Friday, June 25, 2010

Sermon for 6/27/10--Fourth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

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

"Judge not, and you shall not be judged." These words from our Gospel text are perhaps the most used words in the whole of human history. Christians toss them about without a second thought. We love to use them to defend ourselves from the prying eyes of our neighbors-and even from the Law spoken to us by Christ through the mouth of our pastor. And even people who think the whole Bible is a load of horse manure know these words, and they throw them in the face of believers to justify and force acceptance of whatever depravity they follow. So it is likely that these are the most used words in human history. But certainly they are the most frequently mis-used words in human history. Many take these words to mean that we may never condemn sin or say anything is right or wrong. "So they're living together before marriage. It's not what I think is right, but who am I to judge?" "I'm personally against abortion, but it's not my place to say anything." "Homosexuality isn't the normal way things are supposed to be, but what happens in someone else's bedroom is none of my business. After all, judge not, lest ye be judged."

The problem is, Jesus is not commanding us to ignore sin. In fact, Jesus says in the seventh chapter of the Gospel According to John, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." John tells us in his first epistle, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." As Christians, we rightly test what we hear and see against the Word of God, and we rightly denounce that which does not measure up against that Word. What Jesus is condemning here is a double standard. You can't hold others to a higher standard than you yourself hold. And what is the standard by which we are all judged? The standard is God's holy Law, not our own petty rules. And God's holy Law does not bend. It doesn't allow us wiggle room or loopholes. We all stand condemned before God's Law, which we all break time and time again. Don't answer this question aloud, but let me ask you: How many times have you sat in the pew right where you sit now and sat in so-called righteous judgment over your fellow Christians next to you? It's so easy to pass judgment. But how can we judge someone for gossiping when we spend our days on the phone with our circles of friends, exchanging the latest juicy details of our neighbor's latest drama? How can we condemn someone for struggling with pornography when our own heads turn every time we see a pretty girl?

That's what makes this whole judging business so sad. We know exactly how hard it is to overcome the things which tempt us to sin. We know the struggles our neighbors face, because we ourselves struggle with the same sins. We know the temptation to overindulge in alcohol, because we've been there. We know the struggle of marital faithfulness in thought and word and deed, because the television parades man after handsome man past us, and you can go to Wal-Mart and see women dressed in clothes that are tighter than their own skin. We know the allure of material possessions, so it's not hard to understand how someone could lose himself and steal from his neighbors. Knowing how easily we find ourselves tempted, it should be a simple matter for us to show understanding to our neighbors who face the same temptations. How gentle and patient we could be with them, loving them and helping them to bear their burdens. Instead, we condemn our neighbors. We point out their faults, and we pass judgment. We are the pot that calls the kettle black. We are those who live in glass houses and yet throw stones. We are those with logs in our eyes, seeking to remove specks from our neighbor's eye.

It is not our job to stand as judge, jury and executioner over our neighbors and fellow Christians. That is God's place. Our job, when it comes to our neighbor, is to defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way-whether it's our family or friends, or even our enemies. Our place as Christians is to remember that we are all poor miserable sinners, and we are simply being liars by claiming to be better than anyone else. To point out the sins of our neighbor is to call down the judgment of God upon ourselves. That is not our responsibility. Our obligation is to show the same mercy to our neighbors that God has shown to us. God calls us to mercy. To be merciful means to have love and pity toward our neighbor in his struggles, to see our neighbor's struggles as our own, to help him, to pray for him, to console him-even as the Father loves us and shows mercy to us.

For indeed, God in Christ has been merciful to you. Who knows better than God how hard it is to overcome your sins? After all, your forgiveness cost the Father the life of His Son. That is the measure of the mercy the Father has for you-good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over endlessly. God loves you despite what your sin deserves. Knowing that He Himself is a just God, He sent His Son to bear your unrighteousness, to bear the brunt of His righteous judgment against sin, to carry the sentence of death which your sin deserves. The white robe of Christ's righteousness, made white in His own blood, applied to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, covers over your sinfulness. He gives you life. This life that the Father gives by mercy isn't just any life. It is eternal life. It is His life, rich and full of blessing. When you receive the body and blood of His Son in the Sacrament, you receive mercy in the flesh. He gives you mercy. He doesn't judge you. He doesn't condemn you. He forgives you. He gives you Himself. He gives you the good measure of His grace and mercy that has no end.

