Monday, February 28, 2011

HYMN: Lord, Teach Me So to Count My Days

The dark night of hymn-lessness is at an end. I know y'all have been waiting breathlessly for my next offering. Well, it's more likely that I'm probably the only one that's really been waiting. And waiting. And waiting. In November it seemed like the hymns were coming out like water from an open spigot. And then December came, and it seemed like the spigot was not only shut off, but welded to the off position. Then again, for my first Christmas in the parish since 2004, it was probably for the best that I focus my attention on parish matters.

Of course, Lent is coming up--my first since 2005--so I have another area for focus. I already have the first draft of my sermon series written, so there's a less pressure on my for this Lent than I've ever had before. Of course, with a wedding this weekend and another in two weeks, it's not like I'm going to be living on easy street. And again, this is my first Lent in the parish in six years, and I'd like for it to go well.

But in this rest period between Advent/Christmas and Lent, I had a little time to write. I officiated at a funeral a few weeks back, and it brought to the forefront an idea I'd had about Ash Wednesday and funerals and Lent. Using Psalm 90 and the words spoken during the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday as my base, I cobbled together this humble effort. Actually, this is my second attempt to write this. The first attempt was in the meter of 86 86 76, but it just wasn't coming out the way I wanted--though I actually had an original tune in mind to write for the text. This flowed better. Let me know what you think.

(EDITED ON 2/4/13, 3/21/13)

Lord, Teach Me So to Count My Days

1. Lord, teach me so to count my days,
However long they last.
In Your just wrath they fly away.
In sorrow they have passed.
Lord, You are holy, righteous, just,
And I, a sin-filled urn.
Remember, man, that you are dust.
To dust you shall return.

2. Lo, I am dust, a child of man,
Old Adam's faithless son.
You bid me turn to dust again.
At birth is death begun.
My flesh by nature joys in lust.
Your holy law I spurn.
Remember, man, that you are dust.
To dust you shall return.

3. Yet You have been my dwelling place.
You make Your mercy known.
You satisfy me with Your grace
And for my sins atone.
Your Passion, Christ, is all my trust.
You will not let me burn.
Remember, man, that you are dust.
To dust you shall return.

4. Lord, teach me so to count my days.
Bring wisdom to my heart.
Forgive my wayward heart that strays.
Your steadfast love impart.
In You alone I put my trust
For grace I cannot earn,
So when my body turns to dust
From dust I shall return.

(c) 2011, Alan Kornacki, Jr.
CMD (86 86 86 86)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sermon for 2/27/11--Sexagesima (LSB 1-year)

The Seed Is the Word

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

We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Martin Luther used these words to explain the Third Commandment. However, they also provide a concise summary of the Gospel appointed for today. In our text, Jesus discusses the Word and how the world receives the Word. Though He told this parable nearly two-thousand years ago, not much has changed—not in how the Word goes forth from God, nor in how the people of the world receive that Word. It should come as no surprise that the Word of God is not always given a warm reception. We see that all too frequently. Homosexuality, for example, has gained a certain legitimacy as an accepted and viable lifestyle, though the Bible calls it “unnatural”, “shameless”, “an abomination”, “contrary to sound doctrine”. Life is a precious gift from God. We know from the Bible that those not yet born are persons in the eyes of God from the time of conception, and yet 53 million children have been murdered in the name of “choice” since the legalization of abortion in the United States in 1973. In addition, euthanasia has received legalization even in some areas of the United States. It has become the norm for men and women to live together outside of marriage. And these are just a few of the many examples of the world’s rejection of the Word of God. Even the Church on earth is not immune to this rejection.

We in the Church easily become discontent with this state of affairs. It’s not hard to become disappointed that we don’t have three-hundred people sitting in this sanctuary this morning—and not merely for the sake of the offering plate, but because the Word of God is preached in this place in truth and purity and the Sacraments are administered here according to the institution of Jesus Himself. Which of you in faithfulness to the Word of God would not want that Word to work faith in everyone? Of course you desire all people to be saved, even as that Word of God has worked repentance and faith in you. That is not a sinful desire.

