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.