Monday, July 27, 2015

Sermon for 7/26/15: Trinity VIII



Good Fruit and Bad Men

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

Great damage has been done to the psyches and souls of men by men who call themselves pastors. Great lies about God and man have been perpetuated to deny comfort and peace to tortured souls wracked with guilt. There are many paths, but only one leads to God. This is a dangerous world. Don't take candy from strangers. Don't be fooled by cutesy or convenient slogans. You with itchy ears, weary of the fight, longing for peace at almost any cost: beware! The devil will offer what you want to steal you soul. Doctrine always matters. The Law always accuses. And you have to remember that you will never get out of the Church Militant alive.

You can't blindly trust your pastor. He is only a man. You have to judge the shepherd according to his fruits—according to his preaching. In order to do that, you have to know the Bible. That is the sole source and norm for all of our doctrine and life. Everything we teach must conform to that. If the pastor veers from the Scriptures, he needs a rebuke for his own good and for the good of the sheep. It is your responsibility and duty to keep your pastor honest. Don't be intimidated. If David faced Goliath with nothing more than a sling, you can surely stand up to a know-it-all pastor. Speak the Truth in love. That’s your job.

God allows false prophets to infiltrate us from time to time. He uses them to separate the sheep from the goats, to keep us on the true path. We must know that all preachers do not follow God. The undershepherds of the Lord speak with authority only so long as they speak the Truth. When they speak the Truth given to them, their words are not their own. But even then, even when God sends men He has raised up and sustains in His Word and Truth, they still cannot believe for you. Even when you have a true and faithful shepherd and God serves you through Him, preaching to you, absolving you, feeding you, still you must judge. You must discern. You must pay attention. Many false prophets began as true prophets. You must always weigh the preaching according to the Bible. You must check if the preacher’s words are God's words. They are God's words when the preacher has been rightly called and his preaching is in accordance with the Bible.

God sends true and faithful shepherds. You know them when you hear the Good Shepherd's voice in them. But whether shepherds are faithful or false, God always provides. The validity of Baptism,  Holy Communion, and Holy Absolution do not rest upon the pastor's faith. Nor do they stand upon his intentions or understanding. They stand upon the words and promises of God. In that sense, it doesn’t matter what man baptized you, whether or not he was good man, whether or not he proved to be faithful. God baptized you! And He is good and does not lie. He keeps His promises.

Immediately prior to the Reformation, there were few lay people and even priests who had much grasp of the Bible or of Jesus and His atoning life and death for us. The Church was infected with superstition greed. But God still worked good for His people. He called men by the Gospel and made them His saints. He worked through the Word in the Liturgy and through the Word in the Sacraments. He never gave up on His people. He never stopped loving them, answering their prayers, or saving them.

So beware. Be on your guard. But do not be afraid. Your God will strengthen and keep you firm in the true faith unto the end. He has made a promise to you. Jesus has given His life for you and has risen from the dead for you. Your faith is not in vain. False preachers—pastors, popes, or television preachers—mere men cannot stop God. He has laid His claim upon you. He has sealed you in the waters of His death and feeds you with the good fruit of His Body and His Blood from the tree of the cross. He has always known you, even before He formed in your mother's womb. He has called you by name.

Pray that God sends you faithful shepherds to sustain you. Pray that He would keep them from temptation. Pray that His Word would have free course. Thank God that He has, in His mercy, revealed the Truth of His love to you. And come what may, good or evil, prosperity or hardship, false prophets or true, no matter what, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will see you through. Jesus is your true Pastor. He will not abandon nor forget you. He is your true and good Shepherd, and He sends faithful under-shepherds to sustain you. He loves you. He has laid down His Life for you. He has taken that Life up again to win you for His Bride. He is the good Fruit from the Tree of Life planted, on Golgotha and watered with Blood. Eat of Him and be satisfied, be forgiven, and live. 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, July 19, 2015

Sermon for 7/19/15: Trinity VII



His Mercy Endures Forever

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

In the Garden of Eden food came without toil. The garden was fruitful and abundant. There were no storehouses, silos, or preservatives. There was no competition for food with mice and mold. But that all changed when Adam watched as his wife was seduced by the serpent, when he failed to protect or guide her, when he reached for knowledge of good and evil and sought in his lust to be like God, when he ate the poison and knew his nakedness.

