Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sermon for 8/26/18: Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B)

I’m on vacation right now, but I’m always a sucker for a congregation who needs a pastor to fill in for them during a pastoral vacancy. This morning it was my privilege to preach at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in North Tonawanda, New York. (I was going to share a pic, but the photo interface on Blogger with iOs is **horrible.**)


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

The problem is not that the disciples didn’t wash their hands. The problem is that they didn’t wash their hands according to the tradition of the elders, which was a special kind of ceremonial washing. The scribes and Pharisees take offense because the disciples don’t wash their hands the right way. That phrase “tradition of the elders” has a certain ring to it. It sounds very official and very noble. It sounds like a good thing. The problem is that the hypocrites among the scribes and Pharisees studied Holy Scripture and the “tradition of the elders” in order to determine what they could get away with and still consider themselves righteous according to the law. They were interpreting the law in the way they wanted to interpret it and condemning everyone who did not agree with them. Does that sound familiar? It should because our culture still does that today. 

Jesus quickly showed that these scribes and Pharisees valued their tradition above the Word of God. He even showed how their traditions allowed them to violate the Word of God as given to Moses. The scribes and Pharisees were teaching and practicing a man-made religion instead of the faith given by God. Jesus calls for faithfulness to God, not just an outward obedience. Jesus is the “old-fashioned” ultra-conservative doctrinal purist we love to hate, always taking His hearers back to the Word of God. Not all traditions are harmful, but any tradition which distracts from the Word of God and the gifts our Lord died to give us, we must set them aside for our good. 

The words Jesus spoke to the scribes and Pharisees bring us to ask some very uncomfortable questions. Do I worship God with my lips, but reject Him in my heart? Do I express my own ideas as true doctrine? Do I have any traditions that reject or distract from the Word and commandment of God? How often do I behave exactly like the scribes and Pharisees, becoming offended by every little thing while I myself ignore the Word of God? Sinners that we are, the answers to those questions make us just as uncomfortable as the questions themselves. 

Although the scribes and Pharisees were indeed foolish with their washing rituals, there is a kind of washing that God did give for all people. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This Baptism, this washing, is not a “tradition of the elders.” Instead, it is the Word of the Christ who is both God and Lord. 

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” These words teach us that the washing of Holy Baptism joins us to the cross of Christ. This washing which He earned with His suffering and death on the cross “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.” 

The scribes and Pharisees were right in thinking that washing was important. They were wrong in thinking that it was the washing of the “tradition of the elders.” The important washing is the washing away of sin for the sake of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. We do not need to make up new laws or traditions that we can keep in order to earn our salvation. The Holy Spirit delivers the forgiveness of sins, won for us by Jesus Christ, through the washing of Holy Baptism. This is no mere tradition; this is a gift from God, one that serves for our eternal good. 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, August 19, 2018

Sermon for 8/19/18: Twelfth Sunday After Trinity

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.

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

Be opened. Hear the Word of God. Peace is not found in lying about what the Bible says or pretending that God is different from how the Bible describes Him. Faith is not the vague notion that there is a god up there somewhere who thinks that I’m special, but who doesn’t care enough to actually tell us who He is. Yet all those things have seemed more attractive to us than the Truth. But the sin of self-deception never delivers as promised. Giving in to temptation is never without consequences, without lingering diseases and worries, without fear and shame, without danger or cost. A moment’s indiscretion, a bit of selfish indulgence and self-promotion, and we suffer through another failure of our own design; we wind up hurting those we love the most.
It is precisely into this mad world that our Lord Jesus Christ inserted Himself. He stood alone. Even the weakling felt powerful against Him and abused Him with glee. Still, He came. He came for the very people who sought to hurt Him. While we were jockeying for seats at Satan’s table, Jesus Christ bought us back at the terrible cost of His own Life. He submitted to death so that we would live. He came and endured our hatred and violence as a sheep to the slaughter, never complaining. He came to seek and to save, to rescue and to redeem, to give His life in exchange for yours. The Innocent suffers in place of the guilty; the Righteous dies for the unholy. He sacrificed Himself in your place. Through that cruel execution He has taken on your guilt, your shame, and your death. He took it all to the grave and buried it there.
You don’t need to look after yourself. You don’t need to protect your own interests. You don’t need to stand up for your rights or honor. You don’t need to be pretty, get good grades, be a star athlete, or popular. Jesus loves you. That is enough. He has taken care of everything.
So what happened to the deaf man by the Sea of Galilee? His friends brought him to Jesus. They didn’t just change the name of the problem and pretend that that was enough. They didn’t tell him God wanted him that way and that he should get used to it. They brought the man to where he could get help; they brought Him to Jesus. And Jesus put His finger into the man’s ear, spat, and touched his tongue. And at the hand of Jesus, the deaf man was free to hear God’s Word and proclaim His praise. Jesus broke the chains of death. He stopped the cycle. He restored His good creation.
That is who Jesus is. That is why He came. Peace is created by the forgiveness won on the cross, and it passes all understanding. It is not ours to manipulate. Likewise, peace and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ can only be created by God. It will only be fully realized when we are taken from this valley of sorrows. Faith is the ultimate gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the conviction that the Holy Trinity has worked out salvation for you for free; God will at the end bring us to everlasting consolation.
When Jesus invades your personal space and sticks His finger into your ear, it comes away dirty, with who knows what gross thing on the end of it. That is a little embarrassing, a little uncomfortable. But when that gunk has been removed and He is revealed to you according to His mercy, you hear the Shepherd’s voice with your ears, saying: “I love you. I forgive you. Be mine.” That moment of embarrassment you feel as you confess your sin is worth it, no matter how many times. He removes that shame along with sin, and you are free to sing His praise. Come. Stick out your tongue. Have the body of Christ placed upon it. Be opened. 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, August 12, 2018