But the Word does not have a magical or hypnotic power. The Gospel can be resisted and rejected. We see that even in the Church on earth, where we find those who consider themselves faithful Christians turning a blind eye to those things which God condemns and which separate sinners from the mercy of God. We see it in how supposedly faithful Christians look at the Word of God and in their so-called wisdom pick and choose which parts of that Word they will accept and believe. We see it in how once-faithful Christians abandon that Word of God in times of trial or temptation, relying on their own strength, giving in to temptation and then refusing to repent as if they’ve done nothing wrong. We see it in the indolence and laziness of Christians who think they’ve done enough, those who think they’ve earned God’s good will and no longer have to return to Holy Baptism through repentance and confession. The seed of the Word does not always find good soil.

To put it plainly, you are dirt. Soil. Dust. Our first father Adam was formed from dirt, and so it’s very appropriate that Jesus should compare the seed to the Word of God and the dirt as those who are meant to receive that Word. Because of our sinful nature, there is no heart that is naturally good soil, soil that is ideal for the growth of the that Gospel seed. It is the nature of the seed to bear fruit, but it does not bear fruit everywhere. It is the nature of the Gospel that it is not always received faithfully by those who hear it. Paul tells us that the Gospel is an offense and a scandal. Only a fraction of those who hear the Word of God will receive it in faith. It is only in Holy Baptism that this human soil is softened and made ready for the seed of the Word to do its work.

Do not overlook the expansive generosity of the One who sows the seed. He sows it by hand, scattering the seed abroad, tossing it here and there and everywhere. One doesn’t have to be a farmer to know that this is not a thrifty way to plant a field. But the Sower isn’t interested in a mere profit. He knows the seed will not grow everywhere that it is sown, but still He scatters it. He sends out His Word widely. The seed sometimes lands on the path, and on the path it may be trampled or the birds may consume it. The devil seeks out those who treat the Word carelessly and claims them as his own. The seed sometimes lands among the rocks, and among the rocks it may not receive enough moisture. The Word may reach the hearts of some, but trials and temptations may scorch a faith that is not deeply rooted. The seed sometimes lands among the thorns, and there it may be choked. The Word does not flourish where it is choked out by the desires and lusts of the flesh. But even on the path or among the rocks or in the thorns there may be soil in which the seed can take root, moisture to nurture the seed, and enough room among the thorns that the seed can sprout and prosper. The seed grows according to the will of God. God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” The Lord keeps on sowing, sending out pastors to preach the Word and administer the sacraments so that the Gospel seed can nurture and grow. And that’s all that pastors can do. Pastors cannot make people believe; it’s their job to preach the Word. As St. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

Do not discouraged that we don’t have three-hundred people here to hear the Word and to receive the gifts of God this morning. What’s happening is exactly what Jesus said would happen. The Word will continue to do its work, sometimes in the most unexpected places. God will continue to give growth according to His gracious good will. He has sown the seed of His holy Word in you. He has made the dirt that you are pliable in the waters of Holy Baptism, and Christ continues to nourish you this morning with His body and blood. Trust in God to provide the growth where and when He wills, for “blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sermon for 2/20/11--Septuagesima (LSB 1-year)

The Unfair God

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

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The Gospel appointed for today is a prime example of what the world and sinful human nature consider the “foolishness” of God. This parable is full of what the wise of the world would consider foolishness from God. What kind of employer goes out at four o’clock and seeks more workers when the workday ends at five o’clock? Why would he hire workers who were too lazy to be looking for work first thing in the morning? And, of course, why would he pay workers who only labored for one hour--or three or six or even nine hours—the same wage as he promised to those who were hired to work for the whole twelve-hour workday? Why would he risk alienating the hardest-working and most faithful of his hirelings? Such is the foolishness of God--and it seems quite foolish indeed.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like this landowner. The kingdom of heaven is the Church, and our Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the landowner. He is the One who calls workers into His vineyard. Jesus tells the parable to illustrate what He had just said to Peter in the verse that comes just before today's Gospel: "But many that are first will be last, and the last first." Peter had overheard our Lord's conversation with the rich young ruler. You might remember the story of that young man who comes to Jesus and says, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus pointed him back to the commandments--do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery and so on. The man replies, "Been there, done that." Jesus says to him, "You lack one thing. Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and come and follow me." Peter speaks up, as if to remind Jesus of what he and his fellow disciples had done, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?" Jesus then tells the disciples of how blessed they shall be in His heavenly kingdom, but then He adds, "But many that are first will be last and, and the last first."

