Sunday, July 05, 2020

Sermon for 7/5/2020: Fourth Sunday After Trinity

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Mercy for Sinners


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


“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” What does this mean? How merciful is our Father? While we were yet sinners, our Father sent His Son to die on the cross for us. That's how merciful He is. You can’t live up to that. After all, even if you have good intentions of being merciful, the old self is still right there. You remember what your fellow sinners did to you—ever slight, every insult, every injustice. And you want to get them back. You assume the worst about your neighbor because you think you know them and how they operate. You bring up people's old mistakes again and again. You get treated that way, and you do the same thing in return.
Sometimes that desire is even justified. It would have been reasonable for Joseph to have taken action against his brothers for what they did to him. He was the de facto ruler of Egypt. His brothers were guilty of a conspiracy to commit murder, of kidnapping, of wrongfully selling Joseph into slavery. It would not have been wrong for Joseph to do exactly what his brothers were afraid he would do.
And God would be perfectly within His rights to destroy you right now, to condemn you to the same eternal torment reserved for Satan and the other fallen angels. That us what sinners deserve. But that's not what He does. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”—not after we had repented, not after we decided we were going to do things God's way. That is how merciful our Father is.
God does not give you what you deserve, and He wants you to show the same mercy to your neighbor. He would have you overlook and forgive the sins of your neighbor. Yes, you should confront sin when necessary—after all, we don't want people to harm themselves or those around them by whatever it is they're doing wrong—but you must not hold grudges or let old arguments and animosities determine how you think about that person or act toward them. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
But the Old Adam is selfish. The Old Adam sees his god every time he looks in the mirror. And that false god, like any false god, doesn't tolerate rivals. When the false god within our own hearts is offended, he demands satisfaction. And there's nothing we can do ourselves to change that. Maybe we can improve our behavior somewhat, but the old grudges, the old hatreds, the old prejudices are still there in our hearts. The false god within us needs to be put to death, and our true God, Jesus Christ, needs to take its place.
And that is exactly what God does to us. He puts us to death. He drowns us in baptismal waters, not just on the day we were baptized, but daily. He puts us to death with Christ on the cross. And that means that He also raises us up with Christ. The Father’s mercy is not just an example for us to try to follow—though we should examine ourselves using His Word as a standard. Our Father's merciful example, and Christ's merciful example towards sinners He encountered in His ministry, is more than an example. It is a pattern, a mold in which God lovingly recreates us.
That incredible standard of mercy and love toward one's neighbor is how God actually sees us in Christ, because that's the standard that Christ lived up to. And that standard is therefore also what we really are according to our new selves. God says we are merciful, because He sees us in Christ, who is merciful. But He doesn't lie. His Word does what it says.
And that means that we who now are merciful will inherit the greatest mercy of all. God provides all our needs, not just for this life, but for eternity. Before we are even aware of a need, He fills it. And that is especially true of our need for His presence and love. We may be capable of having mercy on those who wrong us, but we usually don't like it very much, and we often don't necessarily like to be around that person a whole lot for fear he will do it again. But we who were sinners, for whom Christ died while we were yet sinners, He wants us to be in His presence forever. That's how merciful our God is. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sermon for 6/28/2020: Third Sunday After Trinity

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Everlasting Mercy

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


“The Lord is good, and His mercy is everlasting.” But do not believe that the Lord’s mercy is nothing more than an attitude or a pose He strikes. If you believed that, why would you beg Him to “have mercy”? Your own prayers testify that your hope that the Lord’s mercy is more than a posture. Your prayers urge you to believe that the Lord’s mercy is active, dynamic, always working for you. You believe that He will engage Himself in your struggles and give you help that exceeds your expectations—help that goes beyond any help that you have ever given or received.

When you cry out “Lord, have mercy,” you believe that the Father will He deal with you as a father would, because you have begged Him and relied on Him. So we cast on Him every care, every need, every fear, every godly desire—especially the hope of heaven—whenever we pray, “Lord, be merciful to me.” We hope beyond hope that our Lord God truly does not forsake those who seek Him; that He really is merciful and gracious, full of compassion, and abundant in kindness.

