Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PARODY: The Easter Breakfast

Sunday was a very good day for me at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois.  For the first time in . . . eight years, possibly, I preached on Easter Sunday at the church where I was the pastor.  I have a wonderful congregation, and it is a blessing and a privilege to serve here. I received the body and blood of Jesus.  I got to hang out with my youth group.  And, as the fat guy in my can attest, I got to eat.

That being said, 3:40am rolled around mighty early on Sunday.  That's when I had to get up to get ready and head to the church to help prepare for the Easter breakfast.  I didn't have to help too much--which is good, because I really didn't--but getting up that early, especially after the Terrible Trouble Twins kept me up nearly to midnight, was not easy.

When I got home, I tried taking a nap, but I didn't get much of one.  While I was attempting to nap, the first verse of the following parody jumped into my head, and I managed to get it written down.  Don't worry: I love the Easter breakfast, and I love the youth group that served it.  I just can't help myself, though, when it comes to parody.  And so, to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence", I give you:

The Easter Breakfast

Hello, mattress, my old friend.
I've come to lay on you again.
I had to get up much too early
And now I find myself very sleepy.
Now my pillow is where I will lay my head
On My bed
Because of Easter breakfast.

As this day ends in darkness deep
My own kids won't let me sleep.
Michael's playing Bejeweled Blitz.
Molly's in the throes of sugar fits
From the candy that the Easter bunny shared.
Damn that hare!
Serve him for Easter breakfast.

Fools say, "That's what you deserve.
Next time just cook Brown and Serve."
But the menu doesn't matter.
Even using pre-mixed batter
We would still wake up at a most ungodly time.
What a crime
To wake for Easter breakfast.

And Kornacki starts to fade.
Who cares if the bed is made?
I'll just fall asleep there anyway.
It's the end of this endless day.
And the clock says that I should have been asleep long ago.
But I know
Next year we'll have Easter breakfast.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sermon for 4/24/11--The Resurrection of Our Lord (LSB 1-year)

We Are Witnesses

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

Thousands witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. No one saw Him rise. The resurrection cannot be demonstrated to anyone. The proof of the resurrection rests with those witnesses chosen by Jesus, those who saw Him alive. Scripture tells us, “To them He presented Himself alive after His Passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.” It was as witnesses of the resurrection that the apostles were first really conscious of what Jesus had given them to do. They rose up suddenly from the despair that followed the crucifixion of their Master, and bore witness that He was very much alive. They were now assured of an unbroken fellowship with Him, despite what may come. Peter proclaimed in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.” They had, themselves, risen with Christ! Easter had come to them!

Today, millions have gathered all over the world: to listen again to the witness of the apostles and evangelists, to sing hymns of triumph and praise to the Lamb who was slain, but who now lives and reigns forevermore. We, too, confess our faith in the crucified and risen, victorious Jesus Christ! We do so in the midst of a world that bears the marks and emits the scent of death and destruction. We are not ourselves eyewitnesses to the resurrection, and the world mocks us for believing the testimony of men and women whose bodies are now moldering in their graves. But that mockery is the testimony of a world full of broken homes and fractured relationships; a world of spoiled friendships and a mad scramble for power and control; a world where men stand at odds with each other and nations look upon one another with suspicion and hatred and fear. What is the answer to all of these things? It is certain that man has no answer. We are not even certain of what the questions are. But God has given the answer. God can and does heal all the divisions between God and man. The resurrection of Jesus reveals that the love of God is more than a match for all of the hatred and fear and brokenness of this world. He is Victor over it all. The love of God is the last word in holding together a world that would otherwise have gone to pieces long ago. Becoming Man, living, suffering, dying, rising, and ascending: that is God’s answer, in Jesus Christ, to a broken and dying world.

None of us knows what the future will bring to us, but we need not be anxious about the future. We do know that God has everything within His view, and we do know what God has done in the past. We know, above all, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead makes all the difference in everything we experience now, and in everything that is yet to come. The resurrection of Jesus is faith’s assurance that He has overcome the world and all the powers of sin and death. It is the beginning of new life in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the guarantee that God has promised that in His own good time His victory will be revealed to all. The resurrection of Jesus creates a “living hope,” as St. Peter said, a hope that comes to us from God and rests in God.

Our conviction that God has not and will not forsake us centers in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That same victory and joy of the early Christians, who lived in the midst of death and suffering on account of their faith, can be our victory and joy just as much today. In this glad faith and confidence we carry on with whatever the Lord has given us to do without panic or fear. We can witness daily the power and love of God that saves sinners, for it is found at the foot of the cross, and in the Christ of the cross all barriers are broken down. But Jesus Christ is risen, and through baptism we rise with Him. It was the resurrection faith that filled those disciples with joy and which today can fill with light and joy and even peace a world that is in the throes of death.

