Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sermon for 12/30/18: The Sunday After Christmas

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Pondering

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


The shepherds are rejoicing. Joseph is marveling. Simeon is singing. And in the meantime, Mary is pondering. It is not that she is less than joyful, but her joy is tempered by the reality of the curse. Things are not as they should be. She should have a better place to lay her Newborn than a manger. She should not be shamed by men for the honor that God has bestowed on her. But most of all, Her Son should not have to die. Of all those ever born, her Son is innocent; her Son has not sinned. He should not have to die. But that is His sole purpose. That is why He was born. If He doesn’t die, then we would—Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon…all of us.
Mary knows joy and peace in Christ. But she also knows sadness, for this life is not as it should be. Far from Nazareth, Mary knows that Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Egypt are not her home. Does she know that Nazareth is not her home either? Does she know that she will not really be at peace until she is home with her Son in the place prepared for her? Is that what she ponders?
In the same way, your sorrow is not yet ended. Even for Christians, earthly life is not full. It is still incomplete, still full of sorrow. This is how it is for you. You are forgiven in Christ; there is no one to accuse you. The devil has nothing to say. You are holy, righteous, and innocent in Jesus Christ. You rose to life out of the watery grave in Holy Baptism, bearing God’s name. No one can stand against you. But you still hurt. Your heart is pierced—broken with children who have grown in ways you do not approve; broken with work supervisors who demean you and steal your due credit; broken with a church on earth that goes the ways of men, following dollars and prestige instead of the Word; broken with a government full of self-serving bureaucrats; broken with cities full of violence, rivers full of garbage, and bodies filled with cancers. Your Christmas didn’t measure up to Hallmark’s standards. The ordinary world returned too soon. Christmas just doesn’t satisfy like it seems it should. Even today, the Sixth Day of Christmas, seems like a let-down without the manger and the shepherds.
And yet, no matter how unsatisfied, how frustrated or tired you might be, no matter how deeply your own heart is pierced, what matters is this: Jesus was born of Mary. He obeyed the Law perfectly. He laid down His life under Pilate. He rose from the dead on the third day. Life on this side of glory is not as it should be. Husbands should always love their wives. Parents should always remember their children. Pastors should always preach the Truth without fear. But they don’t. And yet, no matter how much life has failed you, no matter how friends betrayed you, no matter how your own flesh has abased and shamed you, what matters is this: Jesus was born of Mary. He obeyed the Law perfectly. He laid down His life under Pilate. He rose from the dead on the third day.
And that is enough. It is enough to bestow joy and hope to your pondering heart. This sad life is not all there is. This fallen world will not last. Jesus was born and died and rose; He will bring you home. This love will not yet remove all your pain, stop all the violence and debauchery, or bring your children back. But it will. It will make all things right and wipe away every tear on the Last Day. In the meantime, it will give you the strength to carry on. It will comfort and console you. Jesus Himself, born of Mary, alive out of death, loves you. He gives His Body and His Blood to strengthen and nourish you in the true faith unto life everlasting. This is most certainly true. And it certainly gives you something to ponder in your heart—for the Sixth Day of Christmas, and for the rest of your life. In the name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
            
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Sermon for 12/25/18: The Nativity of Our Lord

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"Grace Upon Grace"

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


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John doesn’t tell us the pretty Christmas story. Neither Mary nor Joseph are named. We don’t hear about angels or shepherds or mangers. We aren’t even told about Bethlehem. Luke’s Gospel gives us that serene, pastoral scene. John’s Gospel gives us a battle. There was war in heaven. This is not a war between God and men. It is war between God and Satan. Creation had been corrupted by our cooperation with Satan’s lies. The Word made the world for life, and we chose death. He had called the world forth in light; we hid in self-made shadows because we loved darkness.
And so the Word, who was in the beginning, who was with God, and who is God, became flesh. He came to take us back from Satan, to give us the right to become the children of God. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” That which was in darkness was the denial of God’s goodness, a turning away from God’s self-giving. The darkness was unbelief, a rejection of the Creator, insistence on darkness and death.
So God sent John, who came to bear witness to the Light. He bore witness to the Light so that men might once again believe in God’s mercy, that they might taste and see His inexhaustible will to be gracious to men. Ushered in by John, the Word came to His own people. They denied Him. They hid from Him in terror. Even so, He remained steadfast. He came unto His own. His own people rejected Him, just as Adam hid in the Garden from the God who created him. They were His people, even if they would not acknowledge that they were His. He endured their hatred. He endured murder at their hands. He never flinched from what had to be done to save them. After all, they were His from the beginning, and He would not give them up.
We have become the children of God because God became a child of woman. He was God, “of the Father’s love begotten.” He was not changed into a Man; He who is God also became Man. He took up the life of man as His own, to live and die as a Man, to reclaim the crown of His creation. “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory…” And though He was not Man from the beginning, He now is Man and evermore shall be Man. He is God and Man in one Christ; He is the Life and Light of men.
“And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us,” becoming our Life and our Salvation. He has made us His own. We have become the children of God, baptized into the glory of His cross, joined to the mystery of the Father’s eternal Word become Flesh, feasting upon that Flesh in the Sacrament, where He joins us to Himself and overcomes the darkness in us.
This cosmic battle for the bodies and souls of men didn’t begin in Bethlehem. It didn’t begin in the garden either. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Bethlehem was the first strike of the last battle. This struggle, watched eagerly and aided by the holy angels, is not fought between armies striving to see who is mightier or more powerful. It is not a matter of which strategy will prevail. It is a battle for the hearts of men. One seeks to take us to the stockyard and feast upon our flesh; the other, the One who was from the beginning, seeks to make us His Bride, with the right to become the children of God.
That is the grace and truth of the Father that the Son reveals to those who receive Him and believe in His Name. From His fullness we have received grace upon grace through Jesus Christ, the Word become Flesh who dwells among us this very day in His body and blood. 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 24, 2018

