Sunday, December 08, 2019

Sermon for 12/8/19: Second Sunday in Advent

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“Stir Up Our Hearts”

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

We pray: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord.” But that is a dangerous prayer, for hearts are not stirred up with comfort foods and soft music. We do not pray: “Lord, give us a warm, fuzzy feeling in our bellies; make our lives comfortable and leisurely; make us popular with the boys.” We pray that God would stir up our hearts, that He would disturb us, that He would prod us into action. Hearts are stirred up by an earnest call to repentance, with a hearty dose of reality. “Stir up our hearts” is a plea for God to end our complacency, to defeat our laziness, to overcome our apathy. We ask Him to intervene for us against our own sinful flesh.
While we wait for our Lord’s return, our danger increases. We must continue to endure temptation. Salvation is closer now then when we first believed. But do we have the same zeal we had then? It is easy to grow weary, to allow ourselves to be seduced by the devil. He’s so persuasive. “Why fight me? Why work so hard? Why care about what God? Does He really care for you? Take care of yourself. Live for today.”
But that is most certainly the way of death. Stir up our hearts, O Lord, against our own flesh! Man does not live by statistics and financial reports. He does not find favor in the eyes of God by finding favor in the eyes of men. The baptized children of God live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. My brothers and sisters in Christ, there is your safe harbor. All other things will wash away. Nothing else will endure. But the Word of God will. It never lies, never changes, never stops, never fails.
And so we pray: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son.” On the great and dreadful day of the Lord, the Son of Man will indeed come in a cloud with power and great glory. The Muslims, the Buddhists, those Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all those who thought they could come to God apart from the Son, will no longer be able to deny His power and authority. Satan’s many masks and false names will finally be stripped away. Then the pagans and heathen—they will know whom they’ve been worshiping all these years, but it won’t do them any good; they shall be burned up. But to you who fear the name of the Lord, who trust in the mercy of the God born of Mary, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. Look up. Lift up your heads. Your redemption draws near. Your suffering, your trials, your troubles, your grief—all of that will end.
The decisive battle for your soul has already been won. The Father has pardoned you for the sake of the suffering and death of His innocent Son. The Spirit of God abides in you. Still, the devil fights on. It is a dangerous, deadly battle. But the end is certain. Fear not. Christ has not died in vain. The devil, that liar and the father of lies, is already defeated. Jesus died and rose again for us and for our salvation. He reconciled all mankind to His Father. The kingdom of heaven is open to all believers. Blessed are all those who trust in Him, who find their rest in Him, who confess His holy name. They shall not be disappointed.
And so we pray: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord!” Prepare us by Your grace. Receive us now and when we die through forgiveness and mercy. Secure us in this free salvation unto the end. Feed us with your body and blood. Make us your own! Come, Lord Jesus! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Thursday, December 05, 2019

HYMN: Lord Jesus Christ, On You I Wait

As I continue to run back through the texts I wrote for the 1-year lectionary, one Sunday for which I found my first text inadequate was the Last Sunday of the Church Year. It's not a bad text, but I felt it was weak. So I decided to try again. Instead of focusing on the Gospel appointed for that Sunday, I looked at the Epistle: I Thessalonians 5:1-12. The themes of darkness and slumber and their opposites caught my eye, along with the Day of Judgment, of course. Paul's words to the Thessalonians are full of comfort, and I hope my text reflects that.

Anyway, because I only really like three of the tunes for the CMD meter (86 86 86 86), I also wrote an original tune for the text, called "FAITH ALLISON" in honor of my wife. Robin Fish, who has written original tunes for me and has harmonized others, wrote accompaniment for the tune.

Lord Jesus Christ, On You I Wait

1. Lord Jesus Christ, on You I wait.
In You I put my trust.
Oh, save me from the sinner’s fate
When I return to dust.
The Day is surely drawing near:
The great and awesome Day
When faithless fools will quake in fear
While saints make glad display.

2. The Judgment Day is soon, I know.
The end is coming fast.
The signs and wonders surely show
The pledge fulfilled at last.
You spread Your grace abundantly
In paying sin’s dread price.
You died my death and set me free:
A cross-borne sacrifice.

3. The world denies that You will come,
Indulging lust and sin.
They scorn the Word and soon succumb.
Corruption burns within.
The deeds of darkness dim their eyes.
In ignorance they sleep.
Then You will come to their surprise.
The death they sowed, they reap.

