Sunday, December 29, 2013

Video Killed the Radio Star

I made my final appearance regarding my "Thy Strong Word" series on KFUO's BookTalk on Friday, December 20. Pastor Zwonitzer discussed two books on Friday, the first being An Advent for Religious Liberty, a Pastor Stephen Grant Novel by Ray Keating. He then went on to interview me about One Thing's Needful. Right-click the link below to save the audio of the interviews for both novels. 

To hear the interviews for Love Divine and A Great and Mighty Wonder, right-click the links below.


My apologies for not posting this sooner. Thank you for listening! Thank you for reading my books! Thank you for supporting an independent author!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sermon for 12/25/13--The Nativity of Our Lord



God in Flesh

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

People everywhere have certain ideas about what God is or what He is like. But to look anywhere other than in Jesus is to have no real or true God at all. Blessed Martin Luther once said something like this: “I know of no other God than the One in the manger, on the cross and on the altar.” St. John tells us why: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God became man. The Son was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin's Womb. Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us” literally, because He is God and man in One Person. In fact, the most important thing you can say about God is that God took on flesh to save you from sin and death.

The Son comes into this world in the flesh not simply appearing and walking into town one day but by being conceived in the womb of the Virgin and born as a baby. This is so that we who are born in sin may be born anew from above. You see, ever since Adam, we have inherited the curse of sin. It is passed from one generation to another. We are conceived and born in sin. We don't like to hear it, but even when we are babies we are sinners. This curse of sin is passed from father to children. We are born with it, born under the condemnation of God. So Jesus is born in the flesh. He does not have an earthly father; therefore He has no sin. His holy and perfect and spotless flesh comes to us because ours is ruined and tainted. By His holy flesh, He gives us new birth.

The Son of God comes into this world in the flesh so that His flesh can suffer and die. Our sin has brought the curse of death. Sinners die. That's our fate. So God comes to take care of death by dying Himself. He takes our sins upon His spotless flesh and dies for them on the cross of Calvary. It is hard to think that the little baby in the manger is headed someday for the cross and death, but that is why He came. In our flesh is sin and death. Jesus' spotless flesh takes our sins so that He may die our death. And that holy flesh that is pierced and that holy blood that is poured out—these are the price of our redemption. The price paid by Jesus for our sins: “not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” That's how He redeems and saves us: Christ comes in the flesh so that His flesh and blood may pay for our sins.

Christ also comes in the flesh so that He may give His flesh to us as food. Later in St. John's same Gospel Jesus says, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood and I will raise you up on the Last Day.” Jesus gives us His flesh to eat so that our flesh will be raised from the dead. Jesus has died and risen from the dead. So will you who have eaten and drunk His flesh and blood. Death couldn't keep Jesus down. It can't keep you down either if you have His flesh and blood in you. If sin and death want you, they have to go through Jesus! He's already beaten them. When we eat regular food, it gives some life to our bodies, at least for a little while, and then we must eat again. But the flesh and blood of the Son of God give us a life that does not end.

Christmas teaches us to look for no other God than the one who is in the manger, on the cross and on the altar. Beware of a god that isn't there in the flesh. Beware of a god who's too big and powerful to be a Baby, or too big and mighty to suffer and die or to distant and far away to be in the Sacrament. Beware of a god that's found in your feelings or in the ups and downs of life or the world around us. Beware of any god who doesn't have flesh. Beware of any Jesus who isn't truly God. And let us be reminded by this Christmas flesh of Jesus to repent of looking for God anywhere other than where He is in His flesh. God is not in our ideas and our notions about Him. He's in the flesh: in the manger as a baby, on the cross as a man, on the altar with the food of His flesh and blood. No other God saves you than the One who has taken on flesh for you! You have flesh. So now does your 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.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sweet Sixteen

My eldest child, Alexis, turned sixteen today. It's so odd to think of her that way, since I sometimes still think of her as the little six year-old girl I met in person the day before I asked her mother to marry me. She's grown quite a bit since then. It began with me being so scared of her that I was treating her with kid gloves--except, of course, for the time she got a scrape on her knee and I brought out a hacksaw and asked her if I could cut it off for her and make her feel better. (I swear it was funny at the time, and I wouldn't have actually done it, of course. Really.) I can't put into words...

Well, maybe I can. I gave her a gift today. It was supposed to be a song--I have a melody line and everything, but I don't have the instrumental skill to add music to it--but it works as a poem. It's only words, but it's a start. And I like to think she already knew all this, but it's good to say these things anyway. So...yeah, here it is.

The Chance to Call You Mine

 When I met your mom, I knew she had a daughter
And it scared me 'cause I didn't know what kind of dad I'd be.
But I loved her, and I knew you came together
As a package deal—a two-for-one—where one plus one makes three.
Before I asked her hand in marriage, first I asked for your permission.
Did you know how much depended on your single word that day?
But your tears of joy were for us all as we became a family—
A mom and dad and daughter. It was meant to be that way.

And I don't know how a father couldn't want you,
But I'm glad I've had the chance to call you mine.
And through the years, as you've become a woman,
I see the love between us as a sign

That God can make a family
From broken hearts and dreams.
His will is always stronger
Than our human plots and schemes.
It might not be how we would plan,
Yet still it's God's design.
So although you're not my child by blood
I'm proud to call you mine.

It may not be the way I planned,
Yet still it's His design.
So I thank God for the chance He gave—
The chance to call you mine.

© 2013, Alan Kornacki, Jr.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sermon for 12/24/13--The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord



The Gift

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

Though we haven’t gotten to this point in the Kornacki house, maybe you've gotten your presents wrapped by now. Maybe you’ve used those little to/from tags so everyone knows the giver and the recipient. Sometimes those tags fall off, and there’s a mad scramble to determine who gets what. The Lord's gifts, however, are never uncertain. When Jesus is born, we know for whom He has come. He is, as the angels announced, for “all people.” His name tells us that. His name in Hebrew is Yahushua, Joshua, and that means “Yahweh, the Lord, will save His people from their sins.” The name “Jesus,” is the Greek form of that. His name tells us two things. First, it tells us who this baby is—namely, God Himself. Second, it tells us He does—that is, He saves us from our sins. It’s a name given not because it's this year's top pop singer or because it sounds cool, but because it means something; it identifies this Baby as the Savior of the world.

When the angel told Joseph that the child’s name would be Jesus, neither Joseph or Mary really understood what was to come. They could not grasp what having this name would mean for this Boy. How could they understand or accept that He would grow up and be hated more and more and finally be crucified like a common criminal? How could they accept that He would die bloody and alone but for a few people looking on? How could they believe that, to everyone's astonishment, His tomb would be empty three days later?

