Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sermon for 7/21/13--Trinity 8

We had audio issues at St. Peter this morning, so there's no audio of the sermon this week. Not yet, anyway...

The Gate of Life Immortal

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

In our culture spirituality is a personal and private and practical thing. The focus is not outward to a holy God but inward to your own feelings, to what makes you fulfilled and happy. You find what works for you, I'll find what works for me, and as long as we're both sincere, it doesn't really make too much difference what you believe or what religion you practice or even what sort of god you worship. But then Jesus says, "Beware of false prophets." It stands to reason that if there is such a thing as a false prophet, then there is also such a thing as false teaching and false religion. What they practice doesn't lead to life but to death. Jesus solemnly warns us, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it." The broad way, the easy road of do-it-yourself religion, leads to hell.

It is the way of evil to wrap itself up in good. The Bible says that the devil comes not as the wicked destroyer but as an angel of light, appearing to be holy and good. St. Paul warned the Ephesians that wolves would come in sheep’s clothing to ravage the flock. They might be nice people. They may even wear a collar and a robe and a stole. But they don't teach the truth. They’re people like the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unitarian Universalists, and all others who do not have Christ as the only Savior. They're people like the pope who, for all his good teachings on moral issues, denies the full power of Jesus' death on the cross to save us, who promises to subtract from your time in purgatory if you follow his Twitter account. They're people like Billy Graham who emphasizes the work of giving our hearts and lives to Jesus over His work for us. They're people like the Lutheran pastor who prays with Muslims and Jews and Hindus, making Jesus into one God among many. They may be sincere in what they believe, but they are sincerely wrong and sincerely in eternal danger. Jesus said, "Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!'"

You might say, "I'm no theologian; I'm not a Bible expert. How do I distinguish a false teacher from a genuine teacher, who both appeal to the Scriptures? How can I tell whether or not someone is preaching the truth of Christ's Word?" The simple answer is this: Know your Catechism by heart; pray and meditate upon it every day. In it you learn and revel in the basic teachings of the Scriptures, what the church has taught and believed from the Word of God since the days of the apostles. In it you learn of God's holy Law and Gospel by which you are brought to repentance and faith in Christ. As the Spirit enables you to receive and hold to that teaching, you are also defended against false teaching. By meditating upon and clinging to the truth, you also learn how to recognize error and reject it.

If you're wondering whether or not someone is a false teacher, just ask yourself, "Is the teaching of this man in keeping with the faith of the church confessed in the creeds? Is it consistent with what I've learned of sin and of Christ and of faith in the Small Catechism?" If not, beware of it. Flee from it. I’ve told you this before, but it bears repeating: if someone steps into this pulpit and preaches something contrary to what you’ve learned from the Bible, the Catechism, and your hymnal, kick the false teacher out of the pulpit and run him out of town. Remember Jesus' words: "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." That gate is narrow because it doesn't let in any of the opinions or the qualifications of men. Rather, it admits only the merits of Christ and His righteousness.

Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." That way is difficult because it is the way of the cross. It is the way of death to sin and to self. Jesus walked that narrow road to His death for you at Calvary, so that, having been baptized into His death, you would also share in His life. Through the cross you have been entirely forgiven of all your sins. And through Christ's resurrection, you have been raised to new life in Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, July 19, 2013

2013 Reading List: June

A little behind in posting last month's list. Here it is. 98 for the first half of the year, when I was on page for 240 after February. This puts me on pace for 196--not bad, but I've done better.

