Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sermon for 12/26/10--The Sunday After Christmas (LSB 1-year)

The Dark Shadow Over Christmas

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

Christmas morning has come and gone. It’s only been a day, but it’s been long enough that we’re getting back into the routine of our normal daily lives. The joy of the season has ended—and to tell the truth, it probably seems as though it ended a couple weeks ago, considering how much effort it takes to get ready for Christmas.

For Mary and Joseph, the joy had not yet ended. Jesus was forty days old. As a good Jewish family, Mary and Joseph took the child Jesus to Jerusalem so that He could be presented at the Temple, according to the Law of Moses. He had already been circumcised, marked with the sign of the Old Testament covenant, at the tender age of eight days; this was the next requirement. This was meant to be a joyous time for this new family. Although Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he had already accepted the responsibility to raise Jesus as his own. Mary had already spoken her acceptance and sung her song of joy for the Messiah that she had borne in her womb. They were going to raise Him as would any good Jewish family would raise a son, and that meant obedience to the Law. They would bring Him to the Temple for the appropriate sacrifices.

What started out as a joyous family occasion suddenly became more solemn when the family encountered Simeon. Holding the Infant Jesus in his arms, Simeon spoke of his own death, now that his eyes had seen the salvation which God had promised to His people. And then he said something that brought their joy up short. He said, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against—yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

The Holy Spirit was resting upon Simeon, and through the Holy Spirit he was able to see what was to come for the blessed holy Child in his arms. This Child would be the salvation of the world—both Israel and the Gentiles—but He would also be despised and rejected, crucified at the hands of the very people He came to save. Mary would be an eye-witness to this, watching first as Nazareth rejected her Son, and then standing at the foot of the cross as her Son died there to redeem the world.

This same specter hangs over the Church in the midst of our Christmas celebration. We cannot look at the manger at Bethlehem without seeing the cross of Golgotha looming over it. If you look at the calendar of the Church Year, you see that today is the Feast of St. Stephen the martyr, tomorrow is the Feast of St. John the apostle and evangelist, and Tuesday is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children ages two and under who were massacred—martyred by King Herod as he sought to eliminate the rival King whom the Wise Men came from the East to worship. While the Church always rejoices at Christmas, it has always understood that it cannot let itself become inebriated with the joy of Christmas morning, lest we forget that Jesus was born to be a sacrifice to atone for our sins.

The world has made it very difficult for us to keep Christmas holy, and we have been willing accomplices. We can complain about how Christmas has become a secular holiday, but we participate and even revel in the secular festivities. Christmas has become about black Friday, about the joy on our faces and on the faces of our children as we hand out the presents under the tree. It has become about children and how cute they are dressed in their costumes as they sing carols. Not only do we take the Christ out of Christmas; we have even taken the Mass—the divine service—out of Christmas for the sake of what we find under our trees and on our tables on Christmas morning.

Simeon knew all too well what Christmas was about. Simeon saw in the Jesus child the Consolation of Israel, but he knew that consolation would come at a cost—the rejection, suffering and death of that same Child he held in his arms. Christmas does not happen in a vacuum. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter and the Ascension come as a unit. Christmas means nothing without the blood of Christ. If Jesus is not born, He cannot die upon the cross carrying the burden of your sins. If He does not die, He cannot rise from the grave, raising you with Him. But if He is not raised from the dead, His death has done nothing for you. And if He does not die, then His birth means nothing. These things all work together. Simeon saw it all, and he warned Mary that this Child would suffer—and because her Child would suffer and be rejected and killed, Mary would feel the spear in her own heart.

Mary would observe the fulfillment of all these things. But she also witnessed that her Son went willingly to His work. She watched as Jesus bore the rejection in His own hometown. She watched as He endured His trial, listening to the false accusations leveled against Him without a word on His own behalf. She watched as her Son hung on the cross, dying a death He did not deserve, bearing sins He did not commit. Jesus endured all this willingly for the consolation of Israel—and not just for Israel, but to bring light to the Gentiles.

The infant Jesus whom Simeon held in his arms is the same Jesus that you will receive in your mouth today. The Consolation of Israel is also the Consolation of Campbell Hill. It’s true that Christmas means nothing without the blood of Christ. When you receive the body and blood of Jesus in His Holy Supper, you celebrate His incarnation: how He comes to you as Immanuel, God with us in the flesh! Salvation and the glory of God are revealed to you here. You celebrate Christmas and Good Friday and Easter all together in this Feast. And though the cross hung as a shadow over the stable and manger of Bethlehem for Mary for a time, it stands for you and for all as a beacon, for it is the instrument upon which Christ bore your sins, shining as brightly as the star that guides you to the manger.

The glory of God, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life are found in that little child whom Simeon held in his arms. By the forgiveness and life won for you by that same Jesus, you too will be able to depart in peace, having seen the salvation prepared for you. And as you wait for the day when you depart in peace, you receive the same blessing which Simeon received with Jesus in his arms: the Consolation of Israel—and, indeed, the Consolation of all those who wait on the Lord. 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 24, 2010

Sermon for 12/25/10 -- The Nativity of Our Lord (LSB 1-year)

The Word Became Flesh

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

He has his mother’s eyes. How often have you heard that phrase, or one like it? Family resemblance can be striking. You don’t have to see a child’s parents sometimes to know them. You can see it in the young child’s eyes, or their nose, or the shape of their face. Family resemblance can even go beyond the little things. Big or small, weight, height, build, disposition, inclination toward music or math, or things mechanical, or whatever, all sorts of things are connected to family genes. You can tell so many things about a person by their family.

So what was Jesus’ family like? Our text proclaims a miracle: the Word, the almighty, eternal Word of God, became flesh. The creator of all things came into our flesh to be born of a virgin. He clothed Himself in our flesh, lived our life, died the death that should have been ours, and rose from the dead so that we, too, could live that new life of His. This is His life, and this is our life through baptism. As St. John says in verse 12 of our text, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” By baptism we have been adopted into this same Holy Family.

This miracle, which the Church calls the Incarnation, is perhaps the greatest mystery of all time. How can eternity be contained in a little baby? How can the creator of the universe be wrapped in the clothes of a little Jewish baby? This is one of the mysteries of the Church that we can only confess and give thanks to God for. Perhaps the greater mystery is “why.” Why would God humble himself to be born as a human?

Now there’s a question we can answer, because our Lord has told us why He came to earth. He came to earth because of His great love for us. Love so deep and rich and passionate that He could not, He would not let us die in the mire of our sins. He came into our flesh. This body, this flesh that God has given to each one of us, this is the flesh that we have torn and abused by sin and greed. This is the flesh that holds all of our filthy thoughts, and these are the arms and legs and eyes and mouth and ears that each one of you uses to deny and mock God, and to serve yourself rather than those in need around you. It is into this weak and sinful flesh that Christ our Lord came.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Our Lord did not come into the flesh to be an earthly ruler, or as some sort of superhuman. No, he came into our flesh, and He dwelt among us. He came and was in the midst of human life. Our hurts, our sorrows, our joys, our pain: He experienced all of it. That’s the sort of God we worship. Our Lord is not way off in heaven, looking downing with a disdainful eye on all of our misdeeds. No. He saw our sinful weakness and rebellion, and came into our flesh to dwell among us. The Son of God entered the world of His creation to redeem it, to buy it back from Satan and the world.

