Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon for 3/31/19: Fourth Sunday in Lent

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

The hearers on the mountainside were weak. They could not journey any further without food. They could not make it home without fainting on the way. Did Jesus not realize what was happening? Why does He let them get so caught up in His Word that they forget the necessities of life? The truth is, He drew them out on purpose. The suffering, the pain, the fear: none of that comes from Him, but He uses it for their good. He drew them out to a hopeless point, and then He provided for them. He taught them that there is only one Place to look for sustenance. He is Hope for the hopeless.
And yet, here on the mountainside with grumbling stomachs, the pull of the flesh is so strong, our depression so intense, that our bones ache within us. Irreverent questions rise from our hearts to our lips: “So what, God? So what if you performed miracles and taught great things? So what if the future looks good? Where are you now? Where are those spiritual and emotional mountaintops? When will you multiply the loaves for me? I cry and cry up to heaven, but the clouds just roll on by.”
In our despair, what importance does this meal have for us? How can we pray for relief when it has been our prayer for so long, and for so long it has gone unanswered? How many times have we stood with Phillip: “Two hundred silver pieces worth of bread is not sufficient.” There is no hope. While we believe all that the Word says about Jesus, it seems irrelevant when the black curtain of depression and despair descends upon us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ: the overwhelming obstacles, the impossible things that have stopped mere mortals—these are nothing to God. For Him all things are possible. The victory is His. Sit down and listen. Sit down and wait. God will provide for in His own way, in His own time. He came to save you, and not only for the hereafter, but also for the now. He looked upon the five thousand men who had come to hear Him, and He had compassion upon them. He took care of them. In the same way, He sees your hurt, sorrow, and grief. He hears you cry, “Lord, I hurt.” And He replies, “I know. They hurt Me, too. But My Father delivered Me from the depths of Hell. So, too, will I deliver you. My death is sufficient. It covers all your sins. The price has been paid in full. Hang on. I love you. I am here for you where I have promised to be. I am here to serve you. Hear my Word of life, of love, of forgiveness. Come. Kneel before Me. Let Me feed you with bread that satisfies your very soul. And know this: I am coming back to get you.”
He hears you. He answers your prayers. It is not the bare minimum that He gives you, but neither does He always satisfy the cravings of your flesh. He knows what is best. Notice that He did not feed the five thousand with merely enough rations to ensure that they did not perish there on the hill side, or even just enough to get them all home again. He gave so much that each person ate until he was filled, and still there were twelve overflowing baskets left over. Where God bestows His gifts, human vessels are filled to overflowing. They cannot contain it. The grace of God is bigger than our need.
So come to Him. Hear, and your soul shall live! He gives nothing less than Himself, the Bread of life, His flesh and blood for souls conflicted and suffering under the cross and awaiting the glory to come. Soon… Soon to faithful and weary warriors, to the sad and the lonely, to the weak and heavy laden, soon comes rest. So come. Come and receive heavenly Food, miraculous Love, and Strength for the journey. Our cups overflow. God is 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.   

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Sermon for 3/27/19: Midweek of Lent 3 (Return series)

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Return to the Lord 
Who Will Raise You Up