And what's more, His mercy to you leads you to mercy for your neighbor. We love because God first loved us. We cease to be the blind leading the blind, for the mercy of God in Christ allows us to look at our neighbor and see, not his faults, but the salvation won for him in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Instead of standing in the place of God to judge, we stand as redeemed children of God among redeemed children of God, loving our neighbor with the love with which Christ has loved us-defending him, speaking well of him, explaining everything in the kindest way. It is not the easy way, but it is the way of the forgiven. Lord, teach us so to be merciful, as you are merciful to us. 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, June 24, 2010

PARODY: He's Walther! He's Walther!

According to the at the blog Lutheran Writer (and he should know, since he's an editor at CPH), the Professional and Academic Books arm of Concordia Publishing House is holding a contest to seek out research papers and sermons in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, first President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. I have no interest in writing a research paper, and if I write a sermon for the commemoration of CFW, it will be written probably the week of the commemoration in 2011.

However, I do write parodies. Walther's largest contribution to hymnody is the hymn "He's Risen, He's Risen", a hymn which one friend has likened to "the Dr. Seuss of the LCMS". I'd post the words to the original, but CPH holds the copyrights to them, and I have no interest in a lawsuit, so you can find them at hymn 480 in the Lutheran Service Book. In the spirit of this contest--though, sadly, I don't see any prizes for best parody--here is my humble contribution in honor of the "father of the LCMS".

He's Walther! He's Walther!
(to the tune "Walther" by CFW Walther)

1. He's Walther! He's Walther! He's Carl Ferdinand!
He stood at the altar, wrote sermons by hand.
He was President of the Synod, it's true,
But as for this gent, he did much more for you.

2. They fled Prussian union. At first Stephan led.
He left the communion, and Walther was head.
In clergy relations no bishop was he.
He saw congregations atop polity.

3. He fought pietism, at length lost his teeth,
But he made no schism, pure doctrine bequeathed.
The father of Synod gave witness to light,
Yet, toothless, he grin-ned and gave us a fright.

4. We give thanks to God for this most faithful man.
He spared not the rod of the Law, spoke the ban.
The Gospel's sweet pardon he strongly proclaimed.
Let not your heart harden: praise God's holy name!

(c) 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sermon for 6/20/10 -- Third Sunday After Trinity

Sunday morning at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois, we also celebrate the Baptism of Aliviah Leigh Lawrence into the flock of God!

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

As we’ve seen in our Gospel texts over the past few weeks, the Pharisees are not shown in a flattering light. Once again this week, we encounter the Pharisees as they stand opposed to Jesus. Luke tells us that the Pharisees and scribes complained to each other about Jesus by saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” It didn’t sit well with these pillars of Jewish society that Jesus, a man who was supposed to have so much in common with them as an upstanding citizen and faithful son of Abraham, would choose to associate with those of little or no moral fiber. If this Jesus was truly a teacher with authority, He would surely recognize that tax collectors and other sinners were barely better than the unclean. He would stand as far as He could from the weak and the lowly, the desolate and afflicted; He would stand with the Pharisees.

We hear in this account the echo of the tale of Jonah, the prophet who was sent to the wicked city of Ninevah to call its people to repentance, lest they be destroyed. Jonah wanted no part of this message. He ran away once; and when that failed, he reluctantly went and preached the message the Lord sent him to proclaim. And the people of Ninevah repented. When he saw their repentance, Jonah was angry, and he said to the Lord, “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” What a wonderful confession; but Jonah didn’t say it happily. Jonah was angry that God showed mercy to sinners who repented.

Like the Pharisees and like Jonah, we are a people who appreciate justice, especially from God. We like it when we see people “get what’s coming to them” from our heavenly Father. There is an old Jewish proverb which says, “There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish.” You have to admit that there’s a certain part of you that finds such a sentiment appealing. Of course, that’s also the part of you that can’t look away from a train wreck as it’s happening; but when it comes to God’s enemies—and we do not consider ourselves enemies of God—we feel fully justified in expecting the justice of God to be swift and terrible. Once again we encounter in ourselves the Pharisees, and this is not a flattering picture. It’s as well that we’re not flattered by this picture. Like the Pharisees, we are by nature sinners, and thus we are God’s enemies.

