Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sermon for 12/24/16: The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord

No audio. My apologies. A blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours from me and mine.

"Unto You"

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

The words of our text may be the greatest good news ever delivered by angels to men. Those words, unto you, help us to understand both who Jesus is and why He came to earth. So who is Jesus? He is none other that the Son of God. He is the perfect image of His heavenly Father. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is the name above every name. And as the angel says to the shepherds and to us, this Jesus, this Son of God, this co-creator of the world and judge of all the earth, is born unto you.
What an amazing gift from God! It is a gift beyond price. Some of you have had children. Others have not, but might some day. Any of you who are parents know that there is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing that this is your child. This is your son in your arms; this is your daughter sitting on your lap: your very own flesh and blood, born into your family. Now take all the wonder, all of the glory and majesty of birth and family and life in your own arms, and look to the manger in Bethlehem. In that manger is born a Child. Isaiah put it so well: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
This child, this Son of God and Son of Mary, is born unto you. This child comes into our family, the family of the human race. This One comes to give what no other child can give. For no matter how wonderful human birth is, no matter how great a gift is family, we are all born into sin and death and heartache. But not This One. This one is born the Savior, Christ the Lord. He is God and Man. He is without sin and full of the Love of the Father for you. He is your peace and hope in this dark world. He is your life, He is your forgiveness, and He takes upon Himself all of your sin.
“For unto you is born this day…a Saviour.” Have there ever been more beautiful words spoken of in all the world? This perfect Son of God is born unto you. He is born in the darkness of our sin, but He brings light and life and salvation to all who trust in Him. He comes in silence, but the angels of heaven cannot help but sing out, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
The almighty Word of God descends from His royal throne on high, and takes the lowliest form of all: He takes on your form, your likeness. He does this so that you by faith may take on His nature: a child of God and an heir of eternal life. For Christ has entered into your family. He sits at your table; He rests in your bed. He is one of us as much as every other member of your family. Yet this new member of the human family comes to give us gifts like no other. For by entering into your flesh, by taking on your family, Jesus Christ has also adopted you into God’s family. You now bear God’s name as much as He bears your name. And through this Son, God and sinners are reconciled.
It is indeed no wonder that the angels in heaven sing, Glory to God!” But no matter how joyfully the angels sing, their joy this night cannot match ours. For this Jesus has made peace with God for all mankind. We are not separated from God anymore. He is one of us, and He is Immanuel, “God with us.” Rejoice in the mystery of God made flesh, for He comes to save you. And so we pray, “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today.” 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.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sermon for 12/18/16: Fourth Sunday in Advent

No audio file today. Sorry! Some pastor who will remain nameless forgot to hit the "record" button.

What Really Matters

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

“Repent!” That’s the message John has for the people awaiting the coming of the Messiah. It is a tough, thankless message to preach. After all, how many illicit affairs took place last night? How many children were neglected? How many families charged up their credit cards to create the image of a perfect Christmas with a false appearance of abundance? How many try to buy or drink or sleep or cheat their way out of despair? How many words were wielded as weapons? And how many of you laid awake last night, lonely or afraid or angry or jealous, full of regret or scheming for the future? The enemy is all around us and even within us.
More than ever, St. John the Baptist is the man for our times. He has comfort for our broken-heartedness, an answer for our uncertainties. He is the voice crying in the wilderness, and we live in the wilderness. We walk in danger. We fight, flee, and die. We abandon our young, betray our friends, forget our spouses. We are not as civilized or sophisticated as we pretend. If we were, we would not have among us the homeless, the drug addicted, the criminal, the untended victim, or the adulterer. We would not lock our doors for fear of our neighbors. Our marriages would be stable. Our children would be safe. Our churches would be full.
John beckons us to open our eyes and acknowledge the wilderness around us and within us. John urges us to come out of our make-belief worlds, to face reality. Despite your pride in your strength, you are vulnerable and weak. You cannot stop a bullet. You cannot police your own streets. You have no safety in yourself or in man-made contraptions. These things only offer false comfort. Your life is fragile. Yet you sell your soul cheaply for things that rust and corrode and crumble and fade. You are obsessed with your own desires and dreams. You turn in on yourself, away from God. Wake up! Repent! You are in danger of losing everything. Repent before it is too late. Repent, for there is hope.
There is One whose sandals we are all unworthy to untie. He is not infected like we are. He is pure, clean, and righteous. He is God in human flesh. He gives Himself for and to you, to make you safe and whole and free and alive again. He baptizes with the fire of the Holy Spirit in waters filled with His Name. He bestows righteousness. He forgives and restores without an investigation of your credit history, without a payment schedule, without cost or demand or restriction! He forgives. He loves. He is the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He can overcome your lust, your anger, your past. He can give you a future again. And that is what matters. It’s not important who your pastor is, even if it’s John the Baptist himself. It doesn’t even matter who you are. What matters is that He is the Christ! He is the long-expected Savior, the One who loves you and restores you to the kingdom, who calls you to be His beloved Bride.
Here in the wilderness, it is hard to believe that is what matters. It seems at times like what matters is impressing your boss or getting the respect you crave from your neighbor. It seems like what matters is instant gratification. It even seems at times like what matter is justice: that life would be fair, that you and your loved ones would never be shorted or suffer in any way. But that stuff doesn’t matter on the Last Day. What matters on the Last Day is that the virgin’s Son went to the cross to redeem you, body and soul. He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He comes to you in the preaching of His Word and in His body and blood. He is the Christ. He is the One anointed to be your Savior. He loves you even when no one else does or can. Jesus is the Christ, and that’s what matters for 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.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sermon for 12/11/16: Third Sunday in Advent