In his epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul tells us what it means to us individually and personally, as members of the Body of Christ, if we are risen with Him. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” To be sure, we still battle against the temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. But, the fight is no longer futile. God has come to our rescue. Because we are risen with Christ, we can say with all the confidence in the world, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Our sin is placed on Jesus who said to St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.

Because we are risen with Christ, we know that all the paths of glory in this life still lead finally to the grave. We may well be able to outsmart or outmaneuver our human competitors. But there is one enemy against which we will never prevail, and that is death. We may come to grips with life, and even do very well with it. But if we have not to come to grips with death, then we have fought the fight of fools. There is One, however, who has come to grips with death, and came out the winner. Death could not hold Him. The wonder of His victory is that He wishes to share it. If we are risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, death cannot hold us either.

Our Lord’s resurrection was not revealed in a series of sensational incidents or by some supernatural activity that could have been immediately known to all. He sought His despairing disciples in the arena of ordinary life; He met them behind the locked doors of the upper room; He waited for them in the early morning by the side of the Sea of Galilee; He walked with them down a country road; He suddenly revealed Himself in the simple breaking of the bread. And so it is now. There is no area of our life where He would not enter. There is no sorrow or disappointment He would not turn to our blessing. By the same token, there should be no part of our life from which we can exclude Him. Our life is His concern. And He gives us, as He has promised, abundant life: life in all its fullness and wonder; life in His body and blood: crucified, dead, and now risen and alive forevermore. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A blessed Easter to you and yours!

We implore you, Almighty and merciful God, cause us who celebrate Your Pascal Feast, kindled with heavenly desires, ever to thirst for the Fountain of Life, Jesus Christ; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ Is Risen

1. Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Jesus, firstborn from the dead,
Burst the gates to hell’s dread prison.
Christ has triumphed as He said.
To the cross He bore sin's burden.
There He suffered grief and shame.
Rose again to earn our pardon—
Rose our freedom to proclaim.

2. Lo, His tomb now stands deserted.
Hark, the stone now rolled away.
Satan's power fails, diverted,
Hell's dark fury held at bay.
Now end's Satan's insurrection.
Hear the truth we claim by faith:
Through His mighty resurrection
Jesus bears the keys to death.

3. Sinful Adam, die with Jesus
In the great baptismal flood.
Washed of all sin's dread diseases,
Cleansed, we rise, in Jesus blood.
Where, O Hades, is your vict'ry?
Where, O Death, is now your sting?
Death, now toothless, falls before me.
Hell bows, mute, before my King.

4. Alleluia! Christ is risen,
And with Him the saints shall rise.
Death is nevermore our prison;
Now the gate to paradise.
Pow'r, dominion, glory, honor
To the Lamb who once was slain,
Who, with Spirit and the Father,
Now and evermore shall reign.

© 2010
87 87 D
Tune: HYFRYDOL (LSB 700)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sermon for 4/21/11—Maundy Thursday (LSB 1-year)

Believe What Jesus Says

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

Surely it is one of the chief ironies of Christian history that the gift of the Lord in which we are most intimately united with Him has from the beginning been the center of controversy. The very place where there should be the most unity—the very body and blood of Jesus—has become the center of division. But this should come as no surprise, for wherever Christ's words are set aside, there will be only confusion and lack of clarity. So the Apostle Paul laments the sad divisions at Corinth and then goes on to say, "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you." Factions are caused when people hold to their own opinions rather than the Lord's words. Apart from His Word there can be no unity. To paraphrase Luther, they would make this Sacrament the Christian's Supper, rather than the Lord's Supper.

That surely happened in the history of the church. There came a time when the Lord's Supper was redefined to be "the unbloody repetition of the sacrifice of Christ." The Roman Church holds that the body and blood of Christ are offered by the priest to the Father for the sins of the living and the dead. At the time of the Reformation some would argue that the words of Jesus couldn't possibly mean what they say; and so it has been argued—and still is—that the bread simply represents or symbolizes Jesus' body which is in heaven, and that the wine represents His blood shed on the cross. Both of these opinions depart from the clear words of the Lord Jesus and therefore cause division in the church. But divisions in the church over the Lord's Supper are not new. Already in the New Testament, there were divisions that centered in the Lord's Supper.

The Epistle for Maundy Thursday speaks to this situation. There were some in Corinth who saw the Lord's Supper to be something other than the gift of Jesus' body and blood given us sinners to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins. They had transformed the Lord's Supper into their own party. No longer were Jesus' body and blood being confessed as the gifts that they are. No longer were the gifts of Jesus' body and blood at the center of the congregation's life. There was eating and drinking, but the Corinthians were no longer coming together to partake of the Lord's Supper.