4. Temptation, doubt, despair, and death
Assault me and assail.
Oh, shield me with baptismal faith;
Your grace will never fail.
Forbid that I should slumber, Lord,
In false security.
But keep me steadfast in Your Word
To trust You patiently.

5. “Lo, I am coming soon,” You say.
Your Word is firm and clear.
“Lord Jesus, quickly come!” I pray.
I know the Day is near.
And as I wait expectantly,
Awake and in Your light,
Your body and Your blood shall be
My comfort and delight.

© 2019, Alan Kornacki, Jr.
CMD (86 86 86 86)
Occasion: Last Sunday of the Church Year; End Times

Monday, December 02, 2019

Sermon for 12/1/19: First Sunday in Advent

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Knowing and Understanding

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

In Jesus, the power of God is hidden in weakness. His wisdom is hidden in foolishness, His riches in poverty. God is a Man, flesh and bone. He dies our death. His life becomes our life. Justice condemns the Innocent One in mercy. The Holy One of God becomes sin. He rides into Jerusalem as the Ransom. He breathes His last, but the devil is undone. Hell’s walls are demolished; the flaming sword of Eden is extinguished. The angel of death passes over. Who can know and understand the ways of the Lord?
The donkey seems to know. He knows his Master. The children know, too. They sing God’s praise in the Temple. They ask Him to save them. The Temple veil knows its part; having nothing more to hide, no longer separating God and man, it rips in two. And the centurion knows; at the death of Jesus he confesses: “Surely this is the Son of God.” Who knows these things? No one but God knows, truly. Yet He reveals Himself to men, and with Him all things are possible. And through the grace of the Holy Spirit, you know, too. God’s grace is sufficient.
Jesus comes in power, but He is known in weakness. He is the Lord of Life, but we celebrate the victory won in His death. He came before; He will come again. First He came in humility; this time He will come in glory. Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess, “Jesus is Lord.” And all the sons of God will be revealed. All the universe will know what the angels already know. The dogs and trees, rocks and birds, will see the hope within you, your lamp burning with the oil of faith. They will see the blood-washed children of God; they will see you as the child of God in whom the Father is well-pleased. And so we pray: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come to rescue us from the threatening perils of our sins, and save us by Your promised deliverance.”
Jesus comes already now. He comes, His power hidden in weakness. It is not the power of might and strength as the world counts such things. It is the power of love, of deliverance and protection. It is the power of sacrifice. This grace has made Him your Lord. He rules in you through forgiveness. He comes in humble ways, so that you would look upon Him and not be destroyed. God has a face. By faith you gaze upon the face of the Child born of Mary, the face of a Man. And though He was despised and rejected, He is beautiful to you. His feet, pierced and scarred, are most beautiful, for He brings Good News from God. He has reconciled you to His Father. He has opened heaven to you. He fulfills His promise. He keeps His Word. He is your God, and you, by grace, are His people, His beloved Bride. He comes now in power. He is not a god who looks on from a distance. He is our present, promise-keeping God.
A Man sits at the right hand of God and rules the Universe. He is God and Man, and through Him all mankind is welcome in heaven. He is in heaven, but He is also present here. He is hidden in and under bread and wine, in the voice of His messengers, in His Name. He is seen by faith; He reveals Himself to you in His Word and gifts. Who can understand such things? The donkey can, and the children, the Temple veil, even the Centurion. And by the power of the Spirit, you know and understand. God Himself makes you worthy. His grace is sufficient. You see His face and live. 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 28, 2019

Sermon for 11/27-28/19: Harvest Festival/Day of National Thanksgiving

Eat, Drink, Be Merry 

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

You are more than the sum of what you own. To illustrate this truth, this warning, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool. The rich man’s land produces so richly that he doesn’t have enough room to store it all. So he decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Then he gives one of the silliest speeches in Scripture: “Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry”—as if that what life is all about.

God has the final word in the parable. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” There’s nothing inherently evil about relaxing, eating, drinking and merriment. But the rich man expects his riches to take care of his soul. Saving souls is the work of God. That is the rich man’s problem: he has made his wealth into a false god. When God requires his soul that night, it does nothing for him in the Judgment. So the rich man is more than the sum of what he owns. Possessions cannot prevent his death; when he dies, they do nothing for his soul.

The parable is a clear warning: beware the sin of greed. Obsession with possessions is a terrible temptation. It leads you to value things over God. It leads you to put your trust in things that fall apart and pass away. It tempts you to resent God if you don’t have all you want. It seduces you to believe that your soul is good in God’s eyes because you have enough things. Greed is a dangerous idol, and it’s never satisfied: the more you have, the more you want.

