Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sermon for 9/30/12--Tnity 17

Healing on the Sabbath

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

Why can’t just anyone commune in our churches? Why must they be baptized and learn the Scriptures and the Catechism and be confirmed? Why must they be examined and absolved by the pastor before being given Christ's body and blood? The answer to all this is given in the Gospel: You don't just come in and go straight to the head of the table as if you belong there! Rather it is Christ who invites you to His altar and supper. Jesus uses the example of the Pharisees and experts in the Law who would throw a dinner and then they would all scramble to sit up near the host instead of farther away. The closer you sat to the guy throwing the party, the higher your social status. For the Pharisees, a dinner was a chance to show off how important you were. For the Pharisees, the Sabbath was a chance to show off how religious you were. For many people, going to church and receiving the Sacrament is the same thing: it's a chance to prove to others how pious you are. It's an opportunity to remind God how lucky He is to have you show up for church! But that's not what the Sabbath is all about.

The Sabbath is the day for hearing God's Word and being healed from our sins. For the Pharisees, the Sabbath is a day to act religious and holy. For Jesus, the Sabbath, like any other day, is an opportunity to speak God's Word and heal those who are sick and hurt by their sins. The reason to come to church is not to impress God, but to receive from the Lord the forgiveness we need—without which we will perish eternally. The Sabbath is all about Christ healing people. The Sabbath is all about the Lord taking the broken and the humble and bringing them to the place of honor while taking those who are proud and religious and haughty and knocking them down. For those who are humbled by the preaching of repentance, the Lord brings healing and an exalted spot at the table. Those who in their pride need no repentance, the Lord casts aside. In short, the Sabbath, our Sunday liturgy, is not about us telling God what we're owed. It's about the Lord telling us what He has given us in Christ.

That's the problem with sinners. We like to make going to church a work that we do to show we're religious—just as the Pharisees would never think of the Sabbath as a day for healing. We figure we had better show up because that's what's expected of us. Worse, we think that because our name is on some membership list somewhere or because we call ourselves Christians, that we are entitled to just walk into God's presence and expect Him to acknowledge us. That is not repentance and faith. That is pride and arrogance. But in truth, you have no worthiness. Learn the repentance that brings you to the foot of the table, the worst place, the place you deserve. Leave it to Christ to lift you up and bring you higher.

You see, Christ is the very person of whom He speaks. The Father prepares a wedding feast. Does Christ jump to the head of the line? Does our Lord shove everyone else out of the way and put Himself first? Does Jesus come into this world to dethrone kings and emperors and take their place, lording it over the world? “I'm Jesus! I'm the Son of God. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” No. Jesus comes and takes the lowest place. Born in a barn, raised in the backwater of Galilee, He never has power or money or any of those things the world prizes. But then He goes to the cross. There, on the cross, He is condemned as a common criminal and judged by His Father as the worst and only sinner. There, on the cross of Calvary, Jesus is the lowest, the most despised, the most humble, the worst, the weakest, the least. There, He has the lowest place of all. By taking that place, He takes our sins on Himself and takes them away by His bloody death. Then what? Jesus says, “Take the lowest place and then you will be asked to come up higher.” So Jesus defeats sin, death and the devil. He rises from the dead. He ascends and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Christ has been brought up from the lowest place—suffering for our sins—to the highest place: the right hand of the Father. He has been crowned with all glory and majesty and honor. As Saint Paul writes, “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So He lords it over us now, right? Not at all! He is lifted up so that we are lifted up with Him!

Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles Himself will be exalted.” We who have been humbled in our sin are now with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God! If the Sabbath for you is nothing more than showing off your religion, then repent! If you expect you are owed the Sacrament but don't want to learn Christ's Word and Catechism, then repent! Be humbled. If, on the other hand, you are humbled by your sins and recognize your unworthiness, then rejoice! For Christ has lifted you up. Having been brought from your sins in humble repentance, hear again the Lord's invitation to come up higher. Come now to the feast, be welcomed as Christ's holy guests and be given the gift once more of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. 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.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sermon for 9/23/12--Trinity 16

Power Over Death

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

Jesus walked up to the open coffin, and everyone stopped. He said to the woman, “Do not weep.” Then He told the boy to get up. That is how our Savior deals with death: He treats it as a nothing. There was weeping and wailing and a widowed mother burying her son. And Jesus just strolled up to the coffin and brought the boy to life. It’s as if He has power over death, as if death must yield before him. And it must. Death runs from Christ because He defeated death. He died on a cross with our sins. But on Easter, the third day, death flees from Him. Jesus is alive. Death is powerless before Him.