  1. Cates, Georgia. Beauty from Surrender. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  2. Duncan, Dave. The Death of Nnanji. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2012.
  3. Augustine, L.M. Click to Subscribe. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  4. Hatler, Susan. Truth or Date. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  5. Swank, Denise Grover. After Math. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  6. Harrison, Kim. Perfect Blood. Harper Voyager, 2012.
  7. Kurtz, Katherine. Saint Camber. Ballantine Books, 1978.
  8. Harrison, Kim. Ever After. Harper Voyager, 2013.
  9. Sophia, Hailey. The Last Heartbreak. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  10. Kurtz, Katherine. Camber the Heretic. Ballantine Books, 1981.
  11. Brooks, Kathleen. Bluegrass Undercover. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2012.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sermon for 7/14/13--Trinity 7



No Feast for the Eyes

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

Do not be deceived by what you see. To human eyes, it does not look like much of a feast. A few fish and seven small loaves of bread don’t seem like much when compared to the lavish feasts depicted on television. But with these meager gifts and the power of the Word, Jesus feeds four thousand men. The unbelieving world looked strangely upon the feast that Jesus set before the hungry crowd of 4,000 in the wilderness. Seven loaves and a few small fish might have been enough to serve as a meal for a few men, but certainly not anything approaching 4,000. Yet these starving people “ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments.” Do not let Satan deceive you into seeing anything less than a miracle in this event. Do not allow the unbelieving world to undermine your trust in the true Word of God when it claims that this could not possibly be a true account of what actually happened. See in your mind’s eye the picture that the Holy Spirit of God is painting here: a portrait of a true feast from which every guest leaves completely satisfied.

The Sacrament of the Altar is that kind of feast. For this feast here and the feast for the 4,000 in the wilderness have the same Host and the same guests. The Host is Jesus, God Himself. The guests are faith-filled Christians, the people of God. The very same Jesus is here today, as He was there in on that day in the wilderness, to provide for His starving people and to satisfy completely your hunger. You are invited to see yourself in that feast in the wilderness. You are in the same condition spiritually as those four thousand were physically. You are on the journey through the wilderness of life with Jesus. You hear His Word which teaches you about your sin. His Holy Spirit convicts you of seeing greater importance in the things of the world—fortune, fame, work, play—than the things of God.

But the same God Who by His Word and Spirit condemns you for your sin has compassion upon you. He says, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me…and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Jesus knows that you are one of the faithful who have continued with Him in faith. He knows that you are starving for a righteousness you do not possess. He knows that if He does not provide it, you will faint dead away in your sins as you attempt to journey to your heavenly home without the nourishment He provides.

Jesus has been there Himself. It was in the wilderness that Jesus encountered the temptations of the devil. Jesus Himself was hungry during that time in the wilderness, continuing with God His Father forty days and having nothing to eat. He knows that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Out of compassion for a starving people, Jesus provides that bread to His people in the wilderness.

Do not be deceived by what you see. To human eyes, it does not look like much of a feast. Small wafers of unleavened bread—a bland bread made without yeast—which, if we took all of the wafers on the Altar this morning and pressed them together, wouldn’t amount to a dinner roll. Wine—an inexpensive, sweet, Concord grape wine, maybe a pint of it on this Altar. Together, this amount of food might barely serve as a light snack for one person. Yet with this meager fare and the power of the Word, Jesus will feed and satisfy all His guests who approach His altar.

Behold the feast that Your Savior presents to you today. Feast upon the Word that proceeds out of His mouth today, the Word that promises you forgiveness and salvation. Come, as often as it is offered here, to feast on the Bread of Life that is never exhausted, for He miraculously multiplies this Bread so that He might continue to give His flesh for the life of the world. Come and partake of not mere bits of bread and sips of wine, but of a most splendid Feast: the Feast of the glorified Body and Blood of your Savior, a foretaste of the feast to come with Him in eternity. 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, July 10, 2013

A CRM Appeal

My name is Alan Kornacki, and I am a parish pastor. That doesn’t sound like a very profound statement. However, though I was Ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry in June of 2000 and have been pastor for over thirteen years now, for over four and a half years, I was not a parish pastor. In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, this is often called “CRM,” an acronym from Candidatus Reverendi Ministerii—translated as Candidate for the Holy Ministry. In other words, I was a pastor without a congregation to serve.