In the Gospel, you hear the mercy of God, and it confirms that your prayer is not in vain. You see Jesus as the Good Shepherd seeking you out. You know that God the Father earnestly anticipates your return when you go your own way, living however you please, getting lost in your base desires and your sinful addictions. And then you begin to believe that, even though you deserve no kindness from God, our Lord receives you and eats with you. You have a place at His table; you are restored to communion in God through Christ. The Lord is determined, relentless, single-minded with His mercy. He pursues you. He hunts you down. He comes after you.

There is the love of God: not that we sought Him out, but that He seeks us; not that we decided for Him, but that He persistently chooses us; not that we’ve settled on Him as our Help and Savior, but that He is proactive and resolute in reconciling us to Him, in bringing us into His kingdom, in restoring us to full and wholesome communion with Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us.

And that is what you see in today’s Gospel. The woman sweeps the house. She peers in each nook and cranny. She will not give up until she finds that coin. This is the Holy Spirit working in and through the Church. The coin is you, minted with the image of the Son. The Holy Spirit knows you belong, for He knows you will never rest until you rest in Him. And the Holy Spirit knows you, even though you’ve hidden yourself under layers of sin and filth. The Spirit seeks and searches for you, even though you often resist Him and don’t wish to be found. The Holy Spirit is unrelenting. Constantly He calls you to gather away from your sin, away from the things that harm your soul. Constantly He calls you to gather at this table, to be fed by our Lord’s holy body and blood. And constantly, deliberately, He gives to you the Lord’s undying mercy to soothe, strengthen, and settle you, even as you suffer the many temptations and heartaches and assaults of the devil.

This is the true picture of the Lord’s mercy: a Spirit who will not be denied; a Church that stands ready to welcome and seat sinners at the Lord’s table; the sending and persistent activity of His Holy Spirit, doing whatever it takes to restore and keep you safely within His holy Church. This is what our Lord wishes to impress on your heart and soul this day. If you see His unwavering devotion toward you, take to heart the full measure of His mercy and love. You will resist the devil, steadfast in the faith. You will even be bold enough to live that same relentless and active mercy for His sake in your dealings with anyone you meet. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.



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

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sermon for 6/21/2020: Second Sunday After Trinity

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The Kingdom Is Now

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


The Kingdom of God is not some event in the distant future. It is now. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God now. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven now. Blessed is he who recognizes in Mary’s Son the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world now. Blessed is he who eats bread in the Kingdom of God now. The Kingdom of God belongs to them. The Holy Trinity rules in them by grace even now.
All things are ready—all things, that is, except the guests. They have lingering commitments and desires for themselves that rank higher somehow than God and His gifts. The Host is ready; they are not. Here come the excuses. They don’t come right out and say that they don’t want to come. They just don’t want to come now. We can clearly see the foolishness of such behavior. We are pleased that the host invites the dregs of society—the poor, the lame, the maimed, and the blind—and that still there is room. We are glad because that means there is still room for us.
But for how long will there be room? This is a parable about urgency, about the desperate and present need we have. We scoff at the men in the parable who thought themselves too busy to attend. But what about us? Are we ready for the final summons? Are we eager and expectant? The truth is, we have plans and dreams. Yes, we want Jesus to return, but first we want to see our children grow up. We want to reach our goals. We want to see if George Martin will ever finish his Game of Thrones series. Repent! No believer will be disappointed in that eternal Day. No believer will look back longingly on this vale of tears or desire anything in it.
In twenty years as a pastor, I’ve had several homebound and shut-in church members tell me how frustrated they are that God keeps them here. They are ready, and they don’t know what purpose they can yet serve. I tell them I don’t know either, but with those who love God, all things work out for good; surely He will bring them home soon, at the perfect time. But that plaintive cry, that desire for the Last Day, should be in us all, regardless of age, health, or occupation. Farmer, spouse, laborer, professor, or pastor—what do any of us add to this world? God does not need us. This is not out home. “Come, Lord Jesus,” should be more than a mindless table prayer. We should want Him to return; and as we wait, we should desire that He should come to us every Lord’s Day in His body and blood.
And, yet, the sad fact is that we have believed we might be bored in heaven, that we might miss our beer, our video games, our lust, our pride. Eternity is not going to be a utopia of golf courses, stocked ponds, and TV shows. It is far better than that—the most interesting, delightful, wonderful thing, far beyond what we can imagine. We will be free of sin. We will stop hurting ourselves and those we love with shameful, selfish behavior. We will bask in the presence of our loving Father as His adopted family, perfected in grace. We will have no regrets, nothing lost, everything gained.
But that joy to come, that glory to be revealed, is already present now. For those with eyes to see, we are already God’s adopted children in whom He abides. And already now, here, He gathers us to Himself. He feeds us with food that money cannot buy, with bread that will not waste, with crucified flesh and spilled blood that satisfies righteousness.
Everything is ready. It is all finished. All debts are paid, all sins removed, all shame forgotten, for Jesus died once for all and rose to give us new life. There is nothing left to do but to receive. Come to the Feast. Be filled by Him. “Taste and see that the Lord 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, June 18, 2020