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

            The past few weeks we have heard the call to “return to the Lord.” We return to the Lord because He is the one who has redeemed us, and He has promised to restore us. But tonight we hear something a bit different, and it runs against how we operate, especially these days. Return to the Lord, for He is the One who has brought discipline upon you. He is the one, Hosea says, who has torn us” and “has struck us down. Discipline isn’t pleasant to undergo. It is hard to return to a Lord who tears you and strikes you down, just as a child who has been spanked often resents the one who did the spanking.
            Discipline is not easy, either to give or to receive, but discipline is necessary. A child who has not been disciplined believes their behavior has no consequences. If he receives no discipline, his behavior will continue to deteriorate until he is a frustration to his parents and teachers and a menace to his classmates. Discipline teaches the child appropriate behavior. The child may not appreciate the lessons while learning them, but the lessons are important. They teach him to understand and respect boundaries, to interact with kindness towards his friends and neighbors. Maybe the child will even come to understand that this discipline comes from love. If a parent truly loves the child, the parent will love the child enough to say “no.” Parents want their children to be happy, but when the child is holding poison, drinking it might satisfy their curiosity, but in the end, it will kill them.
            God loves you, and He wants you to be happy. The hard part for sinners to understand is that, in giving us His Ten Commandments, God is showing us the best way to be happy. If we truly “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” we will be satisfied and even happy with the blessings He gives us every day. When we live contrary to His Word, we are never satisfied with just a little sin. We want more of our idols, whether it be money or sex or superiority or whatever else we covet. But when we stray from His Word, He sends messengers to discipline us, to bring us back to Him. He sends pastors to preach the Law to us, to chasten our hard hearts until we hear God’s Word and repent. Our Lord loves us so much that He says “no” to our desires to have gods that we regard as greater than Him.
            So if God’s discipline comes from His great love for us, why does that discipline actually make it hard to return to Him? The truth is, our love is not steadfast or reliable. Hosea tells us that our love is like “dew that goes early away.” The dew quickly evaporates. That’s how our love works. Love is hard to sustain, both toward our neighbor and especially toward God. Our prayers, our devotions, our obedience, our confidence in Him—these things come and go. And because that’s how our love is, we think that how God’s love is, too. Our hard hearts make it hard to return to Him. We forget who God really is.
            And so He disciplines us, not only to show us ourselves and our little faith, but also to love us and show us His love. He has torn us, that he may heal us! He has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” It’s as if He wants to prove Himself again and again, until we stop doubting whether He will arise and shine upon us. We know that He will, because we know Him. And where we know Him best is hanging on the cross for us. But as Hosea says: after two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”
            Just as Jesus rose on the third day, His third day is our third day. In Holy Baptism we’ve been crucified with Christ, joined to Him. We have already passed through death to life with Him, and so have already begun to live in that day and life that cannot be ended. Your sins have been atoned for and forgiven, and so for you there is life. And for now, the discipline you experience serves life.
            So come, “let us return to the Lord.” He disciplines you because He loves you. He preaches the Law to you so that He may bring you to repentance. And He will raise you up as His beloved child. 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, March 24, 2019

Sermon for 3/24/19: Third Sunday in Lent

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Opened Lips

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

You have heard it said: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” The truth is, no stick wreaks such havoc, no stone inflicts such terror and destruction as the tongue. How shameful, proud, and insufferable we are! All our gossip, all our whispering, all our pretending that we have not meant the hurtful things we said, all our talk out of both sides of our mouth, all our deceptions: these things display what is in our hearts. We back-peddle, deny, and even lie with ease and comfort. We are comfortable in deceit. We are a people of unclean lips; the tongue is our most obscene feature.
Our sinful pride hates the simplicity of God’s Word! We seek to hide and justify ourselves in the make-believe gray areas of the Law. That leads only to death. But thanks be to God, there is One Man who never lied, who never failed to speak the Truth, who never weighed the potential cost of men’s opinions, who did not compromise for an imagined vain greater good. The Word made Flesh, Christ our Lord, God Himself: He is no diplomat. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He opens eyes, ears, and mouths by the power of His Word. He came to cast out demons. He came to reclaim mankind for Himself. He came to speak the Truth. He came to give voice to sinners who before could not speak.
The Lord knows full well the weak ways of men. Even so, He rescued that poor mute from the demon that held him down. He knew the man would lie, but He opened his mouth anyway. The finger of God interferes in the lives of men—not because of who they are, but because of who He is. He will not stay out. This is His business. He will not go away and ignore us. He purifies the unclean lips of men. He opens them and gives them something to say, something to sing, something to confess.
The Psalmist said that all men are liars. It is true; we are. But there is a way out. Take the cup of salvation; call upon the Name of the Lord. Use that God-given voice for good. Here is a purifying coal in the body and blood of our Savior: take and eat; take and drink. That medicine allows us to sing with the seraphim. That Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world, has satisfied the Law. He has spoken the Truth that breaks false bonds. He gives a voice to the mute. He opens our lips, so that we may declare His praise.
If men will preach to itchy ears; if we will appeal to sinful flesh; if we will tell lies about God to make the Church look appealing to the world; then God will raise up praise from stones. God’s love will not be silenced. No Synod or District bureaucrat, no committee, no hostile voters’ assembly, no compromising theologian, no false preacher, no army of men or demons—nothing will stop this song. The deaf will hear God’s Word. The blind will see His grace. The dumb will speak His praise. The demons will be expelled.
To accomplish this, Jesus gave His life upon Calvary’s altar. They tried to silence the One who only ever told the Truth with the false charge that He is a blasphemer. But on the third day, that holy mouth opened up again. “Do not be afraid.” “Peace be with you.” “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” “Your sins are forgiven.” He has removed your guilt. He has paid your debt. You belong to Him. You are free. You are holy. He has given you His Name and declared you righteous. He will bring this to completion in you on the Last Day. Even now, the demons are gone. Your mouth is open to sing, to praise, to confess, and to eat and drink. So come. Take the cup of salvation. Have your lips cleansed. Have your demons driven away. Call upon the Name of the Lord. He is your Salvation. 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, March 19, 2019