You can read the full details of the circumstances that led me to Candidate Status on my blog if you’re interested, but there are two highly relevant details in the matter. The first is that the Board of Elders felt justified in asking for my resignation (and in threatening me if I didn’t resign willingly) even though I did not commit one of the “big three”—gross and/or unrepentant sin, false doctrine, or an inability to perform the functions of the Office—that usually merits a pastor being removed from a Call. In addition, I did not violate confidentiality or the Seal of the Confessional. The Scriptural grounds for my forced resignation were sketchy at best. Second, my District President (DP) felt justified in placing me on Restricted Status pending an investigation as to whether or not I should be removed from the clergy roster—meaning I could not consider or accept a Call to another congregation or serve in any pastoral capacity in any congregation other than the one which I was Called to serve until he decided whether or not I could still be a pastor. I had to ask permission to baptize my own children. For ten months I was on Restricted Status—unable to consider Calls to serve congregations, unable to even fill in for a vacationing pastor—because I kept a blog. Again, I was not guilty (or even accused) of committing one of the “big three,” nor did I violate confidentiality or the Seal of the Confessional, yet for ten months I was Restricted.

While I was on Restricted Status, the DP threatened me with the possibility of suspension and even removal from the clergy roster of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In December of 2005 he promised to remove me from Restricted Status as soon as I completed paperwork he was sending to me, but he did not remove me until August of 2006, though I returned the paperwork immediately. He wanted me to see a specialized counselor (affiliated with the ELCA) to assess my suitability for the Ministry, and he made this a condition of my removal from Restricted status. In his assessment of me to be shared with the specialized counselor he provided a list of concerns, and in that list of "concerns" he included the fact that I am "very conservative theologically". Finally, he warned me not to speak to other pastors who were on CRM, and he also warned me away from “rigid and ultra-conservative pastors, who do not have good relational skills.”

When I was forced to leave my congregation, my wife was thirty-two weeks pregnant with twins. We were told to be out of the parsonage in four weeks. Having nowhere else to go, we along with our seven year-old daughter moved from Ohio to southern Louisiana, into housing provided by a family member. This was right after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, and the job market within an hour of where we were living was glutted with workers. For the first year I couldn’t even get a McDonald’s job. I applied for every job available, even ones for which I had no qualifications. Our twin children, delivered a month early, were mostly healthy other than the older twin's jaundice. However, the delivery, a c-section, caused painful physical issues for my wife, and emotional issues also arose for her after the birth of the twins. Needless to say, she wasn't able to work. What savings we had were depleted by the time I was finally able to find work, which happened a year to the day after my forced resignation, and our credit took a major hit. My DP, to be fair, did send some financial assistance in that first year, but inevitably it was accompanied by the command to "find some menial job" and the encouraging word that the district was "under no obligation" to aid my return to parish ministry.

Though finally employed, I still desired to return to parish ministry. Even after my removal from Restricted Status (after jumping through a number of hoops, including a clean bill of ministerial health from the ELCA counselors), first the DP who had placed me on Restricted Status, then the DP who replaced him when he retired, and then finally the DP who served in our new location did little to bring me relief during my time outside the parish. They didn't call to check up on me or pray with me. They did little to reassure me about my status on the clergy roster. Were it not for brother pastors—the "rigid" men the DP warned me against—I would have lost any and all hope of returning to the parish. As for the DPs, I *did* receive cards from the district office on the anniversaries of my Ordination. That's something, anyway.

These brothers against whom I was warned were also instrumental in keeping me emotionally functional and spiritually healthy. They called to check up on me—and my wife!—and to pray for us. They asked me to fill in for them when they went on vacation and even manufactured preaching opportunities for me at times. They made sure I received the Lord's Supper and offered themselves for Confession and Absolution. They listened when I complained, kicked me in the seat of the pants when I needed it, and encouraged me at all times to entrust my burdens to the Lord.

As time went on, the stress of the situation mounted. For me, weekends were hard times. Though it was good for me to be with my family, Sunday mornings in particular found me withdrawn. My wife finally had to point out to me that it felt to her like I was abandoning the family at times. And dealing with a withdrawn husband and father—who tended to be grumpy when he was around—was tough on my family.

