Friday, December 25, 2009

Once He Came in Blessing

When all was still, and it was midnight, Thy almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. -- Wisdom 18:14-15 (Introit for the Nativity of Our Lord)

A blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours! Though the world has completed its celebration of Christmas, for the Church this is only the First Day of Christmas. I pray you have another eleven days of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men".

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Stephen, Martyr. Stephen is one of my favorite figures in the Bible. His faithful confession, even in the face of death, gave courage to the fledgling Church as she faced persecution and dispersion. May we all be so faithful, Lord.

On a different subject, I submitted one of my hymns, Immanuel-God Dwells With Us, to a Christmas poetry contest held by the Lutheran Writer blog. I was notified today that it was selected as the first place winner! It is an honor to be selected, and I find myself encouraged. Though I've been writing verse for over twenty years now, I've only recently begun writing verse with Biblical themes. The feedback I've received from numerous outlets has been marvelous, and I thank all of you who read this for taking the time to respond as you do.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

John: Why I'm Pro-Life

Sadly, I don't preach tomorrow--my only Sunday off this month. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but take at least a peek at the Gospel reading for tomorrow. In the 3-year lectionary, the Gospel reading is Luke 1:39-45 (46-56). This is such a rich text, saying so much about John, Mary, Elizabeth, and Jesus.

As always, I can't help but wonder that an unborn child knows his Savior. I don't know the why or the wherefore; I only know what God reveals to us through His Word. So I'm not going to ask how the Spirit made that happen. What I do know, though, is that John was alive. The Bible speaks clearly here that the pre-born child is alive. I will never be able to understand how Christians can claim to hold to the teachings of the Bible and yet deny that what resides in the womb of a pregnant woman is a living being.

A friend of mine lost her pre-born child this week, and I mourn with her. It is a terrible burden to bury a child. Yet we know from John's example that even the babe in the womb can recognize his Savior. I am confident with the sure hope which faith provides that my friend and her child will be reunited with all believers when Christ returns in glory and raises up the dead and calls all believers to Himself.

By the way, a while back I posted a hymn I wrote concerning this text. I post it here again because I'm an arrogant, self-promoting egomaniac in hopes that anyone who reads it might have suggestions to improve it.

The Highly Favored Mary Went

1. The highly favored Mary went,
Her pregnant joy to share.
Elizabeth, herself with child,
Received her sister there.

2. Elizabeth heard Mary's word
Of greeting in her ear,
And in her womb her own babe leapt
To know his Lord was near.

3. Though not yet born, John still rejoiced,
For now his task began--
"Prepare His way," would be his work.
"He comes, redeeming man."

4. The Spirit filled Elizabeth
And loudly she exclaimed,
"Mother of God, how blest are you!
Your fruit by all acclaimed."

5. How blest are they who hear God's Word
Of promise and believe,
For all who hear that Word in faith
Its blessings shall receive.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
Common Meter (86 86)
Suggested Tune: St. Anne (LSB 733)

Monday, December 14, 2009

And now, for something completely different: NFL edition

Roger Goodell, Commissioner
National Football League
280 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10017

Commissioner Goodell:

I write in regard to the continual fining of Mr. Chad Ochocinco. While I am a fan of neither the Cincinnati Bengals nor Chad Ochocinco, I am a fan of football. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but Mr. Ochocinco and the other athletes in the National Football League get paid to play a game, and the purpose of this game is to entertain the fans. When players make great plays, the fans are entertained. We are also entertained by their celebrations, whether it be spiking the football, the Lambeau Leap, or the latest invention by creative players. These players are playing a game, and they’re supposed to be having fun while they do it. Mr. Ochocinco has fun playing the game, and he has fun celebrating his success. His joy in the game is something I wish every NFL athlete would reflect in their play. His behavior is not “conduct unbecoming an NFL player”, and it does not reflect poorly on the National Football League. Continuing to fine him for keeping us entertained, on the other hand, does reflect poorly on the NFL.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Respectfully submitted . . .

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hymn: Lord, In Your Mercy, Hear Our Prayer

I've been reading the book Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, which was written by Pastor Matthew C. Harrison. Pastor Harrison is the Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care and a candidate for President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In his excellent book (which I highly recommend, by the way), he writes:
The Litany, yet another ancient text, is an extended Kyrie. The Litany varied in length during early centuries of the Church. Today we may find the Litany to be unbearably long and tedious.

. . . We are oblivious to the insecure existence of a medieval Church that found prayer a deep refuge. The people of the Middle Ages were beset by plague, crusade, and the probability of a miserable and short life. Fat and lazy in body and soul, we find it hard to cope with the briefest prayers and shortest liturgies. We pray that we enjoy times that do not call for a long Kyrie. Perhaps it is time to pray that the Lord would lengthen our Kyrie. Perhaps it is the chaotic nihilism of school shootings, crazed religious suicide bombers, and assassins by which the Lord shall again lengthen our Kyrie and strengthen our faith. (18)

Inspired by Pastor Harrison and mindful of my own need for a longer Kyrie, I took up my pen and began to work on a hymn version of the Litany. This is, perhaps, a bit ambitious, and it might even be a bit presumptuous for a fledgling hymn writer, but I hope you'll forgive the presumption and give your feedback to this humble effort.

Lord, In Your Mercy, Hear Our Prayer

1. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer
And grant us Your salvation.
Deliver us from evil's snare
In time of tribulation.
During all calamity,
Our shelter and defender be.
Spare us, good Lord, and help us.
Lord, have mercy.

2. By myst'ry of Your holy birth,
Your holy incarnation;
By your obedience to the Law,
Your wilderness temptation;
By Your Passion and Your death,
Descending into hell's dark depth,
And by Your resurrection:
Christ, have mercy.

3. Preserve Your holy Church, we pray,
From schism and from errors.
Bring truth to all who fall away,
And trample Satan's terrors.
Call men to Your harvest field.
Sustain them in the Word they wield.
We beg You, Lord, to hear us.
Lord, have mercy.

4. Raise those who fall beneath their load
And strengthen those still standing.
Comfort the weak, Almighty God,
When life seems too demanding.
Grant our nation Your own peace.
Bid all our strife and discord cease,
And give us Your protection.
Lord, have mercy.

5. Direct the leaders of the world,
That Your Word only guide them.
Bless soldiers under flag unfurled:
With wisdom deep supply them.
Help us bless our enemy.
Forgive him, Lord, whoe'er he be,
And turn him to repentance.
Christ, have mercy.

6. Grant pregnant women happiness.
Defend all unborn children.
Bless widows and the fatherless.
In all need, Lord, fulfill them.
Guard the trav'ler on his way,
And bless all earthly fruits, we pray.
Lord, hear our supplication.
Lord, have mercy.

7. Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God,
We beg you, Lord, have mercy.
Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God,
We beg you, Lord, have mercy.
Lamb of God, the only Son:
Grant peace, we pray, to everyone.
O Christ, in mercy, hear us.
Lord, have mercy. Amen.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 78 74
Tune: Christ Lag in Todesbanden (LSB 458) OR
Robert Mayes has written a lovely tune for this text, which you can see here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sermon for 12/13/09–Gaudete: The Third Sunday in Advent (LSB-1 year)

This sermon will be preached at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, Louisiana. Pastor Brad Drew and the Mt. Olive congregation have been very welcoming and supportive of me and my family since the day we moved to Louisiana, and it is always a privilege and a pleasure to be asked to bring the word to God's people there. I will also be privileged to view their children's program and participate in the luncheon after. (My timing has always been good!) I just hope the cold I have goes away enough for me to actually be able to preach this.