Sermon for 12/23/18: Fourth Sunday in Advent

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“I Am Not the Christ”
John 1:19-28

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


400 years had passed since the prophet Malachi delivered the last Old Testament message—400 years of silence. Then came John. No one doubted his status as a prophet. There was something compelling about the man in a camel’s hair coat, eating locusts and honey, crying in the wilderness. He came with a message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” The Pharisees sent the priests, but not to ask about his qualifications or even the orthodoxy of his message. They were not concerned whether his preaching conformed to the prophets before him. They want to know who he is.
His reply is odd. He does not say, “I am John, the miracle of baby of Zechariah and Elizabeth.” He does not say, “I am the forerunner promised through Isaiah,” though he will admit to that later. His immediate response is, “I am not the Christ.” It’s an odd response. He does not answer about who he is, but about who he is not. This matters because John is the greatest of prophets; he understands that nothing else matters except the Christ, and John wants everyone to know without a doubt that John is not the Christ.
His statement is profound. They want to know who he is, and so he tells them. “I am not the Christ. I am not God. I am a sinner. I cannot save myself. I need the Christ. Without Him I am doomed.” He always points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John’s humility springs from this devotion and compulsion, this obsession with the Truth. He will only talk about the function of his office, quoting of Isaiah: “I am the voice crying in the wilderness.” He doesn’t want to baptize Jesus; John is not worthy. But he does it, because his Lord Jesus insists. He doesn’t want the honor of Elijah’s name. But Jesus insists, so he gets that, too.
The 400-year silence is broken by this fiery preacher. Even so, the majority ignore him. They plod along in their comfortable lives. They carefully avoid making waves concerning what our Lord teaches. That should sound familiar, because that’s exactly how we live today. We have treated God’s Word and Sacraments lightly. We have taken these gifts for granted. We have tried to fulfill the law for ourselves. We have attempted to appease God’s wrath by our deeds, by our faith. We have held back from speaking the truth when it makes us uncomfortable. And it’s so much worse for us, because we have all the law and the prophets readily available to us. How they would envy us! The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent.
Repent, for you are not the Christ. But thanks be to God, for Jesus is! He has given His life as a ransom for yours. He has loved you beyond all telling. And He still does. He unites you to Himself in the Feast laid before you. Be forgiven, renewed, restored, reinvigorated; be at peace. The Passover Lamb has been slain. In His blessed death, your sins died. He now lives again, but your sins were left in the grave. Eat this Lamb, drink His blood, and the angel of death passes over. You are safe.
Who are you? You are not the Christ! What would Jesus do? He would die. What would you do? You would die too, but now you don’t have to, because He did it for you. His office is not yours. His duty is not yours. He has died in your place. Don’t try to do what He would do. You are not Him. Instead, receive His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. That is the peace the angels announced to the shepherds. It is the peace of not having the burden of the Law. It is the peace of being counted worthy by grace, of belonging to God, of abiding safely in His everlasting grasp. Who are you? You are not the Christ. But thanks be to God, for Jesus is! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sermon for 12/18/18: Midweek Advent III (Hymns of Advent series)

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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


