Monday, May 31, 2010

Mysteries of God

First things first. A blessed and happy Memorial Day to you and yours. At the risk of offending my Confederate friends, let me share this quote from the Battle Hymn of the Republic: "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free." For over two-hundred years, Americans have died so that Americans can live free. Thanks be to God for the men and women who have been willing to pay that price for their fellow man both here and abroad. If you are currently serving or have served in the past, God bless you for your faithful service. In the midst of our picnics and parties, may we in the United States never forget that the cost of our freedom lies buried in the ground.

Now, on to my new charge. I'm settling in to life as a parish pastor again. Thought the waiting over the past four years and more has been a strain on me and on my family, I cannot deny that God did me no disservice by waiting to return me to parish ministry until this congregation was available. The people of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois, are a gift of God to me. Their love, their generosity, and their continual hunger for the Word remind me constantly of God's goodness. Keep your mega-churches, your congregations with $2 million in the bank, and every other temptation that claws at the souls of pastors. I am blessed to be where God has put me in this time and place. I have no desire to be or go anywhere else.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sermon for 5/30/10--The Feast of the Holy Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Water and the Spirit
John 3:1-17

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

The pastors and teachers of the Church do not have an infallible and unlimited knowledge of God. It is true that pastors spend a great deal of their time in the study of Holy Scripture, both in formal educational settings and in prayerful reading and reflection throughout their time in the parish. Seminary professors earn additional post-graduate degrees to prepare themselves to be the teachers of teachers. Even so, what pastors know about God is limited by the bounds of human understanding and by divine revelation. In other words, pastors can only truly know what God has revealed to them in His holy Word.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Nicodemus, a man Jesus calls “a teacher of Israel”, approaches the Lord with questions. After all, we have the whole of the written eye-witness testimony of the Apostles concerning Jesus and His teaching and work, and we do not truly understand Jesus—or the rest of the Holy Trinity, for that matter; how, then, can we expect Nicodemus, who approached Jesus before His work was complete, to understand Jesus and who He is and what He came to do? Jesus told Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus, being a good Lutheran boy, asked, in essence, “What does this mean?” Jesus answered him, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Like all Pharisees, Nicodemus believed that, through obedience to the Law, he could make himself righteous. A Pharisee sees in himself no need for a Savior, for a man who is perfectly obedient to the Law of God has no one to testify against him. How ridiculous this statement of Jesus must have seemed to a man of reason, though Nicodemus apparently remained respectful in his discussion with Jesus. Despite his education in the spiritual matters of the people of God, despite his apparent lifelong devotion to obedience to God’s will, he could not understand that nothing he did could earn him favor in the eyes of God.

Though we know the truth, though we know that we are saved by grace through faith as a gift from God, we, too, seek to work ourselves into God’s good graces. We do seek to earn His favor. Though we may try to deny it, even in our own thoughts, we would probably make very good Pharisees. But everything we touch—every good work, every kind word, every gracious thought, every breath—is tainted with sin. Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Every work we do as sinners is marked with that sin. Our obedience is tainted with pride. Our charity is stained by our condescension. Our faith is tainted with doubt. Our sinful nature cannot possibly enter the Kingdom of God. Only that which is righteous and pure—in other words, only that which is born from the Holy Spirit—can see and enter into the Kingdom of God.

“How can these things be?” The despair of Nicodemus is ours, as well. We are born of the flesh. Left to our own devices, it would be easier for us to re-enter our mother’s womb and be reborn than it would be to for us to do anything to earn merit in the sight of God. Let me be entirely clear: there is nothing you can do to merit your own salvation.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is precisely the point. There is nothing we can do. When Jesus is talking about being born from above in water and the spirit, He is talking about Baptism. He is talking about water, combined with the Word through the work of the Holy Spirit, poured over you in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This water marks you as a child of God, as one who has been redeemed by the Christ who has been lifted up on the tree of the cross. This water, combined with the Word, drowns the sinful Old Adam in each of us, and we are reborn from that water as new people, saints who have been washed clean from our sin. This is nothing we do ourselves; this rebirth is a gift from God.