We sinners always seem to give a higher priority to our own notions about what we need rather than what the Lord promises to give. In the Lutheran Church, our public confession of what we receive in the Holy Supper cannot be faulted, for we confess exactly what Jesus says concerning the Supper He instituted. Perhaps our biggest concern, then, the false notion we cling to most, is that the Supper might become less special if we receive it too often. But Paul does not begin with his own opinion. He does not, like so many in today's churches, consider it a matter of indifference what one believes regarding the Lord's Supper. Instead Paul begins with what He had received from the Lord. He says: "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that our Lord Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same manner, He also took the cup after supper and said 'This cup is the new testament in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'"

These words tell us what the Sacrament is. It is the body and blood of our Lord given under the bread and wine for us to eat and drink. These words are the Lord's gift, His invitation to receive what He gives, in the means in which He gives it. It is on the basis of these words—the words of our Lord Jesus Himself—that Paul goes on to deal with the problems at Corinth.

In the Sacrament we are given Jesus' body and blood. The very body that was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary to bear our sins and suffer our death is given into our mouths. The very blood He shed to redeem us is the means of forgiveness which now flows into our bodies. The Lord's body and blood proclaim to you the complete forgiveness of all your sins; and as you eat and drink at the Lord's Table you confess Jesus Christ to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So we may bring no contradiction of Him and His words to His altar.

This Sacrament does not depend on us but on the Lord Jesus who established it. It depends on Him and the Word He speaks to make it what it is and to make it give what He says. It is not your faith which makes Sacrament. All who come to the altar and who partake of the Supper receive Christ's body and blood whether or not they believe. That is why Paul goes on to warn the Corinthians that those who partake of the Supper in an unworthy manner are guilty not of bread and wine, but of Christ’s body and blood.

We give attention to faith—not because our faith establishes the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, but because it is only in faith that we may partake of the Savior's body and blood in a way which is salutary and beneficial. Therefore, Paul says, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup." There is only one way to worthily eat and drink of the Lord's Supper, and that is with faith in words of Him who is the Host and Donor. The Catechism says it well: "He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: 'Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.'" Thanks be to God, who by His Holy Spirit grants us such faith; and thanks be to God, who feeds us here with the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. 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, April 16, 2011

Sermon for 4/17/11—Palmarum: Sunday of the Passion (LSB 1-year)

This is the reading from the procession of palms at the beginning of the divine service for Palm Sunday.  I'd usually preach on the Passion account in the lectionary for Palm Sunday, but since we were already on the road to Golgotha in our midweek Lenten services, I thought this was appropriate for this year.

The Long Road

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

He "was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." The Creed moves from the Lord's birth to His suffering and death with very little mention of the life that He lived. Some have faulted the Creed for failing to note at least something of the life that Jesus lived: His works of compassion and His words of truth. But in moving directly from Jesus' birth to His Passion, the Creed is making a point. The Creed is pointing to the fact that the Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary came to suffer and to die.

The events that we are observing this week are not the sad conclusion to an otherwise triumphant and well-lived life. Rather they are at the very heart of who Jesus is and what He came to do in order to reconcile the world to God. It is no small matter that Jesus comes into the holy city of Jerusalem to suffer and die as the Passover Lamb whose blood brings redemption for this sinful world. Ponder well all that takes place this week, for the Son of God did it all for you and for your salvation.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem at the head of a parade. "Everybody loves a parade," goes the old saying. But the Romans did not love this parade. In fact, this parade looked more like the start of a riot. With nervousness the Roman troops looked on as the crowds chanted something another about a King of Israel coming on a donkey's colt. What could this mean? Was this man Jesus a political revolutionary who would stir Jerusalem, swollen with pilgrims in town to celebrate the annual Passover, to revolution? Would His presence ignite with the ancient memories of Egypt's oppression of Israel that were remembered at Passover time to inflame rebellion? Roman soldiers watched in vain for their would-be insurrection. Jesus is not that kind of king.

The Jewish religious leaders did not love this parade. They had already learned that Jesus was not their kind of Messiah. He was not a teacher of Israel who could be controlled. They were threatened by His rising popularity and they concluded that if He were allowed to go on doing the things He did and saying the things that He said, their religion would be ruined. No wonder that they stood by as the parade passes and said to themselves: “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the whole world has gone out after Him!

Neither did Satan love this parade. In fact, this is a parade that Satan had tried to prevent. He had offered Jesus another way some three years earlier as he tempted Jesus to embrace the kingdoms of this world by simply bowing down and worshiping him. The cross would mean suffering and shame for Jesus, but for Satan it would spell his own eternal defeat. No wonder that Satan, speaking through Simon Peter, had rebuked Jesus as Jesus spoke of how He must go to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and, on the third day, rise again. Satan hated the sight of this parade as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords made His way in humility to the place of sacrifice.