All that Mary and Joseph knew was that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit and Joseph was to help to take care of him. This child came to have a birth like ours so that we might have a new birth from above. He came to be born of a woman that we might be reborn of the holy Church. He came to be under the care of an adopted father so that we would be adopted as sons of our heavenly Father. Everything Jesus did, even down to the details of His conception and birth, was wrapped up and described in that name He was given. In Hebrew, Joshua. In Greek, Jesus. “Yahweh, the Lord, saves.” That is exactly what He does. This is exactly the gift He gives: He saves you from your 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 keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Charles Dickens was not a Lutheran.

It's a classic novel. The one-time English major in me loves the novel for its literary value. The story has been adapted into stage plays and movies. It is a beloved tale of Christmas redemption. In fact, it may be, outside of Luke 2 and maybe A Charlie Brown Christmas, the most popular Christmas tale of all time. Yet A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is not a Lutheran story.

Ebenezer Scrooge begins the story as an exemplary picture of the Old Adam. Dickens describes him in this way: "Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!" That is the permanent state of the unbaptized, and Dickens captures it perfectly.

You know the story. Marley, Scrooge's deceased business partner, doomed to wander the earth as a ghost in chains for his own avarice and disdain for mankind, appears to Scrooge to warn him of his similar impending doom, should Scrooge not change his ways. He then offers Scrooge the opportunity for redemption through the visits of three spirits--the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future--who will guide him along the path of personal redemption. 

By the end of the story, Scrooge has become a new man. "'I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!' Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. 'The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!'" It is a beautiful tale of redemption.

It is beautiful, except for one thing: redemption does not happen that way. The three spirits preach the Law to Scrooge. The Law does not save people. Hearing that he is a sinner, a man can either acknowledge that he is a sinner or he can deny it. He cannot fix it. Man can try to redeem himself. He can try, but he fails. He cannot perfectly live as the Law demands. He can be told to say, "Please," and, "Thank you;" he can be told to behave well toward others. It does not come naturally to him.

But that's what Christmas is all about: redeeming the sinner. It is not the Law which redeems a man. It is Jesus who redeems man. This is Jesus, Immanuel, God in flesh made manifest, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Lamb who would sacrificed as the blood-price to redeem sinners. None of the spirits tells Scrooge, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." As Linus might say, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charles Dickens."

I don't mean to be a wet blanket or dampen your Christmas joy. Enjoy the story of "A Christmas Carol." I do. But like Scrooge did after he ordered the turkey for the Cratchit family, go to church and hear the real Christmas story, the real story of redemption. Hear the word of Holy Absolution. Receive absolution on your tongue in the body and blood of Jesus. It is the first and best Christmas gift: full pardon, full redemption, given to you freely, given from and in the person of Jesus Christ. 

A blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours from me and mine! "God bless us, every one!"

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sermon for 12/22/13--Fourth Sunday in Advent


The Same Old Message

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

You can't sidetrack John the Baptist. His job is to people to Jesus, and that’s all he does. He sounds almost other-worldly: camel-hair and locusts and living in the wilderness. But when they realize he's not some rock star mystic out there by the Jordan, the people lose interest. The Old Adam loves to play the personality game: we like this pastor; we think this pastor has the goods. This preacher makes us feel good. But all this guy talks about is Jesus. Boring! A preacher whose message is a constant flow of Jesus and His gifts will eventually lose the interest of his hearers. The most popular preachers in our age are those who preach messages about prosperity and hope, messages where Jesus is a mere footnote. If Jesus is all there is week in and week out, the Old Adam will move on to something he finds more interesting.
That's how the world works. We want the next model, the newest version. And we view religion the same way. What’s new? What’s exciting? What’s different? But John preaches that the Jesus he is talking about, the one who comes after John, is the same one who has been before John. This is Jesus the Savior. He was before John and He comes after John. He was before you and He will come after you. You can't go anywhere where there is no Jesus. You won’t find some new and improved version of Jesus that wasn't there before. The Jesus who shows up is the Lamb of God, the One who never changes even though we desire something new and flashy. And it is this Jesus who saves us: the Lamb who was sacrificed for you. The good news of the coming Savior is that He comes to do what He does whether you think it's interesting or flashy or anything else. He is the One who hung on the cross, the One who rose, the One who suffers and dies for the sin of the world. If that’s not exciting enough for you, you’re out of luck, because that’s the only message John, the disciples, and your pastor are called to preach.

While the Old Adam hates this broken record Jesus stuff, the New Man clings to nothing else. Jesus every week? Anytime pastor opens his mouth, it's about Jesus? Thanks be to God! What or who else is there to forgive our sins and give us everlasting life? And what about all this talk about Baptism and The Lord's Supper? Well, that's all about Jesus too. The New Man cries out, “Never mind anything else, just give me Jesus! Mark me with the sign of the cross to remind me I'm baptized into Him. Give me His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of my sins. Absolve me and preach to me the Good News that there IS someone who is before and after me, whose sandals we aren't even worthy to untie but who humbles Himself to suffer and die and rise for me! Give me that Jesus always,” says the new man in Christ! And that’s exactly what you receive. Jesus is all yours. That's why He came: to save you, to give you everlasting life. That's why you hear about nothing else but Him from this pulpit.

John had one job: to point to Jesus. That is the same job your pastor has. The Lord doesn't leave you to yourselves to find Him or seek Him out. He comes to you. He never wants you to be confused or in doubt about what it's all about, so He sends the prophets and then John, the apostles, and then pastors to deliver to you the Word which saves you because it delivers nothing other than Jesus. The way is ready. You have been forgiven. The paths are straight. Jesus is coming. He will be in manger for you, on a cross for you, coming out of an empty tomb for you, and for you at the font and the altar. He is the Christ, and He is coming—indeed, He is here to save 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, December 19, 2013

Sermon for 12/15/13--Third Sunday in Advent



Light in the Darkness

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

Life is not all cherries and rainbows and pixie dust. When hard times befall our neighbors, we know all the platitudes. Well-meaning Christians are full of spiritual one-liners. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” “Just have faith and everything will work out.” “Believe in the power of prayer!” Maybe you’ve said some of those to someone, not knowing what else to say. But what about when things go for us like they went for John the Baptist? John was sent to preach the coming of the Lord. He said, “His axe is laid at the root of the tree and he’s going to chop down everyone who has no fruit and toss them into the fire!” But then an evil king throws John in his dungeon, and it’s not long before John’s head is on a silver platter. So is it any wonder that John wonders whether Jesus is the real deal? “Are you the coming one or do we look for another?” John is stuck in prison, and Jesus isn’t freeing him. So, should he be expecting someone else? John knows Jesus is the Savior, but as he sits there in prison, he awaits with all of the Old Testament Church the day when Jesus will bring the promised consolation of Israel.

In answer, Jesus points John to His works: healing, raising the dead, preaching the Gospel. Those are the things the Scriptures promised the Savior would do. Jesus never promises John that he won’t die at the hands of an earthly king who makes stupid promises on his birthday. But He does promise John that He’s his Savior. But there will be greater stuff to come John won’t see but which is still for John: a Savior betrayed, tried, nailed to the cross and left to die. John won’t get to see all that. But you know about it. It’s the Good News that the One who heals and raises the dead and preaches Good News does so because He is the One who conquers sin and death. That is the answer Jesus gives to John. Jesus is the Savior. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He’s the Savior who chops down our self-righteousness and rescues us from sin, death, devil and hell. And that’s true whether John should be freed from the dungeon or be carried headless to his grave.

