Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sermon for 6/24/18: Fourth Sunday After Trinity

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Mercy for Beggars

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

The Lord doesn’t merely say, “Love your neighbor,” but to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Empathy is commanded because our sinful mind is not empathetic. It is selfish. We invoke a double standard. When we consider our own actions, we make excuses. We want to be admired. We think that people should respect us. When we consider the actions of others, we see serious character flaws. This is also what makes us all armchair quarterbacks. We think we can understand and critique the coaches or players of our favorite teams, as though we know more about the game, or have more experience and talent than they do. If the measure you use is used on you, you are in big trouble. Repent.
We are all beggars, unworthy of the love lavished upon us. None of us lives out the mercy that has been poured upon us. We are not merciful as our Father is merciful. The deeper we look into our hearts, the more hypocrisy we find. Yet, love is lavished upon us anyway, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. Here is what ought to impress us, to take our breath away, to change our minds and hearts: the Lord removes the logs from our eyes. Your Father is merciful. His good works, His mercy, His love is counted as ours; our sins are counted as His. He loves us as Himself; He does unto Himself what He should have done to us. He loves us perfectly, without fail, without holding anything back.
His mercy is without any deceit. Our Lord loves us from His very heart. There is no partiality, no double standard. All of humanity has been reconciled to the Father in the Son. We have been declared righteous. None deserve this. None are truly better than the others. None are lacking this saving love from God, though, sadly, some reject this love. Some refuse His mercy. All are loved: the good and the bad, the greatest and the least, the repentant sinner striving to be merciful and the hardened murderer. He causes His sun to rise over the evil and the good, even as He causes His Son to pay for every sin.
This is real mercy, not a frustrated surrender. Our Lord does not take our sins lightly. Nor does He love us with words alone. He dies to pay the price for sin. He loves us in deed and truth. He not only removes the guilt of our sin and bestows His name and the promise of a future upon us, but He also feeds us, provides for us, and prepares a place for us beyond the grave.
His mercy is unchanging and inexhaustible. He is constantly moved by compassion. And this mercy is free. He does not love for the sake of reward. He is not self-seeking. He does not love those who can or will love Him back; He loves all. He does not say, “If you are merciful, then the Father will be merciful.” He says, “Your Father is merciful,” and then He urges you to reflect that mercy. You should be changed by it. How merciful you are, or how often you fail, doesn’t determine how merciful He will be. His nature is mercy. He gives mercy because He is mercy, and we simply receive it and reflect some of His love to one another. He does not see a log or speck in your eye. He does not see any flaw or lack of mercy. He sees perfection, an immaculate bride, a friend. Your Father is merciful because that is His nature, because He is good, because He is love. This mercy is poured out, lavished, shaken together, overflowing, in the body and blood of Christ, given to you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins. And there is mercy enough even for you to share with your neighbor. 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.

HYMN: Faithful Prophet, John the Baptist (with a GUEST POST)

I’ve posted before about my jealousy concerning John the Baptist, how he knew from the very beginning what his role in life would be. I don’t exactly covet his martyrdom, but even in that he has the knowledge that he will not have to go back into the fray. After all, beheading has a certain finality to it that merely being kicked out of a congregation doesn’t have. Be that as it may, John is an inspirational character and a shining example of faithfulness in the face of persecution and even death.

Pastor Sean Smith, my neighboring brother in the circuit in which we reside, posted something today concerning the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and it really touched me. He wrote:

On this the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist I think of how he is probably the Patron Saint of pastors who have been persecuted for their faithful proclamation of repentance and faith in Jesus and have been put in the prison of Candidate Status when they received a "severance package" from their congregations as they are forced out of their Calls.  
So perhaps you might remember this day by praying for all those pastors (more than you would probably imagine there are) who are unjustly persecuted for doing the work they were Called to do, in the line of the prophets of old. 
And for all my brother pastors on Candidate Status, or still bearing the wounds of their experience there (as I am), know that you are in my prayers for peace in the one whom John the Baptist, and you, have believed in and faithfully proclaimed and pointed to, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" So may we likewise, even in prison or in death by beheading (or firing by a congregation), live in repentance and faith in Jesus the Messiah who is coming...again!