So where do we find this Son of God today? Did He go back into heaven after doing all of His work to save us? Is it back to business as usual? The world today has all sorts of places to go to find God. As are now in the new millennium, we see more and more bizarre cults and religious groups coming forth with the “truth” about God. But where to we find God? John answers the question for us: The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. We know God by knowing Jesus. Luther put it this way: “The Son of God did not what to be seen and found in heaven. Therefore He descended from heaven into this lowliness, came to us in our flesh, laid Himself into the womb of His mother and into the manger and went to the cross. This ladder He placed on the earth so that we might ascend to God on it. This is the way you must take. If you forsake this way and try to speculate about the glory of the Divine Majesty without this ladder, you will invent marvelous matters, matters that are above your horizon; but you will do so to your very great harm.”

So what is the way to heaven and to God? The way passes through the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb. It is only through Christ that we find God and ascend to heaven. Many people will want to speculate about God, and try to put the focus away from Christ and on to us. That is always the temptation, isn’t it? We so much want to get away from Christ and look elsewhere. A little baby in a manger is cute, but death on a cross? That’s morbid and depressing. But it is only through this cross that we can find God.

This is what it means to say that we behold His glory. Where is His glory? Is His glory in power, where He rules with an iron fist? Is His glory in success? As a preacher, Jesus was a failure by earthly standards. Who was left with Him when He suffered and died? No one. Does John call Him, “Behold the mighty lion who takes away the sin of the world”? No. He is the lamb, a meek and lowly creature that is easily taken and killed.

Here we get to the back to the mystery of Christmas. The angels and all the heavenly host sing of His glory, and we sing with them. “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” God’s glory, bound together in human flesh, dwelling among us as one of us. He was born and circumcised; He lived, suffered, died, and rose again. All this He did for you. He lived the perfect life we cannot live, and died our death, so that we can partake of His glory.

St. Paul once wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Your baptism bound you to Christ’s life. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” When you were baptized, all of the fullness of His life became yours. You are bound to His flesh in your baptism. The fullness of His divine life is yours. Life, real life, is yours through this babe of Bethlehem, the Word made flesh.

So what was the family resemblance Jesus had with His mother? And what is the family resemblance you have with Jesus, your true Brother? It is this: that you have the gift of eternal life, and the name of God is upon you. And we know this because 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. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sermon for 12/19/10 – RORATE COELI: Fourth Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

I am not the Christ

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

His name is John, and he was a prophet of the Most High, sent to prepare the way for the promised Messiah. That preparation included preaching and baptism—a washing of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This preparation caught the attention of the religious powers that be in Jerusalem. When they heard about John and his words and actions, the Pharisees sent men to him to look for something dangerous: a man who would testify concerning himself. You see, John was something the Jews thought they could understand. He was the son of a priest, one who had served in the presence of God in the very Holy of Holies itself. That was pedigree enough for the Jews. To them, John was nearly royalty himself. This was a man who they—and the world—could see as the Christ: a powerful speaker, a man of a holy lineage, a man with charisma, a man the people could rally around as one of their own, maybe even a man with enough influence to challenge their Roman overlords.

As we heard in the Gospel reading last week, Jesus said that “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist”. If ever there was a man who was blessed to know his place in the Kingdom of God, it was John. Scripture laid out for him who and what he was to be; and even before he was born, he was doing what his father had prophesied that he was supposed to spend his life doing: pointing to Christ and saying, "There He is! He's the one!" His entire life was spent in preparation for the culmination of his role as the final prophet of the Old Testament Church. When people came to find out what this John guy was all about, he clearly confessed, saying, "I am not the Christ." When he was forced to expand on that answer, even that answer pointed away from himself to the Word of God and to the Christ whose way John had come to prepare. Even with his role clearly laid out for him, as a sinner, the temptation must have been there to claim more for himself than he was meant to claim. His final word on the matter was, "He must increase, but I must decrease." He did not speak with reluctance or false modesty; it was merely the truth.

There is a danger in being a preacher of the Word, and that is the danger of self-promotion, the danger of thinking of yourself as indispensable, the danger of thinking of yourself as Christ. Like John, a true preacher of the Word knows that he is not worthy to even untie the sandals of the Christ. But when a preacher says, “MY preaching does it; MY baptizing does it; MY officiating does it; MY teaching does it”—the preacher is setting himself up as a false Christ. Such a preacher imperils his own soul and the souls of his hearers. We all know those preachers exist. We see them on television all the time, whether it’s men like Joel Osteen who preach a “gospel” of prosperity or those like Benny Hinn who promote healing for those who have enough faith. And these false prophets are very popular. You see, there is also the danger of being a hearer of the Word—the danger of seeking after a false Christ. Do you come here to hear the Word? Do you come here to receive the gifts of absolution and eternal life? Or are you here because of the personality and talents of the preacher? Do you come—or do you stay away—because of the preacher’s charisma or lack thereof? Do you come here to be seen and acknowledged, to remind the Lord that you exist? Who is the Christ you come here today to see?

Your pastor is not the Christ, nor does He claim to be. Your pastor is a sinner. He is not a charismatic man. He is not a powerful man. He cannot save you, nor will he try. Any word that he speaks to you apart from the Word of God is only his own word. And if he (or any other preacher) tries to convince you that his own words are words of power or salvation, he has no business in this pulpit, in your classrooms, in your lives. And for your part, do not look to any mere mortal for salvation. You can tell the marks of a real and faithful preacher by comparing him to John the Baptist. Does the preacher point to himself? If so, he is not worthy of your attention. Does the preacher seek to entertain you instead of convicting you of your sins? If so, he is not a faithful man of God. Does the preacher seek your good will and generosity by saying things from the pulpit that you want to hear? Does he surrender the preaching of the Law under the pressure of financial hardship? If so, he does not belong in this pulpit.

But God provides faithful preachers to His people. He Calls men who do not point to themselves. He Calls men like John: men whose voices He uses for preaching the Word and speaking Holy Absolution to His people, men whose hands He uses for faithful administration of the Sacraments. He uses these men, but Jesus is the one doing the work. He is the one who washes you and raises you to new life in the waters of Holy Baptism. He is the one who speaks to you the Word of Holy Absolution. He is the one who gives you His very body and blood in the Holy Supper. The preacher is just another instrument He uses—an instrument like the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. Your pastor is not the Christ—he isn’t even John the Baptist. But like John, he is “a prophet of the Most High”, for, like Zechariah said of his son, your pastor “will go before the Lord to prepare His way, to give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins”. As He did with John, Christ uses your pastor to give Himself to you.

This is the last Sunday in the season of Advent. Christ is coming. He has already come as a humble Infant, come as the Word made flesh to dwell among us, come as the One who bore our sins, come to set us free. He comes to us now in hidden ways, hidden in the water of Holy Baptism, hidden in the humble words spoken by a sinful preacher, hidden in the ordinary means of bread and wine. And we look forward to that last great day when He will come again in glory—neither humbly nor hidden—to set us free forever from sin, death and the power of the devil. Thanks be to God for John the Baptist, who clearly confessed that he was not the Christ and firmly pointed to Jesus as the promised One. Thanks be to God for faithful pastors who point us to Christ and His gifts. And thanks be to God for Jesus: the One who has come, the One who comes to us today, the One who will come again as He has promised. 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, December 16, 2010

REVIEW: "Faith, Alone" by D.M. Davidson

I'm not usually one to advertise merchandise--at least, not when it's not my own--but I felt I should share this with y'all.  One of my former parishioners from North Dakota has participated in National Novel Writing Month for the past few years, and she has stepped forward to do what I have not yet been brave enough to do: publish her first novel.  She has written a book titled Faith, Alone and published it under the name D.M. Davidson.

Faith, Alone is the story of Sara Curtis, a high school senior who is struggling with her place--in high school, in the Church, in life.  Her friends don't understand her; her classmates abuse her; and she is hard on herself.  In other words, she's a fairly typical teenager.  In addition to that, her parents barely pay attention to her, and when she discusses college with them, they do not support her choice at all.  This tale follows Sara through her senior year as she struggles to live a sanctified life, questioning God and herself.