Yet God's mercy is past all understanding. He did not abandon Adam and Eve the way that we abandon those who are unfaithful to us. By His grace, we still eat. The earth gives up its fruit. It exacts toil and sweat from us sinful sons of Adam but it gives up its fruit. Herbicides and fertilizer, machinery and the collective wisdom of ages has made it easier. But still it is not the garden planted by God and tended by angels, supervised by sinless Adam, where work is purest joy. Men must gather in the grain and protect it again. And even when it has been processed and baked into bread still the mice and mold threaten it and it must be eaten quickly before it is stolen or succumbs to rot.

And thus have we sometimes thought our labor was the key. Indeed, without out there would be no food. They've brought their wisdom and technology, their strength and their discipline to bear and brought a harvest home and sometimes they've thought it was their own. But it never is. Whenever we eat, it is God who provides. We are but a single tsunami or terrorist attack or who-knows-what away from famine. John Deere doesn't make a tractor that can stop bombs, hurricanes, blights, plagues, or stock market crashes. Our Lord once multiplied bread and fish to feed a mob who would turn on Him. He had compassion. He did not want to see them faint on the way. But what of the fainting mothers whose sons were murdered in Tennessee? What of those who are dealing with cancer, with unemployment, with loneliness, with the loss of loved ones?

There is an answer here in the feeding of the four thousand. There is great comfort. But it can't be rushed. The anguish must be felt. The tears must flow. The Law must seem to have its way and take us to our knees. Our Lord wept at the death of Lazarus even though He knew His friend would rise. So let us also weep without shame. Let no man say that these evil things are God's will! But while we weep, let us confess that God is still good. Let us confess that He uses all things, even evil things, for good.

God is good. He does know what He is doing. What can the winds and waves, the guns and bombs, the lies and threats do to you? You belong to God. His compassion for the four thousand pales next to His love for you. You are His child in whom He is well-pleased. Always He would feed you, provide for you, comfort and love you. Always He welcomes you back. Always the angels rejoice when you repent.

We are not in control. God is. Indeed, His mercy sometimes seems almost cruel to our feeble minds. His ways are past finding out. But whenever men eat, it is God who provides. Not because He has to, not because He owes us or should, but simply because He has compassion. His mercy endures forever. His love is without measure. Our Lord Jesus, who died but who lives, takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner but would have all men turn and believe in Him.

Now it may be that God will not heal all your diseases or miraculously multiple the oil and the flour in your pantry. He might not. He might instead ask you to bear heavy crosses and shed many tears. You might even, like He was, be sentenced to unjust or a violent death. But you will not touch a drop of the Cup of Wrath that could not be removed, for He drank it all. And whether you experience miracles like the feeding of the four thousand or not, God Himself has cleansed your soul. That is the greatest and most important miracle next to His resurrection. He has laid His claim upon you. He has called you to be His. You are baptized! And that is no small thing in the Kingdom of God.

Hunger does not last. Grief will not last. Suffering will come to an end. Whenever we eat, it is God who provides. Whenever we grieve, our Lord provides comfort. Whenever we suffer, our Father provides healing in body and in soul. We are most certainly not in control of how it happens. Thanks be to God for that! For unlike our needs, His mercy endures 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 5/12/15--Trinity VI



The Law Always Accuses

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

The Law of God is impossible for fallen men. That is why we hate it and try to weasel out of it. We make excuses. We try to minimize our sinful choices by calling them “the lesser evil” or “extenuating circumstances.” We vainly imagine that we could create something more reasonable. But to hate God’s Law is to hate God’s Word. What the Law demands is not merely an outward obedience, but a perfect obedience, inside and out, pure heart, mind, and body. We have acted like spoiled teen-agers demanding the keys the family station wagon and at the same time griping that the car isn’t cool enough. All the while, we are white-washed tombs, clean on the outside, but decaying on the inside. Our hearts are turned inward. They are suffocating from the self-destroying thoughts and desires that plague us, even as we race around trying to keep up appearances.