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Doubt and Comfort

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

Jesus calls John the greatest person ever of those born of women. In truth, John is a man obsessed with the Lord. But at the moment, John is a prisoner on death row. He would not bend like a reed in the wind. He dared to speak against the king's immorality. He is more than a prophet. He is a martyr. He will lose his head rather than play along and pretend sin is okay. It is this focus and desire, this single-minded zeal, which has made him the greatest of those born of women. Yet, even he, great though he is, knows some fear, some uncertainty. He is not perfect.
On this side of glory, inside every man of faith, inside every zealous preacher, there abides doubt fueled by sin. John asks: “Are you the coming One, or should we expect another?” Do not be scandalized by John's question. It doesn’t matter if he asked for his own sake or the for the sake of his disciples. Faith that waits is not yet perfect. It coexists with sin. It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For a time, faith lives with doubt. In the kingdom of heaven there is no doubt. Yet here on earth we believe and we confess those things we cannot see, those things we cannot prove, yet know to be true, even while a part of us doubts them. And so frail are we that it seems we only use the language of faith to describe and confess those things we doubt.
Faith goes where God promises to be and, like a child asking to hear the same bedtime story once again, or a wife wanting to hear once more that her husband still loves her, faith asks again: “Are You the Coming One?” And Our Lord is quick to reply: “The blind see and the lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and deaf hear. The dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them.”
John stood as a man outside of time. He was both the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament prophets. Like Abraham, he lived by faith; like Jacob, he wrestled with God; like Elijah, he embodied repentance in his body and garments; and like Isaiah, he pointed to the One who came to redeem us. He preached his fiery sermons for his own hearing as much as for ours. He needed to bear fruits of repentance. He needed the Lamb of God and the forgiveness of sins. He heard the Father's voice. He pointed to the end of his father's office and his own office. Finally he was relieved and his burdens removed. Faith got what it waited for.
In the same way, we also straddle two worlds: the kingdom of heaven and the new man on the one side, and the kingdom of the flesh and the old man on the other. We believe those things we doubt, those things we cannot see, those things we cannot prove. We hope. We pray. We wait. And with the father of the demon-possessed child we confess: “Lord, I believe.” And then we add our prayer to his: “Help my unbelief.” And so He does. Jesus gave His life for yours. He died and He rose again to set you free. Soon your burdens will also be removed. In the meantime the fruit of the vine is for you, the Cup of the New Testament in His blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, and the kingdom of heaven is poured into you. “The poor have the Gospel preached unto them” says Jesus. And so it is. This is the comfort John proclaimed, and it is my privilege to preach that same comfort to you. The blind see and the lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The dead in sin are raised up in the waters of Holy Baptism. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. You have received double from the Lord’s hand for all your sins. And the Word of our God stands 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.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Called and Installed: A New Adventure

For my 700th blog post(!!!), I decided I'd go bigso big, in fact, that it takes a second church building and congregation for me to make it happen. Earlier in 2016, Pastor Mark Buetow, who had been serving at Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, Illinois, received a Call to serve a congregation a little ways outside Chicago. His acceptance of that call (the traitor! *wink*) led the members of the Bethel congregation to consider their future. And after much consideration, they decided to contact my congregation, St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois. The members of Bethel asked the members of St. Peter to consider joining them in a dual parish arrangement. This meant, among other things, that they would share me as their pastor.

In July, after more consideration and prayer, not to mention a number of meetings full of questions and compromises to hash out details, both congregations voted overwhelmingly to join together as a dual parish. For various reasons, the agreement would not take effect until January 1, 2017. However, I would serve Bethel as their vacancy pastor until that time. I would have to be officially Installed as the pastor of the dual parish, and, having already been Installed at St. Peter in May of 2010, we made the decision to have the dual parish Installation at Bethel. I asked to have it the weekend after Thanksgiving so my parents could attend, since they had already planned to come for Thanksgiving.

So we went ahead with the Installation on the 27th of November. The Reverend President Timothy Scharr of the Southern Illinois District officiated at the Installation. Pastor Kirk Clayton of Zion Lutheran Church in Mascoutah was the preacher, and his sermon brought together the names of the two congregations. (I can't post the text of his sermon, since he preaches from an outline, but you can download the audio of his sermon here.) Pastor Peter Ill of Trinity Lutheran Church in Millstadt was the liturgist. A number of area pastors participated in the laying-on/holy-hover-of-hands. And then, after the Installation, most of us drove from Bethel to St. Peter, where the ladies of both congregations (and a few men, for that matter) put together an impressive meal.