Sermon for 8/12/18: Eleventh Sunday After Trinity

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.

Only Human

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

The Pharisee’s mistake was in thinking he didn’t need mercy. Even though he credited God with making him so good, he mistakenly thought the blessings he enjoyed—especially having been spared the worst and most destructive vices of men—meant he was free of all vice. He knew that God had blessed him. God had even made him wise and generous enough to tithe from all that he had.  But he put his trust in those blessings, and so they became curses, tools of Satan. They deceived the Pharisee into thinking he had favor with God and that his works were good enough.
No man except our Lord Jesus Christ is righteous in himself. We have all sinned. Even our good works are tainted. We’ve never done anything with absolutely pure motives. We want to be noticed and honored. We want credit. But that is not the worst of it. It is not simply that we’ve had less than perfect motives when we’ve done good things. We’ve sinned. We’ve lied. We’ve cheated. We’ve stolen. We’ve wasted. We’ve been negligent. We’ve lusted. We’ve been angry. We’ve gossiped. Think of a single morning at work or school. What skirt swooshes by or a well-developed set of abs is glimpsed and your mind stays focused? What petty insult is breathed by a co-worker or boss, a comment of no consequence, and your heart does not fume with anger? How many new cars do see without a twinge of envy in your heart? Sins are no stranger to us. We sin in our minds and hearts at an alarming rate, but we excuse them almost instantly. “I’m only human,” we say.
Repent. Humans are supposed to keep the law. Sins destroy faith. Sins destroy families. You endanger everything you love, everything that is good in your life, by sin. Repent. Prayer the prayer of the tax collector: “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” Trust not in yourselves or your wits or your family or your fortune or even your church. Trust in Christ. He is righteous. He has kept the Law. He is merciful and His mercy endures forever. You have no right to it. You cannot earn it or buy it. You cannot make it. But He gives it as a gift, out of grace, because He loves you.
Here is the great the irony of Christianity: those who are now without sin—those who have been baptized and belong to Him, such as you and the believing tax-collector—they feel their sin. You have no sin in Christ, but still you feel your sin. You do what you do not want to do. And you say “Amen” to God’s Law. You confess you are a sinner. But those who are in sin, who embrace it and seek to justify themselves—like the Pharisee, like most who wallow in celebrity—they are satisfied and comfortable. The devil doesn’t bother them.
That is how it is in the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom of reversals and irony. God became Man. Life became Death. He who knew no sin became sin. The instrument of tortuous execution is made from dead wooden limbs; it has become the Tree of Life. This loving Shepherd looks at a pool teeming with man-eating piranhas, and—mystery of all mysteries— He loves those slimy, scaly monsters. He loves us. He lies down in the pool. He gives His life for us.
Come, then, you sinners—tax-collectors and Pharisees alike—come and feast on Christ the Lamb. Come like the tax-collector, with your pain, your fear, your worries, your shame, your loneliness, your failures and disgrace. Come to where God promises to be, where He extends His mercy, where He gives Himself to you in His body and blood. In this Holy Supper, become the Temple of His Holy Spirit. Go home justified. You’re in good company. Your righteousness is not your own, but it lasts forever, and no one can take it away. 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, August 06, 2018

HYMN: Christ the Lord Says, “Do Not Weep”

The raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) is a powerful text, demonstrating our Lord’s power over death itself. The Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity is an interesting mix of readings, with the OT text also the account of a resurrection, this one performed by God through the prophet Elijah. The Epistle is Paul’s encouragement to the Ephesians to persevere in tribulation. All three are beautiful texts, which means there are a great many directions in which a hymnwriter could go. I chose to focus on the Lord’s consolation to the widow—“Do not weep.” And indeed, this is more than comfort, for He proceeds to give her reason to restrain her grief. That same comfort is for us, too, and that’s where I chose to take my text. As always, feedback is love.