This would be a good book to share with a Christian teen.  I can't say I was blessed to have the kind of experiences Sara ends up having, but I do know that it is a story that could be (and has been) a true story for many.  The book smacks of reality, though it be fiction, and the author has captured the high school experience.  It's about the sanctified life of faith without sounding like it was written by a cult member.  I'd give this book three thumbs up . . . as long as someone will lend me a thumb. 

Click this link to order a copy at the reasonable price of $12 plus shipping and handling.  You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PARODY: Blessed Assurance

For some reason, this just popped in my head today.  I know it's an old favorite I lampoon here, but there are some days where the lightning will just have to strike me before I'll learn.  *wink*

Blessed Assurance
a parody of the spiritual song
of the same name

1. Blessed assurance: look at me shine!
Dare I presume that the Savior is mine?
Such narcissism, arrogance true--
As if the Lord needs aught I can do.  (refrain)

(refrain) This is my story.  Can it be wrong
Stoking my ego all the day long?
This is my story.  Can it be wrong
Stoking my ego all the day long?

2. Perfect submission must be my lot.
You may be sinners, but surely I'm not.
Vanity, ego, pride for the win!
You may be tempted; I don't give in.  (refrain)

3. Burgeoning laurels: on them I rest.
Sinners are losers, so I must be best.
Jesus is nifty, if overblown.
Who needs His goodness? I have my own.  (refrain)

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sermon for 12/12/10 – Gaudete: Third Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

The Jesus You Need

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is the Gospel appointed for today.

John sent his disciples to Jesus with a question: “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Now if ever there is an Advent question, this is it. All of our texts today revolve around the theme of the preaching of the Gospel, and John’s disciples really got at the heart of the matter. Are you the Messiah or not? Should we follow John or do we follow you? You can almost sense the tension in their question. Have we been wrong for following John the Baptist all these years? Some theologians think John, sitting in prison, is beginning to doubt Jesus. Or maybe John himself is concerned that when he is martyred, some of his disciples won’t follow Jesus, but will rather bask in John’s memory. Perhaps they would turn him into a folk hero, and they wouldn’t get the connection between John’s preaching of repentance and Jesus’ work of forgiving sins.

Really, though, the question of the disciples to Jesus is our question as well. In one way or another, we are all searching for answers. We all have questions about life and about our identity as God’s children. These questions draw us into the question of Jesus. Who is He? Why did He come? What does that have to do with my life here and now? Those are good questions, ones that have to be asked, maybe now more than any other time in the history of the Church.

Now Jesus knows all about John’s disciples’ fears and questions. Notice what Jesus does. He doesn’t answer their question outright. They ask, are you the Coming One, or do we seek another? Jesus doesn’t just answer, yes, I am the Coming One. No, instead He says, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see.” Jesus then gives a list of the works He’s performed in their presence: “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Notice how Jesus in this list moves from the least important to the most important. The blind see and the lame walk. These things didn’t make you unclean, but they incapacitated you. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. These things not only incapacitate you, but they make you unclean, so that you cannot hear the Word of God. The dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Jesus raised up the dead, but even more important than that, Jesus gives the good news of salvation and forgiveness to the poor. Or to put it another way, preaching the forgiveness of sins was the most important thing He did.

What does that have to do with Advent? It has everything to do with Advent, because this question gets at the heart of why Jesus came to earth in the first place. In Jesus’ ministry, many people were offended when Jesus said that He had to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of the world. Many quit following Him, and looked elsewhere for a more user-friendly Messiah. The tried to make Him a king; they wanted Him to rebel against Rome; they followed after Him because He fed their stomachs. But when He sought to forgive their sins, when He went to preach the Gospel to them, well, they had better things to do than that. As Paul said, preaching of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

This is still true today. How many people the world over go to church to have their sins forgiven? How many of you are here because you need Jesus? Think back to our Old Testament lesson, when Isaiah prophesied about the preaching of John the Baptist. “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.” This is the message of Christmas. As Isaiah said just a few verses later, “Lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”

This message is significantly different than what we seek after by nature. Jesus gives us what we need, not what we want. That was His message to John. Perhaps John was wondering if Jesus would come down and get him out of prison. But that was not Jesus’ purpose; He had a higher purpose for John and for you. You want Jesus to help you with your money problems, or family problems, or conflicts with co-workers, stress about life, or school, or whatever may be ailing you. Now to be sure, Jesus cares about all these things. And He will help you with whatever the problems of your life are.

But His sights are much higher than that. Jesus did not come to earth to make you feel better, or happier, or even to make your life easier. He came to earth to raise you from the dead. He came to earth to heal the sickness of sin, which is a part of you even now. He came to preach to you that your sins are forgiven. He comes to give you Himself. He comes to lift you up out of your mess of a life, and to make you sons and daughters of heaven!

So what do you hear and see? Do you hear and see a Jesus you want? Do you see a Jesus that makes you happy, that makes you feel good about your self and about who you are. Do you see a Jesus that says it’s okay to sin and revel in wickedness? Or do you hear and see the Jesus you need? Do you hear the Jesus that says that sin cannot be brushed over? Do you see the Jesus born in a manger, dead on a cross, gone from the empty tomb? Do you hear the Jesus that forgives your sin, and who gives you Himself week after week?

That is why Jesus says to John’s disciples, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Jesus doesn’t necessarily give you what you want; but He does give you what you need, and that is the far greater thing. He gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. What looks on the outside like almost nothing, is in fact the thing you need the most in the whole world. Blessed are you who are not offended that Jesus uses poor preachers, mere words, simple water, and ordinary bread and wine to bring you the greatest gift of all. He gives you Himself; and this is the Jesus you need. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sermon for 12/5/10-POPULUS ZION: Second Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

Your Redemption Draws Near

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

Each year, the Season of Advent brings to our attention the comings of our Lord Jesus Christ—comings, in the plural; for there are more than one. His first coming was to Bethlehem, lowly and humble, to live for us and then to die for us, to redeem us from sin, death, and hell. He continues coming to us also now, in those means He has given us, His Word and Sacraments, a coming every bit as real though shrouded in mystery that only faith can penetrate. And He will come again to judge the living and the dead. That coming is called by different names; the Day of Judgment, the Day of the Lord, the Fulfillment, the Last Day, and others.

As the Church prepares for our yearly return to the manger to greet the Christ who came to save us from our sins, once again the lectionary takes us to days leading up to that last day, the day when Son of Man will return in glory. Jesus speaks of signs in the heavens and on earth. There are cosmic signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On earth there is political perplexity in nations caught in distress. The ocean waves roar in rebellion. Indeed we see the agony of a collapsing world as the creation itself which was subjected to futility by human sin groans under the stress and strain of the last days. The natural world—stars, earth, and the seas—experience the "wrath of God which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" as Paul says in Romans 1. Creation itself calls us to account, leaving no one with an excuse before Almighty God.

God makes His power and His unfailing judgments manifest in the maneuverings of creation, making it absolutely clear that our trust is misplaced if it is put in any created object. Thus our Lord moves from the groaning of the heavens and the earth to the anxieties that overtake the human heart. He speaks of "men's hearts failing them from the fear and expectation of those things which are coming on earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken."

Someone has said that when people cease fearing God, they become afraid of everything else. Such is the fear we see today. Sinful human hearts will always find something to be afraid of. But behind all of these fears lies the fear of judgment, the fear of God's judgment. For unbelievers, the prospect of our Lord's return is greeted not with joy but with fear. Indeed as the Book of Hebrews says "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Week after week, we confess in the Creed that our Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead. For unbelievers, those who live their lives in rejection of the Son of Mary who was born to be our Savior, the thought of Christ's return is the cause of terror. And their fear is justified.

