Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sermon for 11/26/14: Harvest Festival/Day of National Thanksgiving




Fools for Wealth

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

As we look around the world, we can find many examples of people who misunderstand what the Bible has to teach about the blessings of material wealth. At one end of the spectrum, we find a clergyman who drives a Rolls Royce. He teaches that God blesses the true believer with the material prosperity of this world. He wants his followers to understand that his fancy car and other wealth is an indication of God's blessing, and his hearers can be similarly blessed if only they have true faith. At the other end of the spectrum, we find those who take a vow of poverty. There are many who believe that anything more than the bare necessities of this life is evil. They teach that only those who choose poverty are truly blessed. They are certain that this is a right understanding of the Bible's teachings about the material wealth of this world.

It should be obvious that these two teachings are exact opposites. They are mutually exclusive. They simply cannot both be right. In fact, our experience in life leads us to suspect that two such extreme positions are probably both wrong. But one doesn’t have to have an extreme position to be wrong about wealth. Our text is commonly called the story of the rich fool. Why is this man a fool? He built a barn to hold his harvest. Can that be bad? The one who saves for a rainy day is not necessarily a fool. But when one focuses on that wealth and is not rich toward God, then certainly he is a fool. The man in the story left God out of the picture. He allowed his wealth to become his god.

Paul writes, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils." Many people misquote this and say that money is the root of evil. But money is not evil of itself. Our love of money is the problem. This error is very attractive, though, because it shifts the blame from us to money. If it is money itself that is evil, then we can say we are the innocent victims of evil wealth. We may even be so foolish as to blame the One who blesses us with all we have. But the Bible will not let us get away with that sort of thinking. Jesus Himself said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Although the results of sin happen in the world around us, the sin happens within us. We can't blame money. We can only blame ourselves.

Jesus tells us that the cure for our dilemma is to be rich toward God. But how can sinners do this? If we are to be rich toward God, it must come from outside of us. This is where the power of God's Word comes into play, for His Word gives us those riches. The riches of God are nothing other than the forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus earned for us with His perfect life, death, and resurrection—riches we inherit in the waters of Holy Baptism, riches we receive in the Word of Absolution and the Word preached, a rich feast of the body and blood of Jesus.

Christians have more reasons to give thanks than any other people on the planet. We have a Savior. We have eternal life. We have peace with God. In fact, Christians are the only ones who can properly give thanks. Only Christians know the One who blesses us. It’s not because of any special merit or worthiness on our part, but because of the Father's grace for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ. So don't be a fool. Enjoy all the riches of God. Enjoy both earthly riches and heavenly treasure. This is all a free gift from our dear Father in Heaven who loves us and sent His Son to save us. Thanks be to God for this priceless treasure. 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 26, 2014

Sermon for 11/23/14: Last Sunday of the Church Year



Lamps and Oil

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

Ten Virgins went to meet the Bridegroom. Five were wise and five were foolish. The Bible says, "The fool says in his heart there is no God." The foolish virgins are foolish because to them the things of God are not worth desiring. Perhaps they think the Bridegroom will not come. Maybe they don't care whether Jesus is returning. The gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation are not things they crave. Perhaps they have some sin that they want to keep. Whatever the case, they are foolish because they leave behind the gifts of faith. When the Bridegroom comes, they are not ready.

On the other hand, the Bible says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." The wise virgins fear the Lord. They know they owe their existence to the Bridegroom. Their whole life is one lived waiting for Him. They live by His mercy. They live in the forgiveness of sins. The oil of that forgiveness is what keeps their lamps lit, and they know they will need it on the Last Day. They are ready to meet the Bridegroom because they live in that forgiveness.

Where does the oil come from? Lamps in Bible times were fueled by simple wicks in olive oil. Olive oil comes from olives. And the oil is gotten out of the olives by taking them from the olive tree and crushing and squeezing them. But the oil in your lamp is from the tree of the cross. On that tree, the Son of God in the flesh is squeezed and pressed and crushed for your sins. And as He is crushed and killed by the weight of your sins, blood and water flow out of Him. Christ's blood and water flow into the vessels prepared for them: the water into the holy font and the blood into the holy cup. The oil that the virgins carry is not some oil they made themselves or came up with. The oil that fuels are lamp is not our good works or good intentions or even our own faithfulness and believing. The oil that fuels our lamps, that gives us light, is the oil of Christ Himself pressed out of Him on the cross as He gave Himself for the Bride to make her spotless and holy and perfect for Himself. The oil you have, brothers and sisters, is from Christ Himself. Only what is from Christ Himself burns purely and supplies you light at the midnight hour when our Lord comes again.