The first—those who are relying on their works, their piety, their progress in sanctification—are going to topple. Those who know that they are last--who know that their sin has disqualified them from any claim on God--will be first. Jesus is speaking of justification by grace through faith apart from the works of the law. That excludes fairness and breaks any attempt to squeeze God into the mold of human justice. The child on the playground cries out, "It's not fair!" To bring this self-centered attitude into our life with God is more than arrogant; it is downright damnable. But to be honest, would you really want God to play fair with you? Do you really want God to give you what you deserve? Do you really believe that God owes you something? If God were to give you what you deserve, you would have only damnation and hell. God demands perfection. Sin makes you imperfect and incapable of achieving perfection. You miss the target. Whether you miss it by an inch or a mile doesn't really matter. We fall short of the glory of God. Close might count in horseshoes and nuclear weaponry, but not when it comes to salvation. Even the mightiest saints of old, were they to rely on their good deeds, would only receive a sentence of eternal death.

How foolish, then, we are, to slip into the language of fairness to feed the self-pity as though God were cheating you. How utterly insulting it is to charge God with being unfair. Jesus' words stop every mouth that would dare suggest that God be subject to our notions of fairness and justice: "Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? So the last will be first, and the first last." There is no law that is above God. There is no higher principle to which He must submit. That would make Him less than God. He is the Lord and the source of all things. Christ is merciful to those who cling to Him through the faith they receive in Holy Baptism. But God is also just. If you want fairness from God, don’t doubt for a moment that He will give you exactly what your deeds deserve--and when it kicks you in the teeth, don’t forget that it’s exactly what you wanted. Death and hell await those who seek fairness from God--and in receiving death and hell, they receive what they have earned through their works.

Out of the fullness of His love, He elected to deal with you not by the standards of justice and by the perimeters of fairness, but out of His fatherly and divine grace without any merit or worthiness in you. The Apostle Paul puts it like this: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any man should boast." Or again in the Epistle to the Romans, Paul writes these words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "But God showed his love for us in while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." Jesus came to save sinners. We see that in the way that He extended His kingdom to people who had wasted their lives--to the tax collector and the prostitute, to the dying thief on the cross--while the scribes and the Pharisees like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son whined, "It's not fair!" No, it's not fair. But God doesn’t have to be fair. "The last will be first, and the first last."

Do you despair that you haven’t done enough? Do you fear that you aren’t holy enough? Don’t be afraid. You are as redeemed as the mightiest saints of God—saints who were sinners, just like you. Thanks be to God that He gives sinners what they don't deserve and could never earn. He gives us Jesus, His own sinless Son who lived a perfect life of obedience in our place and died as our substitute so that we might have everything that He deserved--all the gifts of life and salvation in His Father's everlasting kingdom. God gives us something that exceeds fairness and surpasses justice. He gives us His grace, His undeserved favor in our Savior Jesus Christ whose body and blood are given to us for the forgiveness of sins.

Hard to understand? Maybe a little. But this is the wonderful, backwards way of the Gospel. This is the foolishness of God. God gives and we receive. He forgives your sins, recreates you in his image, and gives you the gift of eternal life. God doesn’t pay you what you have earned; He pays you with what Jesus earned on the cross. That wage of death is paid, and so you receive the gift of eternal life. 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, February 15, 2011

Sermon—The Funeral of Frank Svanda

“Know it for your good.”

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

Brothers and sisters in Christ, children and family and friends of our beloved brother Frank: Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted . . .” Solomon wrote those words as an expression of the hopeless and aimless view of man without God. Yet, faith in Jesus Christ gives those same words a wholly different and altogether more comforting meaning. There is “a time to be born, and a time to die.” But without knowledge of Jesus, we would have to ask, Is there a right time to die? When is it? What makes it right? God answers in the words of our text. The time is right when you are ready for heaven, and when God is ready to take you there. For both of these reasons the time was right for Frank to die. Let us learn this truth so that, when we die, the time may also be right for us.