Jesus says "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." For unbelievers this will be a most unwelcome sight. For them, the Lord's return will be the consummation of the law. The time for repentance will be over and they will face the reality of hell.

When the high priest questioned Jesus asking Him "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" the Lord answered Him "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." Upon hearing those words, the high priest tore his clothing in protest of what he concluded to be blasphemy. To Caiaphas it was utter blasphemy that Jesus would identify Himself this way; for with these words Jesus was stating that He was God. Jesus is clearly demonstrating that He is the one spoken of by the Prophet Daniel in the Old Testament when he wrote "And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed." The sight that Caiaphas could not bear to imagine is the sight that will be revealed on the Last Day—much to the eternal regret of all who have lived as enemies of Christ. On the other hand, those who have received this Lord by faith will greet His second advent as the consummation of the Gospel. The One who returns with the clouds of heaven is the Son of Man who was crucified for us.

The agony of a dying world points us to the Crucified Son of Man who will return as our Judge and Savior. So Jesus says "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near." These signs, of course, have been present ever since the coming of our Lord in the flesh. With His coming in the flesh, the Lord has brought the kingdom of God near to all people. We live in that kingdom now by faith, and we will receive the full fruits of this kingdom in the resurrection of our bodies to life everlasting. So we do not shake in cowardice nor are we bent over in fear; instead we lift up our heads in eager expectation of our Savior's return. We are not waiting on a millennial golden age of tranquility and peace undisturbed by the assaults of Satan on this earth. Unbelief and unbelievers will continue right up to the return of the Lord who will come as a thief in the night at an hour when men do not expect Him.

We wait in hope with uplifted heads and hearts for we have the sure and certain promises of our Savior. He has given us His Word which will by no means pass away but will continue to create faith in the hearts of those who hear it. He has given us His body to eat and His blood to drink as the testament of the salvation which He won for us on the cross. And every time we eat His body and drink His blood, we proclaim His death until He comes. So the Divine Service echoes Jesus' words "Lift up your heads for your redemption draws near" with the words of the communion liturgy "Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord." We lift up our hearts and heads for our redemption does draw near whenever we receive the body and blood of our Savior that is given to us for the remission of sins and the strengthening of our faith—and that faith waits with patience and confidence, with heads and hearts uplifted to the Lord. 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, December 02, 2010

HYMN: Fear Not, O Virgin Mild

We find ourselves once again in the season of Advent, a penitential season in which we prepare our hearts to receive the Christ who came as a humble infant, who comes to us in His holy gifts, and who will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.  Though we in the one-year series of readings find ourselves focusing a great deal on the return of Christ in glory this week, we also cannot help but look back to the first Advent, as the angels appeared to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and the shepherds, telling them to "fear not", bearing tidings of great joy to them.  This hymn text focuses on these visitations.

The tune for this text, Yigdal, is not exactly known as an Advent tune.  It is most famous for the hymn "The God of Abraham Praise".  Nonetheless, I believe the text seems to fit the tune fairly well.

Fear Not, O Virgin Mild

1.  Fear not, O virgin mild—
Dear Mary, favored maid—
For you will bear the holy Child
For whom Eve prayed.
Your Child shall conquer death:
The Life, by all confessed.
Rejoice, O Mary, child of faith
Forever blessed.

2.  Fear not, King David’s son:
O Joseph, just and true.
The nurture of the Promised One
Belongs to you.
Take Mary as your wife;
Your righteousness remains.
This Child shall be the Lord of life
And bear all sins.

3.  Fear not, you faithful priest—
Good Zechariah, hear:
Your son proclaims, “The Lamb’s high feast
Has now come near.”
The hearts of men shall sway.
The prophet has foretold
He will prepare Messiah’s way
Through preaching bold.

4.  Fear not, O shepherds brave.
Rejoice to hear this Word;
For born to you—born all to save—
Is Christ the Lord.
Like you, He guards His sheep.
He claims them as His own.
Go, seek Him where the cattle sleep:
His manger throne.

5. Fear not, O saints.  Rejoice!
The Savior now is here.
Lift up your head and raise your voice
For all to hear
The triumph song begun,
As saints and angel host
Sing, “Glory to the Father, Son
And Holy Ghost.”

© Alan Kornacki, Jr.
6684 D
Tune: YIGDAL (LSB 798)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

PARODY: Dare to Be Luth'ran

"Weird Al" Yankovic is one of the most brilliant musicians and recording artists of all time.  (Contradict me.  I dare you.)  He has made a career of being what he calls "a pop culture Cuisinart"--someone who takes the best (and sometimes the worst) of pop culture and bends and shapes it in a way the original artist probably never imagined it could go.  I firmly believe he should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I hope one of these days he will be.

I have now done something I always wanted to do: write a parody of the parody.  In this case, the original song is called "Dare to Be Stupid", which is a style-parody of the band Devo.  The parody of this parody is called "Dare to Be Luth'ran", which is the catchphrase used by Higher Things.  Pastor Buetow suggested this one; and though it has popped into my head itself from time to time, it was his not-so-subtle prompting that pushed this project into the forefront--even ahead of another hymn I'm working on at the moment.  I threw in as many "Christian" cliches as I could, and even gave a passing nod to the famous dreidel of Hannukah. Let me know what you think, and let me know if you find those things that are not really Lutheran.

Anyway, here it is.  Again, thank you to Higher Things for your wonderful work.  And thank you, "Weird Al", for inspiring a generation of parody.

Dare to Be Luth'ran
(to the tune of "Dare to Be Stupid" by "Weird Al" Yankovic)

Put down that dreidel and listen to me
It's time for us to walk in the light
It's time to let your children make their faith decision
It's time to hear the Word just right
So hold to baptismal regeneration
You better hold to Jesus all of your days
You better . . . kneel and pray . . . both night and day
You better force your heart to be ablaze

You better ask Jesus into your heart
Before you find the pit of hell
Stick your head in the Bible, kid, and memorize each part

Talk to your Savior
Read your catechism
Read HT reflections, dude
Now don't be rude
Dare to be Luth'ran
Hey--receive Communion
Look to serve your neighbor
Pray the daily office now
I'll show you how
You can dare to be Luth'ran

You can sing a bunch of hymns
Hide beneath the Father's wings
You can hang with other Luth'rans when they meet for Higher Things

Dare to be Luth'ran
Come on and dare to be Luth'ran
It's so easy to do (dare to be Luth'ran)
We're all praying for you.
Let's go

Your neighbor asks you, "Brother, have you found Jesus?"
"I didn't know that He was lost."
There's no more time for giving Jesus your heart
Now let's check what an indulgence costs
Say your prayers, come to Jesus, give your ten percent
Make your altar call at the revival tent
And wear God's holy armor--it will not dent
Fast in Lent
You can dare to be Luth'ran

You can have a Jesus fish
On the bumper of your car
So when the rapture comes
The other drivers know just who you are
Dare to be Luth'ran.
Yes--why don't you dare to be Luth'ran?
It's so easy, so easy to do (dare to be Luth'ran)
We're all praying for you (dare to be Luth-ran)

Tie that millstone 'round your neck
Chop your hand off, lest you sin
You don't want to end up in "heck"

You can be a life-long believer
You can sit around the house
And listen to the deceiver
You are baptized, it's true
So what you gonna do?
Dare to be Luth'ran 
Dare to be Luth'ran 

What did I say? (dare to be Luth'ran)
Tell me, what did I say?  (dare to be Luth'ran)
It's alright  (dare to be Luth'ran)
We can be Luth'ran all night  (dare to be Luth'ran)
C'mon, join the crowd  (dare to be Luth'ran)
Shout it out loud  (dare to be Luth'ran)
I can't hear you  (dare to be Luth'ran)
Okay, I can hear you now  (dare to be Luth'ran)
Let's go. Dare to be Luth'ran (dare to be Luth'ran)
Dare to be Luth'ran (dare to be Luth'ran)
Dare to be Luth'ran (dare to be Luth'ran)
Dare to be Luth'ran (DARE TO BE LUTH'RAN!)