Christ the Lord Says, “Do Not Weep”

1. Christ the Lord says, “Do not weep,”
To the mother in her mourning.
Though in death her son does sleep,
See, new life is surely borning.
Comfort in His Word of peace:
His compassion will not cease.

2. Christ the Lord says, “Do not weep.”
He has halted death’s procession.
Here the Shepherd finds His sheep,
Brings to life His dear possession.
With one Word is grace revealed:
“Rise,” says Christ, and death must yield.

3. Christ the Lord says, “Do not weep.”
He Himself from death has risen.
He has paid death’s wages steep,
Freeing us from Satan’s prison.
Death has lost its fearsome sting,
Powerless before the King.

4. Christ the Lord says, “Do not weep.”
Now, with sorrow, hope is springing.
Death no more our joy can keep.
Saints their Savior’s praise are singing.
Christ will wipe our tears away
As we rise to endless day.

5. Christ the Lord says, “Do not weep.”
Confident of resurrection,
For a time we wait, asleep.
Raised, we wear our Lord’s perfection
In baptismal robes of white,
Basking in our Savior’s light.

(c) 2018 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
78 78 77

Occasion: Trinity XVI

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Sermon for 8/5/18: Tenth Sunday After Trinity

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file.

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

Our Lord took up our flesh and became human like us. He knew hunger and thirst and grief. At the very least, he buried St. Joseph, His step-father and caretaker. He knew also betrayal from friends, prejudice, and irrational hatred. He knew all the sorrows, pain, and losses of men. But the worst of all this was not when they stretched out His arms and bent back His wrists to drive nails through His flesh. It was not being hoisted up so that He had to lift Himself up and tear at those nails for each breath. Even as His life ebbed away among the jeering and the blasphemy, what hurt most was that He was rejected by those He loved. They did not want His gifts.
They did not seek the things that make for peace: nails and thorns, scourge and spear. The great irony is that the chief priests and scribes sought to destroy Jesus. They could not stand His teaching. They knew it was true. They knew He spoke with authority. There was nothing contrary to Moses or the prophets. No one could argue with Him. He even slipped through their traps of logic and ethics. Nor could they dispute or deny his miracles. They could not find any moral failure in Him at all. Imagine a man in whom there was no sin, in whom there was no error, who was going about helping people, healing them. Why would you want to destroy Him? Because He was perfect and they were not. Because His Word cut at their hearts, it endangered their place in society. He called them to give up their lives, and they didn’t want to. He held up the Law as a standard, and they knew they had failed. They were guilty and ashamed. The accusations were too true and too many and they knew the Law would destroy them. So they sought to destroy it. They sought to destroy Jesus in order to be free of the Law, free of God’s demands, free of accusations and the curse.
Here is the irony: it worked. They meant it for evil; He meant it for good. They did it in hate; He suffered it in love. They did it so that they could sin without judgment or punishment; He did it to forgive their sins and create in them a new heart and life for God. The things that make for peace—nails and thorns, scourge and spear, two cruel logs hoisting the Word of God up from the earth—this satisfied the demands of Justice. He suffered being forsaken by the Father to draw all men to Himself. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” There is the peace that passes all understanding.
Now is the hour of visitation for you. No one knows what the future holds. Repent. Amend your ways and your doings. God has good things for you. Don’t trust in the lying words of your heart, words which tell you, “Calm down. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not half as bad as some others.” Remember Jerusalem and repent. Your sins are many and frequent. Call upon God. He will hear your voice. Confess. Ask for forgiveness. Cast your burden upon Him. He will sustain you. Swing open the doors of your lips and Christ will enter in, whip in hand, to drive out everything with which you have defiled yourself. His Body and His Blood will purge your soul and cleanse your heart. He is long-suffering, patient, gracious, and merciful. He loves you. He will redeem your soul in peace. He will save you and your children, gathering you to Himself and covering you with the wings of His Holy Spirit. This great, suffering God has always loved you. He never holds a grudge. It is not too late. He wants you even now and is eager to be your God and dwell within you. Jesus, alive forevermore and at the right hand of God, is your Advocate and Defender. He is your peace. 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.