His post, which touches awfully close to home, inspired me to write something of my own. Covering pretty much the whole life of St. John, this text speaks of John by praising God for his faithful work. Brothers who are in the Lutheran purgatory of Candidate Status, brothers who bear those scars, this one is dedicated to you, in honor of our “patron saint.”

As always, feedback is love.

Faithful Prophet John the Baptist

1. Faithful prophet, John the Baptist,
Preached to children gone astray.
Last of all the ancient prophets,
He was sent to make a way
For the great Messiah promised:
Jesus, holy Paschal Lamb.
O most holy God, we thank you
For this son of Abraham.

2. Faithful preacher, John, the patron
Of the Holy Ministry,
Modeled truth and light to pastors.
Faithful unto death was he.
May God grant that servant shepherds,
Called to those with itching ears,
Preach repentance to the wayward,
Bringing joy to him who hears.

3. Faithful witness, John, who pointed:
“Lo, the Lamb of God, the Christ!
He will win our sin’s forgiveness.
He will pay the sinner’s price.”
Grant that we may heed his message, 
True unto eternity:
Jesus is the world’s salvation;
Christ, the Light that sets us free.

4. Faithful steward, John, in washing
Sinners seeking to repent,
Pointing still to Christ who cleanses:
Holy flood, a sacrament.
Turn us, Lord, from earthly pleasures.
All our sinful lust subdue.
Bring us to Your holy altar
Where we find true joy in you.

∆ 5. Faithful prophet, John the Baptist:
Knowing he was to decrease,
Still went forth to preach forgiveness,
Guiding us to comfort, peace.
Faithful Father, Son, and Spirit,
Three in One and One in Three,
You we praise for faithful preachers
Now and to eternity.

Temporary Tune: O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE (LSB 423)
Occasion: Nativity of John the Baptist

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sermon for 6/17/18: Third Sunday After Trinity

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

The parables our Lord tells in today’s Gospel are stories about the compassion and mercy of God. They are touching and heartwarming because they show us to what great lengths our Lord Jesus will go in order to seek us out. He will not abandon us. He will never give up on us. He will do whatever it takes to seek us out. And He will be diligent and relentless.
At the same time, these parables are also stories about the Church. We know this because the goal is not simply to find the one lost sheep, but to return it to the other 99. The goal is not simply to find the one lost coin, but to reunite it in the purse with the other coins. And if we read further in Luke’s Gospel, the goal is not simply the repentance of the lost and prodigal son. Rather, the goal is that this son is restored, reunited, and reincorporated into the family—not as a slave, but as a son, just as he had been before.
With these parables we see how the mercy of God goes. It compels the Lord to seek out the lonely and the separated—those who have unknowingly or even willfully cut themselves off from the Lord and His Church. And the Lord’s mercy compels Him not just to find them, but also to bring them back into the Church. The Lord’s mercy compels Him not just to expend great cost in getting to them, but also in returning them. The lost sheep is not safe until both the sheep and Shepherd are back in the fold. The lost coin is not secured until it is put back where it belongs. And the lost son is not reconciled until he is embraced by his father and welcomed back into the family.
So it is with us. We are not saved until we are “safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church,” as Luther says in his baptismal prayer. That ought to be our constant prayer—for ourselves and for each other. Our prayer ought always be not just that we are delivered from our sinful selves, but also that we live all our days in Christ’s holy Church; not just that we are snatched from the jaws of death, but also that we gathered with the faithful, living and departed, at the Holy Supper; and not just that we are saved from the loneliness into which Satan leads us, but also that the Lord mercifully puts us in His family, the Church, so that our love might be full, both in Him and toward each other.
It is not enough that God in His mercy finds us. He also has the desire, the will, the compassion to bring us to His heavenly home. That is what we see in the parables our Lord tells us. The Shepherd goes searching, not just to seek, but also to save—to place us safely in His fold. And the woman, who depicts the Spirit of God, searches diligently—not for the joy of the hunt, but so that she might make us whole by gathering us with all other faithful Christians. Our Lord seeks us out so that He may return us to where we belong: to His holy Church.
In searching for us, our Lord gives up His life to unite us in His body. This body is known throughout the world in those churches which hold to the doctrine the apostles were sent to preach, who celebrate the Supper our Lord instituted. This is the Church; it is the flock of Christ; it is our Father’s home. It is where the faithful gather: the angels, the archangels, and the whole company of heaven. Here He constantly seeks you when you are determined to go your own way. Here you are protected from the assaults of the devil. Here the Lord continues to extend His mercy to you, until the day when He calls you to unite with Him forever in His eternal 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. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sermon for 6/10/18: Second Sunday After Trinity