“You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, as a shock of rain comes up to the threshing floor in its season.” This is true only for those who know and trust in the true and living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unless you know Him and believe firmly in Him, there can be no right time for you to die, because unless you know and trust in Him, you are not ready. In the Psalms, David told us the truth about who we are by nature. “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The results of this are only too evident as we look at our lives in the clear light of God’s Law. “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” This we must recognize and admit. And Frank did. Although I only was able to minister to Frank for a short time, I have seen his faithful confession of sins and his thirst for the body and blood of Jesus. With the rest of us he said, “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee, and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment.” And through this, God reminds us that however right our lives may seem in our own eyes, when we come before God we take credit for nothing. We need His grace and forgiveness, or we will perish forever.

When we know this, then we can grasp the greatness and the goodness of God in forgiving all out sins through His dear Son. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God sent His only Son into this world of sin and death, to suffer and die as the sacrifice for our sin. He pleads our case, then, before God; and He has won God’s approval and love and forgiveness for us. In giving Frank the forgiveness of sins, God prepared him for heaven. And when death came, it was not only in “ripe old age,” but “like a shock of grain comes up to the threshing floor in its season;” at just the right time, at the proper stage of maturity, ready for the harvest! And when God’s Word has come through to our hearts with the certainty of the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life it brings with it, then we are also ready to be harvested like a shock of grain. When this is true, any time can be the right time to die, because our hope is not in doubt.

Still, the grain does not decide when it will be picked; the harvester makes that decision. Nor do we decide to stay longer on this earth or leave this world sooner than God decides we should. The right time to die is only when we are ready for heaven, and when God is ready to take us there. This, too, we have to learn that we might accept the fact of death. We may be ready to go with our Lord to our eternal home, and yet God may leave us here a while longer, until He is ready to take us from this world. We have all known people who were taken from us far sooner than might have seemed right to us. We have all known others who suffered much longer than we thought they should have to suffer. At times we question God’s wisdom. Only God knows why He does what He does, and He does not choose to tell us why. We take it on faith that He knows what He is doing, and that He knows far better than we the right time to die.

And when God decides it is time for us to leave this world, then we can be sure the time is truly right. We cannot doubt it. There can be no doubt that God dealt with Frank in just this way, the way he promises in this text: “in ripe old age, as a shock of grain comes up to the threshing floor in its season.” And when our confidence is put in Christ our Savior, when our hope is set on the heaven He has promised and won for us, then we can be sure that, when God takes us from this world, the time will be right for us, because after death we rise again to life unending, forever secure with Him.

This is the promise of God for those who fear, love, and trust in Him. “You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, as a shock of grain comes up to the threshing floor in its season.” God is as good as His Word. The time was just right for Frank, for his harvest season has now come. And as surely as God sustains your heart with confidence in Christ, the time will be right for you as well. This we confess, confidently, with Job: “Lo, this we have searched out; it is true. Hear, and know it for your good.” 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, February 12, 2011

Sermon for 2/13/11—The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Mountain Peak

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

The Lutheran Church historically has commemorated the Transfiguration of Our Lord on the last Sunday after the Epiphany—and appropriately so. We have seen the divinity of Jesus revealed to us through the healing of the blind and the lame. We have seen this revealed in water turned into wine. We have seen this demonstrated through the calming of the sea and the stilling of the storm. And now we see it revealed in the Transfiguration. This is one final, glorious manifestation of the divinity of Jesus, shining through His humanity, revealing Jesus as Immanuel, God with us, as He made His way to Jerusalem and the cross. John the Evangelist was speaking of this event when he wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus had just told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem. He told them that it was necessary that He suffer many things from the religious leaders of the day, and be killed, and then be raised on the third day. He also told them that they would face their own trials and sufferings. Although they had been with the Lord for three years, the disciples could not easily accept these sayings from the Lord. Matthew records that Peter even took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for saying them. For six days the disciples stewed over the Master’s prediction of His coming death. And then Jesus led the inner circle of the disciples—Peter, James and John—to a high mountain. Thoughts of suffering and death were wiped from their minds when the face of Jesus began to shine with the brightness of the sun and Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared with Him! What a welcome change this was for the disciples. Gone would be the talk of self-denial. Gone would be the talk of crosses. Gone would be the talk of death and sadness; now they were witnesses to life and glory. After all, Moses had been dead for over a thousand years, but here he stood in front of them, speaking with Jesus. And Elijah had not died; a fiery chariot came down and carried Elijah away into heaven. These two Old Testament pillars appeared with Jesus and spoke with Him. And such a glorious Lord as Jesus who could shine like the sun could surely find a different way of doing His work than by suffering and dying. Peter wanted to set up tents. He wanted to prolong the experience with these worthies. He wanted to prolong the glory.