But what about you? What about when you doubt? What about when you hear that Jesus has risen from the dead, but still you see the people you love die? What about when you hear about Jesus healing people but you get sick? What about when you hear Jesus is the Savior but it feels like the axe is laid firmly on your neck? What about when you know that Jesus is the Savior and yet you wonder if He’s going to save you? What then? Is it time for happy-clappy Christian clichés? No. That, more than at any other time, is when you look to the comfort of the Word of God. Look at what Christ does. He still performs the great works today. He washes you in the waters of Holy Baptism, where you receive His righteousness which covers your sins. He speaks the word of Absolution, where everything you have ever done is forgiven. He speaks His Word to you so you too know that Jesus is the One that was promised. He feeds you with His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, to sustain you in your own earthly trials. When you say, “Jesus, my heart is heavy!” He answers, “You are baptized. I forgive you all your sins. I have conquered sin and suffering and death.” That’s the answer…especially for those times when you doubt.

In most ways, the answer Jesus gives isn’t the answer we specifically want. “I’m sick. I’m hurt. I’m troubled.” Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” It seems so inadequate. Maybe that’s why we make up those silly sayings that don’t really mean anything. What’s true, what matters, is that Christ has conquered all things for you. Advent reminds us that we don’t need the quick, pat answer that doesn’t mean anything. We wait for the coming of Christ to fulfill all things, to make all things new, and to wipe away every tear. That’s exactly what He has in store for you. That is what sustains you in trial and persecution in this life, and it is what makes you fit for 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.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 Reading List: October and November

I fell a little behind on the project posting. And on the reading. Didn't even reach ten books in November. Then again, to be fair, November was a bit of a crazy month. Anyway, that puts me at 159 books for the year, which is an average of over 13 books a month. December is another crazy month, so we'll see what happens. Anyway, here's the lists.

  1. Gow, Kailin. Never Ending. The Edge, 2013.
  2. Hornby, Nick. High Fidelity. Penguin Books, 1995.
  3. Peterson, Tracie. The Icecutter’s Daughter. Bethany House, 2013.
  4. McGregor, Tim. Old Flames, Burned Hands. Perdido Pub, 2013.
  5. Carlson, Melody. Forgotten: Seventeen and Homeless. NavPress, 2010.
  6. Anderson, Becky. In Stereo Where Available. Medallion Press, 2007.
  7. Pless, John T. Martin Luther: Preacher of the Cross. Concordia Publishing House, 2013.
  8. Pless, John T. Mercy at Life’s End. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, 2013.
  9. Clampett, Ruth. Animate Me. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  10. Goodkind, Terry. Wizard’s First Rule. Tor Books, 1994.

  1. Labonte, Beth. Coffee Breath. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2008.
  2. Newland, Tahlia. You Can't Shatter Me. Catapult Press, 2012.
  3. Mason, Sally. Gone Hollywood. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  4. Blount, Angela N. Once Upon a Road Trip. Artifice Press, 2013.
  5. Roach, D. A. Tethered. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  6. Hall, Tessa Emily. Purple Moon. Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, 2013.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sermon for 12/8/13--Second Sunday in Advent


What Endures?

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

Reading this text, it’s hard not to think of the way we celebrate Christmas. Seemingly out of nowhere, we have a season of lights and trees and music and presents and parties and candlelight services. But before you know it, it's all gone, and all that’s left is cold, dark winter. In the same way, this world is passing away. It will not be long before everything goes the way of all flesh at the coming of our Lord. For the world, this will be a horrible day, a day of terror. But for you, the children of God, it is the day to lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!

But the Old Adam doesn’t believe this world is passing away. All too often we live as if this is all we’ll have. We worry about how we're going to be comfortable and happy and have enough stuff or get what we want. We live as if the most important things are the things we can buy and worst problems we have are the things we lack. But Jesus says the world has bigger problems. There will be terrible signs of the end that tell us the day is near. Look around you. Wars and rumors of wars; horrible diseases; unspeakable acts of evil—these things are all around us. We are living in the end times! He tells us to pray that we may escape these things and stand before the Son of Man. Ask yourself: Do you really want to stand before the Almighty Judge in His glory on the Last Day?

If that Judge is Jesus, then of course you want to stand before Him! This Man is the Savior. He who is the Judge on the Last Day is the same Man who was born of the Virgin to save us. Jesus tells us that when we see around us these terrible signs of the End of all things, then lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near! Dear Christian, never think that Jesus is coming to condemn you! He is coming to save you! He has already come to give His life into death on the cross to bear your sins and take them away. Now He will come to bring you out of this world that is passing away into the eternal kingdom that has been prepared for you. Pray that you will stand before the Son of Man, because Jesus is the One person who can and does save us from a world that is passing away!

But we're not paying attention. The world wasn't paying attention when Christ came in the flesh. So the Lord says through the prophet Malachi, “I will send Elijah before that great and terrible day.” Who is Elijah? Jesus teaches us that this Elijah was John the Baptist. John was ordained to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins and to baptize sinners in order to prepare for Christ's coming. In the same way, in these Last Days, the Lord gets our attention by calling preachers to preach and baptize. So your preacher says, “Listen up!” You have been baptized to prepare you for the Day when Jesus returns and heaven and earth passes away. You have been absolved of your sins so that there is nothing that the Judge will have against you on that Day. You are filled with the body and blood of the Son of Man Himself so that you have His unbreakable promise that you will be raised from the dead on that Day and stand before Him with all your sins forgiven. And of course there is His Word which lays it all out. Christ's Word in the Scriptures teaches us repentance for our sins and faith in Christ and delivers Christ to us as the One in Whom we trust for all things. And it is that very Word which the Scriptures deliver that is made flesh in Christ that never passes away! And that means you will not pass away.

You know that there will be an End and a Last Day and that you will stand before Jesus. But you know that because you are baptized, because your sins have been forgiven, and because you have feasted on Christ’s body and blood, this Day is a Day of redemption. It is the Day when we shall be free from our sins forever. It is the day that we will pass from death to life. We who have been filled with Christ's Word will not pass away. Instead we will pass into eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth with Christ forever.

This is the season of Advent, and Christ is coming. It is a gift from our heavenly Father to enjoy the pleasures of this season: things like candles and cookies and trees. Even though all those things are passing away, they help us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, whose Word will never pass away. The lights and tinsel will soon be gone again, but Christ and His Word remain forever to comfort us and give us life which never ends. 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, December 03, 2013

Sermon for 12/1/13 – First Sunday in Advent




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

Advent is about Jesus showing up and what happens after. The first time He showed up, He came in your flesh, to be born and be tempted in your place, to do battle with the devil and to suffer and die on the cross for your sins. He rose from the dead to conquer your death. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, they shouted, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of The Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And after He rode into Jerusalem, Jesus went to Calvary for you and accomplished your salvation. So let's keep track. The first time Jesus shows up, He dies and rises to save you.