The third and final hymn we will look at and consider this Advent season is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The hymn itself is based on what are known as the seven “O Antiphons,” which may date back to the 5th Century. These prayers came to be special and well-loved of the Church, building up the hearts of the faithful as they moved toward the celebration of Christmas, teaching what the celebration of Christmas was all about. Each antiphon contains a title of Christ, a description of that title, and then a request, a prayer. We’d be here all week if we tried to go through them all. But consider the antiphon from which the hymn gets its title:
O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord,
the anointed for the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
            Emmanuel is a Hebrew word which means “God with us.” During the holidays we treasure having family and friends with us. But our Lord does even better: He make His dwelling place among us. God is with us—but not to destroy us as we deserve. God in flesh has come to save us. In mercy He has come to bring us back from our exile in sin, to bring us back into His family by the forgiveness of our sins.
            Matthew the Evangelist doesn’t tell the beautiful story of our Lord’s birth the way Luke does; he bypasses the story of the birth in the stable. He doesn’t tell it in beautiful picture language the way John does. Matthew described it plainly, how our Lord Jesus was born. But this birth was anything but ordinary! A virgin conceives and bears a Son. And this Son is Emmanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh to dwell among His people. He has come to be one of us, to release us from our bondage to sin and death. You know the truth about yourself and our human race. There was nothing we could do to free ourselves. We needed to be saved, which means we needed someone to be our Savior. And this Child in the manger is that one. God comes in mercy and gentleness, to save us in our great need. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Our Creator is our Savior; our King is our Brother.
And so we rejoice. How can we not? And we also sing for Him to come again! We pray for Him to come and take us home, to where the rejoicing will never cease. For the day is coming when He will come, when He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Our joy will be joined to the joy of the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. That’s what Advent’s all about. And that’s what our Savior is all about. And so we pray:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
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, December 16, 2018

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

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Comfort from the Coming One

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


Advent is all about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: His coming in the Flesh by way of the Virgin; His coming now in Word and Sacrament; and His coming in judgment on the last day. John the Baptist, that greatest of Advent preachers, proclaimed our Lord’s coming. He was a voice in the wilderness, breaking down the mountains of sin in men’s hearts, calling them to repentance. He preached and baptized to prepare the way for the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.
But by this time, John is no longer baptizing and preaching. The people basked in the heat of his passion for a while, but then his stern message got him into trouble. He spoke against Herod’s immoral marriage, and Herod put him in prison, where he awaited the executioner’s sword. But John’s work was complete; our Lord’s ministry had begun. It’s time for John to decrease as he foretold. From death row, the one sent to comfort God’s people with the good news of the Messiah’s coming, seeks comfort from the Son of his kinswoman, Mary. He asks, “Are You the Coming One?”
He is not rebuked for this. In fact, Jesus praises John with unequaled praise. John is the voice of faith crying from the wilderness. He is about to die the martyr’s death. Upon that deathbed He seeks absolution, grace, and comfort. He does not ask to be let out of prison or spared Herod’s satanic wrath. He asks only for a word from Jesus. Our Lord does not disappoint him. He reassures. He promises. He gives. He points John back to the prophet Isaiah. He says: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” Yes, John, your martyr death is near. But do not be afraid. Do not give up hope. The Messiah has come! The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Blessed are those who are not scandalized by God in the flesh. Blessed are those who do not try to master Him, but who submit to His Word and will.
But many are scandalized by Jesus. His preaching is too absolute, too uncompromising. They prefer a Messiah who looks more like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny—comical figures who proclaim no doctrine, who have no morals. These are the ones embraced by the masses. But if John is not a reed swayed in the winds of human opinion and curiosity, then neither is the Christ he proclaimed. Jesus is not a member of the peace corps come to spread good will. He is a soldier with a mission. He has no time for hypothetical debates and scholastic speculation. He comes to baptize with the Spirit, to give the vision of faith to the spiritually blind, to enable those crippled by sin and death to walk by faith. He comes to cleanse filthy hearts, purify dirty minds, to bind-up disturbed consciences, and to open ears to His Word. He comes to proclaim the Good News of His arrival to the poor. He comes to give life to the dead. That’s the comfort John sought from prison. That’s the comfort Jesus gave him.
Still today, the power of His death and resurrection, the power of life—grace itself—is delivered in His Word. He comes still. He comes now. He comes in His Word—preached, heard, and read. He comes in the word of Holy Absolution, where He declares sinners righteous, restoring them. He comes in the waters of Holy Baptism, where sinners are joined into His death and resurrection, cleansed with bloody water and the spotless Word. He comes in His body and blood. He comes by His Word to strengthen and encourage, to comfort, to console. His Word is a creative, powerful, life-giving Word. It never passes away. His Word is rest for the lonely heart; comfort for the repentant; and life for those who once were dead in sin. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Sermon for 12/11/18: Midweek Advent II (Hymns of Advent series)

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Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