Sermon for 3/19-20/19: Midweek of Lent 2 (Return series)

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Return to the Lord 
Who Will Restore You

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

            More than once, Jeremiah was ready to give up. Of all the prophets—except maybe John the Baptist—Jeremiah probably had it the worst. The people just wouldn’t listen. He spoke God’s Word to them time and again, calling them to repentance. But the more he cried out, the more they ignored him. And it was even worse than that. They didn’t just ignore him; they got so tired of him that they threw him into a pit so they wouldn’t have to listen to him. Today they might call his District President to complain or conspire to throw him out of the congregation.
            The problem was, there were other prophets. These prophets weren’t saying the same things as Jeremiah. They were false prophets who told the people that Jeremiah didn’t know what he was talking about. There were more of them, and they claimed he was being too hard on them. “Jeremiah says that if you don’t repent, then Jerusalem is going to fall? Of course God wouldn’t let that happen to His city. God wouldn’t let that happen to His Temple. Everything’s going to be fine.” You hear similar messages today. “God doesn’t want you to suffer.” “You will prosper in this life.” “If you have a strong enough faith, you will be rich and you won’t get sick.” “Everything’s going to be fine.”
But it wasn’t fine. Time was running out. God’s patience was running out. And because of the people’s unfaithfulness and idolatry, God was not only going to let His city and Temple be destroyed; He was going to send the nations to do it. This was tough love for a stubborn and stiff-necked people. It didn’t have to be this way. If they would repent, if they would trust the Lord, they would be spared. But the people wouldn’t listen to the message He sent Jeremiah to preach. The words of the false prophets were too sweet. Why walk the narrow and difficult path of righteousness when they easy road of sin is so wide? So they sent Jeremiah into the pit. The people continued on, comfortable in their sin. Jeremiah wanted to quit. These unfaithful, idolatrous people weren’t worth it.
But to God, they were worth any price. So He wouldn’t let Jeremiah quit. He called the prophet to repentance. But He promised Jeremiah that He was with him; He promised to help His prophet and strengthen him. God tells Jeremiah, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.” “I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they shall not prevail over you.” “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” Those sweet words and promises of God are exactly what the prophet needed; and they are exactly what you need. Maybe you’ve been in Jeremiah’s place. Maybe you’ve been at your wit’s end, ready to give up on others, maybe even give up on God. Maybe things aren’t working out. Maybe the difficulties just seem to keep mounting higher. Maybe it seems as if those who work evil, those who lie and deceive, seem to be winning. Maybe you feel like Jeremiah, being called to repentance when those others are the ones who need to repent!
But we must repent—this Lenten season and all year through—for our own unbelief and mistrust, for believing His grace is not sufficient for us. And so the call goes out to return to our gracious God and His wonderful promises, for He promises to restore you, protect you, and deliver you. These promises are true for us in Jesus. Though we are fallen in sin and death, the cross of Jesus brings forgiveness and life from the dead. God promises to raise up Jeremiah from the pit, and He will raise you up as well from the pit of sin and death. Our Lord’s resurrection is our resurrection by the power of Holy Baptism, and we will stand before God in righteousness and purity forever. That’s His promise to you.
So no matter how bad things seem, no matter how bad things get, remember the promises of the Lord to you. Repent and return. He will restore you. He will sustain you. He is your life and your salvation, and you are His dear child. 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, March 17, 2019