Take a minute to make sure you've got that oil! That oil is poured into your vessel at the font when it is poured on you with water and the Word. The gifts of Holy Baptism—God's name, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the peace of the Spirit and the adoption as a child of God—these gifts are poured into you in Holy Baptism; in the words of Jesus which are written to tell you what He has done; in the words of Jesus spoken that declare your sins are forgiven; in the body and blood poured into you, given to you to eat and drink, which delivers the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

When the Bridegroom comes again, you will be ready with a lamp that is burning brightly, filled from these heavenly gifts. When Jesus comes again on the Last Day and wakes us from the sleep of death, we trim our lamps, and they burn brightly because of Him and what He has given us. It is Jesus we are waiting for, and it is Jesus Himself who gives us the oil of Himself, so that we might be prepared to enter into the wedding feast when He comes again. Wake up! He's almost here, and the feast is ready. 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.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sermon for 11/16/14--Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

My apologies. I've been fighting off illness this week.



Sheep Are Made

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

You are not a sheep or a goat based on what good works you've done for Jesus through your neighbor. When the last day arrives, the sheep are already sheep and the goats are already goats. And you are sheep. Why? What makes you a sheep? St. Peter says to be holy and blameless until that Day. And you are holy and blameless. It is not because you do good works. Rather, it is because you are washed, absolved, and fed. It is the Son of Man who has made you blameless. It is the Son of the Ancient of Days that has made you innocent in the sight of God. It is the Lamb of God who has clothed you with His own holiness so that now you are a sheep. Dear children of God, let this picture of sheep and goats stir you up to faithful service of your Lord through serving your neighbor. But do not let it cause you to doubt and question your salvation! Let it be a comfort that your Father in heaven has indeed prepared a kingdom for you.

When you stand before the Lord on the last Day, you will be judged. But you will not be judged for your sins. Your judgment will consist of hearing the proclamation of your inheritance and eternal blessings: "Come, you who are blessed of my Father, come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world!" Brothers and sisters in Christ, the kingdom you will inherit on that day has been waiting for you since before the world was even made! Didn't we cast away that paradise the day our parents ate from the Tree of Knowledge? Yes. But our Lord Jesus came to get back that kingdom for us.

What a terrible thing the Father's judgment is! He will cast into eternal torment all those who don't love Him or their neighbor! It is that judgment that Jesus faces when He is nailed to the cross. At the cross, neighbors whom He loved demonstrated hatred to Him in return and crucified Him. On the cross, the Father whom He obeyed turned His back and allowed the sins of the world to kill His only begotten Son. There on Calvary the spotless Lamb of God was slaughtered like a worthless goat! That's your salvation. That's how you are made into a Lamb. The kingdom has always been there, prepared for you. And Jesus came and won it back for you.

There is great temptation to measure yourself by how many good works you do. Are you a Christian? Are you really a sheep? Have you done good things for Jesus by doing good things for your brothers and sisters in Christ? If not, watch out! You're not really a child of God. And in all honesty, you love yourself more than Jesus or your neighbor. But what does your Baptism say? It says you are a sheep. It says that you are holy and blameless, without sin in the sight of God. What does absolution tell you? Your sins are forgiven, as far as the East is from the West. No one in heaven or on earth can say otherwise! What does the body and blood of Jesus say? It is the blood of the Lamb of God, and it says that you are what you eat: so you are a lamb too! The Holy Gospel in word, water, bread and wine declares you to be a child of the Father, a subject of the true King, a sheep on the Last Day. There's a kingdom waiting for you.

So where do good works come in? When Jesus tells the sheep all the good things they've done for Him, what do they say? "When did we ever do that?" Jesus answers that to do it to the least of His brethren is to do it to Him. To bring comfort and aid to our fellow Christians is to serve Jesus. But you don't measure it! You don't keep track of it! In fact, as sheep, you don't even know about it! On the Last Day, you will be amazed at all that you've accomplished for others and thereby for Christ. You will be astounded and humbled to hear your Lord praise you for all you've given to Him when you didn't even know! It's just the truth for those who are inheriting a kingdom!