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The Feast Is Ready

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

It was to be the party of the century. The highest of high society was invited. It is understandable, then, why the man in today’s parable became angry when so many people rejected his gracious invitation to his banquet. He had extended an invitation to all, and yet only a very few came to his supper. Many had taken that precious, honorable invitation and flushed it away. Finally the man dis-invited those who refused his gracious offer. “I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.”
How sad for them. This supper to which they were invited is a never-ending one. It is the heavenly Banquet, the everlasting Feast of victory over sin and death and Hell that Jesus Christ has won for all mankind. The supper in this parable is symbolic of eternal salvation; God in grace has issued an invitation to the Banquet to all people. The Holy Spirit, the Servant of the Master, continues to go to all the world, down the streets and lanes of the city, along every highway and behind every hedge, compelling everyone to come in, so that God’s house may be filled for this fabulous Feast.
There still is room—room for us who are beggars in our sins, who come up with poor excuses for not responding to God’s gracious invitation. Yes, the great supper of which the parable speaks is the eternal Banquet, but that Banquet has already started. Our Lord’s proclamation from His cross—“It is finished!”—announced the end of all of the preparations for the Feast. His life of perfect innocence fulfilled the requirement that man live in perfect obedience to the commandments of God. His death fulfilled the requirement that sinful man must die, for He was covered with the guilt of every one of your sins when He died upon that cross. And His resurrection from the dead is the announcement to the world that “all things are now ready.” Nothing more needs to be done for mankind’s salvation from sin. Therefore, the invitation is now extended to all: “Come.”
But still, some refuse to come. The daily grind of this world is their only concern. “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.” “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.” “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” They have taken that gracious invitation and flushed it away.
And before we judge too quickly, let us see ourselves as no different from these men. The Banquet has already begun; now is the time to come into God’s house. The Servant does not say, “Come when you are ready;” He does not say, “Come when you think you need it;” He does not say, “Come when you think it needs to be offered.” He says, “Come, for all things are now ready.” To excuse yourself by saying that you are not ready is to deny the truth of God’s declaration: “All things are now ready.”
Therefore, repent of your hesitation. Repent of thinking you know better than God when He should offer His Supper. Repent of putting first the concerns of life in this world: home, land, work, hobby, or even family; repent and come. Come. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things will be added unto you.” That is God’s promise to you. Come to His Feast, and He will add to you every blessing.
Come. Come to the place to which the Holy Spirit calls you now by the Gospel. Come to the place where you are washed in the grace of your Baptism and dressed in the spotless robe of Christ’s righteousness. Come to the place where the Son of God comes to feed you with His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, a foretaste of the Feast to come. “Come, for all things now are ready.” “Do this in remembrance of me.” 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, June 03, 2018