Measured from the outside, the scribes and the Pharisees were better than us. They dedicated their lives to the study of God’s Word. They spent hours in disciplined prayer. They made sacrifices. They weren’t divorced. They weren’t obsessed about their appearance. Jesus says of them, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Which of you will cast the first stone at them? Who is going to say that his righteousness exceeds theirs? We have broken God’s commandments. We are no better than other people. We deserve to die. We deserve to be thrown into the fires of Hell.

But there is One whose righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, One born apart from the passions of man, One born of a virgin, One born in the line of David. God is His Father. He is the fulfillment of the promise to Eve in the garden; holy for the unholy. He was pure, without malice, greed, or lust. The world counted Him as stricken, smitten, and afflicted—cursed by God. But still, He loved the world that hated Him and laid down His life for it. He was above the Law. But He kept it anyway. He knew no sin, but allowed the Law to punish Him for all the sins you ever have, or ever will, commit. He laid down His life, specifically, precisely, deliberately, and particularly, to pick up yours, to spare you Hell’s tortures. He stood in your place. The last penny has been paid. Justice has no more demands. There is no one to accuse you. The Law is satisfied and you go free. For the righteousness of the truly Righteous One has been transferred to you in the waters of Baptism. It is yours. It far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is perfect. It is without blame. It is free.

The Law has been satisfied, fulfilled, and completed—all for you. But it has not been abolished. It is still how God desires us to live and describes the best way to live. When we break it, there are consequences. People get hurt. Our lives are made more complicated. Sin is dangerous and deadly. But that being said, it is just sin. And we sinners who have been born from above by water and the Spirit are not slaves to sin. Christ, our Lord, died to sin and has been raised again. And we have been joined to that death, buried in the waters of Holy Baptism with Him, and raised up again to life with Him. We live daily in the forgiveness of sins, in the daily rhythm of confession and absolution, contrition and confidence, hearing God’s Word and eating His Supper: not above the Law, but freed from it’s condemnation, full of the hope of the glory to come, and eager for the Day of His return.

The Law still stands, for heaven and earth have not yet passed away. On this side of glory, it will always accuse and convict us. There is only one solution, one escape, one righteousness that is enough: the blood of the Lamb. Hell’s demands have been met in Christ’s flesh. Jesus lives, and the Law now finds no fault in you. You are covered. The angel of death passes over. The Law is fulfilled. The gift  of that flesh and blood from the Altar is freely bestowed upon you, for Christ has answered the Judge and reconciled you to Himself. There is no one to accuse 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.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sermon for 7/5/15: Trinity V




A Reason to Hope

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

Jesus does something that goes against all logic. He tells Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Anyone who is even casually familiar with fishing, at least it is true of fresh water fishing, knows that you catch fish in the shallows where the fish congregate and feed. And that is especially true when you’re fishing with nets; you need to go where they nets can actually reach the fish. What Jesus suggests here goes against all that experience teaches. Peter also informs Jesus that they had just been fishing all night without success. They had put to use all of their skills and techniques and knowledge as experienced fishermen, and hadn’t caught a thing. It just wasn’t a good time to fish. And what’s the point now of going out during the heat of the day, which is absolutely the worst time? Jesus is in over His head here; He doesn’t know what He is talking about. 

And yet, Peter responds: “But at your word I will let down the nets.” Because you say so, Lord; because it’s your words, I will do it, even though I have my doubts.” And when Peter and his friends did so, they caught such a great amount of fish their nets began to tear, and they ended up filling two boats with fish! And so, even though today’s Gospel might seem to be all about fishing, what it’s really about is the word of Jesus. Nothing happens apart from that word. The word of Jesus may seem foolish to human reason and logic, but in truth it is powerful and effective to do what it says, and to deliver what it promises, and to save those who believe it. 