To the Pharisees and to us, Jesus speaks parables about the kind of justice which God pursues. He tells us about a man who leaves ninety-nine sheep to seek after one who has become lost. The man finds the sheep, carries it upon his shoulders, and brings it home with him, celebrating with his neighbors that the lost sheep has been found. Jesus asks, “Which of you does not do the same?” And then He gives the real kicker. He says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”

Pharisees feel they have no need to be found. They gather around Jesus because they see someone who has their kind of status and prestige; and when He acts in a way which puzzles them, they back away from Him, lest His questionable taste be associated with them. They are disgusted because He eats with sinners. That’s ironic, because He eats with the Pharisees, too; they just don’t recognize that they are no less sinners than the tax collectors. On the other hand, the tax collectors and sinners gather around Jesus to hear what He has to say. They gather around Jesus because they know they need to hear what He has to say. They know that He has the power to give them what they need: the forgiveness of sins. Jesus sees them as the sheep He has come to seek and bring home; and these sheep know the voice of their Shepherd. The sheep cannot find himself; but when the Shepherd comes, the sheep knows His voice.

Let me say it plainly: you are a sheep that was lost. You are a sheep who has been found. You were lost in sin, an enemy of God, worthy of nothing but the death which comes from being apart from God while Satan prowls around like a lion, seeking someone to devour. Lest you become complacent in your faith, lest you begin to seethe in righteous indignation that God doesn’t strike down Islamic extremists or the ACLU or other enemies of the Gospel, you must recall that you, too, are an enemy of the Gospel, apart from faith given to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, faith won for you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But you have been found! Thanks be to God! With that in mind, do not begrudge the Lord His search for other lost sheep. If God can find you, He certainly can find other lost sinners.

In our Psalm this morning we prayed, “Turn Yourself to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted. Look on my affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins.” Jesus has graciously answered that prayer for us. That’s what keeps you coming back to this place where Christ first brought you—not some funny story your pastor tells you, but the gifts which Jesus gives to you in the place. Like the tax collectors, you gather here because this is where you hear Jesus. He speaks the Word of Holy Absolution through the mouth of your pastor, and you are returned to the waters of Holy Baptism, washed and cleansed.

Do not doubt for a moment that Jesus has found you! You are a redeemed child of God, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. Christ has carried you here on His shoulders to where He makes His dwelling place among us, just as He carried the burden of your sin to the cross. And not only does He eat with sinners; He hosts the heavenly banquet, and He gives you His own body and blood as food for the feast, a feast which strengthens your faith and forgives your sins. Every time you sin, every time you get lost, the Holy Spirit works repentance in your heart, and Jesus finds you and returns you to this fold, where you may rest in comfort and peace in His presence forever.

This morning we were privileged to be witnesses as Jesus found another sheep who was lost. Heaven is rejoicing along with us. The angels and archangels, along with all the saints, are singing praise to God that He has brought Aliviah into His heavenly fold. They rejoice every time a sheep that has been lost is brought home in the waters of Holy Baptism—even as they rejoiced when you were brought home. Rejoice, for the sheep that was lost is now found! 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. s

I have ISSUES!

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Yeah, sure, Kornacki. We already know that." After you recover from the thunderous retort of a raspberry blown in your general direction, you'll surely recognize that I'm speaking of my appearance yesterday on Issues, Etc!

I have to admit that, when Jeff asked me to appear as one of the participants on a pastor's roundtable to discuss the Fifth Commandment, I nearly said no. And having said yes, I was very nervous. The old joke is that someone has a face for radio. Well, I have a face for radio and a voice for newspaper. In addition, I don't always think well on my feet. My strength is in writing, and I like to have a script in front of me when I speak.

But Todd and Jeff made it very easy for me. Jeff likened the experience to sitting around with a bunch of pastors in a diner and talking theology, and then noticing that the people in booths around you are listening in on your conversation. I do that all the time, in the past with the guys down in New Orleans, and now with Pastor Buetow from DuQuoin. Todd has a very calming demeanor in the studio, and he's got the experience to ease his guests through a bumpy spot here or there. It also helped that I didn't appear alone. Pastor Steve Sommerer of Messiah Lutheran in Carlyle, Illinois, was in the studio with me, while Pastor Ernie Lassman of Messiah Lutheran in Seattle, Washington joined us over the phone. Both of these men had been guests before, and their experience made me more comfortable.

If they ask me back--and both Todd and Jeff said they would--I would be honored to be a guest again. And if they ask you and you're worried about it, don't be. It's a lot less painful than being a parrot who is thrown against a wall! (Let the listener understand!)

To navigate to the Issues Etc. page and listen to my first appearance, click here! And if you're not a regular listener to the show, it's time to become one!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sermon for 6/13/10--The Second Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

I Cannot Come

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

It's coming, and you know it. Uncle Bubba has met himself what he calls "another fine filly", and wedding number eight is on the way. Guess what? You've been invited! It's coming, and you know it. The great-nephew-in-law of a co-worker you've only met once is graduating from pre-school, but this co-worker feels especially close to you, so he's invited you to the ceremony. If you've never been invited to an event which you've had no desire to attend, blessed are you. Refusing such invitations can cause some awkward moments and maybe even some conflict, especially when the invitations come from family members. But what does it mean when the invitation you're refusing comes from the Lord?