Twenty Years a Steward of God’s Mysteries

June 18, 2000 was Father’s Day, and it started out right: with the 8am service at my home church, St. Mark Lutheran in North Tonawanda, New York. I was there with my parents and with Pastor Kim Scharff and his wife, Mary. Kim and Mary had left their seven children at home to be with me on one of the most important days of my life: the day I would be Ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry. It was appropriate that my biological and spiritual fathers were both there. I learned from Alan and Kathy what it means to be a Christian; I learned from Kim and Mary what it means to be a pastor and serve God’s people in the Holy Ministry. (It was also one of the last times I would see my maternal grandparents.)

That afternoon we gathered again at St. Mark. A small group of pastors gathered together along with friends and family and members of St. Mark. This collection of saints had seen me grow from childhood, supported me when I was still studying to be a Lutheran high school English teacher, and had the misfortune of hearing the first sermon I wrote during college. Fortunately, I was a much better preacher by the time I was placed there for fieldwork during my final year at the seminary. 

Pastor Scharff preached the sermon—I’ll include it at the end of this post. Pastor Doellinger, who was serving St. Mark at the time, administered the Rite of Ordination. And then I took over, celebrating the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time as the Officiant. A little over a month later, I would be Installed in my first parish. But June 18, 2000 was the beginning.

I’ve been a pastor for 20 years as of today. I’m right around middle age for a pastor, and I can feel that in the aches in my body and the increased confidence I have in using the gifts God has given me to serve His people. There are many joys in being a pastor—baptizing newborns and adults, teaching young people the Christian faith, delivering God’s gifts to His people (this is not an exhaustive list)—and these are rich blessings from the Lord of the Church. Still, it is not an easy path. The four years and seven months I spent without a Call, not to mention the two years leading up to that, certainly attest to this reality. The trials of the Ministry can be heartbreaking, and that heartbreak wears on a man. I love what I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I wouldn’t mind If God were to help me to be able more fully to enjoy the wonders a little more often and to endure and focus less on the sadness. That I do not always live and serve this way is my failing, not His.

This anniversary is just a touch bittersweet. As I thought about this day over the past few months, I’d planned to call Pastor Scharff and thank him once again for sharing that day with me. I can’t make that call; Kim is no longer there to answer. The Lord has given him rest from his labors. But I learned from Kim to be a pastor, and I wouldn’t have made it to this day—or even to that day 20 years ago—without him. 

So...here’s to another twenty years. At least. To God alone be the glory.

____________________

Here’s the Ordination sermon preached by the Reverend Kim Scharff. How right and fitting that he should share his wisdom with me once again. This is just as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.


What is a Pastor? What Can He Give?