Our Scripture Readings this morning give us a warning. But the Lord is patient, and He wants none to perish. Therefore the Lord Himself rescues us from our selfish sin and death. He makes us His holy lambs and sheep. He washes, absolves and feeds us. Jesus has won back the kingdom for us. And now, protected in Christ from the day of burning fire, we are ready to inherit the kingdom of paradise prepared for us before the world was made. 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 18, 2014

HYMN: Holy Lord, You Make Your Dwelling

St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois, the congregation I've served for the past four and a half years, will be celebrating her 125th anniversary next year and the 100th anniversary of the construction of our current sanctuary. We're gearing up for a celebration, and one of the things we will do is have a worship service in which we rejoice in the many blessings the Lord has given us over that time. 

Knowing that I've written a hymn or two, and knowing that one of our previous pastors wrote a hymn for the 100th anniversary celebration, the congregation members who have been meeting to discuss and plan the events asked me to put pen to paper to compose a text for the celebration. I unveiled the text I wrote at our meeting this past Sunday, and now that I've shared it with them, I thought I'd share it with you too.

Rather than talk up the congregation in a theology of glory kind of way, I focused instead on why we've gathered in this place for so long. As I wrote, I especially considered Revelation 21:3, John 1:14, Matthew 18:20, Isaiah 55:11, II Timothy 1:6, II Corinthians 5:18-19, I Corinthians 13:12, and John 8:36. The tune I selected is REGENT SQUARE, the tune which probably best known in Lutheran circles for the hymns "Lord, Dismiss Us with Your Blessing" and "Angels from the Realms of Glory." I wanted it to be something with which the congregation was already familiar.

Anyway, here it is. I'd welcome comments and suggestions.

Holy Lord, You Make Your Dwelling
written for the 125th anniversary of
St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois

1. Holy Lord, You make Your dwelling
With Your people night and day.
Here, where baptized children gather,
Here You choose to come and stay.
Here in Christ You show Your glory:
God with us in fleshly clay.

2. You have promised Your own presence
When we gather in Your name.
In this holy house we meet You.
Here You fan our faith to flame.
Bless us with Your Holy Spirit:
God with us, Your Word proclaim.

3. Here You dwell in faithful preaching.
Here Your Word brings our release.
Here Your flesh and blood still nourish,
Cause our fear of death to cease.
You proclaim our sin forgiven:
God with us in endless peace.

∆ 4. Here we walk by faith, unknowing.
Still Your gifts have set us free.
Now and evermore we praise You,
Sing for joy on bended knee,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
God with us eternally.

© 2014 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 87

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Sermon for 11/9/14--Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year



Eating God

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

The children of Israel crossed the Red Sea. Their enemies lay dead on the seashore. They journeyed through the wilderness to Mt. Sinai. Moses went up on the mountain to speak with the Lord. And the Israelites waited. And they waited. Finally they got tired of waiting. They told Aaron, "We're tired of waiting. We don't know what happened to Moses. Make us gods to lead the way!" Aaron collected their gold and made a golden calf. But here's the kicker: the Israelites didn't just make a false god. They attached the True God's name to it! My brothers and sisters in Christ, God's people are always in danger of this. Since His Ascension, the Lord's church has been waiting for His return. Instead of holding on tightly to Christ's Word and promises, people begin to think, "We don't know what happened to Christ. Let's make our own." And so, turning away from the true Christ, people make their own gods. We knew it would happen. Jesus said so. Christ is turned from being the Savior who dies and rises for our sins into some other kind of Christ: a personal life coach; a philosophy teacher; an angry Judge; a good pal; a Jesus who says that anything goes. The true Jesus is tossed aside and a false god arises. The terrible thing is that people put their trust in these false Christs and thereby deny and turn from the real Jesus, the only one who can and does actually save us!

The Lord was ready to wipe those Israelites off the face of the earth. And they certainly deserved it! How could they be rescued by the Lord and then turn around and make Him into a cow? That's what sinners do. But Moses reminds the Lord of His promises. God had promised to make a great nation from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For the sake of His Word, because of His promise, the Lord does not destroy them. You and I  love to trust in something other than the Lord. Given the opportunity, we would nail Him to a cross ourselves. Yet we are saved by the same thing: the Lord's promises. Because Jesus dies for the sins of the world, and because the Father has baptized you into His Son, He will not punish you for your sins. It falls on Jesus instead. The grace of God that spared the children of Israel after the golden calf is the same grace which spares us from the punishment of our sins in Jesus Christ.