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


The Advent hymn before us today (tonight) presents us with the spiritual discomfort involved in receiving the Advent message of comfort. The hymn “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” is the work of Johann Olearius, a German court preacher and chaplain to a duke. He originally wrote this hymn for the Festival of St. John the Baptist. In the third stanza of the hymn, the writer speaks about Advent “calling sinners to repentance.” In the same stanza the writer lifts his finger: “Oh, that warning cry obey!”
These phrases of the hymn present us with an unpleasant task. Despairing of our own power and our cleverly conceived plans about saving ourselves, we humbly wait for the true word of comfort our Lord speaks to us: “I forgive you all your sins. I have paid the price for you.” We have to admit that we human beings are weak, even powerless. We need a healing within that we ourselves can never provide. It’s tough to admit, “I can’t do it myself.” Few things in life make prideful human beings feel more uncomfortable than such an admission. Advent sweeps away all our pride.
In Holy Baptism, we die to sin with Christ, and then rise with Him to new life. Our Lord has remade us: body, mind, and spirit. St. Paul the says that God in Christ has made each of us “a new creation.” This message of salvation during the season of Advent—and of Christmas, Lent, Easter, and the rest of the year—delivers sweet comfort to hearts that were bound by sin. Living in this comfort, we are moved to speak this comfort to our neighbors. Love generates love; faith yields fruit. Advent prophets like Isaiah call us to be engaged constantly in the activity of comforting through human care.
In other places, Isaiah sings about the eyes of the blind being opened and the ears of the deaf being unstopped. He talks about the poor and thirsty and needy being satisfied. Our Savior does such things. For sinners who do not have the power to heal, our Lord leads us to use the gifts He gives us. He urges us to bring comfort to our nightbor. Sharing such a message can be hard work. It’s hard to speak this message to people who don’t want to hear it. It’s hard to speak this message even to people who are willing to hear it. Even pastors and missionaries, people who earn their livelihood by sharing the Gospel, often find the work of sharing the Gospel to be difficult. Speaking the Gospel to people who are comfortable in their sins; speaking the Gospel to people who think the pastor himself is a waste of time or money; going into the homes of the sick, the lonely, the depressed, the dying, and the mourning; traveling thousands of miles to bring the Word to people who have a history of murdering Christian missionaries—it can be uncomfortable, exhausting—even a dangerous task.
Speaking the comfort of the Gospel to hurting, broken people is rarely comfortable. Seldom is it convenient. Certainly it is not something done quickly or easily. But it the work our Lord has called us to do: to deliver the comforting news of salvation in the cross of Jesus Christ—the same good news our Lord has delivered to you. The Holy Spirit strengthens you with the Word and with Christ’s body and blood to do the uncomfortable work of comforting, for our Father has made you a partner with Christ Himself as He carries out His ministry of love in the world. 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, December 09, 2018

Sermon for 12/9/18: Second Sunday in Advent

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Your Redemption Draws Near

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


The end is coming. We can see the signs. Wars, perplexity, men’s hearts failing for fear, violence, the demise of the family, natural disasters, the extinction of species—these things show the disintegration of creation. Sin has taken its toll. The world is falling apart in front of us. Every burial is a sign of the end. This can’t and won’t go on forever. We do not know the exact day or hour. But we know it is coming. Repent.
The signs are terrible, and they are themselves dangerous to faith. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape these things. Contrary to the popular saying, there are plenty of atheists in foxholes. The most difficult place to believe in the goodness of God is in the midst of evil and chaos. So watch and pray. The more evil you have to endure, the more your faith is tested; the more danger you are in.
But rejoice in this: the end is coming. Your salvation has been won. God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. He will neither forget nor abandon you. He will use temptation, war, divorce, illness, and death, all the signs of the coming end, for your good. He will teach you to rely upon Him. He will make you weak, for in your weakness, in dependent, desperate faith, you are strong in Him. He will show Himself in the foxhole to be your only Help, Hope, and Savior.
He knows what is good for you. You don’t get to Easter without Good Friday. And though it seems almost cruel to our weak minds, He afflicts you on purpose. He gives you custom-built crosses, designed for your strengths and weaknesses. In the midst of war, He calls soldiers to do good, to show mercy, to witness to the hope that is in them. In divorce, He calls us to reconcile and forgive. Surrounded by death, He calls us to stand before the grave and mock the devil: “O Death, where is your sting?” This doesn’t mean soldiers don’t kill, that the divorced must re-marry their original spouse, or that we shouldn’t bury the dead. It means that we proclaim the death of Christ for the life and hope of the world—especially in the foxhole.
Look around you. Do you think you are alone in suffering? Do you think your crosses are the heaviest? Repent. Do not think the man who is only juggling 3 or 4 balls has it easier than you. We know little of what hidden struggles our brothers and sisters endure. Mental illness, ill health, an abusive past, a secret addiction, a mean spouse, disobedient children, and so many other afflictions are all too common.
So love one another. Comfort one another. Encourage one another. The Kingdom of God is near. Our Lord, who has given His life for you, does not ask you to endure these things alone. He has placed you in a family, in the Church. Your sorrow will pass away. Even if you suffer to the point of bloodshed, you will not do it alone. And in the midst of your trials, you have glimpses of heaven, a foretaste of what is to come. You do not live by those fleeting things, though you are rightly thankful for them. You live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. He will not pass away. He will not fail. Lift up your heads. The Lord comes. Your redemption draws near.
In the meantime, in the midst of war, illness, and sorrow, burdened by guilt, shame, and regret, the Lord comes to you in His Word and Sacrament, just as He has promised. He comes to speak words of warning and comfort. He comes to feed your body and soul with His Body and Blood that you would be strengthened for the trials to come, that you would have joy while you wait and while you suffer. He is not simply your Lord in the future, when sorrows shall cease; He is also your Lord now, even in the midst of sorrow. Lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Sermon for 12/4/18: Midweek Advent I (Hymns Series)