The one thing that the world cannot control is death. You could probably argue that there are plenty of non-Christians out there living happily without any sort of faith at all. But they will face death. Death can come without any warning. The world fears death. It spares no expense trying to avoid it or overcome it. But it can’t. And every person—the poorest and the richest, the oldest and youngest and even the unborn—eventually will be lowered into that hole or shoved into that vault or poured into an urn. There are no exceptions.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is where the Christian faith matters most. Many religions have morality. Even people without religion have some sort of right and wrong. There are many who seem to get along just fine in this life without any reference to God or faith. But the great equalizer is death. And for death, for which the world can’t find an answer, we Christians know the truth: Death is defeated. It’s not natural. It’s not a natural part of life. Death is an enemy, but it’s an enemy that has been defeated. When it all comes down to it, nothing in this world can answer the question of what happens when we are put into the ground other than the Christian faith: namely, that on the Last Day we will be raised up again and live forever.

Death may seem a long way off, but we know it can come at any time. In order to teach us not to fear death or think that it’s the end or buy into the world’s silly idea that it’s just a part of life, Jesus rescues us from it. The young man of Nain is an example of this. Jesus touched the coffin, spoke His Word of life, and handed him to his mother. He does the same thing for you. You were born into this world dead. But at the font, Jesus spoke His Word and raised you from the dead. And then He handed you over to your holy mother, the Church, who cares for you in life and when you die. Your whole life in Christ is a denial of death. Now, we don’t pretend we’re never going to pass away. But we do deny the power of death. We deny that death is the end of our lives, that it will keep us down. Against all these things Jesus’ victory over death and your Baptism into that victory mean you have the victory over death as well.

When Jesus raised this widow’s son, the people were amazed. They said, “God has visited His people.” That’s what happens when God shows up. He takes your sin and your death into Himself and gives you life. He raises the dead and gives them to their mother. He gives you victory over death by your Baptism and His Body and Blood, and He puts you into the care of your mother, the church. And on the last day, He will speak to you in that hole in the ground or that urn on the shelf and say, “I say to you, arise!” And you will rise. You will live forever in the new heaven and earth that your Father has prepared for you. “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The Lord has conquered death, and it no longer has any power over 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.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

HYMN: The Blood of Martyred Children Cries

Here is my latest work. It's meant for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, celebrated on December 28, the day the Church commemorates the martyrdom of those children murdered by King Herod when he sought to kill the Christ child. The text is Matthew 2:1-18. As always, any feedback would be appreciated. (NOTE on 12/28/12--Edited to add verse 7 about abortion.)

The Blood of Martyred Children Cries

1. The blood of martyred children cries.
Innocent, Rachel's children die,
Victims of Herod's heedless rage.
War on the helpless he did wage.

2. The wise men from the East drew near.
"We seek the King of Israel here.
Lo, we have seen His glorious star
And come to worship from afar."

3. Then Herod, with a troubled mind,
Asked his advisers Christ to find.
"Seek Him in Bethlehem," they said,
"Who would be King in Herod's stead."

4. He sent the wise men to the Child
To lead him to this King reviled.
But they returned a diff'rent way.
His dreadful plan was held at bay.

5. He schemed to murder Jesus still,
His earthly kingdom to fulfill.
Blameless young boys he put to death,
Robbing them of their life's last breath.

6. We thank You for the Innocents,
Martyrs for Christ without offense.
Grant that we share their holy rest,
Clothed in Christ's perfect righteousness. 

7. Protect Your own dear children, Lord,
From those who wield abortion's sword.
Teach us to love what You create
And keep all life inviolate.

8. We praise you, Father, holy Son,
And Holy Ghost, forever one.
To You all laud and honor be
Now and for all eternity.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
LM  (88 88)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sermon for 9/9/12--Trinity 14

Where Jesus Is
Luke 17:11-19

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

What lesson does Jesus want to teach us when He says, "Where are the other nine? Did only a foreign Samaritan come back to give glory to God?" Is Jesus upset because they didn't come back and say "thank you?" Was He disappointed in their parents for not teaching them better manners? Is our Lord insecure? None of the above. Rather, Jesus wants to teach us, as the one Samaritan leper learned, that to glorify God means coming back to where Jesus is for more good gifts and blessings.

Let that sink in for a moment. To glorify God, to give God glory means to be where Jesus is, receiving His gifts. That means you are glorifying God right now because you are here where Jesus is giving out His gifts. Jesus isn't glorified when we tell Him how great He is. He's glorified when He gives out His forgiveness and life and salvation and we receive His gifts by faith, trusting that He always has more for us. To glorify God is to daily live in the promises of your baptism. To glorify God is to say "amen" to the forgiveness of the absolution. To glorify God is to hear the reading and preaching of His Word which calls you to repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. To glorify Christ is to kneel at His altar, receiving His body and blood as the gift that heals us from our sins just as He healed the ten of their leprosy. To give God the glory isn't just to say that He's great, but that He's great because He saves sinners.