But Jesus loves this parade. He isn't fooled by the shouts of "Hosanna!" He knows that they will be short-lived. He knows that before the week is over another cry will come from the fickle lips of the people: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Let His blood be upon us and our children.” He knows that even His own disciples will forsake and deny Him, and one of them will even betray Him. He knows that we for whom He died care little for His cross and suffering, even knowing what it means for our salvation. Jesus loves this parade—not because of the momentary popularity that it gives Him, but because this parade culminates in the cross. That is why He came into the world. That is why He, in fulfillment of Zechariah's prophetic word, mounted that donkey and rode into Jerusalem as the King going to His throne, as a bridegroom going to His bride. For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame.

We spend so much our lives trying to avoid suffering. The world even tells us that it is a good thing to destroy the life of one who suffers if the suffering cannot be controlled or ended in any other way. To those who think that the supreme good in life is to avoid pain, the Suffering Servant, our Lord Jesus Christ, is an embarrassment, and His cross a foolish scandal. If the cross is the highlight of the parade and the foolishly suffering Jesus is the grand marshal, the world wants nothing to do with him.

But Jesus did not detach Himself from the suffering. He did not avoid Jerusalem. Jesus took the path to Calvary. He walked the way of the cross. Even when He was abandoned and deserted, betrayed and denied, He held to the work that was His alone to do. He drained the cup of suffering. When the parade was over and cheering crowds were silent and the palm branches wilted in dust, the Lamb of God kept walking. During Holy Week He goes from this triumphant entry to the upper room and Gethsemane's garden, and from there to the judgment hall and the cross. He goes there, driven by the passion to have you with Him for all eternity. The pain that He endures is real and raw. The death He dies is dark and cold. He does it all for you. It is no small thing that God allows Himself to be sacrified on a cross.

This morning we will participate in another parade, as we come forward to receive forgiveness and life and salvation in the body and blood of Christ. And Satan does not love this parade, either. He has made this a parade of pain and suffering because he does not want you to get to the end of it. But the body and blood of Jesus strengthens you to continue on this journey, enduring that pain and suffering, so that you will not perish, but have eternal life. It is no small thing that the same God who went the way of the cross still comes to you today. He does not come to show you the way out of suffering or a way around suffering, but the way through it. It is the way of His cross and resurrection. It is the way of His Gospel. It is the way of His body and blood given you to eat and drink from this altar. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name 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.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sermon for 4/13/11--LENT V MIDWEEK: “Witnesses on the Road to Golgotha”

This year at St. Peter our Lenten midweek services have looked at Jesus’ journey to the cross from the eyes of those who witnessed and participated in those events. Their testimony concerning Jesus, His identity, and His work—testimony sometimes given against the will of those who testified—speaks a profound word concerning the salvation Christ died to win for us. This is the conclusion of the sermon series.

The Centurion: “Truly this was the Son of God.

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

The centurion was standing at the foot of the cross. He heard it all: the contempt of the crowd, the prayer of Jesus for forgiveness for those who crucified Him, the confession of the criminal and the absolution which Jesus spoke to him. He heard all of it. Perhaps he was one of the soldiers in Pilate’s court when Jesus was tried; but even if he wasn’t, he was able to read the inscription which Pilate placed over the head of Jesus: JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS. He had even heard some in the crowd say mockingly that Jesus had called Himself the Son of God. But he didn’t know how all of it fit together. And then Jesus died. Matthew wrote, “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” He wasn’t the only one who saw all of this, but of all those who witnessed these things, Matthew chose to focus his attention on this centurion. All of these things came together in the mind of this mid-ranking Roman soldier; and he said, “Truly this was the Son of God.

As a Roman who had lived his life amidst an abundance of gods, his own conception of deity would have been different than that of the Jews who were subject to Rome’s authority. Yet this centurion confessed Jesus as would a faithful child of the Old Testament covenant. The signs and wonders proved to him that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be, and not one word that Jesus spoke went unheard. Not one word of Jesus returned to Him without doing the work for which He intended it. As the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “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.” On top of that, though every word they said was meant to be ridicule and scorn for the Man on the cross, everything said by the crowds and by Pontius Pilate to mock Jesus was true. Jesus is the King of the Jews. Jesus is the Son of God. The Roman centurion and his soldiers accepted by faith what the religious leaders of Israel, men who supposedly had spent their whole lives looking forward to the coming Messiah, did not believe: that Jesus was the Christ, Son of God.

Why would this centurion believe when the leaders of Israel and their mob of followers would not? To answer that question, look to your own heart. Look to your own expectations of what the Messiah should be. You know what Scripture says about the Christ and what He came to do, just as the religious leaders in Jerusalem knew what the Old Testament promised about the Messiah. So what do you think? How should the Messiah act on your behalf? Should He cure your illnesses? Should He provide for your table? Should He eliminate the things that trouble you? What kind of Messiah do you expect? What kind of Messiah do you want? For the leaders of the Old Testament religion, Jesus just wasn’t cutting it. The very presence of this Gentile centurion at what should have been a religious trial and execution was proof that Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah they thought a Messiah should be. Apparently Jesus had not come to deliver them from the power of their Roman conquerors. Apparently He had not come to return Israel to a golden age like they had been waiting for since the reign of King Solomon dwindled away. All Jesus did was heal the sick, raise the dead, forgive sins, and preach the Gospel to a people who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness. This was not the Messiah they expected or wanted.

