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
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.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

HYMN: Oh, Be Present, God of Mercy

I’ve been thinking a lot about Compline, that prayer office in the hymnal which is meant to be prayed right before the Christian goes to sleep. It’s one of my favorite services, though I’d never encountered it before my first weekend in seminary, when students and faculty gathered in retreat before we officially began the school year. The opening words, “The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and peace at the last,” prepare us both for the night’s slumber and for the slumber of our bodies in death. If you’re not familiar with the service, I highly recommend it to you. 

Near the close of the service, the liturgist leads the gathered in a series of prayers which call upon God to be present with us as we seek our rest. These are beautiful prayers, and I commend them to your consideration. They’re found on page 257 of Lutheran Service Book. I’ve wanted to adapt them for metric singing with a suitable, contemplative tune, and I finally finished assembling such a text early this morning. The suggested tune is Picardy, which is the tune most know best for the text “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” The text is a little rough, as most of my texts usually are at this point, but I’d like to know what you think of it and how you might suggest improving it. As always, feedback is love.

Oh, Be Present, God of Mercy

1. Oh, be present, God of mercy.
Night has come. The day is done.
Watch us as we sleep, and guard us
As the hours of darkness run.
We, all wearied by life’s changes,
Rest in You, the holy One.

2. Holy Lord, the world is busy.
Oh, support us all the day.
Evening comes. The work is finished.
Guard us on our homeward way.
Then, until the night is over,
Grant us holy rest, we pray.

3. Shine, O Christ, into the darkness.
Quell the dangers of the night.
Shine into our humble dwellings.
Drive the devil from our sight.
Let Your blessing be upon us,
God of God and Light of Light.

4. Dwell with those who strive and labor
In the dark while others dream.
Safeguard all who seek our welfare
While the wicked plot and scheme.
Keep them competent and faithful
Whom we honor and esteem.

5. Stay with us, O gracious Savior:
With Your Church, Your holy Bride.
Through Your Word and gifts be present.
In Your wings Your people hide.
Face with us the night’s affliction;
Now and evermore abide.

(c) 2018 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 87 
Tune: Picardy (LSB 621)

Occasion: Compline, Night, Prayer

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sermon for 11/11/18: Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Trinity

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Bold Faith

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

We are bold in making big promises. But all too often we hedge on the little things. In the Confirmation vows we don’t so much as flinch as we promise to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the confession of this Church. But really…what would you be willing to give up for the sake of the Word? What would you give up so that you could hear the Gospel every Sunday? Yes, we are ready to suffer death; inconvenience is another matter. We imagine ourselves ready to be burned at the stake or shot for the sake of Jesus. But would you commit with your whole being? Would you sacrifice yourself—your ego and ambitions, your income and honor? Would you suffer the loss of everything your flesh clings to? After all, we need 200 channels on our TV. We need the hunting trophy. We need the stuff. But do we live as if we need the Church? We are ready to confess our faith before kings, but not in front of our friends. We are curved in on ourselves, weak with greed, lust, and ambition. Our priorities are right on paper, just not in our hearts. Repent. Cling to the Word of God.
Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, was heartbroken. His young daughter lay at the point of death. He said to Jesus: “Lay your hand on her and she will live.” He did so, and she lived. But what of us? What of our dying children, our broken families, our failing friendships and crumbling neighborhoods? What of our hurting souls? Will Jesus lay His Hand upon us? Or are we left with nothing more than the shadow of the Word in flesh? Has the Word made flesh become a ghost? Is the Jesus who walked the earth, who felt the nails bite into His hands, now nothing more substantial than a silent thought in our brains? No. He is flesh still. He is Man forever. He has forever united Himself to us in flesh.
The Hand that Jesus laid upon Jairus’s daughter to call her again to life is encased in bread this morning by the power of His Word. He lays His hand upon your tongue to bring you over from death to life, to rouse your sleepy faith, to forgive your sins, and make you well. He touches you, His Body to yours. He places Himself—the body that bore your iniquities and sits at the right hand of the Father—into your heart so that your hungry soul would be satisfied, so that you would be healed and whole.
In the same way, the woman who had suffered while searching for relief from the 12-year flow of blood thought to herself: “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” She came behind Him and touched His clothes and was healed. We also approach God from behind. In our sins, we cannot bear His holiness. So we touch the garment of bread in which our Lord hides His glory. He is our salvation. In that touching, that eating and drinking, the years of dying and the uncleanness are removed. We now belong. His Blood and His death have been substituted on our behalf.
Our Lord has bled and died in our place. Now, we don’t have to. After all, death is not natural. God did not create us to die. By grace, we won’t—not ever—for one who believes in Him, who trusts in the merits of His suffering, death, and resurrection, who rests in the mercy of the Almighty, who confesses Jesus as Lord, will never die. Believers don’t die. They fall asleep. Their souls rest with their Savior while their bodies wait in the grave for the resurrection and reunion to come.
Here is power for life. We live by grace. We lay all things upon the hem of His garment. And He calls us by name—and gives us His own name—so we have the life He came to give. His bleeding, His dying, His rising, His praying: these are the things that give us life in His name 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.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sermon for 11/7/18: Feast of All Saints