“Comfort, Comfort Ye My People”

Isaiah 40:1-8 (9-11)

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

When pastors teach about the Divine Service, they usually say that the service has three “high points” or points of emphasis: the reading of the Gospel, the sermon, and the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. We automatically give the Gospel reading due attention, since it is the Word of God. And of course we receive the Lord’s Supper with joy, as it is the body and blood of Christ which gives us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

But the sermon can be somewhat problematic. Preaching in our day has become a repugnant word to many, perhaps because people don’t know what preaching is supposed to be. For instance, one definition of preaching probably fits quite well the opinion many have of this task: “Preaching: the giving of moral advice, especially in a tiresome manner”. However, no matter what negative opinions people might have about preaching, the fact is that a number of the problems our Churches are experiencing today are due in large part to the fact that many of us who park our butts in the pews no longer have a desire to listen to a preacher who preaches. We have no desire to hear about our sins. We want entertainment. We want jokes. We want stories. And we want it to be short. If the sermon is longer than twelve minutes or so, the pastor has to beware of people examining their watches—or worse yet, people pretending to be asleep. We don’t want to hear a sermon about sin.

But the people in the pew are not entirely to blame. Many preachers themselves would much prefer to take the path of least resistance in their preaching, which means they aren’t going to ruffle too many feathers. They’re going to make every attempt to maintain the “status quo”. They aren’t going speak specifically about the sins of the people, and they’re never going do anything to upset the church council or the District or Synod. After all, no pastor desires to be thrown out of the congregation he has been Called to serve for preaching the Word of God in its truth and purity. It’s all too easy to back off rather than face the wrath of disaffected Christians.

We preachers, I’m sad to say, have been far too slow in taking up the uncomfortable alb and stole of St. John the Baptist. We’ve failed in our mission to be prophetic. We’ve fallen short of our calling to speak God’s Word clearly and forcefully, out of fear that we might make our people unhappy or move them too far away from their comfort zones. And because we have dropped the ball, because we have failed to preach the full counsel of God to you, we have failed you. We have failed to tell you that you sinners who are blown about by the winds of popular opinion and our own doubts rather than holding fast to the Word of God.

But Isaiah tells us of another word that must be spoken to the people of God: “comfort”. That is the key word, both of our Old Testament text and our sermon hymn for today. It was the command given to Isaiah in our text, and it was the command given to John the Baptizer. Hear again these words: “‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ says your God. ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’”

With these words, God is wooing His Bride back to Himself in the knowledge that her time of hard service has come to an end, that her exile is nearly over, that the Day of the Lord will soon be arriving, that her sin has been paid for. To tell people about the comfort of what God has done for them means that the preacher must first tell them that they have sinned. John has certainly done that for his hearers. Who but a faithful pastor would call his flock a “brood of vipers”? But once that happens, once the sinner heeds the call to true repentance, it is a joy and privilege to proclaim that Christ has died and has received the punishment those sins deserve. In Christ there is always more forgiveness than we have sin to forgive. That also means that there’s no life so wretched God cannot redeem it.

Whether it’s the voice of an angel, a prophet, a pastor, St. John or a murderer like St. Paul, it doesn’t really matter a bit. The only thing that matters is the Word of the Lord. That’s why pastors wear albs and stoles or cassock and surplice: so that from a distance, they all look alike. The only time it matters whether it’s Isaiah or John or Brad or Alan speaking is when you’re playing personality games, following the person rather than the Lord. When the Pharisees sent a group to look into John, they asked him who he was. He replied, “A voice!” Nothing more than that—just a voice. There we see John’s true prophetic greatness. Of himself, John knew he wasn’t worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, much less preach anything of value. So John gave voice only to the things he was Called to say. And just as John spoke this message, so today we bring you comfort from God.

That voice speaks again—only now it speaks with a shout. Listen to these words from our sermon hymn, words which mirror our Old Testament reading:
Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.

This is what Jesus has come to do. This is why He became Immanuel, God dwelling among us. And it has to be shouted because this message must always overshadow and overpower the sound of those things we want to hear. When the voice cries out, “Behold Your God,” it’s shouting that God is here—in the water of Baptism, in His Word of Absolution, in the hearing of His Word as it is preached by faithful pastors, and in the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. And the voice cries this out so that you might thus be prepared for the Day of His coming. He came first to Bethlehem as the child Immanuel, born in a stable in humility, born to bear our sins, to bring you comfort. He comes to you now as He raises you from the death of your sin through His sacrifice on the cross. And He will come again on the Last Day, when He raises your body from the grave to live with Him. Today we rejoice, for we know this to be true; for “the Word of our God stands forever ”—even when Pastor Drew or Pastor Kornacki are the ones who proclaim it. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sermon for 12/6/09—The Third Sunday in Advent (LSB-C)

Pastor Brandon Simoneaux of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Harvey, Louisiana, called me this week to ask me to fill in for him. He will be traveling this weekend with his wife for the funeral of a family member. Though I regret the circumstances which make it necessary, it will be my privilege and pleasure to bring the Word to this wonderful congregation once again. Please remember the Simoneaux family in your prayers as they mourn and as they travel.

Preparing the Way
Luke 3:1-14 (15-20)

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

His name is John, and he is known as the Baptist. Luke the Evangelist gives a good deal of attention to this fascinating character. Though not a part of our Gospel text for this morning, Luke tells us the exceptional circumstances of John’s conception. He later records how John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb to recognize the presence of his Lord in Mary’s womb. Luke even records that Herod has John beheaded, though he leaves the details to Matthew and Mark. Luke tells us all about John. And it’s right that he should do so. Jesus calls John the greatest prophet, and indeed, the greatest man, ever born.

John’s father Zechariah prophesied about him in this way: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the forgiveness of their sins.” And it came to pass that this John, kinsman of Jesus, was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach of the coming Messiah, offering a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This prophet was the forerunner promised by God through Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” And Malachi in our Old Testament text records these words of the Lord of hosts about John: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.”

John was a Called servant of the Word, Called to preach a specific message to God’s people. And he took that responsibility seriously. Every word we have recorded to us from John is meant to prepare his audience for the coming of the Messiah. John is, in essence, teaching a class of confirmation students, preparing them to receive the coming Christ. And he doesn’t start them off easy, either. To those who came out to him, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He then went on to teach them about repentance and its fruits.

Can you imagine if Pastor Simoneaux were to walk into the first day of Catechism instruction and call his students a “brood of vipers”? Yet this was a message the people needed to hear. These were a people who looked back to their father, Abraham, and saw in him the assurance of God’s goodness to them. What need could they have for repentance when, time and again, God had shown the nations that the people of Israel were under His protection? What need could they have for a Savior, when God had already made them His chosen people?

Are your hearts any different? No, we don’t cling to Abraham as our father, but we find ourselves hard-pressed to see any need for repentance. We’ve already been made into God’s children through Holy Baptism. We are the rocks that have been transformed into Abraham’s spiritual descendants, after all. We are now what Peter in his calls “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”. We’re satisfied with where we are as baptized children of God. And it’s no bad thing to be a baptized child of God. We are supposed to cling to our baptism. But too often we find that we have emerged from the waters of baptism, and we’re content to dry ourselves off.