This time there is no donkey. Instead He comes in water with the Word, in Absolution; in preaching; on the altar. We sing it too: "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of The Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" We sing it right before Jesus shows up on the altar. The Lord comes to you now in His church to deliver to you what He accomplished back then: the forgiveness of sins. As you live your life with that Old Adam hanging around your neck, chafing against God and trying to ignore your neighbor, the forgiveness of sins covers you. Here in His church, Jesus shows up to do battle with your Old Adam, to crucify him, and then to raise you to new life by His Word and forgiveness. Over and over Jesus shows up now, and He kills and raises you up by His gifts to save you.

The third time is yet to come. We don't know when. It's why we're watching and waiting. It seems like Advent has been "crying wolf" for 2000 years, doesn't it? Jesus is coming! Well…where is He? Sometimes it feels like you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than you do of seeing Jesus show up on the clouds in all His glory with His holy angels. But the season of Advent, the season of waiting and hearing about Jesus showing up, is preparation for when He will return. That way it doesn't catch us by surprise. And what happens when He arrives? The first time He came to save you. The times since then, He comes to give you that salvation and keep you in that faith. So the third time can't be anything else than to save you once and for all, to raise you from the dead, to give you life everlasting. As always, Jesus comes to save you. 

It’s a wonderful thing when Jesus arrives. Advent is the time when the church is reminded that Jesus is coming. There is nothing better than when Jesus comes to you. Advent is a season that looks to Jesus as He comes: His first coming in the celebration of His birth at Christmas, His second, continual coming to us in church; and when He will come again in glory on the Last Day. Take the time in Advent hear more of Jesus' Word. It's a time of anticipating and preparing for His final coming, when we will no longer walk by faith but will see Him face to face and walk in His eternal presence.

Advent is a time of repentance when we look at our lives as ask the question, "What is there keeps me from paying attention and being ready?" The preaching of Advent calls us away from a world that really has nothing to offer us, calling us instead to a Lord who shows up to give us everything and more! We lift our eyes to the Lord and we watch and wait to greet the King with our Hosannas, and we wait for the news of Him as He comes back. We see Him coming now by faith, and we look forward to Him coming again in glory. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly! 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.

Sermon for 11/27/13--Harvest Festival/Thanksgiving Eve

Text only. Sorry.

Jesus and the Stuff

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

The guy in the crowd didn’t care about the kingdom of God. He cared about how much money he was getting from Dad. We’re not that different. We think the most important things are things. When we don’t have what we want, we worry about how we can get more. When we have what we want, we worry about how we’re going to pay for it and keep it. When we get old enough, we may realize we have too much and worry about how we’re going to get rid of it! And tomorrow the nation will pause to eat turkey and watch football while those of us who still have some religion will try to remember we’re supposed to give thanks for all of it. But Jesus nails it down with His words: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” In other words, life is more than your stuff.

So if our lives aren’t about our things, what are they about? Our lives are about Jesus—the Jesus who saves us from the sin of loving the stuff God gives us more than loving the God who gives it. He rescues us from idolatry by being the true God who saves us. He rescues us from our covetousness by hiding His eternal glory in the flesh, being born in the flesh and living as if the stuff doesn’t matter. He lives as if there is nothing to covet, nothing to worry about, nothing to want to grab and hoard. Jesus lives as if the only thing He is about, the only thing He came for, the only thing on His mind, is taking your sins from you, suffering for them, dying for them, and rising again to save you. For us who think our life consists in what we have, Jesus comes, and His life consists in taking you back from sin and death!

The difference between the church and the unbelieving world isn’t that they have more stuff than us or that as Christians we are supposed to get rid of our stuff. It’s not about the stuff. And the difference isn’t that the world makes idols out of its things and we don’t. We do. The difference is that we live by faith in the Son of God, knowing that for Jesus’ sake, God doesn’t count our coveting and idolatry against us. He counts the contentment and obedience of Jesus as ours. We who are so worried over possessions are now, through our Baptism into Christ, owned by the Lord. We are made His. All our idolatry and coveting and lusting after the things of this world, along with all our other sins, are blotted out by the words of Absolution. In the Supper, Christ who desires nothing other than to do the Father’s will and save you, dwells in you by His Body and Blood. Through Him you have the promise that your sins are forgiven and you will be raised up the Last Day. The difference between you, God’s child, and the unbelieving world, isn’t that you give thanks more than they do, but that you recognize all your gifts are from the Lord—especially the forgiveness for turning His gifts into gods!

So that means now you can give thanks properly for our gifts. You thank our heavenly Father for giving you “all we need to support this body and life.” Maybe you have more than you need. Maybe we want more than you have. Regardless, through faith in Christ you know that you have all you could ever want or need in Jesus. Stuff doesn’t really need to be a big deal. First of all, give thanks to your Father in heaven who has given you your stuff. That stuff is a reminder that your heavenly Father is taking care of you. He is the giver of every good gift. Your gifts are to enjoy and to be a testimony to others that your heavenly Father cares for you and them in Jesus.

The Lord doesn’t just rescue you and give you salvation so you can point fingers at an unbelieving world and look down on them! Rather, as Paul tells Timothy, the Lord wants all people “to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The Lord blesses you with every blessing in Christ and teaches you to pray for a peaceful and godly life. Give thanks. Enjoy what God has given you. Share what you have. Pray for those who don’t yet have the gift of salvation. And enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday, knowing that you are the Lord’s precious child whose life is not at all in what you have, but in Christ and what He has for you—both for this life and for the life of the world to come. 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, November 26, 2013

Sermon for 11/24/13--Last Sunday of the Church Year




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

What is it about the Word of God that causes eyelids to grow heavy? What is it about the Word of God that causes hearers to lose interest? Why is it so easy to wake up before dawn even considers dawning for a hunting or fishing trip, yet it’s so hard to keep the eyes open on Sunday morning? The Lord tells us to be ready and watching for Him, but it’s a near-impossible task. Even the bridesmaids can’t keep their eyes open. But the Bridegroom is coming! Jesus is returning soon! The difference between the wise virgins and the foolish ones isn’t that the foolish ones fell asleep and the wise ones stayed awake. It’s that the wise ones had oil for their lamps.

So then, what is this all-important oil? What is it you need to be ready when the Bridegroom comes? The oil is the Holy Spirit, the Word, faith in Jesus. In the Bible oil was not only used for lamps. Oil was also used to anoint people as God’s chosen ones. Oil was made from olives which were pressed and crushed. Think of our Lord on the cross, crushed by our sins, pressed under the weight of God’s wrath and judgment, squeezed by our sins until there was no life left in Him, until the water and blood of the holy sacraments poured out of Him.