You don’t even have to have possessions to be guilty of the sin. While the rich man in the parable already has all sorts of wealth, Jesus tells the parable because of a man who desires wealth. This whole thing begins with someone saying to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It’s a family squabble, with an inheritance to be shared. Yes, God provides all things, but Jesus isn’t there to divide out the family farm. He hasn’t come for such temporal things. He’s come to do what goods and grain, what relaxing and eating and drinking and merriment can’t do: He’s come to save souls for eternity.

So Jesus warns, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.” And then He adds, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” We should expand that, too, because you’ll covet and be greedy for more than grain and goods. You are more than your popularity. You are more than your looks or fashion sense. You are more than your health. You are more than the knowledge you’ve gained, or the peace within your family, or the goals that you’ve attained, or the promotions you’ve received, or the items you’ve crossed off your bucket list. Still, you are tempted to covet all of these things: to believe that they are what give you life and quality of life, to believe they are good for your soul. But none of these things give life to your soul. Flee these temptations, and repent when you give into them. All of these things are false gods when you put your trust in them, and putting your trust in them reveals even more about you than greed or covetousness.

The Lord gives you so much more than the abundance of your possessions or other things that will pass away that. He gives you gifts that do not pass away. He gives you life that does not pass away. Jesus became flesh and went to the cross for you. He died for you, bearing your sin—including greed and covetousness and every evil desire. He died your death for you, so that you might not go the way of all things in this world which pass away. He rose again to give you eternal life with Him. He has made you a child of God in Holy Baptism, so that now you are an heir of the kingdom of heaven.

You still have the specter of death hanging around, but you also have hope in Christ. Where you worry about what you do not have, you consider the lilies of the field and the sparrows of the air, knowing how much the Lord cares for them: because you know that Jesus didn’t become a lily to redeem lilies or a sparrow to redeem sparrows. He became man to redeem you: and if He redeemed you at the cost of His own blood, He will not fail to give you forgiveness and life.

Your life isn’t the sum total of your possessions. The Lord is your life and your salvation. Eternal life is yours because Jesus pours out abundantly on you the riches of His grace, so that you are forgiven for all of your sins. Thanks be to God for such bounty! 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 24, 2019

Sermon for 11/24/19: Last Sunday of the Church Year

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

Since the fall into sin, we are corrupt, defiled, and wicked. The ways of men are betrayal, greed, and violence. Our thoughts and secret desires are nothing short of shameful. Our most natural speech is full of lies, gossip, and slander. We are comfortable in our sin, and we are quick with excuses and blame. Oh, we can pretend to be good, to be nice. When it comes to spirituality, we are capable of putting on a dazzling show. We can feign any virtue: compassion, righteousness, patience, faith. And if our fragile masks hold together, we can fool men into thinking that we are honorable and decent. If we are willing to lie to ourselves—and we most certainly are—we might even fool ourselves. But with even a cursory glance, we will be discovered. None of us has a pure heart.
And God sees into our hearts. He demands perfection, and we have failed. He doesn’t care how much you give, how many hours you volunteer, or who your parents are. It doesn’t matter what hardships and obstacles you’ve had to deal with, what pressures and troubles you’ve suffered. Your excuses and bragging must disappear when confronted with the truth. God has written the Law into the hearts of man. That Law is indisputably good. It is what we know we should obey. But it is not what we have done. It does not describe who we are. We have broken it. We have behaved with cruel selfishness. All those born of women stand guilty, condemned by the Law, without any excuse.
Repent, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man comes. You cannot stand on your own works, by your own earnestness or sincerity. You cannot excuse away your failures and weaknesses. Be wise with the wisdom that expects the return of the Christ.
In the Gospel, all the virgins, wise and foolish alike, slept. They were all weak. They all failed to keep a perfect vigil. Measured by thoughts, words, and deeds, all had the outward righteousness of virginity, but all were equally foolish in their inability to keep alert with lamps burning. But there was a distinction between them—not of righteousness, not of intent, but of faith. For despite their weakness, five of them, by grace, even in the midst of their sleepiness, clung to the hope that the Bridegroom would return. This didn’t make them better than their sisters. It just made them believers. And in the end, that is what makes the difference.
God in the flesh, who wed Himself to humanity, will return. The judgment will be decided by the condition of the heart, not on tainted works. And the only way to have a pure heart, to face this judgment eagerly and with confidence, is to have a heart that has been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, a heart that abides in forgiveness through the cross of Jesus Christ. Trust in Jesus. Expect His return and praise His Name. You will be with Him forever. He has taken up your sins and crucified them. In Him you are perfect, chaste, and without guilt. He accepts you and welcomes you into the Wedding Hall. Rest confident and eager in Him.
What a glorious future you have! What joy awaits you! Be eager in Christ, for the end is drawing near. He beckons you to the communion of saints. Watch in prayer. Watch with His holy Word ringing in your ears. Watch with His precious body and blood upon your lips. Stand innocent in His death, full of repentant joy and expectation. For the Lord is coming soon. 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, November 17, 2019