And this gift of God is a powerful gift. Though you still remain a sinner, though you continue to sin, the Holy Spirit which you receive in Holy Baptism works in you to bring you to repentance. As Jesus told Nicodemus, He did not come into the world to condemn the world. Jesus did not come into the world to make sure you get what you deserve because of your sins. No; Jesus came into this world to be lifted up on the tree of the cross. So that you receive the fruit of this tree, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, the Holy Spirit leads you to feel sorrow for your sin; and then He leads you to faith. He brings you to faith so that you believe that Jesus died for you, for your forgiveness, for your life with the Triune God in heaven for all eternity.

If you truly want to know and understand God and what He has in mind for you, look to the cross, where the Father sent his Son to bear your sins on your behalf, dying the death our sins deserved. Then look to the Baptismal font, where you received the Holy Spirit, where the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross by the will of the Father becomes yours. The Latin word for “sacrament” is where we get our word “mystery”. We don’t understand how the Sacraments do what they’re supposed to do, except to say that what happens in Baptism and what happens in the Lord’s Supper, happens precisely the way God intends for it to work; for when God says for something to happen, it happens. It does not depend on our reason or strength; all depends on the power of the Word of God, which does not return to Him void, but does exactly what God intends for it to do. In this case, it means that we are washed clean in the water of Holy Baptism. It means we can return daily to our Baptism for the drowning of our sins and the cleansing of our souls.

This morning, in the Athanasian Creed, we said, “This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.” Remember that it uses the word “believe”, not the word “understand”. The difference is a gift from God; for while we do not understand the whole counsel of God, the Holy Spirit grants us faith to believe even what we don’t fully understand. Thanks be to God for all the gifts He bestows on us in and through our Baptism into His holy name: 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, May 22, 2010

Sermon for 5/23/10 – Whitsunday: The Feast of Pentecost (LSB 1-year)

Having been Installed as their pastor this past Sunday, this will be the first sermon I deliver to the saints at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. As I say in the sermon, Pentecost is the perfect day to step into a new pulpit for the first time. May God bless us together as we share in the work of the Kingdom!

All Things that I Said to You
John 14:23-31

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

This morning we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, commemorating the day on which the promised Holy Spirit descended upon the Twelve, giving them the ability to speak in other languages, allowing them to declare the wonderful works of God to the world. Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church, for in the pouring out of the Spirit upon the Apostles, the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” was made before the people of the world, and three-thousand people on that day made that confession their own. What a wonderful day to step into this pulpit for the first time!

No matter what Jesus says or does, it seems as though the disciples miss the point of His lesson. For example, if Jesus is talking about His suffering, death and resurrection, all they can see is that Jesus is going to die. In our Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to the Father and that He will send the Holy Spirit to them, but all they hear is that Jesus is leaving them. How on earth can they keep the Word which Jesus spoke to them when they have no idea what Jesus was saying?

Of course, the disciples weren’t stupid. In hindsight, we know that these men became brilliant preachers and teachers of the Church, suffering everything, even death, rather than betraying the Gospel of Christ. We also know from Scripture that some things were deliberately hidden from their understanding, like when Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus with two of the faithful and explained to them why He had to suffer and die; but until Jesus broke bread with them, they didn’t realize that Jesus was the one speaking to them. And we are told near the end of Luke’s Gospel that, when Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection, He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

But in our Gospel, Jesus had not yet been arrested or convicted or put to death. He had not yet opened their minds to understand His Word. Jesus told the disciples that the Father will send the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit will do two things. First, He will teach them all things; and second, He will remind them of all that Jesus said. This is important, because Jesus also told the disciples, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”

This is an explicit message for you, too. Jesus says to you, even as He said to the disciples, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.” This is a heavy burden to bear. How do we know the Word of God? And what’s more, how can we know the Word of God so that we may keep it—and keep it fully, since there is so much to it?