The funny thing about Peter the disciple is that he is so much like us. Funny and sad. Peter was pleased to experience this glory. Heaven’s glory had come down to earth. Moses was present, the one through whom the Law was revealed. Elijah was present, the Old Testament prophet who was spared death. And Jesus was present in all His glory, transfigured by His Father in heaven so that all His majesty would be revealed. Peter wanted to stay and enjoy this glorified Christ and the glorified Old Testament saints forever. And which of you could blame him? Peter only said what any one of you would say. Who would want the Lord to die? Who would wish to face his own suffering for the sake of the Gospel? It’s one thing to live as a child of God when life is good, when things are going well, when the dice are rolling your way and the sun is shining; it’s another thing altogether to live as a child of God when the baby’s crying, when Mom and Dad are in the nursing home with no idea who their children or grandchildren are, when the rain is falling—or, sometimes for us who live in the world of agriculture, when the rain isn’t falling. Certainly the Old Adam within you would avoid both the death your sins deserve and the crosses which go along with being a disciple of Jesus. The mountaintop has much more attractive scenery than the valley. The glory is so much more appealing than the cross. The temptation is to want to stay on the mountaintop. After all, Jesus reveals Himself as good and gracious and powerful on the mountaintop, and He allows us to see His glory. But sharing in His cross is more than the Christian expects or desires. Like Peter, we would gladly stay with the gloriously transfigured Christ forever. But when the soldiers come, when the cross looms, we scatter with Peter and the rest.

What Peter failed at the time to recognize is that the same Lord who was revealed in the glorious light of the transfiguration was revealed no less gloriously in the love that compelled Him to carry and hang upon the cross. Peter and James and John only observed the glory of Jesus on the mountain of the transfiguration. But Jesus came down from that mountain, and He climbed to another; and on that mountain He hung on the cross. He hung on that cross bearing you sin and shame. And because He bore your sin and shame, through Holy Baptism you share in His glory. You are not only observers. His righteousness makes you shine.

This morning you climb both mountains with Jesus. Jesus reveals Himself to you in the shining glory of His holy Word, revealing Himself through the Old Testament promises and as the fulfillment of those promises. He reveals Himself to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, waters He returns you to each day through repentance and forgiveness. And He reveals Himself through the breaking of the bread—as He will do with the disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection—in the holy feast of His body and blood. This is a humble revelation, it might seem, but it is a revelation through which He shares with you the glory of His resurrection. You have seen a glimpse of His glory, and He has shared that glory with you.

The Divine Service will end this morning, and from this mountaintop you will return to the valley of your daily life. But just like Peter and James and John, you do not go down from this peak alone. Even in the valley, even in the trials and terrors and persecutions, you are not alone. You leave this place in the presence of your Lord and Savior. And though you must descend from this peak today, your glorious Lord brings you back here, week after week, until finally He will bring you to dwell with Him in that glory that will never end. 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, February 04, 2011

Sermon for 2/6/11—Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany (LSB 1-year)

The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany is a rare occurrence in the Church year.  I've been a pastor for ten years, and I have never preached on this text. It will be another 27 years before I preach on this text again. I'll be 63 years old. God willing, I will still be preaching the Word to His people in 2038—if Jesus does return in glory before then, of course.

“Gather the wheat into my barn.”

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

Over the past four weeks you have listened to the eyewitness accounts of those who watched as Jesus manifested Himself as the Son of God through miraculous signs and wonders: His baptism in the Jordan, where the Father revealed Jesus as His beloved Son; turning water into wine at Cana; healing the leper and the paralyzed servant in Capernaum; even calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Once again this week Matthew gives his eyewitness account of Jesus revealing Himself: not through miraculous signs and wonders this time, but through powerful preaching about the nature of the world and the day of judgment. In the parable He told to the crowd, Jesus compared the world to field where the master has sowed wheat; and while those meant to tend the field were asleep, the master’s adversary came in and sowed weeds among the wheat—weeds that would be exceptionally troublesome because they look like the wheat until the head appears.