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr. and "Weird Al" Yankovic
(I am currently in the process of seeking permission from Mr. Yankovic to use this parody.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sermon for 11/28/10--Ad Te Levavi: First Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

Behold, Your King Comes to You

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

With this first Sunday in Advent the Lord opens for us and for all of His people another year of grace and blessing. Great is the faithfulness of the Lord! His mercies are never exhausted and they never grow old. This is the comfort and sure hope of every Christian. And so it is that we begin a new Church Year with confidence and with hope. But a new Church Year also brings an opportunity for review. In what ways have we, as the Church and as individuals, been most faithful to our Lord, and in what ways have we not been so faithful? Where should we repent, and where should we rejoice?

The holy season of Advent sets all of these things clear in light of Him who once came to Bethlehem’s manger, who comes to us now in His Blessed Word and Sacraments, and who will come again to render judgment against this world. What kind of king is Jesus? What kind of kingdom did He bring? And what does this mean now, as we await His second coming? His first coming was largely misunderstood. Sadly, it seems that those who met Him with great joy as He entered into Jerusalem were in the minority. But their songs of praise were fervent. No doubt many of them, along with His disciples, were among those who had seen Him raise Lazarus from the dead only a few days earlier. Here was the sign that Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had long waited—an incontestable sign to the eyes of faith. However, there were not many such eyes in Israel. Most were longing to see a great warrior, another David who would recapture all that had been lost, a mighty king who would kick the Romans out and establish the place where the Lord God Himself would dwell. But now, for Jesus to enter the city of kings on a humble donkey, and yet to be the one who would come “in the name of the Lord,” was a bit much to take. Never mind the fact that Solomon over nine centuries earlier had entered Jerusalem in the same manner to take up his throne. Jesus had come in the midst of ignorance and confusion and rejection.

Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom for the powerful. He came to establish a heavenly kingdom for the meek and humble. But this lesson has not always been well received. There is among Christians a sense of helplessness, a feeling that the Church lacks the power and the influence it should have over those who exercise power and authority. But has anyone stopped to ask whether or not that should be our concern as Christians? Should we be concerned that the Church seems to have no influence over the course of this world? Does it mean anything to us that our Lord Jesus Christ never encouraged His disciples to despise earthly leaders, but rather to pray for them?

What did Jesus do when He entered into His city? Did he kick out the Romans? No; but He did cleanse the temple, and He spoke of the temple’s eventual destruction at the hands of Rome. Did that mean that the Romans were the “good guys” and Israel’s spiritual leaders were the “bad guys?” No. But it did mean that the Roman soldiers represented something that was earthly, something that would not last, something that one simply must endure in this life. Israel’s spiritual leaders were supposed to be shepherds of God’s flock. They were to be the spokesmen of an eternal kingdom, “the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” They were to be at the real center of this world, not by political manipulation, but by prayer and worship.

In his first Epistle, St. Peter wrote: “The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God.” Jesus cleansed the temple because it had been corrupted, and so had the worship life of God’s people. That this was true was shown by the fact that they did not know Jesus when He came. His cry that the House of the Lord should be a house of prayer and not a den of thieves should have opened their eyes, but they would not see. The Church is ever in need of cleansing. The clear sight of faith becomes dark when the Church seeks power and influence, when she becomes pleased with what she has done. Her real “business”, which all too often she leaves undone, is worship and prayer.

What kind of King was Jesus? And what kind of kingdom did He bring? “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey.” He was humble and meek. He came in humility and quietness—not because He was weak, not because He had been cowed by the power of the Romans, but because He had come to die. He came as One who willingly and completely entrusted Himself to the Father in heaven. He trusted the goodness of His Father and patiently awaited the Father’s will. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, He awaited His Father’s will; “Not My will, but Yours be done.” And even when Judas, His betrayer, led His accusers to arrest Him, He told His disciples that He could call for legions of angels from heaven to protect; but that was not His way. His was the way of meekness and patience, not power and coercion. His was the way of worship and prayer, not influence and manipulation. His way was to entrust everything to the will and wisdom of his Father, and in that trust make His way to the Cross, for there He would open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

And that is to be our way, as well. St. Paul described our way in the Epistle reading. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Ours, too, is the way of meekness and patience; it is the way of worship and prayer. These are our ways because they were His ways. As the Psalmist said, our way is to wait patiently for the Lord, entrusting everything, including our salvation to Him; for He will surely bring all things to fulfillment. This world and all of its ways will soon pass, and the kingdom of the Lord, hidden now and known only to faith, will soon break out in all its glory.

And that, finally, is the kingdom we now await; the glorious kingdom of heaven, which will have no end. Waiting is the hard part, with fears and temptations all its own. This new Church Year affords us the opportunity to wait for that kingdom with renewed strength. Whether our Lord Jesus returns before this year is out or waits for another, it will be of no concern to us if we will just wait for Him in the way the faithful have always waited—and that is in worship and prayer. God grant us a blessed new year of His grace and that peace which the world does not know and cannot give. 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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

HYMN: God of All Comfort

For John and Mark & Gina, and for Ethan and the Podoll family. Prayers continue to ascend.

God of All Comfort

1. God of all comfort, in need our repose.
Father of mercies--our suff'ring He knows.
In all affliction, Lord, grant us Your peace.
In Your great mercy bid all tumult cease.

2. Christ, great Physician, we call on Your name.
You healed the leper, the blind and the lame.
You know our sorrow, temptation, distress.
Heal all our illness of spirit and flesh.

3. O Holy Spirit, our Comforter, Friend,
Help us be steadfast, should life near its end.
In weakness, remind us of baptismal grace.
When our race is finished, show us Jesus' face.

4. Heavenly Father, who hears all our prayers--
Blessed Lord Jesus, who knows all our cares--
O Holy Spirit--O God, all divine,
Yours is the glory, for Your grace is mine.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
Irregular Meter
Tune: SLANE (LSB 861)

Friday, November 19, 2010

HYMN: Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You

Last year I wrote a hymn that I meant to make a statement about life issues.  It didn't turn out that way.  But into my head popped this, and I thought I would share.  I felt awkward writing from God's perspective, but most of this is directly from Scripture, so I won't worry that He's going to blow me to bits.  Your feedback would be appreciated.

By the way, the picture above is of Michael and Molly, two of my three children.  You wouldn't believe how they inspire me . . . unless you have children of your own, of course.   (Wow, do I sound old!)

Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You

1. Before I formed you in the Womb I knew you.
Conceived in sin, My Word of life still drew you.
Bought with a price, you are My holy treasure,
Loved beyond measure.

2. Lo, your first parents I made in My image,
And though their fall that kinship they did damage,
I made a promise: My Son would redeem them.
Thus I esteem them.

3. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
You are My own; the Kingdom you inherit.
You are My child and I your holy Father--
I and no other.

4. All life is Mine; I jealously possess it.
I gave you life, and with My Word I bless it.
My Word shall speak to unborn generations
Of their salvation.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
11 11 11 5

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sermon for 11/21/10--Last Sunday of the Church Year (LSB 1-year)

I Don’t Know You

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

We have a good and gracious Father in heaven, which is shown by the fact that He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. That’s the very reason He sent His Son: so that, through Christ’s life of perfect obedience, through His death which He died on our behalf, and through His resurrection we would rise to new and eternal life. This forgiveness and life is sufficient for all people who have ever lived and who will ever live. No one need question, “Is this for me?” Indeed, it is for you and for all people. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law and will of His Father for everyone. His death atoned for the sins of the whole world. And His resurrection is sufficient to raise all people to new life. Cling to this work of Jesus by faith, and the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life are yours.