Sermon for 6/3/18: The First Sunday After Trinity

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

The mercy of God exceeds all hope and imagination. It never runs dry. It lifts us up from the lowest depths. It rescues us from impossible situations. But most of all, the mercy our Lord continually gives allows us to have joy, even when we are in pain; to have hope, even when we are grieving; to look up, even when we are feeling down; to push on, even when we see no way out; to trust, even when we have severe doubts; to do what is right, even when we are deathly afraid; to remain strong, even when we are weak; and to expect great things, even when we are mistreated and dying.
Yet how does this great and abundant mercy of God live in us? Does it come alive only when it is to our advantage? Is it suppressed by our distorted notions of fairness and justice? Does it live without a lively remembrance that we are not worthy of any of the mercies of God? Does it live only when we confess that we are not worthy to have the Lord come under the roof of our soul? Does it only live when we acknowledge that we truly deserve worse than Lazarus—even worse than the rich man in Hades?
The mercy of God is all that gave a man like Lazarus the strength to live each day. He certainly received no strength from the few crumbs he was able to scrounge. In fact, there is little or nothing he can do to improve his lot—except to rely on the mercy of God, and to live from that mercy. It’s easy to see ourselves in this diseased beggar, for we were dead in our sins.
 But what about the rich man? For the sake of charity, let us say that he prayed daily, gave a tenth of all that he had, showed kindness to his staff, doted on his children, helped his brothers, and was tender-hearted and generous toward his wife. Even if this is the case, the rich man ignored poor, sickly Lazarus: the man at his doorstep whose very presence cried out for mercy. Is the mercy of God alive in this rich fool? What good are all these others kindnesses that the rich man doles out to his family and friends if he refuses to have mercy on some stranger? And what does this show us about this man’s reception and response to the mercy of God?
Later on we hear the rich man cry out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me.” But he receives no mercy, precisely because he gave no mercy when he was alive. But Lazarus is comforted and receives the fullness of the Lord’s mercy precisely because he pins all his hopes to God and trusts that, however badly things go, the Lord will care for him—even in ways he cannot see and can hardly believe.
Dearly beloved, we are much better off than poor Lazarus—not just because we have money and food and medicine. We are much better off than poor Lazarus because we are able to receive here, at this altar, the mercy of God in the body and blood of Christ. We are much better off because we don’t have to hope for the kingdom of God. We enter it every time we gather in the name of Jesus in this holy house.
The Lord still continues to come to us, to reach out to us, to draw us into Himself, and to pour into our hearts the soothing and comforting balm of His undying and overabundant mercy. This mercy of God is known only by the Gospel given in preaching and the Sacraments. This mercy of God is initiated solely by God the Father in the sacrifice of His Son, given to us by the sending of the Spirit. It is this mercy which Christ sends out His messengers to preach and administer. It is this mercy which melts our hardened hearts and our self-righteousness. It is this mercy of the Lord which continues to lift us up, and give us hope, and bury our sins. And it is this mercy of the Lord which never rests until we have been carried safely through this life and into the life of the world to come. 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, June 02, 2018

HYMN: O God, Within Your Dwelling Place

For my 800th post, I thought I would share a hymn that I've written for a special occasion. My second congregation here in Southern Illinois, Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, will be celebrating an anniversary this year. I can't remember the number offhand--80, 85, 90? But as I did for St. Peter in Campbell Hill when they celebrated their 125th anniversary, I wanted to mark the occasion with an original hymn text. This one is a play on the Bethel name, "Bethel" meaning "house of God." I've already shown it to the Bethel voters, so I decided I could share it here now instead of waiting for the anniversary service. Let me know what you think. Feedback is love.

O God, Within Your Dwelling Place

 1. O God, within Your dwelling place,
This Bethel, here you share Your grace
With sinners bought with Jesus’ blood:
Rich mercy in a lavish flood.

2. Wash us in that baptismal tide
Which flows from Christ’s own pierc├ęd side.
Then bring us back unto the font
As we confess the sins that haunt.

3. Speak absolution, Gospel sweet,
Through messengers with lovely feet.
Teach us Your Word, that we may cling
To Christ alone, our Savior King.

4. Feed us with Christ, our risen Head, 
In consecrated wine and bread,
And in that sacred wedding Feast
Unite us all, both great and least.

5. Oh, make us Bethel. Dwell within 
The hearts which You set free from sin.
Speak peace, then send us on our way
To love our neighbor ev’ry day.

∆ 6. Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host:
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

© 2018 Alan Kornacki, Jr. (v.6 Thomas Ken)
L M 
Occasion: Congregation Anniversary, Opening of Service