The master is a patient man. Yes, evil has been done against him. Yes, the evil plot of this adversary has put his crop in danger. But the master would preserve every single stalk of wheat which has been planted. When his servants asked if they should begin pulling out the weeds, the master made a surprising response. He said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” This runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. It doesn’t take a farmer to know that weeds which are allowed to grow can choke out the plants that were planted to feed a family or to beautify a home. Anyone who plants a garden will endeavor to uproot the weeds that come up so that the plant can absorb all the nutrients it can and grow healthy. Nevertheless, the master will not risk having even one stalk of wheat pulled up by an overzealous servant. Do not mistake his patience for indifference toward the weeds among his good wheat. The time will indeed come when the master will harvest both the wheat and the weeds; but that day will not come until the master is ready to harvest the wheat and gather it into his storeroom. Only then will the weeds be pulled up and burnt.

Jesus Himself explains that the field is the world. Unrepentant sinners and repentant saints grow together in this world. Satan does not sow his sons off in an empty field somewhere; he plants them in the midst of the faithful. At some point in your life, you’ve probably heard about someone who said that they didn’t want to go to a Sunday worship service because there are too many hypocrites in the Church. And to be perfectly honest, there’s some truth to that. Jesus Himself affirms the truth of that. If only there were no sinners in the world—if only there were no sinners in the Church—wouldn’t it follow that life would be so much better? It sounds good in theory, but as Martin Luther once preached, “If we proceed to establish a congregation in which there is no sin, we will condemn weak Christians, and even the strong because they stumble at times, and must also exclude them from the Church.” The Church on earth is a mess. If everyone who ever sinned were to be excluded from the Church, the building would be empty; certainly you wouldn’t find a pastor there—certainly not this pastor. Nor, if you were honest with yourself, would you be found in the Church, for you, too, have sinned; you, too, have fallen short of the glory of God. That doesn’t mean the Church should abandon the practice church discipline, though. When a sinner who considers himself a part of the Church refuses to repent of his sins, the congregation must act, or else they share in that sinner’s evil and prove themselves to be sinners, worthy of being thrown into the flames with the unrepentant sinner. But we must not go out seeking sinners to remove from the Church or the world; for only the Lord knows when He will take sinners like Matthew the tax collector, or Peter the pride-filled denier, or Saul the murderer, or Augustine the arch-heretic, men who started off as enemies of the Lord and His Church, and convert them into repentant and faithful saints.

That’s why it is a great blessing and relief to sinners like you and me that our Lord Jesus Christ is so patient and longsuffering with the world. It is truly a miracle that there is a One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. The Lord loves His Church so much that He allows you time to repent of your sinfulness. He continues to nourish you, His good seed, with His holy Word. He continues to water you in Holy Baptism, allowing you to return to that precious Word-filled water daily through repentance and faith. He continues to feed you with holy body and precious blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Eternal judgment is not the outcome for those who are sons of the kingdom of God. The unquenchable fire is not the fate of those who cling to Christ through Holy Baptism.

It’s certainly frustrating to deal with the weeds that find their way into the visible Christian Church on earth. It’s troublesome to deal with those who call themselves Christians but who don’t seem to act like it. Even so, that is not reason enough to refuse to belong to the Church. It’s important to remember that the Lord has dealt with you, too, in mercy. Though you continue to sin, the Lord continues to welcome you back to His heavenly storeroom every time you confess your sin and repent of it. In His good time, according to His gracious will, Jesus will harvest the good wheat, the faithful, and He will separate it from the weeds, the unrepentant. Until that day, do not begrudge the unrepentant their earthly pleasure. Instead, rejoice that you have a place in the heavenly storeroom. Rejoice that you, one of the righteous, will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of Your heavenly Father.

As you wait for that harvest, as you await the day when we will shine forth in the kingdom, continue to return daily to the waters of Holy Baptism through repentance. Continue to seek the nourishment of the body and blood of Jesus. Continue to seek out the Word of God, where Jesus reveals Himself to you as the goodly master of the harvest. Rejoice that the Lord is longsuffering and patient, allowing everyone the opportunity to repent and be gathered up with the good seed. The Lord, the Master of the harvest, will not allow the weeds to choke you out, nor will He allow you to be burnt with those weeds. You are a son of the kingdom by faith. You are His good seed, and He will not let you die. 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.