The faith we are given in baptism and the forgiveness we receive is meant to produce fruits of repentance in us. When the crowds as John what they are to do, he reaffirms the two Tables of the Law, which Jesus would repeat later in His ministry by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” True repentance produces these fruits. True repentance—and more than that, the complete forgiveness of sins we receive when we repent—brings us back to these fruits when we have stopped producing them. True repentance brings us back to the font, where we drown the Old Adam in us every day.

Nevertheless, we find ourselves content with the status quo of our sinful Old Adam. We’re good enough on our own. We are content with a superficial repentance. We express a fleeting regret, make a feeble excuse for what we’ve done and perhaps ask half-heartedly for pardon. We wish to be different, to be better. Maybe we might even manage a brief outward improvement. But to admit that something is desperately wrong with us? To let baptism do its work in us, to let it prepare in us the way of the Lord, to let it make straight that which is broken? We might as well claim Abraham as our father.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as was the case with John, it is my stern duty to tell you that you are, indeed, broken. You are steeped in sin. You are buried in it. You are dead in sin. God has Called me and sent me to tell you this. I take no joy in this, for I am the recipient of that same message. We are that very brood of vipers, fleeing from the wrath to come. For indeed, just as Christ came as the promised Savior, He is coming again to judge both the living and the dead. Who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?

This is the message to each of you: repent. Stand before the Lord and say: “O Almighty God merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.” Flee the wrath that is to come.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is also my vital and wonderful duty to tell you that Christ is coming and, indeed, has come. And because we cannot do it ourselves, He has prepared His own way, making straight everything which is broken in us, leveling every mountain of our sin in the flood of baptism, filling every valley of undone good works with His righteousness and with His body and blood. God has come to us, for we could not come to him. He has come, and He forgives you all your sins. He has created a new heart within you, and He lives within you.

Christ is coming, and He has come. As Pastor Simoneaux said last week, Advent is the time that we focus on Jesus drawing near to us. Jesus is Immanuel, God who dwells with us. We experience that reality again this morning as He comes to us in the Word of Absolution and as He comes to us in His body and blood. You are baptized children of God, and the waters of Holy Baptism have prepared the way of the Lord in your heart. Christ is here. Come to the altar, where your flesh shall see the salvation of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Borrowed Bits about the Baptist

The prophet John, also known as "John the Baptist", is one of my favorite figures from the Bible. Maybe it's my alleged martyr complex, or maybe it's just the way we all tend to see ourselves in the protagonist of every story, but I can see myself in John. Last year I said that I envied him, and that's still true. Yet in the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday in Advent for Lutheran Service Book's One Year Lectionary, I can see myself in John's shoes. This strong man of God, this faithful preacher, the forerunner, asks the Lord, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Lord is good, that He fulfills His promises, that He is my shield and fortress. Yet there are times when doubt assails me. John was imprisoned, to be beheaded in the not-so-distant future. I don't face anything that traumatic, of course. Still, I doubt. I question. I wonder.

I'll be preaching at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, Louisiana, on December 13. While doing some background reading with the possiblility of preaching this text in mind, I came across the following from Dave Petersen at, and it struck me as profound.
Who was doubting, the Baptist or his apostles? More and more I think it was the Baptist. On this side of glory, faith and doubt coexist in the Christian. The Baptist is not a reed shaken by the wind. He abides in a king’s house but in the dungeon. He knows his martyrdom is immanent. He has in no way given up the Faith. And it is faith that seeks comfort and an answer from the Lord, not doubt. It is faith that desires to hear the promises and which knows where to find them. Certainly this is good for John’s disciples, as it is for us to listen in on, but what comfort it must have brough to John in prison. “You are decreasing, cousin. I am increasing. You are to die. But do not be afraid. Look: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the Gospel is preached to the poor. The work of preparation is done. The path is straight and level. I set my face for Jerusalem and I will see you in heaven. And there you can lay down your burdens, set aside your fierce diet and rough clothing, and simply be a member of the household without duties who basks in the joy of my grace.” Least in the kingdom of heaven is not a bad thing.

No matter how deeply we know the truth of what we believe, those moments arise. God grant us all to bring that doubt to Christ, just as John did, that He may alleviate it and feed instead our faith.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sermon for 11/29/09-First Sunday in Advent (LSB-C)

This sermon will be preached at Grace Lutheran Church in Houma, Louisiana. Pastor Rich Rudnik, whom I am pleased to call my pastor, has asked me to fill in for him while he's on vacation.

The Days Are Coming

Jeremiah 33:14-16

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

Before I begin this morning, let me say, “Happy New Year!” The First Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the worship life of the church. The last few Sundays our readings moved our focus toward the end of the world, the Day of Judgment, the return of Christ in glory to judge both the living and the dead. This week we return to the life of Christ. As you may know, the word Advent means “coming”. Our focus especially during these next few weeks is the fulfillment of the promise of Immanuel, God in the flesh making His dwelling with us to accomplish the salvation the Father promised to us.

The prophet Jeremiah talks about that promise in our Epistle for today. Last week, Pastor Rudnik spoke of the persecution the Church faces as the Day of Judgment draws near. Jeremiah’s audience would find out about persecution not long after the prophet delivered these words to God’s people. God’s people were about to be taken into exile, taken away from the land which God had brought them to in the time of Moses and Joshua. They would be a people without a home, a people who were being punished for their faithlessness toward God. Yet even before that exile began, God spoke this promise, a word of comfort, to the people: they would be restored. What they would see—and what they wanted to see—was a restoration to the land to which God had brought their fathers. More than that, though, God spoke of the complete restoration of the relationship between God and His people—not only His Old Testament people, but all people of all times and places.

The Old Testament people of God spent a lot of time looking back. When they were in the wilderness, they looked back with longing at the glorious days of their slavery in Egypt. When they were in exile, they looked back with longing to their golden age under King David and King Solomon. Even in the time of Jesus, when the very fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve, the promised Messiah, stood in their midst, they looked back to their father, Abraham, and saw in their forefather the glory of their race and the assurance of God’s goodness to them. They were the people who had received the promise of the Messiah, but even having that promise fulfilled right before their eyes, they could not help but long for the glorious days of their past, the days of the great Kingdom of Israel. In their vanity over the past glories of their time as God’s chosen people, they could not comprehend that the Son of David was in their midst, the Promise fulfilled. They had received the promise, but the One who fulfilled that promise stood among them, unnoticed. Now they wait for someone who has already come.

This affliction is not just limited to Old Testament Judaism. We Christians know a good bit about looking back fondly at our golden years. Many Christians look back at the time before Luther and the Reformation as a great time in the Church, but in reality, people were being forced to pay for forgiveness and the Bible itself was not accessible to the vast majority. Many of us look back fondly on the 1950s as a great time for the Church, since congregation membership and worship attendance was so much higher than it is today. Yet the vast majority of churches offered the gifts of God only once a month or even once every three months, holding the Sacrament away from the people. We look back at our past with reverence and longing, forgetting the importance of what God gives us in the Divine Service, forgetting the nearness of the Day of Judgment.