Sermon for 3/17/19: Second Sunday in Lent

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Faith Beyond Sight

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

“Seeing is believing,” or so the old saying goes. But on this side of heaven, your eyes, ears, and all your senses will let you down. They are tainted with sin; they can’t be trusted. Take the Canaanite woman, for example. She will not be turned aside by Jesus despite His seeming cruelty toward her. If she believes only what her senses tell her, she would go home, her need unfilled. But this woman is the example of faithful prayer because she will not give up. She knows who Jesus is and what He has come to do, so she approaches Him and wrestles with Him—verbally, anyway—until He blesses her by granting her request.
Her daughter is severely demon-possessed. And yet it looks, sounds, and feels like Jesus is the one playing the devil. Three times He insults her. First He ignores her prayer and great confession. Then, in her hearing, He tells the disciples she is not worth His time. And finally He calls her a little, yapping dog.
Despite all appearances, she persists in her prayer. She does not give up. She won’t let Him go—not just because she’s desperate, but because she insists that only Jesus can help her. She trusts that, no matter what Jesus says, no matter what He throws at her, He will ultimately help her. In fact, she believes that even His insults, even His torments, are somehow, in some mysterious way, part of the Lord’s help that she so desperately desires. She overlooks what she sees, hears, and feels, and forces Him to be the loving Lord she knows Him to be. She knows He’s the Messiah, God in the flesh, David’s son and David’s Lord. She believes He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and she knows that, somehow, He can bring her into that fold.
The Canaanite woman is also fully aware of who she is: that every answer, every seeming insult, every apparently hurtful word that Jesus says is true and deserved. “Yes, Lord,” she says. “I deserve to be ignored by you. Yes, Lord, I am not worthy of Your time because of my many sins. Yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. So I believe that, even though everything You say is true, even though I deserve much worse than Your scolding and insults—nevertheless, in the end, You will not turn Your mercy from me.” And in a way known only by faith, the woman knew that He would not just treat her like a dog, but like a member of the family, sitting at the table with all the others.
Sometimes, when you are in a hard part of your life, bombarded by temptations, suffering under your sins and the sins of people around you, it is difficult to tell the difference between God and the devil. But never does our Lord turn you away; never will He give up on you. He pushes you to the point where no one can help you but Him. He gives you painful crosses, but only so that you have eyes for His cross alone. He is the Messiah, come to take your place so you can have His. And because He has gone the way of His cross and death, He always leads you through your cross and suffering, until finally He leads you to His glory. He raises you up to new life in His own resurrection by the washing of Holy Baptism. He raises you up by faithful preaching and His Word of forgiveness. He raises you up by feeding you to bursting on the crumbs of His body and blood. Jesus loves you; He wants the best for you. Come as little dogs, begging for a scrap from your Lord’s Table. He will give His mercy and forgiveness in greater measure than you either prayed for or expected. 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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sermon for 3/12-13/19: Midweek Lent 1 (Return series)

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Return to the Lord 
Who Redeemed You