That oil is given to us by the Holy Spirit who fills up our lamps in Holy Baptism and every time we eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood. Oil is poured for our lamps as we hear God’s Word and the preaching of the Gospel. The thing about the oil is that it is the Bridegroom Himself who has prepared us for His return by giving us the oil! We don’t even have to go get it. He gives it to us. The Bridegroom Himself makes us ready to receive Him when He comes on the last day. Even if you fall asleep, that is, even when you die, the oil makes you ready for the day the trumpet sounds and Christ returns in all His glory. My brothers and sisters in Christ, you are ready. You have water and Word, body and blood. When the Bridegroom comes, you are ready to go!

So what about those foolish virgins? They aren’t ready. They don’t have oil. They thought they didn’t have to go and hear God’s Word. They didn’t need to come and eat and drink Christ’s body and blood. They didn’t have to learn the Scriptures and have Christ fill their vessels with oil. In this life they despised the Word and Baptism and the Supper. They figured that when Jesus comes back, they’d be in just because they had good intentions or they were nice people or they lived good lives. But they had no oil—no faith, no Word, no Holy Spirit. On the Last Day they’ll be running around trying to get some oil, but there won’t be any more. When the Lord comes on that Last Day, there will be no more time for preaching and hearing God’s Word. And the foolish ones will beat on the door of the wedding hall and be told, “I don’t know who you are!” The door is shut, and all they can do is weep and wail to be in the dark without the light of Christ.

But you, dear pure and wise virgins, you are ready. Your oil is stocked up because you are stocked up with Jesus: with His Word, with forgiveness, with your Baptism, with His body and blood. Our Lord is coming, and He will be here soon! But you’re ready. You’re ready because the Bridegroom has made you ready and wise. Your eyes may close during a sermon here and there, and you may close your eyes in death for a time. But when the Lord arrives, that shout is going to wake you up! You’re going to be full of joy and gladness that Christ has come for you. He will gather you up and bring you to His eternal wedding feast. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly. 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, November 20, 2013

Sermon for 11/17/13--Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

No audio again. Sorry.

From the Foundation of the World

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

The images in the readings should frighten and terrify sinners. They should cause us to fall down and cry out in repentance! Jesus describes Judgment Day as the separation of the sheep and the goats. And our sinful flesh, which only ever thinks of itself, grabs onto the idea that what is going on is that Jesus is judging people based on how they lived. Those who served their neighbor get to go to heaven. Those who didn't do good works for others go to hell. My brothers and sisters in Christ, do you think that Jesus preaches His works and His grace, and the apostles preach that we are saved by grace through Christ's work, and your pastors preach that you are saved by what Jesus has done; and then, on the Last Day, it's suddenly going to change so that you are actually saved by how you lived your life? The Lord doesn't change. His grace doesn't disappear. His work of saving you from your sins doesn't end on that Last Day!

What did Jesus come to do? Did He come to earth and teach people how to live a good life so they can be a part of His kingdom? No! He came to keep the commandments that we break. He came to fulfill the Law that we cannot. He came to die—to die in the place of sinners, to die covered with our sins, to give His life as our ransom. Everything Jesus is about in His earthly life is accomplishing, achieving, winning the forgiveness of sins for sinners. For you. Everything that Jesus comes to do, He has done in your place. That doesn't change on the Last Day.

Jesus says He will separate the sheep from the goats on the Last Day. It doesn't say He will decide who's a sheep or a goat based on what they've done. When all people stand before the Lord on the Last Day, they will already be sheep and goats! Jesus says elsewhere, "I know my sheep and my sheep know me." He knows the sheep before that Last Day. What is it that makes you a sheep? It is your Baptism into Christ. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world. That salvation becomes yours at the holy font. At the moment you are washed with water and the Word, you are born again from above. You are made a part of Christ's kingdom. You are made a child of God, one of Christ’s little lambs. When you stand before the Lord on the Last Day, it will be as His holy and beloved sheep. If you ever doubt that, then remember you Baptism. You are a sheep of Christ because you are baptized into Him! Don't ever doubt that!

Now listen carefully to Jesus' next words to His sheep. "Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." From the foundation of the world, before you were created or born, our heavenly Father had a kingdom prepared for you. How can you inherit a kingdom by your good works if that kingdom was ready for you before you were even alive to do any good works? That means when Jesus is speaking to His sheep on the Last Day, He's not telling them about some reward they've earned. What He's giving them has always been a gift. It has always been something from God's mercy, not what we have earned or deserved! The Father has always intended to send His Son to save you from your sins. The kingdom is prepared before the world was made because it was decided that Jesus would save the world before it was even made! Again, how can you be certain that this kingdom is prepared? That it's ready for you? That's what your Baptism says. When you are absolved of your sins, you are being reminded that nothing will keep you from the gift of a kingdom that your Father has prepared. When you eat and drink Jesus' body and blood, you are united to your Savior in such a way that when He receives His kingdom, it's your kingdom too. In Christ, all that He has is now yours.

Dear Christians, do not despair of your salvation when you hear the story of the sheep and the goats. Do not worry that somehow its all going to come down to what you’ve done. On that Last Day, it all comes down to Christ. It always has, from the very foundation of the world. Do not be afraid; rejoice in that Last Day. Look forward to it! On that Day all that Christ has done for you by His life and all that He has given to you in your life will be fulfilled in the gift of an everlasting kingdom for you to enjoy!  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, November 12, 2013

Sermon for 11/10/13--Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year



I Told You So

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

“If only I had known.” It’s the ultimate statement of regret. Perhaps if we had been aware of what was to come, we could have made decisions or plans or whatever, and everything would have gone okay. The end of the world is especially worrisome. But Jesus does, indeed, give us that foreknowledge we desire. His words ring out clearly the saving promise of salvation: "See, I have told you beforehand!" Before all these things come to pass, Jesus tells His disciples about abominations in the temple, false messiahs and false prophets, doomsayers, suffering and horror! Is this meant to scare them, to get them to straighten up? No. He tells them these things to comfort them, to rescue them from those very enemies who will attack in the Last Days. Dear Christians, do not worry about these scary sounding tribulations and false preachers! Hear the Word of the Lord: "See, I have told you beforehand." Your comfort in a world that is coming to an end is that Jesus has spoken His Word. That Word rescues you from sin and death and the devil and his preachers and rests you securely in Christ, unto eternal life!

Why do we have false Christs and false prophets? Just think of what happened at Mt. Sinai. Moses, the man called by God to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, went up on Mt. Sinai and, as far as the people were concerned, he was never coming back. And with Moses out of the picture, they have Aaron carve an idol to worship out of gold. And what's worse, they call that idol "the Lord." And this is exactly what happens today. Christ seems a long time in coming. So people begin to seek after idols. They call upon these idols and false gods and false prophets who sound like the true Jesus, but they aren't like Him at all. Here people go looking for Jesus in all the places He has not promised to be. The go running out to the deserts, to places where they can see visions. Maybe they find a preacher who has knowledge he'll give about Christ if you pay your membership dues. People go seeking Jesus in their hearts or in their changed lives or in some emotional experience. They look for Jesus where miracles and signs are being showcased. They look for Jesus apart from His church and means of grace; apart from His Word and Sacraments; apart from the font and altar and pulpit and Scriptures. But such a Jesus can't save you.