Look to your own heart. It gets old, doesn’t it, all this talk about forgiveness and grace and love. The cross is nearly two-thousand years old now, just as the promise of the Messiah was thousands of years old to the religious leaders who sought the death of their King. Has the shine worn off? Is salvation stale? Should we limit how often we offer the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper so that we do not run the risk of making it seem less special than it is? Should we refrain from confession and absolution so that we don’t take forgiveness for granted? Maybe we shouldn’t baptize infants; maybe we should wait until they’re older so they understand what’s happening to them. Perhaps the cross isn’t really rugged. Maybe it’s just old.

Maybe it was easier for the centurion and his soldiers. After all, they didn’t have any preconceived notions about what a Messiah should be. They didn’t even know what a Messiah was. But somehow, when God spoke to them—both in the Word of Christ and through the signs and wonders they witnessed—the Holy Spirit worked faith in them, and they confessed Jesus for who He really is: the Son of God. And though the cross of Christ is nearly two-thousand years old, the forgiveness and salvation Jesus won for you on that cross remains fresh and new. They still speak to you today. Jesus is the Passover Lamb, the One who died so that the new Israel of the Church should not perish. He is the One who allowed His innocent blood to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, the One whose blood cleanses you from all unrighteousness. He is the One in whom no fault could be found, for He lived the sinless life that you could not live. He is the One who bore your sins to the cross, speaking the word of Holy Absolution to you while He was still hanging on that cross.

Truly, this is the Son of God; for though He hung on that cross twenty centuries ago, His redeeming work is as powerful today as it was on that dark Friday on Golgotha. He returns you to His cross in Holy Baptism, where you die with Him in sin; and in that same Baptism He raises you to new life. God does not change. The Word of God endures forever. Holy Baptism does not need your understanding to make it effective; it bestows faith. Holy Absolution removes your sins every time you confess those sins and repent of them, no matter how many times it happens. The body and blood of Jesus in the Holy Supper are a life-giving feast, no matter how many times you have received it.

Truly, Jesus is the Son of God. Though you do not see Christ on the cross, though you do not feel the earth shake or see the Temple curtain torn in two or the opening of the tombs of the saints, you have the faithful testimony of the centurion. Thanks be to God for all witnesses who spoke faithfully of Jesus and the truth of the salvation He won for you. 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.

And the hymn that goes with it:

As Strode the Christ to Cross and Grave

1. As strode the Christ to cross and grave,
To bear all men’s transgression,
Men saw His mighty pow’r to save
And of Him made confession.
Hail, Jesus, David's greater Son,
Who, in His love, heals everyone,
Delivering God's mercy.

6. "Truly this man was God's own Son,"
The soldiers said in wonder,
As death's fierce power was undone,
The veil now torn asunder.
May we, with those who saw, believe
The saving work which Christ achieved
For us and our salvation.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sermon for 4/10/11—Judica: Fifth Sunday in Lent (LSB 1-year)

The Word vs. the Devil

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

Jesus healed the sick. He made the blind to see and the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. He cast out demons and raised the dead to life. So why was it that the clergy were so anxious to grab stones and beat Jesus to death? What did He do? He said to them, “You are of your father the Devil!” What Jesus did was rob these men of their religion and their piety and holiness. These clergy, who thought they kept keep God's Law in holiness and loved to be loved by the people, had their false god stripped from them. The Pharisees of Jesus' day made a great show of being godly. But the ones they really worshiped were themselves! And when Jesus told them their good works were worthless and the religion was a hoax and the only hope they had was to repent of their sins and believe in Him, they wanted none of it!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, you, too, have your false gods and false religions. Jesus has come to demolish your religion, the religion of “me”, the religion of the devil. That's why mega churches are filled to overflowing with people: Satan's preachers tell their hearers exactly what they want to hear. But we're not immune from wanting to hear that! Jesus didn't come to tell you how great you are. Jesus came to rescue you from your selfishness. Jesus came to put to death the notion that you’re basically a good person. Every boast about who you are and what you've done is carried by Jesus to the cross. The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world, including your sin in believing you’re worthy of God’s goodness. Jesus lets evil men drag Him to the cross precisely because He knows they can never save themselves. He is nailed to the cross and bleeds and dies because they do not know what they do. He dies pouring out His blood for a world that loves itself. And all of that sin is blotted out because Jesus is the Lamb, the only-begotten Son of God who is given up for us all.