We don't suddenly wake up one day and decide we'd better stop sinning and get right with the Lord. We would keep dancing around our idols until our golden cows come home. Instead, Jesus intercedes. He puts Himself between the Father's judgment of sin and us sinners who have that judgment coming. Christ was nailed to the tree of the cross to be a lightning rod to take God's punishment of sin. As long as Jesus stands before His Father, the Father will never remember our sins or punish us for them. Now He has taken His place with the Father, praying for us, interceding for us, reminding the Father continually that He has taken our sins away and we are to be spared from everlasting death!

Through Moses, God did punish the Israelites for their idolatry. He ground up the golden calf, sprinkled it on the water, and made them drink it! But in the mystery of God's grace, since the coming of Christ, we are not made to eat our idols. Rather we are given to eat the Lord Himself in His body and blood. Where the children of Israel were joined with their false god in a way that pointed out their sin, we are joined to the One who takes away our sin. When we eat and drink His body and blood, we do it for His remembrance, that is, He remembers what He has done for us and holds no sins against us. The true miracle is not some trick that the devil plays with his false gods showing off. The true miracle, the true sign and wonder, is that the Son of God takes the place of sinners to free us sinners from our sin and death.

Our countdown to the end of the Church Year has begun today. It’s time to start paying attention and looking for Jesus to come back! Should we be worried? No. Our Lord has warned us. He has given us His Word, and that Word cannot be broken. When you are troubled as you look around in these last days, then pray with God's Word. Call upon the Lord in repentance and faith. Cling to Jesus in His holy gifts at the font and altar. Then you will be ready with St. Paul and all the saints for the glorious coming of Christ. And so we wait. And wait. But that day will soon come. And on that day, the trumpet blast won't be the one of Mt. Sinai, to frighten and terrify. It will be the trumpet blast of our Savior, coming to raise us from the dead and bring us to Himself forever. 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 11/2/14--Feast of All Saints

Sorry for the delay. Life intervenes.



Not Yet

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

On the Feast of All Saints, we remember those saints who have fallen asleep in Jesus and rest from their labors. They are with Jesus in paradise. But for us? Not yet. In this day and age, we’re used to instant gratification in most things. But our life in Christ, our life under the cross, is more like being in the midst of a battle with some grave illness. There’s always that wait for the next test or treatment or meeting with the doctor. And while we struggle through a life filled with distress and suffering and heartache, we wonder when God is going to put a stop to all of it. And the answer is, “Not yet.” Yes, you are baptized into Christ. You are going to rise from the sleep of death on the Last Day and live forever…but not yet. That’s why the church takes time to remember those who have gone before us, the faithful who rest from their labors. For them, the time has come. The Lord has brought them out of this life into eternal life. What they have, we will have too…but not yet.

To a church living within that time of “not yet,” Jesus speaks blessings and promises. Jesus tells us what we are. And He tells us what we have coming. In this life, we face persecution. In the life to come, we will have every blessing and the entire kingdom of God. In this life, people hate us and attack us, and we cry out, “How long, O Lord.” And the Lord answers, “Not yet.” But when ‘the strife is fierce and the warfare long,’ then what? How do we know these promises are true? What will make our hearts brave and our arms strong? How can we possibly wait it out until the “not yet” becomes “now?” The answer is Jesus. The promises are true because Jesus made them. And we know His promises are true because He died and then He rose. The reason those saints have not died in vain is that Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose again. The reason they are with Him in paradise is the same reason the thief on the cross is: our Lord told them so. The reason we know what He said is true is because on that third day, that tomb was empty. Jesus rose. And therefore we celebrate all saints because we haven’t lost our brothers and sisters in Christ. They aren’t gone. They are with Jesus.

And because He rose from the dead, His promises to you are true as well. Despite the suffering, persecution, tragedy and anything else that plagues you in this life, you have Christ’s promise: the kingdom of God is yours. You have it now. You don’t have to wait. You entered that kingdom when you were baptized. You were clothed in white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. Every pronouncement of absolution, every sermon announcing Christ crucified for sinners, every time you feast on the body and blood of Jesus: this is a proclamation that the enemies of the faithful are defeated. It may not be fully realized quite yet, but they’re going to be gone for good when Jesus returns. And every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, when we are gathered around the body and blood of Jesus, we are there with the angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven. Bodies rest in graves, but around the Lord’s altar, we who walk as yet by faith and those saints already with Christ in paradise are gathered around Jesus. These gifts are how you know His promises are true.

Even though it’s not yet time for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, those things still are going to happen. And you still have forgiveness and life now. But until the resurrection of all flesh, until the “not yet” becomes the “now,” His promise to you is that He will keep you and all His saints in faith until that day. 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.