Finally, after nearly four and a half years, my current congregation extended the Call to me to serve as their pastor. This was not the work of DPs. The congregation asked their outgoing pastor and the vacancy pastor for names of pastors they knew and trusted, and my name was among those they shared. My Installation—four years, seven months and four days after my forced resignation—was for my family a day of great joy.

Yet the scars remain. For me, meetings are still times of great stress. I start tensing up before a meeting, and it takes an hour after the meeting for me to loosen up. I second-guess decisions frequently.  Though my current congregation has had little negative to say about me, there's still a little something in me that can't help but worry that every meeting will have an ambush. I still wrestle with the shame and anger and frustration of those four years all the time. (Thank God for Individual Confession and Absolution!)  I escaped with little in the way of depression, and though I admit there were times when I thought my family might be better off without me, suicide was never more than a passing thought.

For me and for my wife, criticisms are still unnaturally hard to handle. "Is this the first sign of trouble?" "Is this the beginning of the end?" Again, my current congregation has never given even the slightest hint of seeking our removal, yet that seed of doubt that was planted nearly eight years ago and which was allowed to grow into poison ivy with little resistance for over four years is so hard to eradicate. It took a long time for my wife—raised in the Roman church—to see Lutherans in a positive light after seeing how we were treated, though the pastors and congregations in Louisiana who showed great love to us certainly did their part to help her see the positives.

As far as finances go, I doubt we'll ever fully recover from the damage of that year without work—especially not with the student loans accrued by attending one if the colleges of the Concordia University System instead of a more reasonably-priced state school. Maybe I'll write that bestseller someday.

I know that's a lot to take in. Believe me when I say I know. I don't share all that to garner pity for me and mine. We're actually one of the rare CRM success stories, such as it is. We're among the fortunate ones who have returned to the parish. I know pastors who have languished for a decade or more without a sniff at a return to the parish. That's why this issue is so near and dear to my heart. There are a lot of hurting pastors out there, a lot of hurting pastors's wives and pastors's kids. Most of them receive little in the way of comfort or support from their DPs, much less any hope for a return to the parish. Some of them are dealing with physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or financial difficulties—and some are dealing with all of those afflictions at the same time.

Our church body is talking a lot right now about "witness," "mercy," and "life together." One of the marks of the early church was the love these Christians showed for their fellows, and this was evident even to their enemies. "See how they love," one said. Their mercy in their life together was a witness to the world.

Well, these CRM men and their families could use some mercy. Some of them need a fair, impartial, and judiciously speedy hearing to settle their status on or off the roster, along with an appeal process that doesn’t involve appealing to the man who made the initial ruling.  (And yes, some men may need time on CRM to help them deal with real issues they face, but some are just the victims of bad financial circumstances, for example, or congregations who had itching ears.) Some of them need help with rent or groceries or medical bills. Some of then need a counselor to help them deal with the stress and shame they face while on CRM. Some may need some help even after returning to the parish to deal with PTSD.

This is something the LCMS needs to address, and quickly! There is a resolution being brought before the 2013 Synodical Convention to address the situation of Candidates…at the 2016 Synodical Convention, after a task force is formed to study the problem. While I’m glad that the Convention plans to take up this issue in some capacity, waiting three years to deal with the meat of this tragedy is a wait three years too long. A task force might be able to come up with ideas for, say, a fair adjudication system or a fair way to address a way to return over two-hundred Candidates to active ministry while not failing our seminary graduates, but we don’t need a task force to commit to contacting these wounded men to pray with them and ask what kind of help they need. We don’t need a task force to set up a fund to help address the financial difficulties these men and their families face. We don’t need a task force to encourage our DPs to bring to bear the love of Christ to these men instead of treating them like proverbial lepers, tax collectors and Gentiles. We don’t need a task force to commit to sending these pastors to Doxology or to ask Doxology to develop a program under their purview for the purpose of addressing the mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of these pastors and their families. Perhaps a friendly amendment to the appropriate resolution might be drafted to speak to some of these needs immediately.