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Savior of the Nations, Come

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


We are right to consider and speak of the miracle of birth. We are amazed at how tiny fingers and toes can be. Infant eyes are so lovely and bright. Pudgy little arms and legs stretch and flex. Who can resist these tiny features? Any birth is miraculous in its own way. Just about every adult has had the pleasure of holding a newborn, and that wonder and joy is multiplied when the child is our own flesh and blood.
Birth and life are exquisite. Perhaps that’s why we feel so tremendously shaken by the untimely death of infants and children. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a pastor is preside at the burial of an infant. It seems we hear all too often about children who die as collateral damage in drive-by shootings. Abuse is epidemic. Attacks on schools seem to be a weekly occurrence. And, of course, we would be sinfully negligent to forget abortion. When we hear about such atrocities, we in the community of faith must do more than shake our heads and murmur our disappointment. We must affirm God’s sacred gift of life in the womb, life fresh from the womb, and life even to the moment of a natural death. Life matters. Life is a gift from God. We must hear again the Word which tells us that God breathed the breath of life into Adam and Eve. Life is a sacred gift, and we must remember and honor that gift, teaching our children the value of all life from the womb to the grave.
Such thoughts remind us of the words of our hymn: “Marvel now, O heaven and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.” The life God created matters so much to Him that our Lord chose to born as one of us. God became flesh to dwell among us. Yet despite the humble scene of our Lord’s birth, there is one important factor that makes our Lord’s birth a singular, unique event: Jesus was born of a virgin mother. The angel tells Mary, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” And so “the Word became flesh;” this child is both God and man.
This exquisite birth of our Lord serves as a marvelous sign for all time that God acts in a unique way in the coming of Jesus. In His unique conception and humble birth, and in all His life upon earth that follows, God works to bring His redeeming and saving power to His creation. God became one of us, but without sin, in order to redeem each of us. His birth pushes us onward to behold His ministry, and then to behold His death and resurrection. This Jesus comes as Savior, and in His coming, God acts purposefully to save us from our sins.
This Advent season, let us marvel at this profound sign which God has displayed for us. The virgin birth proclaims that Christ has come as the Father’s greatest Word of love. In the virgin birth, cross, and resurrection, God expresses His love completely; forgiveness is won; salvation is fulfilled; eternal life is given. God requires nothing more.
That is good news—news that we need to share until all people know of it and believe it. We must move beyond simply observing God’s sign; we must tell our neighbors about it. Christ, the “Savior of the nations,” is coming to give us the gift of life, and we must sing for joy to all the world. Just as the Shepherds do when they hear the angel’s song, let us make known abroad what God has revealed to us: Jesus is coming! “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, December 02, 2018