Our heavenly Father does desire all men to be saved, which is why Christ’s work of atonement—His work of bringing peace between the righteous Father and His sinful children—is meant for all people. Sadly, there are some people who resist this work of Christ for them. A man cannot save Himself; but a man can resist the salvation which Jesus won for him on the cross. This is what makes the parable in our Gospel so vital: a day is coming when the door will shut, when it will be too late to stop resisting, when salvation will forever be out of reach for the faithless and unrepentant sinner. And more than that, we do not know when that day or hour will be, so the peril for the resisting and unrepentant sinner is even more urgent. Like the foolish virgins in our text, the door will be closed; they will be standing outside, the door shut and locked against them. At that time they will know the foolishness of their resistance. At that time, they will know that Jesus is Lord. They will know that He died for all people. But even calling out, “Lord, Lord!” will not help. It is too late. The door remains shut and barred against them.

So what led these foolish virgins to this point? The parable tells us, “Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them.” This is compared to the wise virgins, who brought not only their lamps, but also brought with them oil to fill the lamps. Does it seem cruel to you that these virgins should be excluded just for not bringing oil for their lamps? Does it seem extreme to you that those virgins whom the parable calls “wise” would not share their oil with the foolish ones? It might seem extreme. It might seem cruel. That is the wisdom of the world speaking. By the world’s standards, it is the worst of sins not to take care of those in need. Don’t get me wrong—we in the Church especially are called upon to love and serve our neighbor. But in this case, the oil isn’t something that you can give to others. This oil, this faith, is yours—individually, personally. There is only one source of this oil of faith: the Word of God. You receive the flask in Holy Baptism, and that flask is filled in the Word of Holy Absolution, in the Word which is preached in its truth and purity, in the body and blood of Jesus. No one else’s oil of faith can fill your flask—not the faith of your parents, nor the faith of your children—and you cannot fill your flask yourself. Only Jesus can fill your flask; and while you can’t fill your own flask, you can choose not to come to this place where your flask can be filled. You can choose to resist the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Fountain and Source of faith. This is true even for those who consider themselves to be Christians. Having a lamp—having been baptized—is no guarantee of salvation, not when you willfully resist the work which Christ has done on your behalf. After all, even the wise virgins fall asleep. You can choose ignorance, and you might even find earthly happiness in it; but you are choosing your own eternal destruction. It will not be God’s fault. He did everything for you; all you have to do was cling to the gifts He gives freely by the faith He has given you in Holy Baptism. If you find the door closed against you, you have only yourself to blame. The day is coming when that door will be closed permanently, and no begging or pleading will open it to you. And that will be a dark day indeed for those who have resisted, who have not repented, who have not believed that Jesus died for their sake. The odd thing is, the world is fascinated by the Last Day, but the world doesn’t believe that day will actually come. They do not believe the world will pass away. They do not believe that there will be judgment against those who refuse Christ. So much the worse for the world; for the time of grace will end, and it will never return to them.

But for the faithful, the wise virgins who brought the flask of faith—filled with the oil of the Word through Holy Absolution and faithful preaching and the body and blood of Jesus in the Holy Supper—a joyous and eternal wedding feast awaits you. Like the foolish virgins, the wise virgins know neither the day nor the hour. Though you have fallen asleep along with the foolish, the Lord has filled your vessel with the oil of faith, so the time when you rise up to find that the Bridegroom has come is not a frantic or desperate time, searching for the oil that no one else can give you. Instead, you will find that your lamp is lit, your flask is full, and Jesus has the door open for you; and the eternal wedding feast which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world will be yours. Just as your faith cannot fill the flask of another, the lack of faith of those around you will not mark you as a stranger. Jesus will welcome you as an invited and beloved guest, and you will have a place set apart especially for you. The time of grace will never end for you. You receive a foretaste of that feast in the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, a bit of heaven on earth.

The day is coming; do not doubt it. The day is coming when the bridegroom shall come and the door will be shut and the eternal feast will begin. As you wait for that day, He makes His way to you now in hidden ways—in the word of forgiveness, in the preached Word which convicts you of your slumber and then rouses you with Christ’s resurrection, in the body and blood of Jesus—and in these gifts He fills your flask with the faith which will sustain you as you await His return in glory. Continue to bring your flask to this place, where the Lord will top off your flask of faith with more of His absolution, more of His preaching, more of His body and blood. You can never have too much. The day is coming, and so is the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ. “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

HYMN: Lord, Can Sinners Stand Before You

My youth group--at least some of them, for sure--is going to one of the Higher Things gatherings this coming summer.  The theme is Coram Deo, which means "before God".  In other words, how we stand in His presence.  As sinners, standing before God is a horrifying thing, for He is a righteous Judge.  As redeemed of God, we stand before Him bearing Christ's righteousness.

In honor of this theme--though I am in no way officially affiliated with Higher Things, I have written the following text.

Lord, Can Sinners Stand Before You

1. Lord, can sinners stand before You?
How can we behold Your face?
Lord, have mercy, we implore You,
On this wretched, fallen race.
Though created in Your image,
Our first parents disobeyed.
Unto them You spoke this message:
"Into dust you now must fade."

2. Yet You promised them a Savior,
One to crush the serpent's head.
He would win for us Your favor,
Suffer in the sinner's stead.
Christ, the Promise of the ages,
Has fulfilled the Law's demands
And, in bearing all sin's wages,
Puts His grace into our hands.

3. When the demon horde reviles me,
"I am baptized," I can say.
And should Satan still beguile me,
In those waters is my stay.
Lord, to You I make confession:
Sins of thought and word and deed.
I rely on Your salvation.
From sin's bondage I am freed.

4. Now I call on You, O Father,
As the Christ, my Brother, said.
In His holy name we gather,
For He is the Church's Head.
By His Word we here adore You,
For our sins He does forgive.
By His grace we stand before You.
We behold Your face and live.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 D

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sermon for 11/14/10-Trinity 26/Second-Last Sunday (LSB 1-year)

Sheep and Goats

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

When we hear this Gospel reading, the natural reaction of our sinful nature is to take it as a set of guidelines for what we should be doing so that Jesus will allow us to enter heaven. On one side of the judgment seat are those whose works have served Jesus, though they did not know it at the time. On the other side are those who did not serve Jesus because they were unaware of His presence in those who were hungry and sick and naked and imprisoned. Our fallen human nature concludes from this that we need to be doing good works if we are going to be counted worthy to enter heaven. It is a constant temptation for us to take the Word of God and turn it into a list of requirements that we can fulfill that will make us right with God.

We would rather rely on our own goodness and love than on the goodness and love of God. But to do so is to deny the very heart of the Christian faith. To be sure, the commandments of God require that we help our neighbor in every bodily need. Works of mercy ought to be flowing out of us towards others. But we must not rely on those works to save us, for the Law of God always brings judgment. We never keep it perfectly as we should. Even our best efforts toward our neighbors fall short. Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin, not salvation.