Beware this religion of the devil! The problem with Satan’s religion is that it often looks and sounds like the Christian faith. But it's not! The commandments say that we love God by loving our neighbor. Instead we love to judge others. We love to talk about ourselves and make ourselves the center of attention. Perhaps it’s about how we serve our congregation so faithfully while others sit at home. Maybe it's how long we've been Christians or how much better we've raised our kids, and how terrible so and so is because of something they've done. We’re so proud for showing up in church and being Christians! And then, should we ever be called to repentance, if our sins are ever pointed out, it’s gonna get ugly! “Don't tell me! Don't accuse me! Don't lump me in with the sinners!” Repent! Repent and recognize Satan’s religion for what it is. Turn from these sins of thinking yourself a holy person and making of yourself an idol. Turn away from thinking that your good works make you more impressive before God!

So how do you put to death the Pharisee within you? How can you be rescued from the religion of the devil? Jesus does that too. Three times He speaks about the Word of God. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” “If anyone keeps my Word, He will never see death.” “I keep the Father's Word.” There it is. The rescue from the devil's religion is the Word of God. What word is that? The Word that delivers the forgiveness of sins. Jesus rescues you from your hatred of the Word by His perfect obedience to the Word. Remember, Lent started with the devil trying to twist God's Word; but Jesus threw the true Word back in His face. The Word that saves, the Word that rescues, is the Word that Jesus preached to the Pharisees. It's the Word that declares He is the Son of God who has come to give His life in the place of sinners. It's the Word we call the Gospel, the Good News. If anyone asks what the Gospel is, it is this: Jesus died and rose for you; and seeing His Son’s sacrifice, God doesn't count your sins against you. Those who have the Devil as their father keep his word. His word tells you to trust in yourself, that you're better than others, that God loves you because you're worth loving. The saving Word, the Word of Jesus, is that His blood cleanses you from all your sins, that His death counts for you, that He alone is your salvation. This is the Word which saves you.

But the Word that saves us is not just an idea. Not just a concept or a notion. It's real, powerful, active. It's the same Word that can take ordinary water and make it into a washing of new life in Baptism. It’s the same Word that forgives sins so that when even a pastor speaks it, that Word counts in heaven itself! It's the Word that we hear from the Scriptures and preached in sermons and taught in Bible Study and Sunday School and read in devotions—the Word that is always putting Jesus in your ears, His death for your sins, His resurrection for your life. It is the Word that adds the body and blood of Jesus to ordinary bread and wine so that you may eat the flesh that was given for the life of the world. The only hope we have against the religion of the devil and his preaching is the true and pure Word of God which is delivered to you by the Holy Spirit who turns your hearts away from your sins to believe His Word. That Word saves you! It promises your forgiveness. It delivers forgiveness. It marks you as God's child. It absolves and feeds you and keeps you in Christ. Ignore this Word, despise this Word, and your souls will quickly latch on to the devil's religion. Your sinful nature is born that way and always wants to go back! But you have been rescued from that religion of Satan. You have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus so that by His Word you will have eternal life.

Throughout Lent we've seen this one thing: Jesus drives out the devil wherever He goes on the way to the cross. The devil has filled the hearts of evil men who will be his tools to try and destroy Jesus. What a surprise, then, that Jesus uses the hands of evil men to destroy Satan’s power! What the devil thinks is his victory turns out to be his defeat! What the world thinks of as some nobody on a cross, God the Father reveals as the Savior of all people. Satan’s power is great, but it is no match for Jesus. By His suffering and death Jesus has cast down the Devil. By His Word He rescues you from Satan’s power. You belong to the Lord. Nothing is more sure than that, for the Word of God says so. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, April 08, 2011

Sermon for 4/8/11--Funeral of Robert Volkman

“Beside the Still Waters”

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

When is it that we are most often drawn to prayer? Isn’t it when there is danger and death? How many experiences are there in life that cause insecurity for us and the need to reach out to hold on to something that will defend and strengthen us? This well-loved Psalm offers the strength and defense we need at a time like this, a time when death has driven its pain and sorrow into our hearts. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

Where is the valley of the shadow of death? It is in this life. The shadow of death was over us the moment we entered this life. The moment we began to live we also had to struggle against sin and its power to destroy us. There is no comfort like that which assures us of our victory over sin and death. And this is a comfort we need each and every day of our life and in that hour that is appointed for our departure from this life.

David, the author of this Psalm, was a shepherd before he became King of Israel. As David looked at his flock and thought of his work as a shepherd and of how God had taken care of him, he described all of that in the words of this Psalm. All that he was to his sheep, helpless as they were, all the watching and caring and protecting he gave them, God had given the same to him in an even greater measure. David’s heart was made glad and strong as he thought of the many ways God had sustained him through his life. And these are the experiences of God’s people at all times. He never fails, in life or in death, to provide all that we really need.