This is your daily struggle as a Christian on this side of heaven. The prince of this world, Satan, seeks to lead you astray; and sinner that you are, it’s all too easy for you to follow where he would lead you. The Word of God includes the admonition to be faithful in marriage; but how easy it is to let your eyes and mind wander to someone other than your spouse. The Word of God includes the directive to honor and obey your parents and others in authority; but it’s all too easy to seek your own way, to ignore the authority of parents so that you may do what you want to do. The Word speaks clearly about the need for Christians to gather to be given the Word; but it’s so tempting to sleep in on Sunday, or to plan an early departure for one more day of fishing or whatever fun activity tempts you away from the place where you hear the Word preached in its truth and purity. The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus and His death and resurrection for you; The Spirit does not testify about Himself. But how easy it would be on the Feast of Pentecost to focus on the work of the Holy Spirit instead of the work of Jesus.

How easy it is to hear what you want to hear in the Word of God. It would be so simple to dismiss those things in Holy Scripture that do not please you, the things that make you uncomfortable. The Old Adam in each of you is prepared to seek any way he can to please himself, to despise God and His gifts, to ignore and reject the Word. And in rejecting the Word and seeking after the things of this world, we reject the Father and His love.

But to you, also, the Father has sent the Holy Spirit, in the waters of Holy Baptism—what Luther’s Small Catechism calls “a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit”. It is no coincidence in the Apostles Creed that the Holy Spirit and “the Holy Christian Church” are so closely linked; for it is in Baptism that we receive the Holy Spirit, and it is also in Baptism that we become part of the Church. And we know that we are part of the Church because the Church is where those who believe the truth of the Word of God are gathered to hear that Word preached in its truth and purity and to receive the gifts of God, the Holy Sacraments.

We live in this world. This world cannot give us true peace; and even if it could, it does not desire us to have peace. Satan is the prince of this world, and as you have already heard, he seeks to lead you astray. But in His Word, Jesus gives us true and lasting peace. He gives us the forgiveness of sins, which gives peace to calm us when we are troubled by our sins. For we do sin. Our eyes stray. We are willful and disobedient. We fail to hold sacred the Word of God; we fail to gladly hear and learn it. But that, too, is answered by Christ in His Church. As John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote in his first epistle, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In cleansing us from all unrighteousness, Jesus gives us His own peace, spoken to us in the Word of Holy Absolution, spoken to us by the pastor as by Christ Himself.

On this Feast of Pentecost, you are invited to approach this altar boldly. You are a baptized child of God, baptized with water and the Spirit. You have heard the Word spoken to forgive your sins, drowning the Old Adam in the waters of Holy Baptism. You have heard the Word preached from the pulpit. Come now to receive the Word in the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it”. Come, you who love the Lord. Receive His body and blood; and then, go in the peace of 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.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Prophet of the Most High

Last night I was Installed as Pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. This event, over four years in the making for me (though not so long for St. Peter Lutheran Church), marked my return to full-time parish ministry. This was a joyful event, marked with fine hymnody and strong singing; the Vespers liturgy led by Pastor Will Weedon of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamel, Illinois; an installation sermon par excellence from Pastor Mark Buetow of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, Illinois--seriously, GO READ IT before you forget--[EDITED TO ADD] or better yet, read it below, as Pastor Buetow gave gracious permission for me to post it here; and promises made before God by myself and the St. Peter congregation. The Reverend Herbert Mueller, President of the Southern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, administered those vows.