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul wrote: “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” The world thinks of the Gospel, and all of Scripture for that matter, as a myth for the naive and the gullible and the shallow-minded. No one who has any real intelligence or education would go for that. They regard it as superstition. The Word of God is constantly being mocked in our world as being backward and outdated and even dangerous and hateful. We've seen ample evidence of that these past few weeks. Biblical morality has been called bigotry, and the day is coming when preaching faithfully from the Word of God will be considered a hate crime. If the world needs a god, they’ll find one that’s more logical to them—usually the one they see in the mirror. 

And we know well the temptation of wanting to follow such thinking, to walk by sight and not by faith, to have a religion that is based on human wisdom and glory rather than God’s wisdom and the cross. But like Peter, by God’s grace we have been brought to trust in Christ’s Word, even in the midst of our doubts. We have been brought to know that, though the Word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It is written, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” 

In order to humble those who are proud and wise and strong in their own eyes, our Lord chooses to hide His power behind that which seems foolish and weak. In that way His saving wisdom and strength will be perceived only by lowly, penitent believers to whom He reveals Himself. After all, where has human wisdom really gotten us? Technology and science can do wonderful things. But has man’s wisdom eliminated crime and violence? Is there any less loneliness or depression in the world? Have people stopped dying? Man’s wisdom is severely limited. We dare not rest our hope there. Just as Peter had been able to catch those fish solely by the power of the Word, so now Jesus would make him able to draw men solely by preaching Jesus’ powerful Word. In this way, others who were weak and foolish would be made wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. 

That’s the whole point of this catch of fish; it all happens at the Word of Jesus. Luke tells us that Jesus had been “casting the net,” so to speak, as He preached the Word from Peter’s boat. Jesus had turned that boat into a cathedral. He was not afraid to launch out into the deep and let down His nets. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at the creation, so our Lord goes to the deep, to the very depths of sin and death, in order to pull up His catch of sinful men and raise us to the light of His resurrection life.

So, let us hear clearly for ourselves the words Jesus spoke to Peter. “Do not be afraid.” And as Peter took our Lord at His Word, let confess the reason for the hope that is in us. At the Lord’s Word, even though all our senses can grasp here are worldly objects—things like water, things like bread and wine—yet because Christ has said so, we believe that Christ is truly present to make us God’s child, to feed us with His body and blood, to proclaim our sins forgiven. 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, July 04, 2015

HYMN: Father, Behold My Shield

My latest hymn is based on the readings for the Fifth Sunday After Trinity in the LSB 1-year Lectionary, especially the Gradual (Psalm 84:9,8) and Introit (parts of Psalm 27) with a little of the Epistle (I Peter 3:8-15) thrown in for good measure. This is an early draft, so there's work to be done yet, and any feedback would be appreciated.

Father, Behold My Shield

1. Father, behold my Shield,
Grace in the flesh revealed:
Behold Your Son, appointed!
Lord God of hosts, give ear.
In mercy, hear my prayer
For love of Your Anointed.

2. Ever my Helper be.
In mercy answer me,
My Light and my Salvation.
Courage and faith impart.
Strengthen my waiting heart
Against all accusation.

3. Teach me Your way, O Lord,
That I may trust Your Word
And love and serve my neighbor.
Grant that I faithfully
Confess the hope in me,
And let me never waver.

4. Father, behold my Shield.
To Christ my Lord I yield.
In Him no foes assail me.
If, for Your holy name,
Rivals should dare to blame,
My Shield will never fail me.

(c) 2015 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
667 667
(The only tune for this meter in Lutheran Service Book is NUNC DIMITTIS, hymn 888. Were I to use this tune, I would want to alter it to lengthen some of the quarter notes.)