But “the day is coming,” says the Lord. We saw in the readings for last Sunday how the signs have been and are being fulfilled in our sight. And in some ways, we should be looking back. We should look back and see the promises that God made to His Old Testament people, and we should rejoice in how gracious God was in perfectly fulfilling His promises. We should look back to Christ on the cross and see him bearing our sins there. We should look back to Christ as He taught the disciples and see in His teachings the very truth on which the Church is built—the truth which, when ignored, tears down individuals, congregations, and whole church bodies. And we should look back at how Jesus instituted Holy Baptism, His own Supper, and Holy Absolution as means of grace in which we receive the forgiveness of sins. We ignore these things at our own peril, for we see in these things the great salvation which Christ achieved for us and the great reconciliation He brought about between God and man.

Yet in looking back at these things, we also look forward to the day when that reconciliation will be complete. Christ died for us, yet we are still sinners in our sainthood. The day is coming when we will no longer be sinners, when we will have been restored in the image of God. The doctrine which we have received, handed down from the Apostles, is what we as sinner are able to know—what we see now through a mirror, dimly. The day is coming when we shall know and comprehend the full counsel of God. The Holy Supper feeds our souls and gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Yet it is only a foretaste. The day is coming when we shall be welcome at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.

So yes, we do look back and see the grace of God throughout the history of the Church. We cling to the teachings of the past—not as an obsolete relic of a bygone era, but as a relevant and real revelation for the Church, the people of God, for all time. This is not only your father’s Church or your grandfather’s Church; it is your children’s Church and your grandchildren’s Church, too. God does not change. His teachings do not change. And His gifts—the forgiveness of sins, His body and blood, and eternal salvation—do not change.

In the season of Advent, we celebrate Christ as He comes to us. We celebrate Christ as Emmanuel, God coming to us in the flesh as a child in a lowly manger. We celebrate Christ as the Messiah, riding on a lowly donkey on His way to bear our sins on the cross and to rise again as our Savior. We celebrate Christ as the Lamb of God who comes to us in His body and blood, feeding our bodies and our souls. And we celebrate Christ as the King who will return again in glory. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord. Christ is coming! Christ has come! And Christ will come again! God has made that promise, and you can count on it! 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 26, 2009

For all you turkeys out there

I'm a Facebook person. Yes, I'm one of those. I while my days away with idle chatter and silliness. Actually, I don't play any games, and I mainly use it to keep in touch with old friends. Anyway, as you couldn't help but notice, today is the Day of National Thanksgiving. I wasn't feeling very schmaltzy today, so I posted the following status message:

Alan Kornacki is thankful for his job that stresses him out so much that he eats more than he should until he has reached the point that he looks like a beached whale. He's thankful that his son is autistic. He's thankful for four years outside parish ministry. He's thankful for knees that ache, fingers that don't do what he wants them to do, and a head that needs SPF 60 to get through a summer day. In *everything* give thanks.

This might sound a bit sarcastic. But that's not how it was intended. Each of these things, and hundreds of more that can (and do) often seem like frustrations and messes are things which God uses to demonstrate His goodness in my life.

When I moved with my family to Louisiana four years ago, I had no job and no prospects for a job. This part of Louisiana is mainly oil and gas with some shipbuilding thrown into the mix. The available jobs at the time called mainly for laborers with mechanical skills, and I have none. I applied for every job for which I was remotely qualified . . . and even some for which I wasn't. When the job at the community center opened up a year after I left Ohio, it was a true blessing. Here was a job for which my life experience had made me uniquely qualified. It's not parish ministry, which is where my heart is and where I hope to return sooner rather than later. But it's a good job, a worthwhile job, a stimulating job, and one which I can actually do. I may find it frustrating at times, and I let myself wallow in the frustrations too much at times, but it's a job. I can do it, and by doing it I support my family.

Michael is autistic. Communicating with my son is difficult, but he's a smart and healthy little boy who just has trouble expressing himself in verbal way. I was the same way, and I wasn't autistic. But I have a son, one who I love as much as my other children, one who reminds me daily that it doesn't take a whole mess of words to express love to someone.

You all know that I greatly desire a return to parish ministry. Yet the past four years have been a blessing. I got to spend nearly a year being a full-time father to my newborn twins. I've been able to preach in over a dozen churches in the Southern District. I've been able to grow in areas that will aid me when I do return to the parish. I'll be a very happy man when I return to parish ministry, but until then, I'll continue to learn and grow as a man and as a pastor.

As for my body falling apart . . . It's not easy to look at myself in the mirror and be pleased with what I see. That's my fault. I've been a poor steward of this gift God has given me. Yet I have a body with four limbs that work mostly the way they should, a head that works right most of the time, and enough strength to deal with most of the things that I face in a day. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I'm going to be a better steward of this gift and try to appreciate it a bit more. (Besides, I'd rather be bald than grey.)

It's easy to be thankful for the things we want, for the things that go well. It's not so easy to be thankful when things don't go the way we want them. In the Lord's Prayer we pray, "Thy will be done." Sinner that I am, I'd certainly prefer that my will be done, yet it somehow always works out so much better when I don't try to get in the way of God doing His work in my life. Each of these things allow me to be weak so that I can see the power of God in my life.

I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." God grant us all the ability and will to do so. And God help me to remember this lesson daily, since it's all too easy to forget.

By the way, in addition to everything else, I'm thankful for all the people who take the time to read this blog. A blessed and happy Thanksgiving Day to all of you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hymn: When All Was Still at Midnight's Hour

In a previous post I spoke of writing a Christmas hymn, one with which I am not entirely happy. Something about it just doesn't . . . feel right. I know that sounds esoteric and "touchy-feely", but I tend to write by instinct, with my gut, if you know what I mean. (Please, no silly comments about writing with fingers.) I write what sounds good to me.

Fifteen years ago, I probably wouldn't have shared this poem with anyone. I was not a confident person when I was younger, and criticism always seemed harsher to me than it was likely intended to be. These days, especially now that I've started this new venture into writing hymns, feedback is appreciated and even necessary. I like to think I'm more confident now than I was as a teen--though one thing is for certain: I couldn't be any less confident now than I was then.

All that being said, here it is. Let me know what you think.

When All Was Still at Midnight's Hour

1. When all was still at midnight's hour,
The Word almighty came,
Descending from the royal throne--
Immanuel, His name.

2. The Word was God. In Him was life--
His life, the light of all.
That light shines in the darkness drear
And overcomes the fall.

3. His glory is revealed to us,
And we behold His grace--
The glory of the Father's Son
Who saves our sinful race.

4. Immanuel: God dwells with us,
His blessings to bestow.
Forgiveness, life He gives by faith
To sinners here below.

5. "All glory be to God on high,
And peace on earth to men."
Thus angels sang, and with them we
Repeat the hymn again.

(c) Alan Kornacki, jr.
86 866
Tune: Lobt Gott, Ihr Christen (LSB 389)
(It can also be sung without the repeated last line with the tune Consolation, LSB 348.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hymn: Immanuel—God Dwells With Us

The Christmas reading from John 1:1-14 is one of my favorite portions of Holy Scripture. Especially moving is verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

Meditating on the grace which is explicit in that statement has a profound effect upon me, and I can't help but make the jump from Christmas, where the Word becomes incarnate, to those places in my own life where He makes His presence known to me in very real ways. John 1 can't help but be sacramental.

Immanuel—God Dwells With Us

1. Immanuel—God dwells with us.
To us a child is born!
The Word appears in human flesh
To save the lost, forlorn.
We praise You, Christ, Incarnate Word,
Who came our sins to bear.
Where two or three join in Your name
You make Your dwelling there.