Sermon for 11/17/19: Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

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The Day Is Coming

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

The Day is coming. It is delayed for a time by mercy, only for the sake of love. The will of God is that all should come to repentance. It is delayed, but it is coming. While scoffers count the passage of time as proof that He is not coming, we who live by faith know that every passing moment only increases the tension and makes His coming more imminent.
The difference between the goats and the sheep is a matter of the heart that only the Lord can discern. The goats protest their fate. They appeal to their works. “When, Lord, did we fail to do these things? How can You say that we have fallen short? We were good. We were sincere. We tried hard. We built children’s hospitals. We fought for social justice. We paid our bills and kept our lawns neat and clean.” But it doesn’t matter. No matter how good their good works were, they were not good enough. Their hearts were never perfectly pure. Everything humans do is tainted by selfish desires and ambitions. The goats are judged by their own standard; they can never do enough.
What the goats reveal is their faith. Their faith is not in Christ but in themselves. They seek to justify themselves. They call Jesus “Lord,” but they will not submit to Him. They have sought to make their own way, to find their own rest, to secure their own future. They demand to be judged by their works…and they are.
There is only one Name under heaven by which men are saved, and it is not your own. All other names bring damnation. Repent. Throw yourself upon the mercy of the only One who can save you. Turn from your lust and greed, from your covetousness, from striving to make your own happiness and find your own peace. Turn from your reliance on your good works. They do not impress God. Be emptied of yourself. Forget yourself. Repent. Prepare, for the Day is surely coming. Throw yourself upon the Man of sorrows, the Friend of sinners, the Strength of the weak, the Hope of the desolate, the Light of the world, the Conqueror of death, the King of saints, the Lord of Hosts. Be filled with Christ and His works.
Your God hung on the cross. This is His glory, for from the cross He draws all men unto Himself. He hung on the cross to pay for sins He did not commit. He died there. Then He rose. And now He lives at the right hand of the Father, ruling the Universe called into being through Him. Soon He shall return and bring the good work He has begun in you to completion.
In that coming Day, the elect, the sheep, will also be surprised. They will be credited with Christ’s own good works and righteousness. This righteousness will not feel comfortable on them. They will argue: “Lord, we did not do these things. We are not good. We were hypocrites. Often, we did say and do the right thing, but inside we didn’t believe it. We had tainted motives, selfish ambitions, evil desires. There is nothing good in us. We are no better than the goats.” And He will reply, “Yes, I know. But I did these things. I fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty. I welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned. I kept the Law. And I did it for you. I am your Substitute. My works count as your works. I took your sin and crucified it. I give you My righteousness, My innocence, and My blessedness.” This is a free gift of immeasurable grace. He suffered and died that you would live. For a time you will suffer, too, and perhaps you will even die. But death could not hold our Lord, and it will not hold you. Your life is patterned after Christ, who died and rose again. And He is coming back to claim His own. So “come, O blessed of the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of 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.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

HYMN: The Lord Is Near! Oh, Bless His Name!

My family went on vacation last month. My plan was to sleep, read, and maybe write a hymn. I did all three. As far as the hymn goes, I’ve been looking at some of the hymns i’ve written that I consider weaker texts, and my first text for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Rain Down, You Heavens, From Above, is one of them. So over the course of about a week, I wrote a new text which builds on John the Baptist’s words in the appointed Gospel, John 1:19-28, as well as John valiant witness and the ultimate earthly result of that witness.

Part of the delay in posting this text was that a friend and colleague, the Reverend Robin Fish, Jr., offered to write an original tune for this text. A picture of the tune will be included below the text. Thank you, Robin.

Your feedback is appreciated.

The Lord Is Near! Oh, Bless His Name!

1. The Lord is near! Oh, bless His name!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing.
O mouth, cry out! His praise proclaim.
Make welcome Christ, your King.

2. Make straight a highway smooth and broad.
Oh, clear the Savior’s way.
With humble faith prepare His road.
He comes to you today.