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“Who Are These?”

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

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. We celebrate both the saints in heaven and the saints on earth. We just sang: “O blest communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.” As we sing that hymn, we can't help but think of our own family members and friends who have died in the faith, those we have loved who are now praising God with heavenly anthems more beautiful than anything that we dare to imagine. As we sing that hymn, we are reminded that, by God's grace, we will enter into that victory celebration that has no end. For our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
The Book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of this in the heavenly liturgy. We often hear people talking about the need to be multi-cultural or cross-cultural. Too often that language is used as a cover for those who would attack western culture—the supposed culture of dead, white, European males. But here in the Book of Revelation, we have genuine multi-cultural worship: those from all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues are joined together in a single liturgy, centered in the Lamb of our salvation, Jesus Christ. They do not come with many different songs; with one accord they chant, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And they are joined by the angels, the elders, and the four living creatures in the worship of the Trinity as that celestial choir sings, “Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever!” From all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues they come; but their song is singular as they glorify the eternal God who gave His Son to be the Savior of the world.
The liturgy of heaven and earth revolves around the Lamb of God. Christian worship is Christ-centered. He is present here to bless us with His words of pardon and peace. He is here with His body, born of Mary and hung on a cross, to give us His blood-bought gifts of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The whole Divine Service points to Him.
The liturgy does not belong to us; it belongs to the Triune God. The Divine Service is God's service to us by means of His Word and Sacraments. Salvation belongs to our God. That is what He gives us here. We do not come here to be entertained, but to be built up in faith in Jesus Christ. We learn from the saints and angels how to worship God, how to receive His gifts in faith, how to confess Him as the author and finisher of our faith.
Who are these saints? The elder before the throne tells John, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” These are the blessed ones our Lord tells us about: those who recognized their own spiritual poverty; those who mourned over their sin; those who were reviled, persecuted, and slandered for the sake of the Lord and His Gospel. The great tribulation is the life of the Christian under the cross. You see, the saints have no self-made holiness. Their holiness is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin. They wear the white robe of His righteousness that covers their shame and wraps them up in the forgiveness of sins. Through that righteousness they have access to the presence of the living God.
“We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” But like those who have gone before, we are saints. We are saints because the blood of the Lamb has atoned for our sin. The white robe of Christ's righteousness with which they are clothed is also our beauty and glorious dress, given us in our Baptism. They wave the palm branches of victory because the Lamb has triumphed. Death could not hold Him in its icy grip; and because He has been raised from the dead, we have the pledge of eternal life. “And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.”
Our Lord has won the victory. And we are one with our Lord Jesus. Through Him, we are also one with those who have gone before us. The Feast of All Saints gives us a glimpse of that unseen reality. What comfort that is to us who still feebly struggle! We are not alone. As we gather around the Lamb, we are surrounded by the saints who have gone before us and saints who still live on this earth. We are members of His church, partakers of the communion of saints. And we are blessed, for by the blood of Jesus, we are saints. And today we join with all the saints of all times and places in their heavenly liturgy. 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.