2. Immanuel—God dwells with us
Through ordinary means.
When water joins your holy Word
Forgiveness, life it brings.
By Your command and promise, Lord,
It cleanses us from shame.
All nations need this holy flood
Which marks us with Your name.

3. Immanuel—God dwells with us
In body and in blood.
Through simple bread and wine, we taste
And see the Lord is good.
Your presence in this holy feast
Is our rich blessing, Lord.
Faith makes us worthy to receive
This gift by all adored.

4. Immanuel—God dwells with us.
Continue, Christ, we pray,
To grace us with Your presence here.
Lord Jesus, come and stay!
We gather ‘round these precious gifts
Through which we are Your own
Until that day You welcome us
Before our Father’s throne.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
C M D (86 86 86 86)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sermon for 11/22/09-The Last Sunday in the Church Year (LSB-B)

This sermon will be preached this Sunday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Thank you to the Reverend Doctor Paul Anderson for inviting me to share the Word with the people God has placed into his care.

Stars Shall Fall
Mark 13:24-37

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

One of my favorite hymns is “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”, hymn number 394 in your Lutheran Service Book. The fourth verse reads:
Sun and moon shall darkened by,
Stars shall fall, the heav’ns shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
All will see His glorious sign;
All will then the trumpet hear,
All will see the Judge appear;
Thou by all wilt be confessed,
God in man made manifest.
If some of those words sound familiar, it’s because much of the verse is quoted in our Gospel text. It’s a powerful and even terrible image of the signs leading up to the Day of Judgment. Genesis 8:11 tells us, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” Yet a day is coming when these things will no longer take place.

By these signs and others given in Scripture, many have tried to predict the day and the hour of the Lord’s return in glory. Heck, I could even do it now. Let’s see . . . We’ve already had eclipses, so the sun and moon have been darkened. Michael Jackson died, and I can’t imagine a bigger star than him, so you could say that stars have fallen. And clouds move away all the time, so the heavens have fled. Why, Jesus should be coming back any time now. We might not even get through the Divine Service this morning!

Now, I’m sure you can tell I’m not serious about my prediction, even though Jesus could very well could return before we’re done this morning. But many make predictions based on whatever evidence they choose, and they cling to those predictions to the bitter end. One of the best-selling books on the end times is The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. Even though, by his reckoning, the world was supposed to end sometime in the 1980s, the book is still being printed and sold today! He has made other predictions since then, but one would think he would have given up after being wrong the first time. And if that’s not enough, look at all the furor around the next big prophecy: that the world will end in the year 2012. It may end during that year, though it won’t be because someone predicted that it would.

Jesus would rather not have us focus on when the end will be. After all, no human knows. The angels don’t know. Jesus tells us that even He doesn’t know. People who claim to be able to predict the Day of Judgment are claiming that they know more than Jesus! Only the Father knows the day and the hour, and He’s not telling. Jesus has shown us the signs, and we recognize that these signs are being fulfilled in our sight, even as they were being fulfilled in the days of the disciples. We’ve been waiting nearly two-thousand years since Jesus spoke the words of our text to the disciples, and the day has not yet come. Yet we are living in the last days, which could last another ten thousand years . . . or another ten seconds. It’s enough that we know that the end is coming; it’s not for us to know exactly when.

We don’t need some crackpot standing on the corner with a hand-painted sign to tell us that the end is near. We already know that. Jesus has told us of that wondrous day, the day when He will return in glory, when His holy angels will gather us together to be with our Lord, when all trials and sorrows and illness and death will cease, when those who believe will be restored in the image of God. He has told us that He is coming soon. What is important for us as we wait is to be prepared—to watch for Jesus, to be ready for His return. Don’t get me wrong: Jesus is not telling you to save yourself. That has already been done, and nothing you can do can add to the work that Jesus has already done on your behalf. Rather, we are well prepared when we hear the Word of God and cling to it.

Jesus gives us the brief parable of the doorman who is waiting for his master to return from a journey. The master is returning; of this he is sure. He doesn’t know when that return will be. He may return in ten minutes, having forgotten his briefcase. He may return in a year, having successfully concluded his business. Either way, the master is returning. Is the doorman supposed to try to figure out when the master will come back? No. The doorman is standing at his post, ready for the master to come back at any time. It’s enough for the doorman to believe the master when he says he will come back. He stands his post. He does the job the master has selected him to do. He does not shirk his responsibility. He doesn’t earn a special reward for doing what he’s supposed to do; but if he abandons his post, if he shirks his responsibility, he will surely be in trouble when the master returns and finds the door locked with the doorkeeper asleep or away from his post.

This preparation sounds like an awful burden. And it is. Jesus died bearing it for you. He came in humility, came as a servant. He came as a sacrifice, bearing our sins to the cross. He has clothed you in righteousness through the Word in the water in Holy Baptism. Through that Baptism, Christ will recognize you as His own. Do not doubt that for an instant. His saving work has been applied to you.

How you prepare to receive Christ as He comes to you in glory on the Last Day is the same way you prepare to receive Christ as He comes to you in His body and blood in the Holy Supper. Luther tells us concerning the worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared.” Jesus has done the hard part. Now all we have to do is cling to the words and promises of Jesus by faith. And even that faith is a gift of God! It’s no burden for us to praise Christ as the Son of Man, God in the flesh, the one who shall return in glory to judge both the living and the dead. We’re even given the words to pray in Holy Scripture, which the Church has been blessed to pray in the Divine Service, as we do this morning.

Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon!” The signs are all around us. The end is near! For those who do not believe, it will be a dark day. They will have been found sleeping on duty. They will know in that moment that Christ is the Lord, and they will despair, for they will realize that they have earned the reward for faithlessness. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon!” And we, through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Do not doubt this for a moment: He is coming soon! 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, November 11, 2009

Hymn: Lord Jesus, We Confess Your Name

When I was in school, no matter the level, I was always better at working on assigned topics than I was at picking a topic and running with it. With this in mind I decided to seek suggestions for a hymn topic. I received a number of wonderful offerings from those I polled. This suggestion was offered by Jenny Jordan, a friend of my wife, who said she would like to see a hymn about great confessions of faith. As I said in a recent post, I have no plans to stop writing hymns any time soon, and I'm somewhat pleased with how this one turned out.

The following is my humble offering.

Lord Jesus, We Confess Your Name

1. Lord Jesus, we confess Your name.
From age to age, You're still the same.
With prophets and apostles blest
Who, with great boldness, have professed
Your holy name, Lord, grant that we
Adore You, Christ, on bended knee.

2. "Behold, the Lamb of God," John said,
Who to the wilderness was led,
Who in his mother's womb did spring
To mark the presence of his King.
With him, who knew he must decrease,
May our confession never cease.

3. We praise Your name with Peter, Lord,
Who, through the Father, spoke the Word,
Proclaiming you the promised One:
"You are the Christ, Lord, God's own Son."
Build up Your Church on this brave creed,
That we may rest on You, indeed.

4. Saint Stephen, now in heaven's band,
Who saw you there at God's right hand,
Stood trial for trusting You alone.
He called to You while being stoned,
Confessing you with his last breath.
May we, with him, hold You in death.

5. With angel and archangel host,
We praise You, Christ, in whom we boast,
Our Lord, our God, our Prince of Peace,
Whose blood our bondage won release.
Lord, keep us steadfast all our days,
That evermore Your name we raise.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
88 88 88

We will never forget you, Gail.