For centuries, the people of Israel, the chosen people of God, had been disregarding the Word and promises of God. They followed after false gods, persecuted and killed the prophets of the one true God, and did what was right in their own eyes. More than once they had paid the price for their apostasy, and this was never more evident in the Old Testament than when the children of Abraham were exiled from the land to which God had delivered their fathers. This is reflected in the parable which Jesus tells in our text. The children of Israel-specifically, those who claimed to have no need of the Messiah because they were sons of Abraham, people like the Pharisees-were those who had been invited to the banquet but who refused to come.

There are many excuses by which the invitation is refused, but only one reason. Our text tells us that some excuse themselves because of their wealth and social status; they simply believe that they do not need this great feast of love offered to them. Others refuse the invitation because of the daily business of their lives; it consumes all their energy and must be attended to. Still others refuse because of the ties and duties of family life. Can you relate to any of these? You may not be wealthy, but I suspect there have been times when you have been well satisfied with yourself, and the need for God was far from your mind. The business of daily life is draining-you have experienced that-and there have been times when you have permitted such things to turn you away from the gifts of this great feast of love. And you know well the unique temptations offered by family connections, to answer to those first and so to refuse the ongoing invitation to the feast.

But these excuses are only symptoms. The real reason for refusing the feast is because unbelief always longs for a different feast. Unbelief is too satisfied with wealth and social standing. It is too busy with the worries of life. It is too pleased with the pleasures of family. There is room for them at the heavenly banquet, but there is no room for the banquet in their hearts. Their hearts are feasting on the things of this world. All their excuses are needless.

Here is the feast: the very body and blood of Jesus Himself. You are invited to come to the altar to partake of this divine fare. There is room for you at this table. Indeed, there is room for everyone in the world at the Lamb’s high feast. Why would you want to starve your soul? Are you afraid of becoming spiritually overweight? That will never happen. You could receive the body and blood of Jesus every time it is offered in this sanctuary, and you would not find yourself groaning the way you do after Thanksgiving dinner. You could receive the body and blood of Jesus every Sunday, and you would not find that you have abused your soul with overindulgence. You could receive the body and blood of Jesus every day, and still your spirit would not be bloated. Your soul is satisfied each and every time you receive this feast; but your soul will always hunger for this feast, no matter how many times you receive it.

It is important that you know that your pastor will never force you to do anything, especially when it comes to the gifts of God. Your pastor will not haul you to the font to be washed in the baptismal flood, nor will he force you to return to that baptism when you are troubled by your sins. Your pastor will not drag you to your knees to confess your sins to the Lord and receive absolution. He certainly won't yank you to the altar and force the body and blood of Jesus past your resisting lips for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. God's gifts are precisely that: gifts. Making a requirement of these blessings is even more dangerous than refusing to receive them. But these gifts bestow the richest blessings upon you, and so your pastor will frequently remind you of the blessings of this heavenly feast and encourage you to receive this feast as often as you may.

The simple truth is, the enjoyment of God's great feast of love will not take away from all these others things; it will enhance them and make them even greater. The enjoyment of God's great feast of the body and blood of Jesus will add even more pleasure to those with wealth, for the faith that this feast strengthens will lead to joyful charity and the responsible use of that wealth. If you are weighed down by the burdens of daily life, the body and blood of Jesus will strengthen your faith to help you to bear those burdens-and to bear them with joy and without anxiety. In fact, your burdens will ease, for you can cast them upon the Lord. And this great feast will make even the happiest home happier still, for the body and blood of Jesus will bind you together even more closely than the bonds of your own body and blood.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, here is the feast, the body and blood of Jesus. I am the Lord’s humble slave, and He has constrained me to invite you to this feast. In this feast you receive the forgiveness of sins, strengthening of your faith, and the gift of life. You need these gifts, and Jesus gives them to you here, freely and fully, in His body and blood. Receiving this feast in faith can never harm you, no matter how often you partake. If you need it more often, ask the Lord’s humble slave, and I will bring it to you. Come to the table. You are a welcome guest. If you feel unworthy, don’t let that stop you, for no one is worthy; we are all beggars from the highways and hedges. But by the washing of water with the Word of God, you are made a worthy guest. The things of this world will wait, for they will not last. This heavenly feast, and what you receive here, will endure—both through this life and the life of the world to come. Come, for all things are now ready. 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.