While we wait for Synod in Convention to do something, Pastor Ken Kelly is spearheading an effort to help CRM men and their families. Among other things, he is trying to raise funds to address the financial needs of CRM families. He is selling t-shirts and pins with artwork that reminds us of the plight of these pastors, and any money raised beyond the cost of producing these items goes into a fund to help these families. He is not collecting any administrative costs for himself. Here is a link to the page: THE LEAST OF THESE

In addition, the Augustana Ministerium, an organization of Lutheran pastors, along with its lay counterpart, the Augustana Confraternity, has been allotting a portion of their membership fees to helping pastors and families in need. You can find their page here: THE AUGUSTANA MINISTERIUM

Finally, you can help these men and their families without spending a dime. Commit to praying for pastors who need calls and the families who support and depend on these men. Commit to praying for the congregations who need pastors. Commit to praying for faithful pastors and congregations who will love each other with Christ’s love.

These men and their families need your support and prayers. They are lying on the side of the road—bruised, bleeding, broken—and we have the means of picking them up and helping them. They, too, should receive mercy, so our life together may be a witness to the world.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Sermon for 7/7/13--Trinity 6



Forgiven and Forgotten

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

The world is full of people who don’t think of themselves as murderers. So is the Church. As far as I know, no one in this congregation has felony homicide on their criminal record. We haven't shot anybody or run anyone over with our car, and that makes us comfortable with thinking we're in the clear. We ought to know better. Jesus teaches us quite clearly—and the Catechism drives the point home—if we are angry with another person, if we are resentful and bear them a grudge, if we are upset at them and don't want to get over it, then we are murderers. I don't know of anyone here that has taken a life, but I do know that all of us have been or may still be mad at someone. We harbor anger, resentment, bitterness, bad feelings, hatred and malice in our hearts against them. And yet there is no one who would stand up and say, "I don't forgive them." Of course you forgive them! You just don't forget what they've said or done. No one here would say they aren't a forgiving person. But a person's actions have consequences. If you sin against me, I will forgive you, but I won't forget. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you think that way, believe that way, act that way, you are not forgiving. Ask yourself this question: Do you want God to forgive you and not forget? The baptized child of God doesn't play such games.

But Jesus saves murderers. Just ask Barabbas. Barabbas was set free and Jesus went to the cross in his place. Jesus never murders anyone. His words save. His life saves. His death saves. Jesus obeys the Father's will to come and pay the price for your sins. On Cavalry, Jesus sheds His blood. And Jesus rises the third day, leaving your sins in the grave. When Christ rises from the dead on Easter, your sins are not just forgiven; they are forgotten. Jesus comes to show His own righteousness which is beyond the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. With His righteousness, sins aren't remembered by God. Pharisees that we are, we want to say we forgive, but we hang on to anger and resentment. Our heavenly Father doesn't work that way. He can't—Christ stands between us and the judgment against sins. Where Christ is, there our sins are forgotten. What has been paid for by the blood of Christ is not later pulled out and thrown back in your face. The Lord doesn't work that way. When your sins are forgiven, they are forgotten, washed away by the blood of Christ and left in the tomb.

St. Paul writes that we are a new creation through our baptism into Christ. Through Baptism, spoken again in absolution, and put into you in the Supper, God not only forgives your sins but forgets them too. And now, with our sins forgiven and forgotten by the Lord, the Spirit works in you to forgive and forget the sins of others. Jesus says that if we are going to the altar and remember that someone has something against us, we should go and make peace. When you walk out of church today, will you still be mad at me for what I've said or done? Will you still be mad at someone in your family? Someone here in church? Someone at work? Will you go out with the memory of how you have been wronged and hurt? Repent of making anger your god. When you hear the word of holy absolution, when you eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, you walk out that door with your Lord knowing nothing about your sins. He has forgotten them. You, too, go out that door as the Lord has treated you—not remembering what others have done to you, but forgiving and forgetting all together in Christ.