The true Jesus doesn't come telling you to run to the desert or go in your closet to find Him. The true Christ is the Son of God who has come in the flesh to bear the wages of sin. And seeing Christ, the Father turns His fierce wrath away from you and onto His Son. All false Christs and false prophets will direct you to themselves or to your works. But the True Jesus directs you to Him, because He hung on the cross bearing your sins. His suffering is your freedom from sin, death, devil and hell. His sacrifice is the blood price of your salvation. His death is your life. His resurrection is your life too. That's what the real Jesus is all about: saving sinners!

Any preacher will tell you where to find Jesus. The difference between a false prophet and true preacher is that a preacher who is truly called by Christ will point you to Jesus where He Himself has promised to be—not in the desert, not in signs or wonders, not hidden behind the bleached teeth and perfect hair of a raging narcissist who will only point you to himself and a life of ease. Jesus is where He has promised to be: where two or three are gathered in His name; in the font in Holy Baptism; in the Word of Holy Absolution; in the Word delivered from the pulpit; and in His body and blood. Once again, with all these words of Jesus, He has told you beforehand. You need not doubt or wonder. You will find Him exactly where He said He would be.

There are times of trials and troubles, times of frustration and doubt, when it seems like Christ is never going to return. But I tell you, as Christ told His apostles and the Apostles recorded it in Holy Scripture: Jesus is here, now, in His church, at His font, speaking from His pulpit, feeding you from His altar. There you can be certain it's the real Jesus: the One who gave His life for you, the One who bore the Father’s wrath for you, the One who has made you a holy child of God. These are the end times. But do not be afraid. Jesus is here with you. The world will weep and wail at the prospect of eternal separation from the Father. But you, dear children of God, will break forth into songs of joy on that day, for it is the day the Lord comes to take you to be with Him forever. There is no need for doubt or fear. After all, Jesus told you ahead of time. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.               

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

Monday, November 04, 2013

Sermon for 11/3/13--The Feast of All Saints (observed)

No audio this week. I forgot to turn on the recorder. Sorry!

Christ in You

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

Sinners struggle. Sin penetrates every part of a sinner’s life. If you look at the list of Beatitudes, you don’t see a list of attributes in which sinners thrive. Sinners do not see themselves as poor in spirit. In the idolatry of their own hearts; they are rich. They do not mourn their sin, and they are not meek. Instead, they are bold in their sinfulness. They do not hunger for righteousness, thinking they have already attained it. They are not merciful; they hold grudges. The list goes on. The heart of the sinner is blackened and riddled with sin, and what little honesty the sinner can muster can only whisper in the silence of that heart that the Beatitudes are beyond the sinner’s reach.

I’ve told you before that the Beatitudes describe Jesus. This is most certainly true. But the Beatitudes are also descriptions of the saints. They describe you. They describe you and all the saints because they first describe Jesus. You have been baptized into Christ; that makes you a saint. And what is this life as a saint of God? As one who is in Jesus Christ? It is nothing like the world’s way of living. In fact, Jesus makes clear that to be blessed by God means to be hated and suffer in this world. It can’t be any other way for Jesus’ disciples. That’s why you are here today. You are here because the Lord has made you saints. He has made you holy by forgiving you your sins, by purging that blackened heart of yours with His own blood. Nothing stains you. You wear the white robe of Christ’s righteousness that was put upon you in Holy Baptism. You are sprinkled white by the blood of the Lamb. You are here because the Lord has made a promise to you that after this life of suffering and sadness, He will return and raise you up for an eternal life of joy and celebration in paradise. That’s a hard promise to believe. So on All Saints Day we remember that Jesus has fulfilled that promise to so many others who have gone before us. As the hymn reminds us: “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine!”

To see your life as a Christian, just look at Christ. He was hated by His own people and put to death. Then He rose to life and ascended to the majesty of the Father’s right hand. So it is with you. The world will hate you. The world will laugh at you for your faith. In many places it will kill you for confessing your faith in Christ. That’s what you have to look forward to as a Christian in this dying world. But we also look forward to resurrection, to being alive on the Last Day. Behold that multitude in Revelation: a crowd so big you can’t count it! They are with Jesus forever. Their every tear has been wiped away. That is the life that Jesus has won for you. His suffering and death was not just for show. It takes away your sins. It washes you in His blood so that you are safe from this world and the hatred it has to offer. It makes you poor in spirit, merciful, a peacemaker, and all the other things Jesus describes to His disciples. Today, you are His saints. At the resurrection you will be His eternal saints. What changes between this life and the life to come is that you go from temporary sorrow to everlasting joy. What doesn’t change between this life and the life to come is that you are a saint in Christ.

And this is nothing new. It’s what the Lord has been doing since man first fell and God gave His first promise of a Savior. He fulfilled the promise to Adam and Eve, to Abel, to Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to David and Solomon, to Isaiah and Jeremiah and all those Old Testament saints. He delivered salvation to Peter, James, and John and the apostles, to Athanasius and Augustine, to Luther and Chemnitz, to your grandparents and parents, and even to our sons and daughters and those who have been given the fulfillment of eternal life before we have. But this gift is for you too: this gift of eternal life fulfilled, the day of rejoicing when all the tears are wiped away.

When you doubt, when your hopes fade and the world around you wears you down, cling to your Baptism. Cling to the word of holy absolution. Cling to the body and blood of Jesus and His promise to raise you on the Last Day. And as you cling to those gifts of Jesus, hear the words of the liturgy, the words that remind us of our place among “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” that is, the saints who have gone before us by faith. Today we rejoice for all the saints: the saints who have come before us and are now at rest; the saints you are now, saints who struggle in this life and walk by faith; and the saints who will come after us who will also be saints only in and because of Jesus. In the end, this Feast of All Saints must be about Jesus, for He is the One who made you His saints, holy for life everlasting. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sermon for 10/27/13--Festival of the Reformation



Faith and the Truth

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

Any Lutheran should be able to say, “Good works don't get me to heaven.” But many wrongly say that “believing” is what counts. That makes faith into something that is about you. Here's where repentance comes in. Jesus says, “If you remain in my Word, you are truly my disciples.” The problem with making believing into something going on in our hearts means that we don't really need the Word. The fact is, people all the time say, “No, I don't go to church, but I believe.” They don't desire the preaching of God's Word. They don't receive Christ's body and blood. They don't learn and grow in the Scriptures. But they still say they have faith? Such a thing is impossible. It is the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments, which give us faith and keep us in faith. Without those things, faith withers and dies.