I came across this picture on the Facebook page of a friend and former parishioner. It's the headstone for one of Molly's namesakes. We named Molly Abigail for two beautiful women from our congregation in Ohio who fought valiantly against cancer and who now rest in the arms of their Savior.

The first was Molly Abella, who was a beautiful young in her late twenties. She died about three months before we left Zanesville. When we were discussing baby names, we had the darnedest time agreeing on boy names, but at the same moment we both said, "Molly," and we knew it was right. Looking at our Molly now, a lot of the things that made Molly Abella beautiful are the same things that make our own Molly a treasure: her spirit, her joy, even her beautiful long hair with its unruly curls.

Gail Szczesny is the other woman for whom we named Molly. We added the "Abi" part, but she's named for Gail nonetheless.

Gail and her husband Bob are the grandparents to three of the kids who were regulars in my youth group in Ohio and the daughter and son-in-law of one of my shut-ins. The Szczesny's always welcomed me into their home and showed me a great deal of love. They and their children also welcomed Faith more warmly than pretty much anyone else in the congregation I served in Ohio. They and their children were among the very few members of the congregation to contact us after my resignation was announced with any kind of warmth. Bob and Gail invited us to visit them in their home, where they fed us and loved us and cried with us. Their daughter Sandra and her husband Mike took us out to lunch and brought us gifts for the as-yet-unborn twins, and while I don't know if Faith knows it, Mike is one of the men I wanted to honor by giving our son the name Michael. Another daughter, Jana, and her husband Bob and their children still keep in touch with us today.

Gail was a lovely older woman who had fought cancer for a long time. It had gone into remission, but when she relapsed it took a heavy toll. She died in 2006, about eight months after we moved to Louisiana. She's buried about an hour from where my parents live in western New York.

Thank you, Lord, for families like the Szczesny family and their children and grandchildren. Thank you for making them a part of our family and our lives.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When in our music God is glorified . . .

I'm a somewhat different creature when I'm in the pew as opposed to when I'm in the pulpit. I guess it's only natural. After all, in the pulpit I'm delivering, while in the pew I'm receiving. So while I'm a trained theologian no matter where I am, what I notice and what I do and how I react . . . these things change when I'm in the pew.

One of the things that struck me as I sat in a pew at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Metairie, Louisiana, on the Feast of All Saints is the tremendous richness of the hymnody of the Church. As you may have noticed, I've put pen to paper in an attempt to write some hymns. Some are better than others, of course. But when I look at the hymnody which the Church has been blessed with over the past two-thousand years and more, it's not hard to see that I've got a long way to go.

This was made very plain to me as I attempted to write a Christmas hymn. I did manage to put together a hymn called "When All Was Still at Midnight's Hour", which is based on the Introit for the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord. This is a beautiful verse which comes from the Apocrypha, namely Wisdom 18:14-15.
When all was still, and it was midnight,
Thy almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne.

The verses I wrote based on this were adequate. Maybe. But when compared to the rich hymns of Christmas, especially "Of the Father's Love Begotten", it's a trifle. This doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing hymns. I thank God that I'm no longer writing trite love poems, and I see this joy in writing hymns as a blessing. I don't know if I'll ever write anything as profound as Franzmann's "Thy Strong Word", but maybe I can at least match a "Love in Christ Is Strong and Living".

I may post "When All Was Still at Midnight's Hour" one of these days. I certainly don't expect it to move heaven and earth, but it glorifies God, and I'm pleased how my prayer life has been enriched even with these poor verses.

In the meantime, my attempts at writing hymns will continue to give me a greater appreciation for the richness and wonder of the hymnody with which we have been blessed throughout the history of the Church. May we all enjoy the rich treasures of the hymnal.

Monday, November 09, 2009

God in the midst of calamity

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
--Romans 8:28

Today is an anniversary of sorts. Twelve years ago today, I was in a major two-vehicle accident. I was twenty-two years old. Around 6 PM, I was in my (beautiful) 1987 Buick LeSabre, on my way back home from my field work church after worship and an afternoon of every-member visitation. I turned onto Townline Road in Wheatfield (I believe). That's all I remember. I don't remember driving down Townline. I don't remember coming up to another intersection. I don't remember being broadsided by a pick-up truck. I have brief flashes of being in the ambulance and humming hymns and praying. (It's good to know what you fall back on in times of greatest need.) I remember seeing my parents as I was wheeled into the ER, and I definitely remember puking on the shoes of the doctor who was about to run some sort of scan.

I was told that I ran a stop sign. I don't remember that happening, and I can't imagine that I would run a stop sign on a road I traveled constantly, but that's what the police report and the newspaper article said. Every so often I will get a flash of what might have happened, but I don't know if those are memories or if they are constructs of a mind that spends too much time trying to figure out every damn mistake I've ever made and how I might have avoided it if I'd been smarter, cleverer, less clumsy, whatever. The images I see in my mind are of my car and the other vehicle, but since I didn't have those images in my mind until after I saw the pictures my father took of the vehicles after the accident, there's no guarantee that what I see is a true image.

No one in the truck was seriously injured, and neither was I. I had cuts from the windshield glass breaking. I had major bruising on my torso from the seat belt. I had a bump on the right side of my head, possibly from hitting the steering wheel, which was so big that we couldn't see my right ear. My mother couldn't look at me without crying (though many women had that kind of reaction to me at that point, I think), so we never did get any pictures of my face. But I was fine after about a week.

As I've said before, my life changed after that accident. My grades in seminary to that point had been, at best, average, and that year had been so miserable that I'd considered dropping out altogether. The accident sharpened my focus and priorities. That's not to say I became a model student, but I cared more after that about academics and less about what happened at the ping pong table. I still slide back from time to time, but I'm not as . . . I can't say "wild" because I've never been wild--I'm too inhibited for that--but maybe I'm less distracted than I was. I didn't lose my naivety--that came later in Ohio--but I think I finally became an adult.

I was also pointedly reminded of the goodness of God that day. Though this was a high speed collision, nobody was seriously injured. My car was totaled, but I didn't have a passenger in my car as I had for much of the day. A passenger would almost certainly have been killed on impact. So much of what happened could have been so much worse, and it is only by the grace of God that it wasn't worse. I usually don't make a big deal about guardian angels, since people like Oprah tend to hijack the concept and make everyone who does a good deed an angel. But I can't deny that God set mine to watch over me, and I cannot deny the diligence of that heavenly being on that day. God is good.

Anyway, here are the pictures. Above is the picture of the outside of my car. She was nearly spotless before the accident. Beautiful car, a joy to drive. I still miss her.

This is the view from the window on the passenger side of my car, looking at the driver side. It doesn't look too bad, really, all things considered. It probably wasn't very hard to remove me from the car after the accident, as my legs came through with only minor cuts and abrasions, and the door doesn't even look like it was hard to open.

This is the view from the window on the driver side of my car, looking at the passenger side. Note how much of the passenger seat is showing. Any passenger would almost certainly have had crushed legs; likely, any passenger would have been killed on impact. I thank God constantly that the accident didn't happen an hour earlier when I had a passenger with me.

And this is the other vehicle.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In memory of Paul Manz (1919-2009)

Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein . . .

Without question, the most beautiful piece of music I ever performed during my time in the Festival Choir and Tour Choir at Concordia College in Bronxville, New York was "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come" by Paul Manz. I've posted about this piece before, so I won't tell the story of the piece again. Suffice it to say, this music touches me profoundly. It is a rich melding of text and music. Despite the fact that the prayer will have already been answered, I fully expect to be singing this in heaven with choirs of angels, with all the heavenly host.