You are a new creation. Your sins are dead with Christ. You have been raised and made new in the Baptism Jesus gives you. That is righteousness that goes far beyond the scribes and Pharisees. That's Good News for you, and it’s good news for your neighbor who needs their sins to be forgiven and forgotten, just as yours have been in Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Friday, July 05, 2013

PARODY: Once Upon a Midnight Dreary

One of my favorite hymns is "Of the Father's Love Begotten," an eleventh century hymn celebrating the Incarnation and Nativity of Our Lord. It also happens to be the conference hymn for this year's "From Above" Higher Things Conferences. Pastor Buetow, one of the HT bigwigs, is also a neighbor of mine, in a manner of speaking, and we get together most weeks to study the pericope for the coming Sunday in the Greek. Before our study this week, he planted an idea in my head: a parody of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," with its famous line, "Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'" Earlier this week on Facebook I posted a single verse parody:

"Once upon a midnight dreary-"
Thus wrote Edgar Allan Poe.
'Tis the story of the Raven
Who once did a-tapping go.
Perched he did within my chamber,
And he muttered, muttered slow,
"Nevermore--" just "Nevermore."

However, as OCD as I tend to be, I couldn't leave it done halfway. So today I finished a parody of the whole poem. Here it is.

PARODY: Once Upon a Midnight Dreary

Once upon a midnight dreary
Sought I quaint, forgotten lore,
And while pond’ring, weak and weary,
I heard tapping at my door.
And I thought perhaps it could be
Just a random visitor—
            Only that and nothing more.

How distinctly I remember,
Like a ghost upon the floor
Shone the glowing of each ember,
And I thought of lost Lenore.
But my books could not distract me
From that radiant maid of yore—
            Nameless now forevermore.

Lo, the rustling, purple curtains
Brought me fear like ne’er before,
Yet I stood repeating, certain,
“Tis some late night visitor.”
Yet those words stilled not the beating
Of my heart, yet still I swore,
“Tis a guest and nothing more.”

Thinking thus, my soul grew stronger.
“Your forgiveness I implore,”
Said I to the stranger rapping,
Rapping gently on my door.
“Scarcely could I hear your tapping.”
Here I opened wide the door.
            Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering,
Dreaming doubts like ne’er before,
Long I stood there wond’ring, fearing,
Ere I fin’lly gasped, “Lenore?”
Whispered once and then repeating,
Merely this and nothing more—
            Just one single word: “Lenore!”

Back into the chamber turning—
This time it was not the door!
All my soul within me burning
As, much louder than before,
Heard I tapping from the window.
Here’s a myst’ry to explore.
            “Tis the wind and nothing more.”

Open here I threw the shutter,
And a Raven inward tore,
Causing curtains, hearts to flutter
As he perched above the door.
Not a bow or bob he gave me,
This most stately bird of yore.
            Perched he sat and nothing more.

Then the great black bird beguiling
By the stern, grave face he wore,
My sad fancy into smiling.
“Raven from the nightly shore,
To what name should I be calling
As you perch above my door?”
            Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Strange to hear this discourse plainly,
Though the speech no reason bore,
From this Raven most ungainly
Who did perch above my door.
What an odd and ugly naming
This poor, guesting Raven bore—
            Such a name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven sitting only
Did that single word outpour
From that perch most placid, lonely,
There above the chamber door,
Til I scarcely more than muttered,
“You will fly as all before.”
            Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

This reply, so aptly spoken,
Seemed its only stock and store.
Startled by the stillness broken,
I considered, sad and sore.
Such a song, a hopeless burden,
Was the sad, sad dirge he bore—
            Only “Never—Nevermore.”

Still, that Raven most beguiling,
As I turned to face the door,
Brought me once again to smiling
As I thought these matters o’er.
What could be this Raven’s meaning—
This most ghastly bird of yore—
            Mean in croaking, “Nevermore”?