3. Forsake the call of silk and gold,
And all false joy disdain.
True wealth, eternal joy behold
In Him who comes to reign.

4. Confess your Jesus valiantly
Before the faithless hoard.
Confess Him boldly. Do not flee!
And trust in Christ the Lord.

5. Should blood be shed, if enemies 
Of Christ seek your demise,
Our Father, who looks on and sees,
Bestows the martyr’s prize.

6. O child of faith, your King is here!
Let all your doubting cease.
Prepare your heart and do not fear!
He comes to bring you peace.

(c) 2019 Alan Kornacki. Jr.
CM (86 86)
Tunes: DETROIT (LSB 843)
Advent IV; Christian Life

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Sermon for 11/3/19: Feast of All Saints

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

If you think the Church on earth should look and act more like the Church in heaven; if you think the Church of the Reformation should be more faithful to that Reformation, you are not alone. You are not the only one shocked and disgusted by the Church’s in-fighting or worried about the impact of that fighting on its mission and witness. You are not the only one who is reeling from Satanic attacks upon our nation and our synod. But such anxiety comes from judging by appearance. Those who live by sight are betrayed by it. By themselves, the eyes only see poverty, meekness, and hunger. If what we can see is all that there is, then life would be futile.
But faith sees more clearly than the eyes. It sees through today and into tomorrow. It embraces the promise. It sees blessedness in the cross, in suffering, in striving, and even in what seems to be death. After all, faith knows that there is no true death for those who die in the Lord. They pass through the earthly death of the body into real and lasting life. Our God is the God of the living. Abraham, though he died long ago, is not dead! Our departed loved ones, who have preceded us in the faith, are not dead either. And neither shall you, who live by faith in Jesus, be dead. Though for a time you are beaten and downtrodden, you shall never die.
This is the peace that passes all understanding. It is peace that exists in turmoil, in sadness, and in the face of tragedy. It endures because it comes from God. It lives by faith, by things unseen, things promised, things yet afar off—though not as far as they used to be. It is the everlasting hope of the Church which has been bought and redeemed by the death and resurrection of her Lord. It is peace with God and men. It is peace both now and to come.
This is how our Lord describes the Christian’s lot on this side of glory: the faithful are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry, cursed, reviled, hated by men, at war, in strife and difficulty. But in Christ, you shall be comforted. By grace, like Abraham, you shall inherit the earth. You shall be filled with righteousness. Baptized into His death, you shall obtain mercy. You will not be judged by your sins, by your deeds, but by His perfect life and death. It is enough. It is enough to make dead men alive. It makes sinners into saints. In the resurrection, you shall see God. You shall be called sons of God. The kingdom of heaven is yours. You eat the living Bread of heaven and drink the Blood that washes you clean.
On this side of glory, the saints are waiting. Mostly this is waiting in the midst of sorrow, trial, and uncertainty; or poverty, meekness, and hunger; or of fighting, hardship, and worry. Some days are better than others, but there are no days when everything is just right. We are foreigners—always outsiders, always suspect, always the object of the world’s scorn, always a target for the devil’s false doctrines of glory in this life. So the Word of God calls us to live by faith, to believe and rejoice in things unseen—things such as saints and angels, the presence of Christ in bread and wine, the Church Triumphant, and of better days to come.
This is your future. Out of the great tribulation you shall come with your baptismal robe, washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. The Beatitudes will be fulfilled in you and for you. You shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore. The sun shall not strike you, nor any heat. The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne—who was slain but lives; who gave His life for yours; who rescued, redeemed, bought, and forgave you—He will shepherd you. He will lead you to living fountains of waters. And He Himself will wipe away every tear from your eyes, for you are His saints. 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, October 27, 2019