For many of the members, this was their first interaction with members of their new sister congregation. Everything I'd hoped forlove, cooperation, and a joyful spiritcame together on that day. Campbell Hill and Du Quoin may be about 25 miles apart, but the love of Christ has a way of bringing people together, no matter how far apart they may live and worship.

This will change things for all of us. Both congregations are used to having their own pastor; they now share me. Both congregations originally met for Divine Service at 10am; St. Peter now meets at 9am and Bethel at 10:45am. Bethel was used to having the pastor at their preschool every day; now he's only there two days each week. There are others. Many others. Our task going forward together is to do our best to make the arrangement work. I don't think that will be a problem.

And things have changed for the Kornacki family, too. After leaving North Dakota, I said I'd never serve a dual parish again. After writing a book which could be seen as critical of Synod, I also said I'd never receive another Call. If you want to make the Lord laugh, tell Him your plans or say "never." I'm once again taking care of two congregations, which means I have more shut-in and hospital visits, more meetings, more responsibilities, and more time away from my family. It also means I get to work with two youth groups, two church councils, two wonderful organists, and a bunch of preschool kids. I also have a second set of bookshelves, which means I can buy more books! We were able to purchase a new vehicle, which, honestly, we needed. The Lord continues to provide for my family, just as He continues to provide for the two congregations it is now my privilege to serve.

Thank you to everyone who made the day so special! I'll leave you with the picture of the pastors at my Installation. What a seedy-looking bunch of characters!
Left to right: Rev. Timothy Scharr, Rev. Peter Ill, Rev. Kirk Clayton, me, Rev. James Leistico, Rev. Chris Agne, Rev. Timothy Landskroener (also known as OP: Old Pastor), and Rev. Timothy Sims.

Sermon for 12/4/16: Second Sunday in Advent

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Stirred Hearts, Lifted Heads

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

My brothers and sisters in Christ, take heed! The fig tree is thick with buds. The nations are perplexed. Men’s hearts are failing. False preachers scratch the itchy ears of men: those vain liars who hide behind their wicked vocabulary, calling debauchery and vice “victimless,” naming babies “fetuses” and the slaughter houses “clinics;” who pretend as though sodomy is wholesome, who attempt to use the Church for their own gain. They will be exposed. All will be exposed. Repent. The Kingdom draws near. Your salvation is coming. Beware. And rejoice.
Last week we begged our Lord Jesus Christ to stir up His power and come. We asked this because of His enduring promise; because He has said that He will be Our God. He will save us. We want Him to fulfill His Word. We do not merely ask for a little something to get us by until we are on our feet again. We are asking for rescue. We are in mortal danger because of our sins. We are surrounded by demonic forces. We are cold, tired, and afraid. Left on our own, we’d have no hope. Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come. Do not leave us alone, for you are our Hope and your Word is true.
Stir up our hearts, O Lord. That is our prayer this week. We pray that the Power of God in the Flesh, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, would stir us up. Stir up our hearts, O Lord…for we are in danger of growing bored and cold. Our flesh is weak. We are tempted to neglect the watch, to indulge our baser desires, to forget who we are and what we are waiting for. We need the Lord to stir up our hearts, to rouse us from selfish slumber, to prepare and make us ready for His coming: now in Word and in Sacrament and soon in glory.
The Spirit stirs us to repentance. It is like being awakened too early on a dreary December day. We’d rather roll over and bury ourselves in the covers than repent. When they were frozen, our hearts were numb. But as they thaw at the Spirit’s stirring, they shoots needles of pain into our souls. Turning from our sin and towards God is difficult, painful. Nonetheless we pray that He would stir us up, for if He doesn’t, we die an eternal death. The Word of God is a sword. It is meant for killing. It cuts us off from our old life. It exposes our shameful weaknesses. We may have fooled men, but we never fooled God. He saw the things we did in secret. He heard the black thoughts and depraved fantasies that played out in the backs of our minds. Repent. God knows what you’ve done, what you’ve dreamed, what you’ve thought. And yet, despite that, He loves you.
He became a servant. He suffered under the Law you failed to keep. He did all that it demands. He abstained from all that it forbids. He then allowed the Law to do to Him all it should have done to you. He has fulfilled the Law; it can ask no more. There is no one to accuse you. He has gone to the sacrifice willingly, as the Lamb to the slaughter. He has counted you worthy of that price. He gladly paid for you. He does not regret it. He loves you. The promise made to the fathers is that this mercy endures forever. He is your hope and your salvation.
Look up. Lift up your heads. Your redemption draws near! His Word will not pass away. It is true. It is valid. It is certain. All will happen just as He said it would. This enduring and gracious Word made flesh was placed into you in the waters of Holy Baptism. He made you His. He cannot forget you. You are His Bride. God has joined you together. No man can put you asunder. You have left your father the devil and become one flesh with the crucified and risen God of Abraham. Heaven and earth will fail, but His Word will not pass away…and because of that, you will not pass away. You will live 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.