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

            We heard some pretty incredible words from the prophet Isaiah tonight. I have redeemed you.” “The Lord has redeemed Jacob.” “The Lord [is] your Redeemer.” “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist.” And because of these things, the Lord calls all of creation to rejoice and sing: the heavens, the depths of the earth, the mountains, the forest and every tree in it. God calls creation to rejoice because our Redeemer is also creation’s Redeemer. Just like humanity, all of creation is subjected to sin and death. It is groaning, Paul says, writhing in agony, like a woman in labor. Creation is longing for its redemption.
God spoke these words through the prophet Isaiah as if it has all already happened, though it wouldn’t actually happen for another 700 years. But Isaiah is looking to the future, to when God would fulfill this promise in Christ. God speaks this way through Isaiah because He knows that salvation is a foregone conclusion. When God makes a promise, you can speak of it as if it has already happened, and know that you are speaking the truth. Every Word of God is true and sure. Every Word will come to pass.
And this one, Isaiah says, will come to pass through the one God calls His shepherd, our Good Shepherd, who would set us free from our captivity to sin and death. Or maybe better to say it this way: He would set us free from our slavery to sin and death. Yes, slavery. That’s the way Jesus spoke to the Jews of His day. When Jesus spoke of this slavery, they said Him, “We are sons of Abraham, and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it you say, ‘You will become free’?” Perhaps, like them, you bristle at this way of speaking. We’re Americans; we have never been slaves of anyone.
But Jesus says that you are slaves. Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Jesus doesn’t dodge that reality, as unpleasant as it may sound. When we think of slavery, we probably think of what we learned in school, of those who were enslaved here in America. Slavery didn’t only happen here, but that’s probably what we know best. And for those who were enslaved here, it was horrible and unjust and cruel. Surely that’s not us!
But the slavery Jesus speaks of is even worse. Those who enslaved the body couldn’t enslave the soul. Think of all the spiritual songs that came out of slavery in American history. But the slavery of which Jesus speaks is slavery of the soul. Think of those sins you do even though you hate them and don’t want to do them. That’s slavery. Those sins are your ruthless master. Think about it. You despair though you know you should not despair. You lust though you know you should not lust. You rage though you know you should not rage. You disobey your parents though you know you should obey them. That is true slavery, a slavery that drives us deeper into slavery. It is a never-ending, ever-descending cycle from which we cannot set ourselves free. This is why we need a Redeemer, someone to pay our price and set us free.
This is the Good News which makes creation rejoice: you have a Redeemer. This One who sets you free is the Son of God Himself. This is no temporary or partial redemption; it is full and complete and everlasting, for, as Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” Through His death and resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom all things were made, creates us anew. Our Lord has freed us from our slavery to sin and death to give new life to us and to all creation. We will be rebuilt upon the cornerstone of Jesus, never to be torn down again. We live new lives as children of God, with a Father instead of a master.
As Isaiah says, “Remember these things.” No matter how things seem, no matter how bad things may get, you will not be forgotten.” Repent and return to the Lord. He continues to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” He is your Redeemer. He gives you life. He sets you free. 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, March 10, 2019

Sermon for 3/10/19: First Sunday in Lent

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Truth and the Father of Lies

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

Jesus was hungry, and the devil offered bread. He was shamed, weak, and tired, and the devil offered honor. It seemed as though His Father had abandoned Him in His hour of need, and the devil offered to step in and help, to be His god for a little while. Satan certainly would never ask Him to suffer or to die. The devil would be glad to relieve Him of that duty. That Satan seems so nice.
But Satan is a liar—indeed, he is the father of lies. You cannot have more than one god, no matter how many times the devil says that he does not mind. You will either worship the God of Abraham, or you will worship the devil. There are no other choices. And it’s not just the witches and Satanists the devil gets. He gets all the undecided, all the fence-riders, all the lukewarm pretenders, all those who worship no gods, and all those who worship false gods. He wants Jesus to have bread and honor and be spared His suffering so that men would go without the Word of God.
You would choose to eat. You would choose to jump. You would choose to kneel. Your spirit might be willing, but your flesh is weak in sin. You might even fight it for a time; eventually you would surrender. But Jesus resists. He is tempted, but—unlike us—He is not overcome. He does not sin. He obeys, and He suffers for our disobedience. He lives perfectly by His Word. The Father will provide; the Son will wait. Led into the place of temptation by the Spirit, He submits to His Father. Submitting to the Father, He knows hunger and shame. God provides…but not by removing the burden. He offers up His only Son, who goes silently as a Lamb to the slaughter: without bread, without honor, without a friend. The Father sacrifices the Son to give the Spirit to those who could not resist.
Jesus goes alone to pay for sins He did not commit. He allows them to force a crown of thorns down upon His brow, to drive nails into His hands and feet. He lets Satan do his worst. The price is paid, the sacrifice complete. Jesus has satisfied the Law’s demand. And then He rises from the dead. He makes citizens for His Kingdom by declaring former rebels to be His own dear children and washes them in the bloodstained waters of Baptism. Satan’s fantasy of killing God came true, but it became the source of his utter defeat. All those who saw their sin and cried out to the Lord were set free from their shame; they were welcomed back into God’s embrace!
The devil doesn’t understand: this is who the Messiah is; this is how He desires to be known. Jesus is anointed for a Sacrifice. He is the Lamb that God provides to make men His. He is love in flesh; He desires to have you as His own. He does it all—He hungers in the desert; He carries His cross to Golgotha; He bears mockery; He dies on the cross—all for you. He bore all of this to make you His. You are a Bride so beautiful, so precious, that the Bridegroom of grace pays the dowry Himself to have you.
It is the not the way of power and might. It is not at all like the gods designed in the imaginations of the corrupt hearts of sinful men. It is the way of weakness—at least, as men reckon weakness. It is the way of mercy. Jesus suffered for you. He has forgiven all your sins, and they are not coming back. In the coming Day, God will call you His child, well-pleasing in His sight. What you suffer now for a time is not worthy of comparison to the glory that will be revealed in you. Even now, you are surrounded by the heavenly host, ministered to by angels. And by the name into which you were baptized, the evil foe has no power over 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.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Sermon for 3/6/19: Ash Wednesday (Return series)