In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ours is a cynical age. What do you mean, pastor? Do we even know what “cynical” means? The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “cynic” as “one who has little faith in human sincerity.” And so, again, ours is a cynical age. Isn’t it true that we tend to assume, as often as not, that people just aren’t being truthful with us? What do you think when a politician tells you something? Aren’t you just a bit skeptical about whether or not he is telling the truth? What about the newscaster who peers at you through the television monitor; don’t you wonder just a bit about whether or not he is telling you the whole story? I think it was Mark Twain who said that he did not believe anything he heard and only half of what he could see. That’s just healthy skepticism, some would say; a good thing. But, is it a good thing? Is it a good thing over against the things of God? Is it a good way to approach the Office of the Holy Ministry?

Just a little over a hundred and fifty years ago, our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was born in the midst of cynicism over against the Office of the Holy Ministry. If you are not aware of this fact, you really should do some reading on the early years of our Church; you will find it interesting and enlightening. Some have even questioned, justifiably in my judgment, whether or not we have ever really gotten over those particular birth pains of our church body. Is there cynicism out there in the Church now about the Office of the Holy Ministry?

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ, from St. Luke’s Gospel, address this issue straight on. “He who hears you hears Me…” --- What is a pastor? If we are going to avoid being cynical about the Office of the Ministry, then we need an answer to this question. How does Jesus answer it? “He who hears you, hears Me…” The Office of the Holy Ministry is the voice of Jesus Christ in His Church. A pastor is the man God has put in His Church for the specific purpose of carrying out these words of our Lord: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” (St. Matthew 28:18,19)

When our pastor faithfully speaks God’s Word to us, we are hearing the voice of Jesus. When he baptizes and offers us the body and blood of the Lord, his hands are the hands of Jesus. When he hears our confession and speaks the words of absolution to us, it is the voice of Jesus that we are hearing. Now, some would suggest that this is being a bit presumptuous. Jesus faced the same criticism when He told the paralytic not only to rise and go home, but that his sins were forgiven. They said of Him: “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (St. Mark 2:7) St. Matthew offers this commentary: “When the crowds saw it they were afraid, and they glorified God who had given such authority to men.” (St. Matthew 9:8)

But, again, some would say that this is rather presumptuous. And yet, isn’t this precisely what we believe and confess? Listen to the Small Catechism on this matter: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, especially when they exclude manifest and impenitent sinners from the Christian congregation, and, again, when they absolve those who repent of their sins and are willing to amend, this is as valid and certain, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us Himself.” --- Admittedly, this is a position that gives some people trouble. If a pastor is merely a “man among men,” then what he says and does carries no more weight than anyone else; it is only his opinion in the midst of many other opinions that bear equal significance. But, if the pastor is the voice of Jesus Christ; if he truly is the one God has put there to forgive the sins of the penitent and to retain the sins of the impenitent; if he is the one who is there to speak God’s words of life and hope; if he is, in fact, the one whom God has given to feed His people with the blessed Word and Sacraments, then we dare not take a cynical attitude toward what he says and does. “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” This is what is at stake in our view of the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Now, you may say: “But isn’t it true, pastor, that there are some who abuse the Office of the Ministry by their teaching and by their actions?” Of course, that is true, and those who would abuse the Office of Jesus Christ in such ways are not fit for the office and should not hold it. Indeed, they should be removed from it, if necessary. But, at the same time, we need to be very careful that we do not cynically assume that every pastor will do this, if given the chance. Faithful pastors are a great blessing from God, and we can never honor that office highly enough because it has been given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, out of His love and mercy toward His Church.

So, this is what a pastor is. But, there is another question, of equal significance, for which we need an answer if we are to avoid being cynical towards the Office of the Holy Ministry. What can a pastor give? The Augsburg Confession, which we believe to be a faithful exposition of the teaching of Holy Scripture, says: “In order that such faith may be obtained, God has instituted the Office of the Ministry, for the preaching of the Gospel and administering of the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel…” --- I remember one of my seminary professors telling us that the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and administering the Holy Sacraments, is a full time, and more than a full time, vocation. Any pastor, He said, who does this work faithfully and fully will have neither time nor inclination to do much of anything else. After nearly two decades in the ministry, I think I am beginning to understand what he meant, and it goes right to the heart of what we are discussing. --- The Lord of the Church very carefully prescribes what a pastor can give. And I use the word “prescribe” purposely, because there are limits that have been set. Creating and sustaining faith is the “business”, if you will, of the Office of the Ministry. “In order that such faith may be obtained…,” the confession says.