Sermon for 10/26/19: Festival of the Reformation

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Abiding in the Word

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

Not long before Jesus spoke the words of our Gospel, He encountered a woman who was being stoned because of adultery. The Jews were not interested in repentance and forgiveness. They were interested in separating the good sheep from those they judged as bad—those who behaved properly from those who did not. Our Lutheran heritage stems from a similar problem, because the Pope and his minions were not interested in speaking God’s Word of forgiveness; they wanted to sell worthless pieces of paper instead of giving the forgiveness Christ died to give freely to His people. And some people thought it was worth it to pay for forgiveness rather than to repent of their sin and attempt to live a life of baptismal faith.
This is the problem of sin: not that we do bad things, but that we do not live as if we believe in the one true God. Is any one of us any different than those Jews who wanted to stone the adulteress? Is any one of us any different than those who wanted to purchase and even sell God’s favor and gifts?
  Today, we find ourselves in a struggle to maintain our distinctive identity as Lutherans, as people who believe and teach Law and Gospel, as people who hold to the inerrant Scriptures as our rule of faith. This ministry is no more popular today than it was in Luther’s time or even in the days our Lord preached and taught among His disciples. We have found that out over the past few years as the world ignores, ridicules, and despises the truth of Scripture and the faith we hold. Abortion providers brazenly dispose of God’s gift of life, treating the murder of the unborn as a money-making scheme. Political candidates gain worldly favor as they promise to punish Christians and congregations who attempt to live their faith in opposition to sin. Even some so-called Christian congregations abandon the truth of God’s Word to curry the world’s favor.
No matter what is yet to come, our Lord remains faithful to us, all the way to the cross. In this world of uncertainty, ambiguity, and even hostility, this congregation exists to bring the Good News of salvation and eternal life through the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God to sinners—even those who may at first and for a time reject it in favor of something more pleasing to them. So we abide; we remain in His Word as His disciples. And He remains in us.
We face an uncertain future as a congregation and dual parish. Truly we trust in God to provide, but we don’t know what that gracious provision will look like. It’s true that our financial situation is not pretty. It’s true that our culture is hell-bent on a spiritual diversity that frowns on anyone who speaks the Word of God with authority, who calls sin what it is. It would be so easy to fill our pews and our plates. All we have to do is sell out the Gospel; all we have to do is sell our souls.
So what does the future hold? Will we have to sell our property? Should we seek out yet another congregation to join with us so that the Word will continue on in this place? Will our pastor face imprisonment for preaching against sin? Will we have to close our doors? All of these are possible. But as we abide in the truth of the Word, our Lord sets us free from sin, death, and hell. We are counted among the faithful remnant. The Holy Spirit keeps us with Jesus in His Church, feeding us the forgiveness of sins in the body and blood of Christ. So even if your pastor is arrested; if we lose our tax exempt status; even if these doors close; “take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth!” The Lord will continue to provide for your spiritual care. You are His disciples, baptized in His name. 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, October 13, 2019

Sermon for 10/13/19: Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity

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A Place in the Kingdom

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

While the kingdom of heaven is a magnificent gift, it does not come easily—not because the Lord does not freely give it, but because we believe it is something we have a right to, something we have earned and deserved. So we must pray, Thy kingdom come,” because we are inclined to forget that He has so graciously given us entrance to the kingdom in the waters of Holy Baptism. We must remember that, even now in the Divine Service, we miraculously stand within the Lord’s kingdom.
But it’s also important to remember that the tribulations we endure on the way are all part of the life of citizens of the kingdom. There is no smooth route. There is no short cut. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” as St. Paul writes. But Jesus also tells us, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” We should never think that our life together in Christ will be free of struggle, suffering, or hard work. When we were baptized, we not only received a great Friend; we also lined ourselves up against a determined enemy. Certainly, we were delivered from death and the devil. But we also renounced the devil…and he will not take that sitting down. We promised to strive against our fears and sinful desires, but the devil and the world will do all they can to help us break that promise. As long as we have breath, we strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Your heart’s desire should be nowhere else than in the Lord’s kingdom, gathered with the saints and martyrs, with the holy angels and blessed dead, eating the bread of eternal life and drinking the chalice of everlasting salvation.
You have no right to be here. But you belong here—not because you impressed the Lord, but because the transforming image of Jesus Christ was placed upon you in Holy Baptism. So you stand here today in the presence of the Holy Trinity, only because He is merciful, compassionate, willing to overlook your past. He desires you even though you don’t always desire Him. Our Lord’s mercy is so great, so wonderful, so large, that He uses your pastor—an unworthy servant and fellow sinner—to invite you to sit at table with Him. Our Lord summons you to eat bread in the kingdom of God. But if you forget what got you here—if you believe that your striving to live a godly life is what allows you to stand before God—then you are no different than those people who scheme to get the best seats at a banquet.
But our heavenly Father already notices you. In His mercy, He notices your willingness to submit yourself entirely to Him. He notices your desire to live against your sinful desires. He notices you as you strive to do what is good and right in His sight. But most of all, He notices the mark of the holy cross on your forehead and heart. He rejoices to see the transforming image of His Son.
Therefore, have no fear that you’ll go unnoticed, or that the Father will forget you. Do not give into your desire to raise yourself up at the expense of your neighbor. Do not compare yourself with anyone else to see how you measure up. Do not strive as if you are in competition with others. Instead, know and understand and believe that our Father, out of His boundless mercy, gives you a place at His table in the marriage feast of the Lamb which has no end. Do not strive for the highest place; come forward in humility, honoring your fellow saints who have been baptized and who stand with you before the Lord in His kingdom. In doing so, “you walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It doesn’t matter where you sit; there is no bad place in the kingdom or at this table. 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, October 06, 2019