It is true that the Lord has not promised to spare us from evil, or that it will not come to us. There are many difficult things that we must endure in life; sickness and pain, trials and temptations and persecutions. Christians are called on to endure every type of conflict and suffering. But we trust our Shepherd and do not fear the evil that may come. We know that there will be times when we suffer, but our Shepherd will never let us be harmed by them. His guidance will never lead to failure. Our Shepherd knows the way, for He Himself has lived in this world and has overcome its every affliction and temptation.

But it is important that we be reminded that we are mortal beings, that the wages of sin is death,  that we are sinners, and death will come to us all. And because of our sinful nature we fear death, its darkness and its uncertainty. But even here, God comes to us with comfort and protection in the Shepherd He has provided for us. That Good Shepherd knows not only the shadow of death, but death itself. In our place He met death at the cross. There His life was given, His blood was shed for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. Death, hell, and the grave could not hold Him, as He broke their chains on Easter morning.

And now, as we know our sins and repent of them, God proclaims that our sins are forgiven for the sake of this Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. Death becomes only a shadow for us. With St. Paul we can say, “O death, where is thy sting? But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The enemy stung the Shepherd to death, but death left his sting in the cross where Jesus died. Since Jesus rose from the dead, there remains only the shadow of death for the faithful of the Lord. Through Holy Baptism, the still waters the Lord leads us to, we die with Christ to sin and death, and then we rise with Christ, our souls restored. This is our comfort when we consider Robert, for it is in those still waters that Bob’s soul was restored and He was made a child of the Father’s flock. The shadow of death has become harmless; it can no longer destroy. To the sheep of the Lord’s flock death is but a passage, a transition, a valley that is passed through without stopping until we are at home with the Lord, forever to be with Him.

It is under the grace of our Good Shepherd that we have gathered here this day. He knows how hard it is for us to part with loved ones. But we are not here in faithless sorrow. The world may make much of its sorrows and losses that lead to hopelessness and despair. The unbelieving world has no Shepherd and cannot know what the flock of God knows. But we have a faithful Shepherd. We may be laid low at times in our trials and struggles, but we never lose sight of the joy of life and salvation which we receive in Holy Baptism. We have gathered to receive comfort and consolation, to be strengthened to go on. The burdens and struggles and sorrow will not go away, but comfort and joy will come in abundance because our Good Shepherd is faithful. With still waters He restores the souls of His sheep. With His rod and staff He will protect His own. He will give grace and strength to carry on in the ways of righteousness and peace, until that day when He leads each of us through the valley of the shadow of death to our home, prepared for us in heaven. We can pray confidently David’s own words, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Sermon for 4/6/11--LENT IV MIDWEEK: “Witnesses on the Road to Golgotha”

This year at St. Peter our Lenten midweek services will look at Jesus’ journey to the cross from the eyes of those who witnessed and participated in those events. Their testimony concerning Jesus, His identity, and His work—testimony sometimes given against the will of those who testified—speaks a profound word concerning the salvation Christ died to win for us.

The Thief: “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

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

During the reading of the Passion history you have heard a lot about the King and His Kingdom. When the religious leaders of Israel brought Jesus to the governor Pilate to request a death sentence, they raised the one charge they knew Pilate had to consider: the charge that Jesus claimed He was a king. Pilate wanted to know what kind of king Jesus claimed to be so that he could gauge whether or not Jesus would be a threat to Pilate’s political position or even pose a threat to Caesar’s reign. Strangely, the only person not concerned with King Jesus was King Herod, the son of the man who tried to have the child Jesus killed to prevent a rival king from taking his throne. Even the mob was worrying about the so-called King of the Jews, doing everything they could to distance themselves from this King Jesus and instead declare their devout and unending allegiance to Caesar. They all talked about the King, but they took neither Him nor His Kingdom seriously.

In the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” And Martin Luther tells us, “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead holy lives here in time and there in eternity.” It seems that we don’t take the kingdom very seriously, either. If it means you must lead a holy life, do you truly want the kingdom of God to come among you? If it means that you must submit to the will of God rather than your own will, do you really want Jesus as your King? If it means that you must trust God for all that you need to support this body and life—and trust Him for eternal life and salvation on top of that—do you truly welcome the reign of Christ? It’s hard to take the Kingdom seriously when you’re suffering or ill or depressed or mourning. It’s hard to take the King seriously when He’s stripped of His clothes, abandoned by His disciples, hanging on the cross.