Sermon for 12/2/18: First Sunday in Advent

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Coming

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


Even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. The flesh is terribly difficult to subdue. The things we would not do, the things we hate—those we do. Our flesh betrays us over and over. Our flesh is the seedbed of lust, gluttony, and avarice, and all our deepest sorrows come from our own sins.
The years sweep by, and looking back only shows a list of crimes: a catalog of lies we’ve told, of promises we’ve forgotten, of slander that has risen up out of our hearts. Is it any wonder that our families are so broken; that our lives are so complicated; that the prisons are so full? And as we look back, we also see the signs of God’s wrath and the temporary character of this earth. Terrorists, earthquakes, divorce, and war all serve as warnings of the judgment to come. Nothing on earth is the same today as it was a year ago. All things are in decay; all things are dying. We are in constant turmoil and change. Death is having its way. Only the Word of God never changes.
This should fill us with fear and reform our behavior, but instead we hatch plans. We can build bigger barns to store our crops. We can delay paying our debts. We can kill our enemies—or at least, destroy their reputations. These plans are vain. Our pretending at wisdom is a mockery of the Wisdom which comes down from above. Repent.
If you have ever eaten so much that you had to loosen your belt, you have proven that the flesh is weak. Overeating is not necessarily the desire of your body, which gives you signs that you should stop, but of your fallen mind, which seeks ongoing pleasure, ignoring the clear warnings of fullness, eating even though it hurt. Our will craves such pleasure and vice. We are broken and sick, rotten and dying.
It is for this that our Lord has come. He has taken up the weakness of our flesh. He has become one of us—body, mind, and spirit—in order to redeem our fallen flesh and corrupted wills. He did not leave you alone to suffer in your weaknesses. He has come to rescue you. He is one of us in every way, but He is not weak. He does not sin; the Law is His will. Yes, He is humble and lowly, but He is not weak. He takes up the same human flesh which is prone to alcoholism, homosexuality, cancer, weariness, and, most significantly, death. He comes in the cursed flesh of Adam’s inheritance. He enters into the chaos of our dying lives, to endure our hatred and betrayal, our violence and our phoniness. He is tempted in every way that we are, but He does not succumb or fail. His flesh is as willing as His spirit. He endures all that we do to Him without a desire for vengeance or reputation or even success. He endures in perfect love. He is at one with His Father’s will. He comes to serve as the fulfillment of His own unbending Law. Our Lord, who knows no sin, became sin to free sinners from sin and death.
Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem. He comes to be a sacrifice. That crowd of sinners which adores Him is inspired by the Spirit—sinners shouting, “Hosanna! Save us!” They carpet His path to the cross with palms and garments. Soon we will shout as He goes to His death. But we are not ashamed; we do not feel sorry for Him, for we sinners need Him to do it. We are the sinners who shout for the Messiah to be Himself: to save us, to keep His promises. And He does what He says. Shouting sinners are transformed with a Word. By grace He makes them praying saints: saints whom the Lord loves; saints with whom He is well-pleased; saints whose weakness has been washed away, forgiven. The Lord, who came to be born in Bethlehem, who came to Jerusalem to die in payment for our sins, comes now as God in the flesh, present in His Word and Sacraments. Soon He shall come again in glory. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Friday, November 30, 2018

HYMN: O Lord, My Faith Is Weak, I Know

Sometimes an idea for a hymn text comes to me quite easily after I do my preparation. I'd been on something of a roll when I started my work for the Twenty-First Sunday After Trinity. That roll hit a brick wall and came to a dead stop. I had no idea where to go with the Propers, even after preaching a sermon for that Sunday in the Church Year. To be fair, life intervened in some less-than-appealing ways, which usually doesn't help--and it certainly didn't in this case, though this final product was surely shaped by the events in my life. Finally, late last week, a snippet popped into my head. It wasn't a first line, which is usually the most helpful way an idea comes to me, as I like to work from Alpha to Omega, if you will. And that original snippet didn't even make the cut.

Anyway, the Gospel appointed for Trinity XXI, John 4:46-54, sees a powerful man approaching Jesus. He asks Jesus to come home with him and heal his son. The man had faith in Jesus--a weak faith, but faith nonetheless. Still, he wanted a sign. Even after a rejoinder from the Lord, the man repeats his request. Finally Jesus tells the man, "Your son lives." There's no promise, just the bare-bones truth that the boy is still alive. The man heads home, and on the way his servants meet him with the news that his son has been healed at the hour Jesus spoke the Word to him. 

This hymn text focuses on faith, especially the weakness of faith in adversity. It's easy enough to believe when all is well, but what about when the news isn't good? Do we trust the Word which tells us that our Lord will work good in all things for those who are called according to His purpose? Anyway, here is the text. I've used the tune before, which is not ideal, but it was the only one in Lutheran Service Book which fit the meter and mood of the text. As always, feedback is love.



O Lord, My Faith Is Weak, I Know


1. O Lord, my faith is weak, I know.
I trust my mind and senses.
Satan, relentless, wicked foe,
Batters my frail defenses.
I seek a wonder or a sign,
Some proof to show Your love is mine.
Restless, I seek Your favor.

2. You know my poor and wretched state.
My faith is fragile, lowly.
I love Your Word but hesitate
To love and trust You solely.
When life is pleasing, I can see
How You provide all things for me.
Then I know well Your goodness.

3. Grant that, by grace, I may believe
Even in tribulation:
To trust beyond what I perceive,
Trusting You for salvation.
Let every fiery, piercing dart
Which penetrates my trembling heart
Ignite true faith from embers.