There is nothing we can do to be saved. Christ has done it all and given it all. But by despising and ignoring His Word, we can surely give it up and have nothing to do with it. When Jesus tells the Jews that they are slaves, they don't believe Him. They believe they don't need Jesus because they think they're free. We think the same way when we think we don't need the Word or its not important to come and hear and learn it. People say, “I don't need church,” or “I don’t need organized religion,” or “I don’t want to be around all those hypocrites,” or other silly things, as if they can still be Christians apart from what Christ gives through the Church. You can't. Let me be very clear: those who give up church and Christ's Word are cutting themselves off from Christ. Jesus Himself says so. If we don't remain in His Word, then we aren't His disciples, no matter that our names are on the member list of a congregation.

But there's repentance for all of us. For none of us cherishes and treasures that Word as we should. Ask yourself: What is it that keeps me from learning the Word of God? What keeps me from crying out constantly for the body and blood of Jesus? What keeps me from church? What keeps me from Sunday School? What keeps me from hearing and reading God's Word every day? What keeps me from learning and growing in it? No matter how much of the Word we think we have, there's always more! Such repentance is given to turn us to Christ in faith. True faith clings to Jesus and trusts in Him and what He gives. To have faith is not to stand around and say, “Oh, sure, I believe.” What do you really believe? Faith that believes in Christ lives every day in the promises of Baptism. Faith that clings to Christ confesses sins and rejoices to hear absolution. Faith that truly believes in Jesus comes to hear His Word and learn and grow in it. Faith that genuinely trusts in Christ eagerly eats and drinks the body and blood of Jesus. Faith that trusts in Jesus doesn't make excuses for not coming to receive Christ's gifts, for not demanding them constantly, while saying at the same time, “I'm still a Christian though.” In other words, faith is not found just in your heart, in your private thinking about God. Faith is found when Jesus returns you to the font each day, when He reminds you of your baptism. Faith isn't just some facts and information in your head; it's when Jesus brings you to confess your sins and be forgiven. Faith isn't your name on a list of some church; it's you, at the altar of Christ, feasting on His flesh and blood. Faith isn't you apart from Christ, it's you clinging to Christ and receiving what He has for you. Faith and the object of that faith go together. True faith goes hand in hand with Christ crucified, with baptism, absolution and the supper. False faith goes hand in hand with itself. True faith means that it is Christ who saves you. It is Christ who sets you free and makes you free indeed.

The Reformation is about Jesus turning you away from doing anything to save yourself and joyfully confessing that He does all things for your salvation. The Reformation is about learning to come to church for the right reason: that it is here that you receive the Word in which you are made and kept as disciples. It's about Jesus teaching you repentance. The Reformation Gospel, which is the Good News of Christ and the church of all times and places, is that it is on account of Christ that you have God's favor. It is because of Jesus that you are a child of God. It is for Christ's sake that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life. Jesus and all He has done for you and gives to you—that is the foundation and center of your faith. Jesus is the Truth; Jesus sets you free. 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, October 23, 2013

GUEST POST: Waking up with Leah

Every so often I come across a real nugget of wisdom. Sometimes it's from pastors or seminary professors. Sometimes it's from a layperson. Sometimes it's even from agnostics or atheists. This time it comes from a former pastor and seminary professor who now works for a freight company.

Life as a Christian in the Church can be a lot more complex than one would think. Jesus said, "This is my commandment, that you love one another." Sinners that we are, we have a hard time with all of the commandments of God, but it seems sometimes that we have a very hard time with this one in particular. Chad Bird addresses what happens when one realizes that the Church on earth is not always what we would hope it would be. This post said a lot to me as I continue to struggle with the events of eight years ago.  (And I also like how, without directly saying so, it addresses those who say that they won't go to church because of all the hypocrites therein.)

Originally posted in his blog, you can read it here with his permission. If you would like to address Chad directly about his post, click the link in the previous sentence.


Waking up with Leah: Learning to Love a Disappointing Church

In the tiny Texas town where I grew up, sleeping in on Sunday morning was as inconceivable as rooting for someone besides the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Going to church made the list with apple pie and Chevrolet. My dad was a deacon; my mom a Sunday School teacher; and I was the typical daydreaming boy fidgeting in the pew. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and I found myself in a job where sleeping in on Sunday was highly frowned upon since the pulpit would’ve been quite empty without me. There I was: seminary trained, armed to the teeth with confessions and creeds, zealous to convert a world—or, at least, our Oklahoma town—to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Looking back at myself as that twenty-something pastor, I have to admit that I was almost as steeped in naïveté then as I was as a twelve year old boy. Sure, I knew plenty about the church, but it was heavily freighted with the good stuff. The good stuff of the ladies’ guild cooking casseroles for grieving families, youth groups pounding hammers in Mexico to build homes for the poor, a rancher showing up on the pastor’s doorstep with half a beef from his own herd to stock the freezer. But as good and giving and beautiful as the church can be, there’s a dark side, too, that at times can be dog ugly. The day I stumbled upon a secret meeting of the church leadership and one of the elders stood up and slammed the door in my face—that comes to mind. Over the years, there were the not-so-veiled threats of violence, pastors who broke the seal of confession, bishops issuing warnings about me, and occasional rumors about me so outrageous they could have been ripped from the cover of the National Enquirer. I learned plenty through those years, the most obvious lesson being that the church can be a place that’s just as mean and nasty and royally screwed up as the world.

Like the patriarch, Jacob, who after his wedding night, awoke to the wrong wife in his bed, I too one day opened my eyes to find that the Rachel with whom I had fallen in love, for whom I’d labored long years, was not the one beside me as the sun rose. I rolled over and came face-to-face with the uncomely, undesirable, older sister. And then I had a decision to make: leave the church, or learn to love Leah.

Have you been there? Maybe you too grew up with a congregation as your second home, perhaps even served in the ministry, but later encountered within its walls abuse or neglect or a whole host of other ills. While going through a divorce, or struggling with a sexually charged issue, you found not clasping hands of support but wagging fingers of accusation. As the shards of your broken life fell about you, when simply having a Christian show you they cared, when that alone would have meant the world to you, all you saw was the church’s back, turned away, walking the other direction. Or maybe you just slowly slipped away, skipping a Sunday here, a whole month there, and eventually never darkened the doors again, but not a single believer took the time to call or visit to reveal they missed you. You have your story, and I have mine, but all such accounts shoulder a common burden: the fellowship that is supposed to be a hospital for sinners can seem more like a religious country club, a xenophobic clique, or a horde of hypocrites. Call it what you may, it’s not been a church to you and for you. So what do you do? Do you leave or learn to love Leah, walk away from the church or stay?

I could’ve washed my hands of the whole affair and walked away. In fact, I gave serious thought to just that, and for several years, rarely planted my butt in a pew for, when I did, I could taste the bile rising up my throat. But over time, and through a whole lot of healing, re-wounding, and re-healing, I finally came to the point where I see and love Leah for what she is: a beautifully ugly church in whose arms I encounter the God who loves beautifully ugly sinners like me.