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Return to the Lord We Know

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

            Return to me,” says the man to his beloved who has left him. “Return to me. I love you still. I want you back.” But this evening, these words are not from a man or a woman. They come from God Himself. “Return to me,” come back to me. I do not reject you. What good news that is! The truth is, we deserve to be rejected. Think of our confession of sin. Think of all the times we sin, all the kinds of sin, and—maybe worst of all—how casual we can be about sin. We act like it’s really not all that important, as if it really doesn’t matter that we do not listen to God’s Word and instead do what we want anyway. We think that, but only until the consequences of sin come crashing down on us. And then we see, and then we shake our fist at God and ask how He could let this happen, as if it’s His fault!
Still our God calls to us. Return to me.” Repent. Turn away from your selfish desires and return to me. He wants us back, wayward though we are. His love for us remains. This is wonderful to hear. But we heard other words we heard tonight, also from the prophet Joel: Who knows whether he will turn and relent?” Those sound monstrous. They seem like words of uncertainty, words that devour, words that plague, words that offer no comfort at all. It sounds as if Joel is asking, “Who knows whether God will forgive you?”
But that’s not what those words mean. Would the God who is calling us back to Himself do so with an uncertain forgiveness? Of course not. He has promised us forgiveness. He has promised us a Savior. Listen to these verses, all from the Psalms: I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” “When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.” “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Our sin offering has been lifted high upon the cross for all creation to see. Yes, our sins make a mess of things, but in the sacrifice of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, God is setting us right again. You are forgiven. This is most certainly true. This truth, the promise of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, is the most certain truth we have.
So when Joel asks, Who knows whether he will turn and relent?” what do those words mean? The forgiveness is sure, but His discipline may continue—not to punish, but to teach; not to push you away, but to draw you closer; not to put you down, but to lift you up. Just like His forgiveness, this chastening is from His love. Sometimes you have to love someone enough to say, “No.” He will end this discipline at the proper time…but only He knows the proper time.
Forgiveness isn’t a guarantee that life will be good or easy. We know the life of faith is a life of trials, temptations, and suffering. Our Lord tells us that. But even if the trials and struggles continue—and we know they will—these things drive us to God and His love, forgiveness, strength, and faithfulness. They drive us into the Word, into prayer, into weakness, to receive the love and life of Christ. When we are weak in ourselves, we become strong in Christ. We remain confident in the Lord and in His love and forgiveness: signed, sealed, and delivered by the blood of the Lamb, shed for you and poured into you.
So tonight, yes, we repent. But even more that that, we rejoice. We rejoice in His love, love that would cause Him to send His Son for you. We rejoice in His love that would call you to repentance time and time again. We rejoice in His love that adopts you as His children, His sheep. We rejoice in His love that provides you with a Church, with His Word, and with His gifts. We rejoice in a love that won’t stop, indeed, that cannot stop. Though our love runs hot and cold, your Father’s love for you remains constant. So… “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” 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, March 05, 2019

HYMN: My Debt Is More than I Can Pay

It’s been a while since I’ve produced a hymn text. I’ve been sitting on the Propers for the Twenty-Second Sunday After Trinity for three months now, and I’ve only had the smallest snippet of an idea to work with. And then, this morning, an idea popped. For some reason, it always seems to happen that ideas come to me when I should be doing something else—in this instance, paying more attention at Winkel. (Sorry, guys.)

This text is a treatment of Matthew 18:21-35, our Lord’s great lesson on forgiveness: God’s forgiveness for us, our forgiveness for each other, and how the two relate. My text is pretty on-the-head, but that’s not really a bad thing, I think. The tune I had in my head as I wrote this was the tune to which we sing “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall.” As always, feedback is love.