4. Grow and sustain this faith in me,
That, when I face oppression,
I cling by faith to Your decree,
Trusting You without question.
Grant me the confidence, O Lord,
To wield with faith the Spirit’s sword,
Trusting Your Word to save me.

5. O Word Incarnate, hear my plea!
Bear with me in my weakness
Until I trust more than I see:
Bold, yet in humble meekness,
Looking to You in every need,
O Christ, my Lord and God indeed.
Speak but the Word to heal me.



© 2018, Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 887
DU LEBENSBROT, HERR JESU CHRIST (LSB 622)
Trinity XXI; Prayer; Faith in Affliction


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sermon for 11/25/18: Last Sunday in the Church Year

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Be Ready

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


Be ready! Jesus is coming back. Though He has delayed these many years for the sake of the elect, He is coming soon. We are to expect His return at any moment. To give up hope, to live as though only this short life mattered, or as though the wait would last forever, is to throw your lot in with the devil.
The ten virgins all look the same. In weakness, they all fell asleep. This is not a parable about good works. This is a parable about faith. The foolish virgins had burned up their oil, exhausted their faith for something other than the coming Bridegroom. They figured that, if He was coming at all, they’d have time to make up for their sins. He came unexpectedly. The unprepared were shut out. They was no time for deathbed repentance. They were damned. He says, “Truly, I do not know you.” Be warned.
The wise virgins also were caught unawares. They had not kept the vigil, either. Somehow, though, they still had oil. They trimmed their lamps and were welcomed into the bridal chamber. Somehow, during the wait, they managed to never completely forget what they were waiting for, what really mattered, who was coming. They still had oil. That’s what faith is. It is not the outward appearance of good works, such as being a virgin. It is not a perfect keeping of the Law. Rather, the wisdom of faith is to remain aware that we are waiting, that this short life is not all that there is, that He who has bought us with His life is coming back.
There is danger in the waiting. Satan has his season. He has asked to sift you like wheat. Will your faith be consumed? At confirmation, full of zeal, we were bold to say with St. Peter: “Lord, I am ready to go with You, into prison and into death.” But before the night was over, we fell asleep on the watch. It was too bothersome to keep praying. When things get bleak, when the pressure mounts, we deny our Lord, hoping it will gain us the favorable opinions of men. Repent. Repent before it is too late, before the door is shut, before the night comes when no man can work. Like St. Peter before you, repent and be welcomed back by grace. Faith that lives by grace—that is, faith that does not rely on its own strength but is rather a submission to the will of God—will not be consumed in the waiting. God intervenes for His children. He wakes them, rebukes them, and forgives them. He fills the oil flask with His Word.
While we wait, He fills and prepares us by coming here and now in the Sacrament. He joins us to Himself by entering into our fallen flesh with His crucified, risen, and ascended body and blood. His innocence resides in our hearts. He is our King who rules in our lives. He died in our place, the Innocent for the guilty. And we proclaim that death every time we eat and drink His body and blood until He comes again.
Here is oil for your lamps; here is food for your soul! Here He encourages, nourishes, and strengthens you for the watch. The Bridegroom comes now with forgiveness, life, and salvation, with strength for the day. Heaven is opened, and He gently whispers into your ear, “Hang on. I have not forgotten you. I am with you always. Soon I shall return and complete what I began in you when I gave you My name in Holy Baptism!”
Be watchful. His return is not so far off as it once was. You have fallen asleep. But He loves you nonetheless. He bids you come to Him, to bask in His forgiving presence, to feast upon the very Bread of life! This is the only way to stay awake, to fend off the cold boredom of a long watch as we wait for His final coming. 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.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Sermon for 11/22/18: Day of National Thanksgiving