When we think of God's glory we usually picture the Lord seated on the throne in heavenly splendor. The disciples saw that when Jesus was transfigured. That reminded them that Jesus is indeed the God who made all things and rules over all things. But His biggest display of glory was the one nobody realized at first: the cross. The truth is, the big deal about God isn't that He can be shiny and mighty or heal people. The big deal about God is that He became man to suffer and die for your sins and wash them all away by His blood, and then on the third day rise triumphant from the grave. In other words, the truest glory of God is not that He looks like we imagine God should look. It's that He takes what belongs to us—our sins—and saves us by His death and resurrection. The big deal about God is that He is not afraid to get near lepers and sinners and heal them.

Now don't misunderstand me. We should give thanks to God. We should always in our hearts and with our mouths give thanks to the Lord and acknowledge that He is the One from whom we have every good gift. “In everything give thanks.” But we need to learn that Jesus with these ten lepers isn't teaching us that He's a God who has to fish for compliments as if we exist merely to make Him look good. Rather, the Lord does what He does to make us look good, to have us stand before the Father clothed in His own righteousness. Christ became man and went to the cross because we need Him to take away our sins. We need Him to heal us and forgive us and take care of us, and that's exactly what He does.

The problem with the other nine lepers isn't that they weren't happy or grateful. They just didn't seem to need Jesus beyond getting their leprosy cured. It's the same for us. When we seem to get what we need from the Lord, it's easy for our prayers to fall off or for us to pay less attention to the Word of God. Until we need Him again. Repent! Repent of thinking you only need the Lord when something's wrong. In Christ you have a God who is there for you all the time. He always has more gifts, more forgiveness, more of his Word, more comfort, more peace. With Jesus there's always more. And like that Samaritan leper, we return here to receive what He has for us.

What does Jesus want us to learn from His words? Learn that He alone is the one who can save us, heal us, and forgive us—and not just when we're in trouble but always. There is never a time when we don't need to be healed from the leprosy of our sin. There is never a time when we don't need the Lord's grace and mercy. And so we come to Jesus in His church—not to show off that we have good manners or to tell Him how great He is. We come to receive what He has for us. And what He has is water, word, body and blood: forgiveness, life and salvation. We praise Him for that and glorify Him as we receive His gifts with joy. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               

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

Sermon: The Funeral of Tille Gerberding

A Future of Peace
Psalm 37:37

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Our text is Tillie’s Confirmation verse, Psalm 37:37.  We consider this verse:

Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace.

Thus far our text.

Our Gospel for this past Sunday was the parable of the Good Samaritan. You may recall the tale: how a man is beaten by bandits and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, seeing the man, pass by on the other side of the road, lest they become ritually unclean. Finally a Samaritan, an enemy of the Jews, passes. He sees the man on the road, takes him to town on his own donkey, tends the man himself, and provides for the man’s further care. The Samaritan was the true neighbor to the beaten man, even though he was supposedly an enemy to him. The priest and the Levite, men who knew the Law of God and should have been willing to help the man, passed by him, making themselves dead in sin in their desire to avoid a moment of ritual uncleanness.

The example of the Good Samaritan illustrates what David meant when he wrote, “Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace.” Certainly the Samaritan was upright; he demonstrated love toward his neighbor by helping him when no one else would dare to help—not even those considered most upright in the eyes of the world. And it makes even more sense when we realize that, when Jesus is talking about the Good Samaritan, He is really talking about Himself. No one can perfectly love his neighbor except for Jesus. And so, when we sinners try to love our neighbors, it is only by the power of Christ within us through the waters of Holy Baptism that we succeed.

The psalmist tells us that the future of such a person is peace. I know that I’m preaching to the choir when I say that Tillie Gerberding demonstrated the love of Christ throughout her life. So if the future of the blameless and upright is supposed to be one of peace, then why did she suffer so long? Why was so little of her later life spent in the nursing home in pain? Why didn’t she get to experience the peaceful future that David says is the reward for such a life?

The unfortunate truth is that, as loving and as generous and as compassionate a woman as Tillie was, Tillie was also a sinner. Sinners suffer and die—not because God wants us to suffer or die, but because through our sin we have brought death upon ourselves. Sin demands payment, and that payment is death.  This is what our hearts fear when we see death at work among us, and it is good that we do. We know then that whether we live or die is a question that is taken out of our hands.  We cannot stop our death; we cannot save ourselves.  And that moves us to recognize that, unless God has an answer to our sin and death, there can be no hope for us.