A beautifully ugly sinner like me—that’s where healing has to start, with an honest acknowledgement that there may be a slew of unattractive things about the church, but I’m no supermodel of holiness myself. Part of the way we humans deal with our grief or anger or guilt is to deflect any culpability from ourselves by blaming others for almost everything that goes wrong. And though there are important exceptions—such as the victims of sexual predators—most of us who’ve had a rocky relationship with the church must fess up to our own failings. There’s a good chance Leah finds me just as ugly as I find her. I see hypocrites in the church, but I see in my own soul times galore when I wore a mask of piety in public and a face of shame in private. I deplore how the church’s tongue can destroy a person’s reputation, but my own tongue loves the desserts of lies and rumors and gossip more than it loves the bread of honesty. In our society, where it seems everyone claims to be a victim, it needs to be said that we are all perpetrators ourselves. We struggle with the same faults with which we fault the church.

In addition to personal accountability, we’ve got to kill and bury any utopian daydreams we have about the church hitting the gym to tighten her glutes and getting a boob job so we have a hotter, sexier Leah. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a time when the church was flawless. Barely had Jesus ascended before the church descended into trouble. Squabbles arose, heresies spread, pastors played favorites, sexual immorality mushroomed, and hearts grew cold. In the last book of the Bible, there are letters from God to seven different churches. Although he commends those congregations for many good things, he also complains of them leaving their first love, holding to false teachers and teachings, spiritual death, and lukewarmness. And this while the church was still basking in the afterglow of the earthly ministry of Jesus! As long as there are people in the church, there will be problems, for if humanity is anything, it is problematic.

Therein is the reason I found my way (or rather, like a lost sheep, was carried) back to the church: because it’s a place pregnant with problems. Because of those imperfections, I fit in perfectly. If you’ve got it all together, have no struggles, live a full and happy life, free of sin, then the church is not for you. But if you struggle with selfishness, greed, lust, addiction, problem children, a cheating spouse, fear, loneliness, or anything else that plagues our race, then the church is the ideal place for you. For Leah struggles with all that crap, too. Don’t let the pretty stained glass and padded pews and vested clergy fool you; all around the church are wounded sinners wheeled about on gurneys, doctors sewing up stab victims, nurses checking IVs, and double amputees carried by the blind who are led by the mute while the deaf sing prayers for healing. The church is messy place for messed up people who are in dire need of a God who cares.

In uncomely, undesirable, older Leah, that’s just what you’ll find: a God who cares. You’ll find a God who was born of an unwed teen whose neighbors likely whispered was a slut. You’ll find a God who hung out with outcasts, welcomed whores as followers, touched untouchables, called bullshit on the holier-than-thous of his day, and walked eyes wide open into the clutches of those who would torture him to death so as to save a world that really didn’t think it needed saving. In the church you’ll encounter the God who takes all his beautiful and exchanges it for your ugly.

And so, after a few years of growing up, maturing in a some areas, and realizing a bit more clearly what life is all about, I can now honestly say, “Leah, just as you are—not who I want you to be, not who others say you should be—but just as you are: I love you.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sermon for 10/20/13--Trinity 21



The Word Speaks

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

When the Lord says something, His Word does what it says. If the Lord thunders and judges, His words bring despair and death. If the Lord speaks forgiveness and peace, then sins are actually forgiven and sinners are comforted. The Lord doesn't keep His Word to Himself. He send it out; He gives His Word to us. He gives us His Word as a gift which saves us. He gives us His Word as a weapon that defends and protects us and drives away the Evil One, to drive away all fear and doubt and despair and sin. God's Word is your Word, given to you as your life, your defense, your hope, your joy, your treasure, your sword, your salvation.

From nothing at all, our Lord speaks and all things are made. When the Lord says, "Let there be..." it happens. Light, sky, dry land, grass and trees, sun and moon, fish and birds, animals: the Lord speaks, and His will is done. The Lord's Word goes forth and it creates. It brings something out of nothing. It gives life. All things exist because God said so. Even after the Fall, the Word of God is the big deal. When Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord promises He would send a Savior. Later on, the Savior came, born of Mary. Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord promised Abraham and his descendants that they would become a great nation. And they did. He said He would set them free from slavery in Egypt. He did. He said He would give them a land flowing with milk and honey. They got it. He said he would punish them if they worshiped other gods. They were punished. Over and over, God speaks, and His Word does what it says it will.

But more important than even that, we must learn that when He speaks, it's for our good: for our salvation, for forgiveness and life. Just look what happens when Jesus speaks. He doesn't even have to be where the man's sick son was. He just spoke His word and it was done. Notice how John tells us that the man went home and figured out from his servants that the boy had gotten better at just the time that Jesus had said he was healed. That's the power of Jesus' word. When the Lord says, "Your sins are forgiven," then what happens? Your sins are forgiven!

But here's the Grand Prize: Jesus IS the Word of God. What He says and does, God Himself is saying and doing. Where He goes and what happens to Him is the Word of God doing its thing. When the Word-made-flesh hangs on the cross for sinners, that is God's Word at work. The Word goes forth in the flesh, and your sins are forgiven. Nothing stands against you; God's judgment is over. When our Lord, who is the Word of God in the flesh, gives His life into death for our sins, then our sins are gone! Just as He tells the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in Paradise that very day, so when our Lord rises from the dead, then the ruler of this world has been cast down. The last enemy has been defeated! The Lord's Word does what it says. It says your sins have been taken away.

So then St. Paul tells you to get all dressed up in the armor of God and to arm yourself with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. That means that the Word which the Lord speaks is your weapon against sin and death. How do you use it? You have the Word of your Baptism. The Word declares that you are God's child, just as Juliana has become His child this very day. You have the Word of Absolution which declares that your sins are forgiven. You have the Word in flesh, the Body and Blood of Jesus for life and salvation. Against all sin and death and despair, you have the preaching of your pastor and the Holy Scriptures to fill your ears with the Good News that your sins are forgiven. God speaks His Word to save you. There can be no uncertainty here! If the Lord's Word says you are His baptized and absolved child, fed with His body and blood, then that's what you are. Use that Word to drive away all fear and doubt! Use that Word to battle the devil and your burdened conscience. Speak that Word daily! Let it be upon your lips and in your ears. Let it drive away the thoughts of despair and sadness. Come and hear it preached every week! Come and read it in Sunday School and hear it in Bible Study. Every day, open and read your Bible so that your ears and heart and mind would be filled with these holy promises of God which rescue you from sin and death.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the Word of God is your treasure, given as a gift. The Word instructs you. It gives you wisdom. It blesses you. It corrects you and rebukes you and calls you to repentance. But most of all, the Word of God saves you. It delivers Jesus. It forgives your sins. It calls you God's child. Just as the Word created all things, so it has made you a new creation. The Word made flesh brought back to life a dead boy, and that same Word has given you life and rescued you from sin and death by His death and resurrection. Just as the Word spoken by Jesus sent the Devil running away, so now the Sword of the Spirit, Christ's Word, drives away your enemies. And it must be true, for Jesus Himself says so! 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.