And so this Gospel reading is not really so much about good works as it is about faith in Jesus Christ. The focus is on Him and what He has done. But this raises an interesting question. Who are “My brethren” as Jesus refers to them? Are these just random works of kindness and mercy done to some unknowing individual? That is how this is often understood. Or could it be that Jesus is speaking of His disciples, those He sent out like “sheep among wolves,” to preach the Gospel? Could it be that He is referring to preachers of the Gospel? This, in fact, was how Luther understood this parable, which is why He understood it not so much as a discussion of what is or what is not a good work, but rather how one responds to the Gospel. Do you recall what Jesus said to His disciples when He sent them out to preach for the first time? He said: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water because he is My disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose His reward.” The act of giving a cup of cold water was noteworthy not because it was a good work that merited anything, but because it was a sign of faith that the hearer believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ which His brothers, the disciples, had brought to them.

Jesus says to preachers of the Gospel still today, “He who receives you receives Me.” When a pastor speaks the words of forgiveness, he speaks not for himself but in the stead and by the command of Christ. When he says, “This is My body,” it is not his voice but the voice of Jesus that is heard. The same is true in Holy Baptism. The man He uses to do that is really secondary, which is why we cover him up in robes, to show that he represents not himself but the Lord. To receive a brother of Christ, who brings the Gospel, is to receive Christ Himself, for it is He who is present in the ministry of the Word and Sacraments for your salvation. That is what this is about.

So let us consider once again the scene in this Gospel reading. Jesus is seated on the throne of His eternal glory for the final judgment. All nations are gathered before Him, all those to whom the message of the Gospel went out. He says: “I have sent my messengers with My Gospel. They have been My mouth and My hands, to speak My words and to cover you with My mercy and forgiveness and righteousness. You on My right have believed the Gospel, and you have shown this by the way you have received and cared for My messengers. You may not have been aware of it, but what you did for them, you did for Me. But you on My left did not receive My messengers or My message. You did not believe the Gospel, and this was shown by your failure to receive those who brought it to you. You may not have been aware of it, but what you did not do for these My brethren you did not do for me.” That the brethren would be sick or hungry or naked or in prison was a very real possibility, especially in the days of the apostles, though it certainly remains the case in every generation of this fallen, rebellious world.

So this text is really about those who embrace the Gospel and those who do not. It is really not so much a call to do works of mercy, though such works of mercy will flow from faith in the Gospel, to be sure. This Gospel reading is finally about faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that is brought to perfection on the Last Day, when the sheep of Christ seem blissfully unaware of the things they have done. And that is because faith focuses not on one’s own deeds, but on the deeds of Christ. “When did we do all these things? All we did was believe the Gospel.” The faithful forget themselves that they may forever remember Jesus Christ and His eternal gifts.

Our Lord Jesus won those gifts for you by becoming needy in your place. He was hungry when tempted in the wilderness. On the cross He cried out in thirst. He bore your sicknesses in His body on the cross. He was treated like a stranger amongst His own people. He put Himself into the bondage of your sin so that He might break down the bars of your captivity by His glorious resurrection. Through Jesus Christ you are set free from death and the devil; you are cleansed and forgiven in Him. He made Himself to be the least among His brethren that you might receive the greatest of His mercies. It is He who showed the truest and highest charity, paying with His own blood to redeem you, that you might live in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

And when Jesus comes again, He will surely say to you: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The Father in heaven has indeed blessed you by giving you the new birth of water and the Spirit into His heavenly family. You are now His sons and daughters in Christ. All that He has is yours; He has given you a share in His everlasting inheritance. And like any inheritance, it is not yours because you worked to get it but simply because you are a member of the family. In fact, this inheritance was being prepared for you from the beginning of creation, before your own life even began. It is all a gift, through the merits of Christ. Believe this! He is here even now with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to bring you His kingdom through the body and blood of His Sacrament. Come, you blessed of the Father, receive the kingdom; receive the King. 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, November 12, 2010

HYMN: The Son of Man Returns in Glory

Inspiration is an odd, fickle thing. I've been writing verse for over twenty years now, and these things come to me at the strangest times. I can go for months--sometimes years--without writing a single line, and then all of a sudden they just start popping out of me like popcorn from kernels and heated oil. I didn't start writing hymn texts until 2009, and out of nowhere I've become prolific.

The really amusing thing, though, is that I should start writing hymns less than five years after the new LCMS hymnal came out. I guess I worry too much. Will what I write endure? I don't know. And I don't know if it's meant too. If the process of writing these benefits nobody else but me, then so be it. This has been a blessing to my devotional life, and that's enough reason to thank God, whether anything I've written endures. So long as the Word of the Lord endures forever, it doesn't matter if mine endures beyond me. 

That won't keep me from sharing the fruits of a few hours of yesterday's labor. This is based on the Gospel for Trinity 26/Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year, which is Matthew 25:31-46

I thank You, Lord, for this gift by which You give me joy and through which You allow me to serve Your Church in yet another way.

The Son of Man Returns in Glory

1. The Son of Man returns in glory
To judge the living and the dead.
Lo, He knows every sinner's story.
He is the Christ, the Church's Head.
All will be gathered 'round His throne.
Judgment is His, and His alone.

2. On His right hand the sheep assemble,
And on His left the goats will be.
All shall be brought, and none dissemble.
The righteous Judge, the King, is He.
On that last day, to sinner's shock,
The faithful Shepherd parts the flock.

3. "Come, you beloved of My Father,"
He says to those on His right Hand,
"Take now the Kingdom for you gathered.
As His inheritors you stand;
For serving brothers in their need,
You have been serving Me, indeed."

4. Sheep know their Shepherd's voice and follow.
They cling by faith to ev'ry word,
And with their deeds the Word they hallow.
Serving by faith, they serve the Lord.
Not through their deeds--alone by faith--
The sheep are spared eternal death.

5. But for the goats, the fire awaits them.
"Depart, you cursed," the Lord will say.
"You served Me not." The Judge berates them.
Faithless, their neighbors held at bay.
No matter how they beg or plead,
Eternal death is theirs, indeed.

6. Shepherd and Judge, O King and Savior,
E'er keep me steadfast by Your grace.
Nurture my faith, and let me savor
The vision of Your glorious face.
Call me to You, that I may be
There in Your fold eternally.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
98 98 88

Thursday, November 11, 2010

HYMN: Through Faithful Preachers You Have Planted

Before I begin my shameless self-promotion, I offer the following thought. Today is Veteran's Day, the day we honor those who serve their country in the Armed Forces. These men and women spend long months (and even years) away from their families to prepare their minds and bodies for war. Whether or not they serve in conflict, they prepare so that they may fight and die for the freedoms we sometimes esteem so cheaply. John Milton wrote, "They also serve who only stand and wait." This is most certainly true. I would add the following: They also serve who only crouch and wait . . . to kick some @$$. (See picture above left.)

To you who serve in our Armed Forces, whatever that service may be: Thank you. To you who wait at home while your loved one serves: Thank you. You make me proud to be an American.

Now on to the shameless self-promotion.

The following text is based on the Matthew 13 account of the parable of the sower. Feedback is appreciated.

Through Faithful Preachers You Have Planted

1. Through faithful preachers You have planted
The Gospel seed in human hearts.
This tender nurture You have granted:
Baptismal water grace imparts.
The seed becomes a glorious bloom
Dispelling sin's dread gloom.

2. Let not this seed find ground too stony,
But let it bloom and branch and grow.
Nor let it find the ground too thorny,
Lest with the weeds this faith you mow.
And let me never fall away
Nor let this seed decay.

3. Let me not wilt beneath temptation,
But let this shoot grow straight and true.
Let Satan not snatch my salvation
Nor wither my own faith in You.
Your Word will grow a hundredfold--
So bounteous to behold.