It is our supreme joy that God does, indeed, have the answer to sin and death. Someone else has paid the price for our peace, and that was our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  The price was His own life. The purchase price of our peace was the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our only Savior. Our sin has been met with His redemption. Our death has been met and overcome in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He died, and He has risen from the dead! Our sin could not hold Him forever. Death could not bind Him in the grave. He came out of His grave alive, with the promise that those who live and believe in Him will never really die, but will live in the hope of the resurrection, when all our bodies will come out of their graves, and the bodies and souls of His faithful ones will live eternally in peace with Him.

How, then, does His life become our life? How does his righteousness make for our peace? When all else fails, our Baptism remains. On those days when Tillie could not recognize what was going on around her, she remained a baptized child of God. When our ears can no longer hear God’s Word, when our eyes can no longer see the altar of His presence, when our bodies fail us, when our minds can no longer comprehend, Baptism remains. In Holy Baptism our Lord called us by name and made us His own. We die with Him in those waters. Our sin drowns. And just as Jesus has risen, He raises us with Him into new lives, blameless lives in Christ, lives that, even when our bodies die, will go on forever. That is our future peace. That does not give us a license to sin or to live in sin, but we have the comfort that, when we repent of our sin, it is forgiven, no longer held against us.

As we await that day when His peace becomes fully ours—as it has now for Tillie—let us take our comfort in the fact that, in Holy Baptism, He has called our names and linked them forever with His own. Because we are His, there will be no trouble—not the battle of living, not the struggle of dying, not the fight with grief—that will ever overcome us and take us away from Him. Tillie was a baptized child of God, and He has now given her in full that peace which the world cannot give, the peace which is her legacy as a child of God. As baptized children of God, that peace is your legacy, too, your inheritance from your heavenly Father. 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.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sermon for 9/2/12--Trinity 13

“Do This and You Will Live”

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

‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” That is the summary of the Law of God. Love God; love your neighbor. “Do this and you will live.” There are lots of preachers out there who will tell you that if you have faith and if you try hard and if you learn the life-enrichinging principles they teach, that you'll be able to keep God's Law. We like to think it's just a matter of making good decisions so we'll be able to love God and love our neighbor.

But to see what the Law apart from Christ looks like, just look at the priest and the Levite. Seeing a guy half-dead in a ditch, they pass by on the other side of the road. When we take the Law—love God, love your neighbor—and we give it a go apart from Christ, this is where we end up. Like the young expert in the Law, we try to justify ourselves. We show God how good we are by doing the commandments. But when someone falls into a ditch by their sins, we don't pull them out. We pass by on the other side. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, dear Christians: do you think that you can despise each other and still claim to love God? Do you think that you can hold a grudge and be angry at someone and still say you love God? You can't love God. You can't love your neighbor. You can't get yourself out from under the judgment of the Law. When you think you are demonstrating love as you are commanded, Satan beats you up, robs you, and throws you in a ditch. The Law won't do you any good there.

But then, along comes the Samaritan. The Samaritan, despised by the Jews, sees the poor man in the ditch and saves him. Who is that Samaritan? Who could possibly live the Law like that? That's Jesus keeping the Law. He comes to rescue sinners who have been tossed aside by the Devil, robbed of righteousness and left for dead. Jesus comes to keep the Law to save us. He comes to love God and to love His neighbor.

How can that be? Look at what the Creed teaches us about Him. Jesus is true God, begotten of the Father, and He also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. That makes Him both God and neighbor. When the Father commands the Son to save sinners, Jesus does it. He goes to the cross for you. He hangs there for you. He dies there for you. Jesus is crucified, bearing the wages of sin, perfectly loving God in His obedience and perfectly loving His neighbor in His sacrifice. The Law is fulfilled. There, on that bloody cross, God and neighbor are loved perfectly by the Savior who is God and Man. He perfectly keeps the Law. He saves the man in the ditch. It is Jesus who loves God and loves His neighbor.

That perfect obedience, that salvation, that perfect love is given to you. It is given when Jesus, the Good Samaritan, pours His healing medicine on you in the waters of Holy Baptism. He carries you to the Inn, His holy church, where puts you under the care of His innkeeper, the pastor who Jesus sets apart to care for you until He comes again, leaving your pastor the Word and the Sacraments to provide for your health.

Have you loved God and your neighbor as you are commanded? Of course not. The Law shows us so. But Jesus kept the Law perfectly. He loves God the Father and He loves His neighbor. He has put His perfect obedience on you in Baptism and has fed you that obedience in His body and blood in His Holy Supper. Do you love God and your neighbor? In Christ, the answer is yes. Christ within you has kept that Law. This is what St. Paul means when He says that the Law kept us under sin until the time of the Promise. By itself, the Law condemns us. But in Christ, the Law is kept. Your sins are forgiven. That's the rescue the Good Samaritan has given you. To tell you, “Do this and you will live,” is now nothing more than to tell you that Christ lives in You for the benefit of your neighbor and the glory of God. 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.