Though I will do so in person and frequently, I would like to thank here everyone who made the day so special: my wife and children; my parents and Faith's mother, all of whom traveled long distances to be here; President Mueller and Pastors Weedon and Buetow for officiating, as well as all the pastors who came to participate in the Rite of Installation; the people of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois, who extended to me the Divine Call to serve as their pastor and who began living up to the vows they made "to receive him, show him that love, honor and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over you by your Lord Jesus Christ, and . . . support him with your gifts and fervent prayer . . ." long before they made those vows; and above all, the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whose graciousness to this poor miserable sinner is abundant and whose timing is . . . well, divine.

Today begins my first full day back in the saddle, and I've given a lot of thought as to where I want to begin. All that thought has led me back to something I first encountered in college: Luther's Sacristy Prayer. So I will close with Luther's words:

Lord God, You have appointed me as a 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. Amen

To God alone be the glory!


With Pastor Buetow's gracious permission, here is his sermon from last night.

The Installation of the Rev. Alan Kornacki, St. Peter, Campbell Hill
St. Mark 16:14-20; I Peter 4:7-14

Today is a day of celebration! It is a day of celebration because this is the day the Lord rose from the dead! He died on the cross and answered for our sins and rose from the dead and now He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, securing your place there! It is a day of celebration for this congregation because she is once again going to be served by her own full time pastor. Today, people of God at St. Peter, the Lord is giving you a man to call upon when your sins trouble you, when your are sick, when you need the comfort of Christ's Word. A man to teach you God's Word and to care for you in the faith of Christ. Today is a day of celebration for Pastor Kornacki who has longed to once again serve the Lord in the Office of the Holy Ministry, caring for the Lord's flock. It's even a day of celebration for the vacancy pastor who can now go back to working just one day a week instead of two! So today let us hear why it is the Lord is giving you a pastor once again and remind that pastor of what the Lord expects of Him. We'll also hear from God's Word how you are to treat your pastor and how he has been commanded to love you. It is a great blessing that the Lord has once again called a man to serve as the shepherd of His flock in Campbell Hill!

In the Gospel for our Lord's Ascension, which we just heard, Jesus commands His apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” When our Lord had accomplished the salvation of the world, He sent His preachers to announce it to the ends of the earth. Jesus, the Son of God suffered and died for all of our sins upon the cross. He rose victorious and has thrown down the powers that were against us: sin, death, devil, hell, the curse of the Law—all of it. But how does that salvation come to us? It comes through a preacher. The Lord, in order that the whole world would know what He has done and so believe in Him, sends His preachers to preach and baptize. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is why you are being given a pastor. Because even here in Campbell Hill, Illinois, sinners need to hear that they have a Savior. And so the Lord is giving you a preacher to declare that to you. That's His job: to preach the Good News that for Jesus' sake your sins are forgiven. He is sent to baptize and to remind you of your baptism. He is sent to absolve you and declare that holy pardon that your sins no longer block you from God. He is sent here to feed you with the holy food of Jesus' body and blood so that you will be forgiven of your sins and strengthened in the faith. Pastor Kornacki is being given to you, brothers and sisters in Christ, so that you will always have this comfort and confidence, so that there will be a man here to deliver to you those gifts of Word and Sacrament by which the Holy Spirit keeps you in the faith. You NEED a pastor to give you exactly those things!

Now, Pastor Kornacki, pay attention! Christ has commanded you in this Call to preach the Gospel. That is your job. That is your calling. You are not to come here with your own notions about what this church needs or doesn't need. You are not put here to come up with clever ideas or things that will impress people. You are not put here to please the people and give them what they want. You are put here for this job: to preach Christ and Him crucified, the Savior of sinners. You are put here to splash the saving water and word of Baptism upon young and old and to teach these saints to live each day in the confidence of their baptism. You are put here to hear their confessions, bear their burdens and joyfully pronounce the absolution so that they may be comforted that their sins are no longer held against them. You are put here to faithfully administer Christ's body and blood and that means teaching people to treasure that gift but also withholding it from those who have not yet been taught what it is. Your job, Pastor Kornacki, your calling, is to call sinners to repentance, no matter how hard that might be to do, no matter how mad they might get at you! But most of all, your job is to comfort them with Christ's forgiveness so that they may live in the joyful confidence that they are set right with God for Jesus' sake. Everything you do: preaching, teaching, serving in worship, visiting the sick, the homebound, and loving these people is for this one purpose: that by the Gospel you preach, they will believe and be saved. NOT because you are doing it but because you are the Holy Spirit's instrument by which this gets done.