4. Lord, keep me steadfast, true and humble,
And in Your Word increase my joy.
In persecution keep me faithful
That I Your seed may not destroy.
Your seed will bear rich fruit in me
Unto eternity.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
98 98 86

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sermon for 11/7/10-The Feast of All Saints (observed)


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

It is a curious thing that Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, the Eve of All Saints. Of course, it could have been nothing more than an interesting coincidence. But knowing Luther’s sense of the Church and history, I doubt it. The Feast of All Saints was one of the great celebrations of the Medieval Church, and even in Luther’s time it remained one of the principal celebrations of the Church Year, unlike our day, sadly. The city would have been full of people from small, isolated country parishes, who would make their way to the city for this great spiritual event. And in that posted list of theses for discussion, Luther was addressing issues vital to the life of the Church, the saints of God.

The first of the theses set the tone: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” There was nothing new or shocking in these words, as they stood. But as Luther explained what he meant, it became clear that his understanding of repentance was taking a radically different direction from what accepted Church teaching was. Was repentance a good work that merited the favor of God? Or was it the gift of a gracious God, a means by which God Himself cleared our way to Him and to His forgiveness and life? And this is good preparation for considering the first of the Beatitudes, as we call them. The reason the Beatitudes have, for centuries, been the Gospel reading for the Feast of All Saints is that they describe what it means to be the saints of God. And the first Beatitude is this: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Perhaps the first thing to do is to be sure that we understand just what a saint is. The simplest answer is that a saint is a Christian. The Scriptures refer to believers on earth and in heaven as “saints.” Literally, “saint” means “holy one” or “one who has been set apart.” Saints are set apart from this world, not in the sense that they go into some sort of spiritual isolation, but because they walk the way of repentance and faith. The Beatitudes describe the characteristic marks of that faith. One of those marks, as the first Beatitude tells us, is spiritual poverty.

In Psalm 38, David prays: “Lord, all my longing lies open before You, and my sighing is not hidden from You.” Ours is a life that is wholly dependent on God’s mercy and goodness. And so our Lord Jesus Christ, as He begins this series of blessings, puts first those who do not forget the source of all things; that before we can even speak, we must be given the breath of life. We depend on God just as our lungs depend on air. Without Him there is nothing; with Him there is life and salvation and all blessings.

To be so radically dependent on God is the greatest blessing—though, of course, such dependence runs directly counter to how we normally think. But that is why it is the mark of a saint. To cling to God with our whole being and have nothing to offer of our own is our highest blessing. This utter blessedness and this extreme poverty of spirit, though they may seem to contradict each other, are joined in God-pleasing harmony. And this is where repentance comes in. In repentance we acknowledge that not only do we have nothing to offer God, but that also what He has already given us, we have misused and spoiled. And yet, God’s greatest desire and work is to make us holy.

These words show how far we truly are from being like God because of the sin that continually condemns us. But, at the very same time, they tell us how this chasm between God and man is abolished: through our union with Jesus Christ. He not only proclaims the blessedness of being poor in spirit. These words describe also what He did for us. Though He is the Son of the Highest, surrounded with honor and glory and blessing, He took on human flesh and was made like us. He endured our life for us, even to the point of suffering and death, to save us from ourselves and the consequences of our sins. His dependence on His Father was complete and unquestioned.

What is at work in the first Beatitude and, indeed, what is at work in the lives of God’s saints, is one of the great paradoxes of our faith. When we are weak, then we are strong. We are at the height of spiritual power when we understand that we have no power at all. When the storms of this life sweep over us, those who think they are self-sufficient find that they really have nothing, while those who depend not on themselves but God receive the strength and power of God. When we are poor in spirit, that is when we have the Kingdom of God.

And there is something here, if we see it and comprehend it, that should give us great comfort and great joy. The Beatitudes that follow the first speak of future blessings, blessings that will await us some time in the future to be fully realized. But this is not the case with the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Whatever blessings may come in the future in the Kingdom of Heaven, the blessedness of that Kingdom is real to us now. If you are poor in spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven is yours now. If yours is a repentant heart, the Kingdom of Heaven is yours now. If you know that you have nothing to offer God, but that He has everything to give you, the Kingdom of Heaven is yours now. Whatever trial or trouble you may find yourself in now, whether it be fear or doubt, suffering or sickness, pain or even the onset of death itself, the Kingdom of Heaven is not just something out there that is waiting for you. It is real now. The saints of God live under the cross of Christ in this life now and, at the same time, we live and breath every moment of this life in the glorious light of heaven and eternal life.

The blessed Sacrament of the Altar makes this clear to us in a way nothing else can. We are given and receive the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for the remission of our sins. He who came to us in flesh and blood to be our Savior again comes into our presence, in this way. And wherever He is, the Kingdom of Heaven is present. And that means, as well, that it is at the table of the Lord that a great reunion takes place between the saints in heaven and the saints on earth. It is precisely as we pray: “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee.” In poverty of spirit we come, the saints of God, and what we are given is the Kingdom of Heaven. 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 03, 2010

HYMN: Lord, You Have Called Me to Your Service

This one goes out to all the pastors out there. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.) Anyway, Martin Luther has written at least a couple prayers that pastors can pray in the sacristy before worship.  I've had one such prayer hanging in my study (when I've had a study) for some time as a reminder of the Office to which the Lord has Called me, and we have another copy hanging in the vestry here at St. Peter to pray after I vest and before I make me way into the sanctuary.  Anyway, this is one of those prayers.
Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon You Word. Use me as Your instrument -- but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all.

I decided I wanted to try to put the prayer into verse. This is my first effort. (I also think I'm going to try the same with the other sacristy prayer of Luther with which I am familiar. But for now, here's this one.)

Lord, You Have Called Me to Your Service

1. Lord, You have called me to Your service
To teach Your Church and preach the Word.
I am unworthy of this Office.
I am unfit to serve You, Lord.
Since You have called me all the same,
I call upon Your holy name.

2. It is my glad and greatest pleasure
To consecrate my mind and heart,
That I may serve You in this measure
And to Your saints Your Word impart.
Without Your grace and holy aid
I would allow Your Word to fade.

3. Your Word will be my one companion
To occupy my every thought.
Please use me in Your congregation.
In Your great love, forsake me not.
I pray You, let me not destroy
The means of grace which You employ. Amen.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
98 98 88

Sunday, October 31, 2010

HYMN: From Ramah We Have Heard Them

I wrote this text as a sort of lyrical exercise, to see if I could set a particular Biblical text into a metered form and make it come out. The text was Jeremiah 31, and I took excerpts--vv.15-22 and vv.31-34--and fit them together into the following text.

This hymn will most likely never make it into the rotation of hymns I'd select for my congregation, but I'll admit that I'm pleased with the growth it exhibits in my writing.

Any feedback would be appreciated.

From Ramah We Have Heard Them

1. From Ramah we have heard them:
Laments and bitter grief.
Dear Rachel for her children
Weeps tears without relief.
Fair Rachel, grieving spurn.
Behold, the Lord has spoken.
Your mourning now is broken.
Your children shall return.

2. Refrain your voice from weeping.
Your comfort now is near.
The Lord your hope is keeping--
A future without fear.
The children shall come home,
Returning from oppression.
With Ephraim make confession:
"My sins You have made known."

3. Lord, I have been unruly,
And You have reined me in.
You have restored me truly--
Absolved me of my sin.
O Israel, return;
O, how long will you wander?
Set up your signs and ponder
The road that you must learn.

4. Her signs the road has taught her:
Turn back, O virgin mild.
Return, O wayward daughter,
For you shall bear the Child.
Lord, call Your children home.
Bring us to true repentance.
Commute our dread death sentence
Until that day You come.

5. "Behold, the days are nearing--"
Thus says the mighty Lord--
"When with all those now fearing
And trusting in My Word
I will a cov'nant make
With all my chosen children,
To take their hand and lead them.
Their sins I will forsake."

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
76 76 67 76