” 
And Elijah did. Right before our Old Testament Lesson, Elijah promised that a small jar of flour and little jug of oil would never be empty for the length of the drought. And it was so. That’s God’s goodness. That’s his loving nature. Hopelessness turned to faith for that widow.
——
But then disaster struck. / The widow’s hope quickly shattered. The consequences of sin were no longer just an “out there” issue. It was no longer just a drought. The consequences of sin now struck her own life. Now her son is dead. 
You can imagine what that widow felt:
“What am I living for,” would become, “Why am I even alive? / 
“Why did I even have hope in the first place?” / 
“Why do I have to face calamity after calamity?” /
“What good is this so-called all-loving God??” //
But we don’t have to put words into her mouth. We heard it firsthand. She blamed the prophet Elijah for all her problems. Lashing out, the widow cried, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son” (1 Kings 17:18).
——
Personally, I can imagine the hurt that Elijah must have felt. That great and faithful prophet didn’t just have a simple knowledge that God existed. He trusted in God. He believed in God’s promises. The words, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a), were a reality to Him.
In that moment Elijah was confronted with a harsh reality. The consequences of sin weren’t  just “out there.” Now sin’s effects were hitting close to home for him specifically. They literally attacked the person closest to him at that moment. Now Elijah had to face a woman’s questions about the validity of Elijah’s words, about the efficacy of Elijah’s ministry, about the reality of God’s existence.
In the midst of his hurt, didn’t try to explain away God. He didn’t try to put the best construction on a bad situation. Instead Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son? …O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again” (1 Kings 17:20, 21b).
——
In the midst of such a sin-stricken world, God listened. God heard. God spoke. God promised. //
God listened to the painful cries of the widow and Elijah. He heard their weeping words. And at that moment, when all hope seemed to be lost, God spoke the word of Truth. God promised new life in the midst of death. //
——
This pattern we saw in our Old Testament Lesson is still a reality today. This is just what God does. / We too live in a sin-stricken world. Yes, sin is an “out there” problem. There are hurricanes and heatwaves. There are droughts and wildfires. There are wars and the threats of war. There is poverty and extortion. And God calls the church to go forth like Elijah into the midst of a sinful world proclaiming the good news (just like Jesus said in Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose”).
And that’s what the church does. We are like Elijah to the widow in Zarephath. The church bring the Good News of God to those around us. The church shares God’s love to those who feel unloveable. The church proclaim forgiveness to those who believe they are unforgivable. The church helps other’s know of God’s sanctifying works. Simply put, the church’s mission is to bring hope to the hopeless and and help to the hurting. //
——
But then, sometimes sin’s effects hit closer to home. Just when things start to look up, that’s when everything crashes in around us. The person you shared the Gospel with loses their job. The family you shared immeasurable forgiveness with experiences failed crop. That family member who has just learned of the joy of eternity finds out that their spouse has cheated on them. Or even the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. // That’s a moment of disaster. You’re confronted with the reality of sins effects. It’s not just “out there.” It’s right in front of you.
Like the widow at Zarephath, we can lash out at the church who preaches the Gospel. But Elijah points to a better way. Remember what Elijah did when the widow cried out at the death of her son? Elijah didn’t explain it away. Elijah didn’t try and put the best construction on a bad situation. He went to the one who listens. To the one who hears. To the one who speaks. To the one who promises. He went to God.
——
And this is what our call is as well. When faced with inexplicable situations and circumstances we go to the one who listens, who hears, who speaks, and who promises. We go to Jesus. 
Why do we go to Jesus? Because Jesus is the greater Elijah. We can be confident that when he speaks to God on our behalf that God will listen to him him. God will hear him. God will speak through Him. And God will provide us promises through Him. In fact, that’s exactly what Hebrews 5:7 states, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” 
Jesus comes to this sin-stricken world, bringing hope to hopeless sinners like you and me.
On the cross He takes our sorrows and in its place speaks us His salvation. 
On the cross He takes our hurts and in its place promises us healing in His body and blood.

This is why the record of Scripture is so clear: 
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). 
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down my life for the sheep…. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:14, 28). 
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).
For I am sure that [even] death…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38a, 39b).
In Jesus God listens. God hears. God speaks. God promises.
——
Look, I am not going to beat around the bush here. In this church you have experienced the inexplicable. Unexpected loss. Death without warning. This is a hard day for me to preach. And this has to be a hard day to come here and actually listen to me. But here I want to leave you with one single exhortation, along with its corresponding promise:
Cry out to God.
Plead to God. 
Entreat God’s mercy.

But more than simply doing that, remember this even more. When we cry out, God continues listen today. God continues to hear. God continues to speak. And God continues to promise salvation in Jesus Christ.

In the name of the father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.