Sermon for 10/6/19: Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity

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Death Meets Life
Luke 7:11-17

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

One problem with hearing about the miracles of Jesus is that they make us envious. And when we are envious, the devil urges us to ask, “When am I going to get mine? When is Jesus going to do for me, just like He did for them?” And then we see Jesus as a wonder-worker, a miracle-man, a super-hero—instead of seeing and trusting Him to be our Lord and God and Savior. Jesus truly is our Savior. But that doesn’t mean that He’s always going to swoop in and clean up our messes, or undo our disasters, or make better our tragedies, or heal our diseases, or prevent our death. Our Jesus has a much bigger view of our life. He sees the big picture. He looks far beyond our latest catastrophe.
So Jesus doesn’t raise the dead man merely because He happened to be passing by Nain, happened to see the funeral procession, and happened to cross paths with that poor mother. Jesus raises the dead man to show us that nothing—not our worst fears, not the destruction of our homes, not the devastation of our life—not even death will stop Him from having the final say. And so, “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Why is she not to weep? Is it not natural to grieve when loved ones die, when tragedy hits home? And why does Jesus not weep? If He is moved with compassion, shouldn’t He show it instead of standing there stoically and commanding a grieving mother to stop crying?
But remember—Our Lord sees the big picture. While He sees this woman and her dead son; while her suffering moves Him to compassion and mercy, what He also sees is death standing in the way of life. Think of it: entering the city of Nain is the Lord of Life. Coming out of the city at the same time is a death march. With the Lord of Life is a large crowd. And a large crowd from the city is marching the dead man to his grave. Which procession will give way? Does Life yield to death? Or is death overcome by Life?
Our Lord will face this scene twice more. The first time is when death and the devil come to claim Him from the cross to lead Him down to the grave and hell. And the second is when He who is Life comes to claim and release His own from the satanic clutches and the snares of death. Who will give way? Jesus or the devil? Which one will have to yield? Life or death? And who will overcome: the Lord of Life and all the living, or the dirt and fallen angels that He made and that must obey Him?
Our Lord Jesus looks at the dead man coming out of Nain and sees the big picture. He sees death challenging Him. Our Lord Jesus is life, and He knows that death must always yield to Life. And so Life Himself comes and touches the open coffin. The death march stops. Then Life says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” The young man who had been dead comes to life.
As we see the images of death on our televisions; as we hear the tragedies that come every day; as we witness the holocaust of the mass murder of the unborn; as we nurse the dying and bury our dead; and as we feel death slowly creeping up in our own bones, let us not hear today’s Gospel and envy the mother who got her son back. Instead, let us remember that, in the midst of earthly death, Life has us surrounded. Death must yield to Life. And it is the Lord of Life whom we cling to, cry out to, and praise—even as we receive into our mouths His glorified and resurrected body and blood which transforms our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.For death must give way to Life. So come and receive Life in His very 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.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sermon for 9/29/19: Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity

Somebody (*raises hand sheepishly*) forgot to prepare the Propers for St. Michael and All Angels. Sorry.

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God or the World
Matthew 6:24-34