Though no word I was expressing
As I sat, consid’ring more,
I sat thus engaged in guessing,
His eyes burning to my core.
On the cushion’s velvet lining
Sat I, where my fair Lenore
Shall not sit forevermore.

Then, methought, the air grew denser,
As if Seraphs on the floor
Swung an unseen, perfumed censer,
Wafting mem’ries of Lenore.
“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe
And forget the lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet,” said I, “thing of evil,
Tempter sent or tossed ashore—
Desolate, yet all undaunted,
Tell me truly, I implore:
Is there any balm or comfort?
Is there comfort heretofore?”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet,” said I, “thing of evil,
By the heav’ns that bendeth o’er—
Prophet, still, if bird or devil,
Tell this soul with burden sore,
If, within the distant Aidenn
Rests the angel, blest Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting.
Say it not forevermore.”
Thus I said unto the Raven.
“Seek ye out some distant shore.
Haunt my heart and soul no longer.
Quit the bust above my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting
From his perch, which I deplore,
Still resides—he still is sitting
On the bust above my door.
And the shadow on my spirit
From his shadow on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Sermon for 6/30/13--Trinity 5




The Word Works

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

The Word of God is a marvelous and mysterious thing. God the Father makes all things through His Word. Jesus was conceived by God's Word spoken by the angel Gabriel. The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word. Water washes away sins because God adds His Word. Pastors and Christians forgive sins because Jesus' Word says they do. So…how is it that a boat full of fisherman can fish all night and catch absolutely nothing, but when they go out into the deep, they can hardly haul in all the fish? It works that way because that's where our Lord’s Word pointed them. The Word of God has unfathomable power. Where Jesus puts His Word, there we have forgiveness, life and salvation.

Where Christ and His Word are, there the devil and the world and our sinful nature have no power. Everything begins with God's Word. It's always His Word that directs us to what saves us and blesses us. God the Son came into this world, born of the Virgin Mary, and He came to speak the Father's Word to save sinners. In fact, Jesus is the Word made flesh, born to suffer for our sins and to die for them on the cross. Who would have guessed that God Himself would come in the flesh and die on the cross and rise again to take away our sins? Think what other amazing things Christ has done. See how He directs the fishermen to let down their nets for a huge catch; in the same way He has let you into the waters of the font in which you catch the great bounty of forgiveness and life. See how Jesus absolves Peter; in the same way you have been forgiven. See how Jesus leads the disciples to follow Him; in the same way He leads you today to His altar to be where He is for you in His body and blood.

When Peter sees the great catch of fish, however, he throws himself at Jesus' feet: "Away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" Peter knows that Jesus is God and He is not. Peter knows that He doesn't deserve anything from Jesus. That's you too. When you see and hear all that God does for you, learn Peter's response: "Away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" When you kneel for confession and absolution and when you come today to kneel at Christ's altar, understand that it is not that you are worthy or deserve to be here. If you think you are worthy, if you think you do deserve what Christ is about to give you, then stop and repent. Come as a sinner. Confess your sinfulness as Peter does. Only at the font, only at the altar, only in His church does Christ come to you and forgive your sins. Jesus says, "Do not be afraid." You are washed, you are absolved, and now you will eat and drink my flesh and blood. There is nothing to be afraid of. I have defeated all your enemies. You are mine.

Dear Christians, you belong where Jesus is: present in His Word, present where His holy gifts are. In Baptism, Absolution, through the Gospel, in the Lord’s Supper—in His church, you receive His love for you. Here you are forgiven. Here you are a child of God. Here you are no sinner but a saint of Christ's church. Outside of Jesus, none of that is true. Approach your Lord Jesus Christ boldly to receive His pledge and promise that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Come now to receive more Jesus. Come and receive what Jesus has for you. Come to receive Him as He comes to you in His holy body and blood. Like Peter, you are unworthy on your own. But also like Peter, your Savior speaks His Word of forgiveness to you. He chooses you. He makes you worthy. 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.