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Wealth in Christ

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


It is clear that a man’s life does not consist in his possessions, but it’s difficult to believe. After all, what do you daydream about? What would it take to make you happy? Are not your thoughts and desires focused mostly on possessions? Do you not daydream of cars and houses, vacations and boats? Or do they run with more with the body? Do you daydream of not being sick or old, of not getting or staying fat, of being beautiful? But a man’s life does not consist in his health or attractiveness any more than in his possessions. And, saddest of all, sinners want honor and fame. You want to be recognized and loved.
Take heed. Beware of covetousness. There is no appeasing sin. If you get what you think you want, you will only want more. The richest men on earth are not satisfied. They all want to be richer. Those who are not the richest want to be. The poor give more to the poor than the rich do. The statistics are clear. The widow’s mite is not that unusual. Poor people are generous. Rich people are stingy. So also the poor almost never commit suicide. The rich do. That is not to say that poverty is a virtue. It is simply that being poor gives life a sense of meaning. The prisoners who survived the concentration camps of World War II were not the healthiest or strongest, but those who had something to live for. Some had pious motives such as the desire to see loved ones or finish great work. Others just lived for revenge. Poverty gives purpose to life; the rich are more likely to see the futility of human achievement and effort, to despair because possessions and opportunity, luxury and fame have all failed to bring them happiness or satisfaction. Here is wisdom: a man’s life does not consist in his possessions.
In what, then, does life consist? A man’s life consists in God. “Store up for yourself treasures in heaven.” This does not merely expose our fallen flesh and selfish desires. It also shows us the way of Christ, the way of life. Our Lord did not seek the middle way. He served God, not mammon. He loves His Father without limit. He does not question His Father’s will, but submits. He drains the cup of the Father’s wrath. He believes that His Father is good and loves Him, even when His Father condemns Him as sin. Out of love for the Father, He loves the world and lays down His life without regret. He loves those whom He created and He would have them all back again. He reconciles all humanity to His Father. He pays the ransom.
You cannot love God too much, and love covers a multitude of sins. You cannot hope or believe in Christ too much. We do not count the martyrs as fools who sold their lives too cheaply, but as heroes who loved God more than they loved themselves. We were created to believe in, hope for, and love the God who loves us. This is where our life abides.
So thank God that He has provided for our physical needs, that He sends the rain and crops and all pleasant things, though we do not deserve them. We are fed; we are dry; we are warm. But we should also thank God that His mercy has spared us the afflictions of excess. Most of all, let us thank God that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word; that Christ is known to us in His faith, hope, and love; that we are His and He is ours.
Our thanks this day is not found mainly in food, drink, and family—though we do thank God for these gifts. Our thanks is truly found in the gift of salvation. Let us give us thank to the Lord by rejoicing in our baptism; by yearning for and partaking of the body and blood of Christ; by having His forgiveness and love poured into us. Thanks be to God, for our life is provided by and consists in Christ, who loves us and gave Himself for us. 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 18, 2018

Sermon for 11/18/18: Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

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Works Given and Received

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


Whenever good works are praised in Holy Scripture, it is important to consider the context. Our fallen minds are easily confused. We learn in Hebrews, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” This means no good work is pleasing to God without faith in Christ. Works only please God when they are performed by those who look to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation. They cannot help but produce good works, and their good works please God.
When Jesus speaks here as though eternal life is given because of good works, it is understood that eternal life is given to the righteous—that is, to those have been declared righteous for His sake. Good works are the evidence of faith. There is no faith that does not produce good works, and no work is truly good if it does not come from faith. This is why our Lord lists these acts of mercy. He would show us that hypocrisy does not save. That which saves is the righteousness that He bestows in grace. That righteousness gives new life which produces good works.
So we ought therefore to measure ourselves against this standard: How merciful have I been? How evident is my faith in my life? Do the words of Christ about feeding the poor and welcoming the stranger and visiting the sick describe my life? Woe to you if you think they do. Repent. Repent for not doing them, to be sure, but even more, repent for thinking you’ve done enough. Repent for thinking you’ve been pretty merciful. Repent for justifying yourself and appeasing your conscience by dropping a dollar in the Salvation Army bucket while you go home to feast. Those who thought they’d done pretty well, who dared Christ to point out when they failed, go to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities”—if the Lord should see our lack of mercy—“O Lord, who could stand?”
Not one of us can stand before the Lord in our own righteousness. It is only those who repent, who throw themselves upon God’s mercy, who are washed and cleansed by Christ—these are the saved. The sheep protest just as loudly as the goats. Getting credit for good works makes the sheep nervous. They do not look to their works; they look to Christ. They don’t want to be judged by their works, but by their Lord’s righteousness. We beg God to judge us by the cross, to keep His promise and accept the demands that justice has made on the Son.
We must also consider this: our Lord does not identify Himself with those who perform good works. He locates Himself instead with those who receive good works. It is those who received the mercy of others, who were the beneficiaries, who stand in His stead. “When you did it to the least of these,” He says, “you did it to Me.” The Church is not the healthy, well-fed, well-clothed, and powerful people of this world. The Church is those who need mercy; they are His brothers. That is why the righteous are confused by His description of their works. They remember being fed, not feeding. And what honor is there is being fed? It seems backwards. But that is how it is in the Kingdom. Our primary goal is not to perform good works, but to receive the good works of Christ: to be forgiven, washed, fed, clothed, comforted.
Certainly, you perform good works. You serve your neighbors. God is pleased with this. He loves your good works, even when you are unaware of them. As you receive mercy, you respond with mercy to others. Your mercy is imperfect, but it is purified by grace, accepted for the sake of Christ. God uses your hands as His hands in this world. He provides for His brothers through you. You are the baptized, the blessed of His Father. He has redeemed you to bring you home. 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.