My Debt Is More than I Can Pay

1. My debt is more than I can pay.
Have mercy on me, Lord, I pray.
I have no merit of my own, 
No right to stand before Your throne.

2. If you should mark iniquity,
One sin would merit death for me.
I kneel, enslaved, from Adam’s fall,
Defenseless in Your judgment hall.

3. You, God the Father, Master dear,
Forgive my debt and still my fear.
Your Son in blood has paid my price
Through His own sinless sacrifice.

4. When I then leave the judgment seat,
My ransom paid, full and complete,
Should I demand to be repaid 
My neighbor’s debt of lesser grade?

5. If I should not forgive the debt,
If Your great mercy I forget,
You, Master, will withdraw from me
The grace by which You set me free.

6. I pray, O Christ: Oh, may it be
Your love and grace abound in me.
Give me to choose the better part,
To love this holy, righteous art.

7. Teach me, O Lord, in whom I live,
To love and always to forgive,
To bear good fruit of thankful praise
And honor You for all my days.

(c) 2019 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
LM (88 88)
Occasion: Trinity XXII (Matthew 18:21-35); Forgiveness of Sins

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Sermon for 3/3/19: Quinquagesima

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You Are the Beggar

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

He’s blind. He is poor as dirt and completely helpless. He’s stuck on the side of a country road. He doesn’t even have the good sense to do his begging in the middle of the city, where there are more people. No matter how hard he tries, he can do nothing for himself. His very life depends on the generosity of strangers. How degrading is that? Doesn’t he have any self-respect? Maybe if someone just gave him a good start, he’d be able to do it himself. But he can’t. He keeps trying and trying and trying, but there is no hope for him on his own. He is stuck alongside the road with no hope of redemption on his own. All he can do is beg for the gifts that will come to him. That is his only salvation.
You are that beggar. You are blind and poor and helpless in God’s sight. You can’t get yourself out of the trap that has befallen you by sin. Certainly there may be times when things go better than others. There may even be months or years when you can forget that you wear the filthy rags of sin. There may be times when you can ignore your blindness, unable to see what sin has wrought in your life. The hardest thing in the world for a human being to do is repent and recognize that you are helpless without God’s love and mercy. But this is the truth: you are that beggar. Consider Luther’s last words upon his deathbed: “We are all beggars. This is true.” Repent of your self-made life and your fantasy world where you don’t need God. Repent, and live.
Now look at that beggar once again. He hears the voice of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and cries out for all he’s worth: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Ah, that great word of faith: mercy. This beggar recognizes that he has no hope and no life apart from the mercy of Christ. That is what drives him. It is in Christ that his very lifeblood can be found.
The crowds around the beggar want him to be quiet and go away. The Old Adam within you wants to be self-reliant, and the world demands rugged individualism. “Don’t trust in Christ! Trust in yourself! You can do it. You don’t need Him. And even if you need Him, someone as important as the Son of God doesn’t have time for your problems.” But the more the world tells this beggar to be quiet, the more this man of faith cries out: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stood still at the beggar’s cry of faith, listens as he cries for mercy, and heals him. When this beggar, who has nothing and offers nothing, cries out for mercy, God gives it to him.
Now look at that beggar. He once was blind but now can see. He once was dead to the world, but he is now alive in Christ. And if you look a little closer still, you can see this beggar eating at the Master’s table, dressed in the finest of clothes, consuming the finest of food and the richest of wines. This beggar has become a lord. He has become everything he could not by his own power—all because of the mercy of the Master.
You are that beggar. God hears your cry for mercy. He forgives your sin, opens your eyes to see, and lifts you up to the highest place. It is no accident that we kneel to receive Christ’s body and blood at His banquet. That is the proper place for beggars. But God, who is rich in mercy, lifts you up and gives you His greatest treasure: His own Son, dead and alive again.
Our bags are packed. The Sundays of Pre-Lent are done. We begin our journey to the cross with Christ on Ash Wednesday. This blind beggar shows the rest of us beggars that, when we beg at Christ’s feet, He will always come through for us. Come, you who are beggars. Come on the journey of salvation. Come to the cross. Come to the tomb. You will never be the same again. 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.