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

There are many persons and things that we love; and there are many persons or things that love us. In the final analysis, however, everything we have, everything we hope for, everything we desire traces back to one of two loves. When you come right down to it, there are only two things that we love, and we must choose between them: God, or the things of this world. These two loves come from opposite sources, and they produce eternally opposite results. Whoever loves the world will have nothing after he passes away. But whoever loves God will have eternal life with the angels and saints and faithful departed. Whoever loves this world cannot have God as his chief love. But whoever truly and earnestly and faithfully loves God will have both God and the world.
That alone convinces very few. The pull of this world is so strong. Our passions are set to desire earthly things. Our minds are prone to see and think about and desire only the here and now. We are so wrapped in the fear that we'll miss out and won't get ours. Somehow we find it hard to believe that the world can let us down, even though we know it often does. We find it hard to believe that our love for the things of this life—things like the praise of others, the pride of accomplishment, and the lust for power or sex or money or good feelings—is worthless. And so, instead of loving the things that last, we love the things that, in the end, will not help us one whit. We love the world so much—too much, in fact. Yet, in our misguided longing and yearning, we are blinded to the fact that the things of this world really do not love us.
While we have many loves, there is in the end only one true Lover—the Father who gives us His Spirit so that we might live safe and secure within Christ, the Beloved One. To love the One who truly loves us—the One who loves us with an undying, unfading, ever-deepening love—to love Him must be our chief desire, so much so that we are willing to throw everything else away, even to break ties with those who drag us away from Him in His holy Church. To love Him above all things means to prefer nothing and no one other than His embrace. To love Him means to fear only one thing—losing Him. And to love Him above all things means to trust that He loves us so much that He has sacrificed all that He has and all that He is so that we may never be harmed.
To love this Lord God with all that we are and all that we have does not harm us. We are told that it will. We are told that the sacrifice is too great, that we will lose out on too much, that life will be hard. But to love the only One who truly loves us cannot hurt us. In the love of God there is no excess. But in the love of this world, and this world's goods and this world's pride—in that love, all is hurtful because all is deceptive. The world says that if you love the things of this world, those things will love you back. But all the things of this world will fade; they will never be able to make good on their promise.
The one true God has already kept His promise of love. From the very first sin He promised a Savior to crush the head of the serpent. Our Father sent His Son, and His Son has loved us to death on the cross. Our Father has made us His children in the waters of Holy Baptism. He does provide what we need for this body and life. But even more than that, our Lord speaks His Word of forgiveness to us; Jesus feeds us with His own body and blood. These rich blessings will never rust or fade, and no one can take them away from you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sermon for 9/22/19: Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity

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Saving Faith

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

The Law says that the leper is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; and his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” The Law also says that, when someone comes near, lepers are supposed to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” But these lepers are near the entrance of a certain village, and they band together. And instead of shouting that they were ritually unclean, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” What causes these ten lepers to break the Law? The punishment for violating this law is severe: forty lashes with a whip. They know this. So why do they risk so much?
For mercy, these men will risk much. For mercy, they will knowingly and willingly break the Law. Mercy is what fuels their confidence and stokes their courage—and not even mercy, but simply the hope of mercy. After all, they have no guarantee that their cry will be granted, that Jesus will have mercy. This same Jesus used a whip to drive out money-changers from the Temple, precisely because those merchants broke the Law. He could easily react the same way toward these law-breakers. Yet mercy compels them.
You might think that they really have nothing to lose. After all, they have leprosy, which means they are outcasts and live a miserable life. So why shouldn’t they risk all? Don’t we promise to risk everything—even life itself—for sake of faith? Yet how often we take the easy route, waiting for some guarantee that we’ll get what we want before we put anything on the line. Only if we believe against what the world says; only if we hope against hope—only then might we be willing to lose our life in order to gain something better. Yet these men hope against hope with the faith that Jesus will not turn them in or turn on them, but will have mercy. It is not desperation that drives these lepers, but the Lord’s mercy that invites and draws and encourages them. It is not fatalism; faith makes them bold.
And our Lord does not disappoint those who hope in His mercy. He says, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” Whatever we receive from God, whatever gift He gives that we accept and take to heart, ultimately all depends “not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” And that is where these ten men are: they depend on nothing but the Lord’s mercy. And that is what we are: unworthy beggars who look to, hope for, depend on, and hold to our Lord Jesus and His mercy. And so the cry for mercy must remain our perpetual and eternal prayer.
Like the ten, we are not disappointed in our hope. Our Father is the lover of mankind, and so, through His Son by the power of the Spirit, He has mercy on us and on His whole creation. His mercy is not simply given to the good and upright. Our Father offers and gives His mercy to every single person—even if you don’t believe it, even if you don’t ask for it, even if you don’t think you need it.
That is why our Lord commends the faithful Samaritan. When this man saw that he was healed, he returned and glorified God. By giving thanks to the Lord, this man, formerly outcast both as a Samaritan and as a leper, demonstrated that he loved the Lord and His mercy. So the Lord gives a second, greater blessing: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you.”
Faith which begs for and lives from the Lord’s mercy; faith which cries out in both desperation and joy; faith which then shows the mercy and love of God within you—that is the faith that saves you. This is the faith which you have received in the waters of Holy Baptism. This is the faith which our Lord feeds with His body and blood. And this faith, a gift from your God, sustains you for this life and for 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 keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.