It was not until Jesus was hanging on the cross that someone took seriously the reign and realm of Jesus. It was not Caiaphas or the priests or the Sanhedrin, for to them the idea of Jesus as King was just a charge they could bring to Pilate so they could have Jesus killed. It was not Pilate or Herod or their soldiers, for their acknowledgment of Jesus as King of the Jews was a way to mock Jesus and belittle those who brought such a silly charge against Him. It was not the mob, for the mob refused to acknowledge Jesus as their king at all. Instead, it was a criminal, usually called a thief. And not even this criminal started out taking the reign of the King Jesus seriously. Like the other criminal, this one started off with mockery for Jesus. But something changed. For some reason, as the one criminal resumed his verbal abuse of Jesus, the other stepped in. “Don’t you fear God?” he said. “We’re being punished the same as this Man, and we deserve this punishment for our crimes. But this man is innocent.” We can imagine all sorts of motives for this change of heart, but only one can explain his reaction. You see, this criminal heard the words of Jesus that begged absolution for everyone responsible for crucifying Him. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

Never had the thief heard such gracious words spoken. Nobody else had, either. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Were those words spoken for him, too? This man was hanging on a cross—the deserved end of a life of crime. He knew he deserved this punishment. He knew he deserved the mocking of the crowds. But after hearing Jesus, an innocent man hanging on a cross that He didn’t deserve, ask the Father in heaven to forgive the people who put Him there unjustly, he knew this Man hanging next to him couldn’t be just a Man. Thanks to Pilate’s inscription hanging over the head of the Christ, the criminal knew the Lord by name: “Jesus.” The name means “Savior”; and this criminal, hearing those words of absolution from the one named “Savior”, put his trust in this Savior, this One who could forgive the same people who wrongly crucified Him. He trusted that Jesus could forgive even him, a criminal and a sinner. After hearing those words of absolution, it was natural for Him to cry out to the Savior, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.

This criminal on the verge of death is the first to embrace Jesus as the King of a heavenly kingdom. It didn’t matter that his life had been lived in opposition to the Word of God. It didn’t matter that his conversion happened the very day he died. Having heard the confession of sin and the confession of faith of this criminal, Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That is the kind of King that Jesus is; that is the kind of Kingdom over which Jesus reigns. Jesus is the King of love and mercy; He rules over a Kingdom of grace. He hears the prayers of the faithful, and He graciously answers them in whatever way is best. He begins with our cries for forgiveness and mercy; and such prayers, such confessions made in faith, are requests that He is pleased to grant. That is why He endured the cross in the first place: to pay the purchase price which would redeem sinners. He paid the wages of sin on your behalf. Through the mouth of His called and ordained servants He tells you that you, too will be with Him in Paradise. What other king could be so great as the King who dies for those He came to reign? The cross is His throne, His death the coronation. The first thief mocked Jesus by saying, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But had Jesus saved Himself, He would not have saved anyone but Himself. In bearing the sins of the world to the cross, bearing them to death, He purchased forgiveness with His blood for all who cling by faith to His sacrifice on the cross. There is no waiting for a future glory. There is no purgatory to pass through. When you close your eyes in death, Paradise belongs to you. Forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation belong to you who cry out to the King.

Saint Paul tells us that the cross of Christ is foolishness to some and a scandal to others. To those who insist on clinging to their own works, relying on the death of Christ is foolishness. To those who despise the Word of God, relying on the death of Jesus is a scandal. But to those who cry out to Jesus for mercy and forgiveness, the cross reveals Jesus as the King—the King who will welcome us into His heavenly Kingdom of Grace with the words, “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 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.

And the hymn that goes with it:

As Strode the Christ to Cross and Grave

1. As strode the Christ to cross and grave,
To bear all men’s transgression,
Men saw His mighty pow’r to save
And of Him made confession.
Hail, Jesus, David's greater Son,
Who, in His love, heals everyone,
Delivering God's mercy.

5. The thief with Christ knew his own guilt,
And of it made confession.
Yet in the Lord his hope was built
Who would forgive transgression.
He prayed, "O Lord, remember me."
No matter how near death we be,
Christ shows His grace and favor.

6. "Truly this man was God's own Son,"
The soldiers said in wonder,
As death's fierce power was undone,
The veil now torn asunder.
May we, with those who saw, believe
The saving work which Christ achieved
For us and our salvation.


Friday, April 01, 2011

Guest Post: The Lutheran Blog Carnival

I do not have a sermon to post this week.  I decided that my people don't actually need to hear a sermon this week, so we're just going to talk about our feelings and maybe sing the Edelweiss Benediction--copyright be damned! Just kidding.  My district president is coming to Campbell Hill to preach this week, which means I didn't have to write a sermon for Sunday.

Since I don't have a sermon to share, I thought I'd pass along a link instead.  Pastor Alex Klages, a brother of mine from the best seminary in North America--I may be a little biased there--decided to renew an old Lutheran blogging practice called the Lutheran Carnival of Blogs.  You pick a topic and invite a bunch of Lutherans to write about it.  The topic this time is "Lent", and Pastor Klages is hosting the Blog Carnival on his blog, A Beggar at the Table. Thank you very much, Pastor Klages, for giving me a weekend blog post.  *wink*  Click here to go to the Carnival.