It was with sadness that I heard today that Paul Manz had been called to his heavenly rest. Though I never met the man and knew him only through his music, that music had such a profound impact on my life that his death makes me sorrowful in the knowledge that his days of earthly composition are complete.

In honor of the glory he ascribed to God through his life and music, and in his memory, I have written a hymn which deals with the same general text. This hymn would be appropriate for the Sunday of the Fulfillment (or whatever it's called these days). Though my work pales (at best) in comparison to his, I hope in some small way to honor him here.

Rest in peace, my brother in Christ. Thank you.

Lord Jesus, Quickly Come

1. Lord Jesus, quickly come--
The Christ by all adored,
Who is, who was, who is to come,
Who lives forevermore.

2. He is the First, the Last,
Beginning and the End,
The One whom all tongues shall confess,
Before whom all knees bend.

3. His eyes, a flame of fire;
His name: the Word of God.
He strikes the nations with His sword
And rules with iron rod.

4. He holds within His hand
The keys of hell and death.
Yet Christ will dwell with all who live
And overcome by faith.

5. And He shall dwell with them
In Zion, city fair.
No pain or sorrow, no more tears,
And death has no place there.

6. "Lo, I am coming soon!"
Thus says th'Almighty Son.
We with the Bride and Spirit pray,
"Amen! Lord Jesus, come!"

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
Suggested Tune: St. Thomas (LSB 331)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Since I can't think about theology all the time . . .

I wrote this to take a gentle swat at my wife, who finds Derek Jeter to be . . . overrated. Actually, that's probably nicer than she'd put it. She thinks they talk about him way too much, and she mocks sportscasters and their Jeter love, saying, "That Jeter. He's such a leader." If she so chooses, I'll let her say all this in her own words. But since I'm a huge Yankees fan, I felt it appropriate to share this as the Yankees attempt to win their 27th World Series. (Rough start, eh?) Anyway, here it is.

Dedicated to my wife.

Derek "the Captain" Jeter
(tune of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer")

You know Damon, Teixeira, Rodriguez, Posada-
Cano and Matsui, Nick Swisher, Cabrera.
But do you recall
The most famous Yankee of all?

Derek "the Captain" Jeter
Swings a very lively bat.
Fielding or stealing bases,
He moves like a jungle cat.
All of the "Red Sox Nation"
Used to boo and call him names.
They never thought poor Jeter
Could win those important games.

Then one late October Eve,
Torre came to say,
"Derek, from the leadoff spot,
Hit us a tape measure shot!"

Then all New York fans loved him,
And they named him M-V-P.
"Jeter, you're such a leader-
You've made Yankees history!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, Mississippi

This past weekend I took a trip up to Brandon, Mississippi, where I had been invited by Pastor Rick Sawyer of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Pastor Sawyer was heading off to speak in Missouri, and he wanted to leave his congregation in good hands. For some strange reason, he chose mine. Even so, things went well. The Word was preached. The people received the Word of Holy Absolution and the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

I knew that the congregation had done a bunch of work in the chancel area, and I knew it would be good. The chancel before had been . . . plain. It was functional, and there was no doubt that it served well.

This is the old altar with Deaconess Emily Carder (from whose blog this picture was taken) standing behind the baptismal font. As you can see, it's by no means ugly. I would have no qualms about serving in a church with this altar. I've served at numerous churches with all sorts of altars, including portable ones, and each of them demonstrates the presence of God in the midst of his people.

But through the labors of congregation members, the chancel was transformed. Many hundreds of hours of labor went into this project, and what emerged is just breathtaking.

Above is the view from the rear of the nave.

Pictured here is the chancel area. The font stands at the forefront. To the left is the lectionary book, covered with the appropriate seasonal color. The altar stands at the center, faced with icons. To the right is the lavabo, the tray for the individual cups, and what I believe was anointing oil, though I did not check. Behind the altar is a processional crucifix, torches, and a fixed wood cross.

Close up views follow:
The altar

The lectionary book

The lavabo with thurible in front

More beautiful than this gorgeous sanctuary, however, was the love I received from the people of Good Shepherd. I again stayed with a wonderful couple, Rob and Anita McArty, who welcomed me into their home, put up with my LSU fandom, and fed me as always with wonderful fare. The members of Good Shepherd greeted me with appreciation for bringing the Word and the Gifts of God to them. They told me their stories, plied me with orange juice, and laughed tolerantly as I passed around pictures of my children.

Every opportunity I'm given to preach is a blessing and a privilege, and I again thank Pastor Sawyer and the people of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Brandon, Mississippi, for inviting me in and making me feel at home. If you're ever in the area (just outside of Jackson), don't hesitate to stop in and receive the gifts of God with His people in this beautiful area of Mississippi.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sermon for 10/26/09 -- Twentieth Sunday After Trinity (1-year LSB)

I will be preaching this sermon on Sunday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, Mississippi. This is the congregation that produces the high quality Vox Visuals DVDs. It's been my privilege and pleasure to fill in for Pastor Sawyer in the past, and I'm looking forward to my time there this weekend. A wonderful couple from the congregation has put me up every time I've visited Good Shepherd, and the congregation has always welcomed me warmly. I pray the congregation at Good Shepherd will be as blessed this weekend as I will be through them.

The Wedding Banquet

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

The parable we heard this morning is the last one Jesus told, and appropriately so. It is about the consummation of the kingdom, when the King of kings and Lord of lords will set before His people a feast of His love and joy, a feast which will be theirs eternally.

How do we respond when we have been invited to participate in some grand event, with all of the festivities, all of the wonderful food, and everything that is a part of some great occasion? At least, how should we respond? If we are not invited, we can become pretty despondent. It is hard to stand aside and watch others having all of the fun. If we are invited, of course we will accept the invitation, with gratitude and excitement and anticipation! And yet, that was just how God’s people had not responded.

Keep in mind that this feast was not just any feast. It was a marriage feast, and a royal one, at that. It was a feast given by the king for his son, the prince. It was a feast to end all feasts. To be invited to it was a mark of profound privilege; to reject such an invitation was an offense like no other.

The marriage imagery is one of Scripture’s richest and most beautiful pictures of the relationship between God and His people. It is expressed frequently in the New Testament as an image of the “marriage”, if you will, between Christ and His Church. We see this as early as Jesus’ miracle at the Wedding at Cana. But, this was also a picture not unknown to the Old Testament. Now and again, the prophets would speak of God as the “husband” of His people, which meant, of course, that they were like a “bride” to Him. He would love them and care for them and provide for them, and they were to honor and love Him in return. And when they would not, it was as if they were committing adultery; evil, treacherous, destructive, and even self-destructive. And that is how this text finds Israel. She has had the invitation for years, but has made one excuse after the other to justify her spiritual adultery. The succession of servants sent by the king with his invitation have been met with anger and spite; they were treated shamefully, and some were even killed. Finally, the patience of the king ran its course. Angrily, he sent his troops to kill those who had murdered his servants, and then burned their cities to the ground.

The meaning was plain for those who would see it. Jesus, Himself, was their last invitation. If they rejected Him, they would suffer the consequences of that rejection. To spurn the personal invitation of the king, delivered by his son, would be the height of arrogance. There would be no more invitations.