So we know, people of St. Peter, why you have a pastor. Now, how shall you receive him and treat him? This we hear in our Epistle from this last Sunday of the Easter Season. St. Peter, whose name this congregation bears, writes: “Above all have fervent love for one another, for 'love covers a multitude of sins.'” What does this mean? Our Lutheran Confessions interpret this passage by reminding people that they must overlook their pastor's faults and shortcomings. I won't sugar coat it. People will say, “Pastor Kornacki is human too.” Well, he is, but there's more to it that that. He's a sinner. A low-down, dirty, rotten sinner. (Trust me, I know the guy! And I hear he's a Yankees fan on top of that!) But a baptized sinner. When Pastor Kornacki preaches and teaches faithfully what God's Word teaches, you are to receive Him and hear Him as if Christ Himself spoke to you. But there will be times when his sinfulness will be evident. Perhaps in his temper. Perhaps in his frustration. Perhaps in forgetting to do something or neglecting to do what he should have done. It may be that he will sin against you by not being patient or attentive or aware of something. Whatever it is, hear God's Word from St. Peter: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Love him. Forgive him. When some foolish thing he says or does is not a violation or contradiction of God's Word, then love him. Forgive him. Overlook it. Never despise him for the same sins which you do. Rather lift him up in prayer and support him by your gracious forgiveness and love. Do not hold against him what you would not want held against you and what Christ Himself has forgiven!

Your turn, Pastor Kornacki. These are the Lord's people, not yours. They are sinners. They don't know as much about the Bible as you do. They didn't go to seminary. They can't read Greek and Hebrew. They don't have Masters degrees in doctrine. They forget their Catechism. They forget the commands of our Lord to love their neighbor and to love the Lord above all things. When they blow it, when they sin, don't come raining down on them as the holy-terror Mr. Authority Figure that many think the pastoral office has made them. No, love them! Cover their sins. Call them to repentance gently. Deliver Jesus and His forgiveness to them gladly. Overlook their faults and shortcomings as you desire them to overlook yours and as Christ has forgiven yours. Brother Alan, teach them! Patiently! Teach them God's Word. Teach them the Catechism. Teach them how they should judge your doctrine according to the Word of God. And teach them how to love and forgive by showing them yourself how to do exactly that. Learn, brother, how to speak of your congregation. Always do so gently and respectfully. Do not complain about them to others. Speak of them as Christ sees them: holy and spotless and blameless for his sake. And if the temptation to grouse and complain becomes too much, then go and find your father confessor and unload your own sins upon the Lord. Never unload them on the people He has given you to serve. Love them, Pastor Kornacki, not in some feel-good way but in the true way which is the way of Christ's forgiveness and life!

Christ died and rose and sent His apostles to preach to all the world. Today He sends Pastor Kornacki into this congregation and community to be a preacher of His Word and a deliveryman of His gifts. Welcome him, people of God, with open arms and a rejoicing that Christ is promising you, by this man, that He Himself will never leave you or forsake you! Rejoice that the one who has died and risen does not leave you without His Word but graciously provides it to you through your pastor. And you rejoice, Alan, because the Lord has called you to serve these people with His Word and gifts. What joy that you are not put here to figure things out for yourself but rather have God's Word and Spirit to do the work for you! Today, brothers and sisters in Christ of St. Peter, all that Christ has is yours, to be given to you by the hand of this man that He has called to serve you. And today, Alan, all that Christ has for these people He puts you here to give them. This is a day of celebration indeed! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.