It’s easy for us to look at this parable in a detached sort of way. After all, we are those who were out on the thoroughfares, as the parable describes it, those in the streets to whom the king sent his servants with the invitation. The feast was all prepared, but there was no one to enjoy it; no one to share the king’s joy in the marriage of his son. That is where we come in. The invitation has gone out to others. They are called the Church, literally, the “called-out ones,” those whom the king has called to fill up His banquet hall. But, are we not faced with the same danger that overcame those who were first given the invitation? Don’t we find excuses to turn a deaf ear to the king when he calls out to us? Don’t we find it too easy to neglect that invitation that is always new and always fresh with its promise of the king’s blessing?

Neglect is the key thought here. Now, consider the man who tried to “crash the party” without the appropriate wedding garment. Today, entrance to a great feast would be gained by means of an engraved invitation, most likely. Perhaps it might be that you would need to purchase a ticket, like for Michael Jackson’s funeral. In this instance, the king gave to each one invited a garment that would be instantly identifiable as his; there would be found his name or his mark, something which would set his garments off from all others.

And that is just what we have been given. We have been “clothed with Christ”, St. Paul said. His reference was to Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism we have been named with His name. We are unmistakably identified with our Lord Jesus Christ, set apart by Him for a life that is eternal. But, what happens all too often is that Baptismal faith is not fed and nourished. It is not sustained with the Word of God and prayer, and thus withers up and dies like a branch that is severed from the vine. And only because of neglect, only from taking for granted the king’s invitation, not taking seriously his wish to bring us and to keep us at his eternal feast.

Does this, in any way, describe where you are at this moment? Is it possible that, though you may be here frequently, still you have, in truth, neglected the invitation of the Lord to enjoy His eternal feast? There is one above all, and that is the feast our Lord spreads at His table for us, the blessed meal of His holy body and blood, a “foretaste of the feast divine,” as it sometimes called. And that it surely is! As we will confess in the liturgy a bit later, it is that point at which we join with angels and arch-angels and the whole company of heaven. It is a preview of the marriage feast of the Lamb, as the Book of Revelation tells us: “‘Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure…’ And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’”

If you have neglected this invitation, here is where to make amends. The wedding garment you were given in Holy Baptism still bears His name. It is still the guarantee of your entrance to the eternal feast. As you have confessed your sins this day and have received the Lord’s word of absolution, come and partake of the very body and blood of the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world. Even now He prepares that eternal feast of His love and joy for you, and you are an invited and welcome guest at His table. 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, October 22, 2009

Ten Commandments for Mid-level Management

1. Thou shalt always cover thy posterior, that it may be well with thee and thou mayest have continual employment.
2. Remember thou the Golden Rule: He who directeth the gold, maketh the rules.
3. Remember: Thou shalt never have the gold.
4. Remember: He who hesitateth is lost.
5. Thou shalt treat thine employees fairly and with compassion, remembering that thou, also, art an employee.
6. Thou shalt treat the public courteously and circumspectly, remembering that thou representest them.
7. Thou shalt maintain thy nose with neither spot nor blemish.
8. Thou shalt accomplish thy tasks in a timely manner.
9. Thou shalt consider thy words carefully.
10. Thou shalt always, always, cover thy posterior.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Four Years Later: Redux

Last week I posted about the fourth anniversary of my forced resignation. I've been a pastor for over nine years, but the last four years have been spent in what is known as "Candidate Status". Candidate Status means, in short, that a pastor is not serving in a parish, but he is able to receive and consider Calls and can serve as pulpit supply for congregations needing a fill-in pastor. According to the by-laws of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, a pastor can stay on Candidate Status for four years. My four years are up. Nonetheless, I still greatly desire to return to parish ministry.

I received the following message from the Southern District secretary on Friday:

Your status as Candidate ends this month as it marks your fourth year on this status. Our office will be changing your status to Non-Candidate. This will not impede your availability for a call. You can stay on Non-Candidate status for eight years.

This verifies an earlier message I received from President Schultz of the Southern District:

When your status expires you will move automatically to Inactive Candidate Status unless you indicate otherwise. You can remain on this for another 8 years. I will continue to circulate your information for call.

These messages are somewhat comforting. I'd been told by then-President Bergen that I could remain on Candidate Status for four years, but if I went to non-Candidate status, I would be unable to receive a Call. I've worried about that.

I may have good reason to be worried about that. Looking at a Q&A on the LCMS website (see point 5) I read the following:

Non-candidate CRM pastors, who only wish to remain on the roster of the Synod but are not interested in a call at the present time, may remain on the roster as non-candidate CRM for eight years, renewable once.

I believe my district president when he tells me that I am still eligible to receive Calls on non-Candidate status. The Handbook is not really all that clear about the Call eligibility of non-Candidate pastors (look on page 57 of your copy of the 2007 Handbook and see for yourself), so I can only trust the interpretation of my ecclesiastical supervisor.

Nonetheless, if I seem confused about where I stand, it's because I am.

Incidentally, this is post 100 on this blog. I would like to thank all of you who read this blog. Whether you post comments or not, the fact that people find this blog to be of interest is a source of constant amazement to me. Of course, if you're here because it resembles a train wreck and you can't help but look, I can understand that, too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Four Years Later

For many in America, October 12 is a day to celebrate—or to rail against—Columbus Day. For my Canadian friends (and, I suppose, those people in Canada who I don't know or with whom I do not share friendship), today is Thanksgiving Day.

For me, October 12 marks the anniversary of what was probably the worst day in my life. Four years ago today, the leaders of the congregation I was serving in Ohio demanded my resignation as the Associate Pastor of their congregation. I've told the story here before, and I don't need to repeat the whole sordid tale here.

So . . . yeah. It's been four years now since I've been a parish pastor. It's not easy, knowing that you're Called to do something and to be unable to do it. Oh, I've preached and taught Bible study all over Louisiana and beyond. I've officiated at three funerals. I've even been blessed to baptize three beautiful children, two of whom are my own. Every chance I'm given to do these things is a blessing. But the difference being a parish pastor and being a pastor who only occasionally gets to be a pastor is extremely frustrating. I've been trained and Called to preach the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments, to serve God's people as an undershepherd. What God has given me to bring to His people is the greatest Good News, and not being able to do what I've been Called to do is a terrible burden to bear. It's been four years, and there's no way to say when—or even if—I'll be a parish pastor again. God willing, it will happen soon. God willing, it will happen. I have no ambition but to serve God by preaching the Word to His people and faithfully administering the Sacraments.

I always thought that guys who end up on CRM status—the abbreviation for "candidatus reverendi ministerii," or, "candidate for the holy ministry"—ended up there because they did something terrible. They cheated on their wives. They taught false doctrine. They stole money from the congregation. But that's not usually the case. Oh, those guys exist. But more often, someone in a position to "make things happen" in a congregation decides they don't like the way a pastor preaches or teaches or keeps his schedule or what he stands for, and they convince those around them that the pastor must go. I am not without guilt in my own situation, but the majority of the men I've met who have been forced to resign from their congregations, many of whom I've had contact with. have been forced to resign merely for doing what they do: preaching the Gospel in its purity, teaching the Word of God instead of popular ideas, and loving people with God's love. These men vow to do these things, and they are treated shamefully for doing what they have been Called to do by the very people for whom they have been Called to do it.

The world needs what these other men and I have been Called to bring. God grant that we all be given a place to being faithful servants of God and faithful undershepherds to His people.