What do we expect of our pastors? What expectations will the members of St. Paul and St. Peter have of Pastor Kornacki? If our expectations fall beyond the boundaries of Word and Sacrament, then they are expectations we really should not have. I am not speaking here about questions of morality and ethics; that is an issue unto itself. I am talking about the work of a pastor. It is not the work of pastors to try and solve all the world’s problems, though it is their task to apply the healing balm of the Gospel to the problems of the heart and soul. It is not the work of pastors to build the communities in which they live into little “divine fortresses,” though it certainly is their work to build up those committed to their care that they might, in turn, bear a righteous witness among the neighbors. It is not the work of pastors to “fatten” the church’s bank account, though it surely is their work to hold before the people of God that wonderful generosity of the Father in heaven, who not only provides all that we need to support our bodies and lives, but who also gave His own dear Son into suffering and death as the sacrifice for our sins; the price of our redemption. --- “In order that such faith may be obtained, God has instituted the Office of the Ministry, for the preaching of the Gospel and administering of the Sacraments…” That is all, but, surely, that is enough! It is enough because, in the end, it is all we really need. It is enough because, in His wisdom, this is the boundary that God Himself has set for this office He intends to bless.

In the eyes of the world, the Church is a strange enterprise. The same can be said for the Office of the Holy Ministry. Success and validity in this world are measured by what and how much you produce. What do you have to show for what you are doing? What’s your “bottom line?” Or, to put a more “religious” cast on it, how many new members did you gain last year? How many converts have you had in the last five years? When that is the standard by which both Church and Ministry are measured, we will, most often, to quote (or should it be misquote) the prophet Daniel, be “weighed in the balance, and found wanting.” But, what if someone had come to Jesus after His “Bread of Life” sermon in John 6 and asked Him about how His following had grown? What could He have said? His followers were leaving Him like rats leaving a sinking ship. Only twelve remained, and, no doubt, some of them were weighing their options. And yet, that may be precisely what happens when the Church and the Ministry are saying and doing what God has given them to say and do.

The Kingdom of God is hidden; it is hidden behind the cross of Christ. May we never forget that the blessed Gospel, which we hold so dear, and to which we cling with all our might is, at the same time, the greatest offense the world has ever known. It insists that as man is helpless, so God reigns supreme. As man can do nothing to save himself, so God can and has and will do everything. And therein lies the cynicism of the world over against what you and I, as pastors and as the people of God, believe and do. We walk by faith, not by sight, and that is something which a cynic, whether inside or outside the church, can never accept. --- And yet, this is just what moves us to rejoice on this day! We give ourselves over into the hands of God, convinced of His love for us and His intention to bless us. As the Church, we rejoice that the Church’s Lord has called and now sends another man to serve in His holy office. And you, brother, rejoice in that same certainty that it is the call of the Lord of the Church that you have heard and now will answer. The time has come to lay aside whatever doubts and fears we may have. The God of all grace lives and reigns forever and ever. He gives His people faith in His lovingkindess and tender mercy. And He places into the hands and hearts and voices of His pastors the Word of life. “He who hears you hears Me”, to which we joyfully give answer, “Thanks be to God!” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sermon for 6/14/2020: First Sunday After Trinity

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Moses and the Prophets

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


At first glance, the account of the beggar Lazarus and the unnamed rich man might seem to be right out of modern reporting: a tale of equality or vindication. Some might say that the moral of the story is, “All things will come out even in the end.” Others might say that the story means that the rich will become poor and the poor will become rich. But neither is true; it doesn’t always happen that way. Nor does suffering earn favor with God. The difference between Lazarus and the rich man is not found in their wallets, nor in their deeds, but in their hearts. For while it seems as though hungry Lazarus has nothing besides the mercy of canines, in truth, he has riches the world can scarcely imagine. He has Moses and the prophets; he has the Word of God.
The rich man rejected Moses and the prophets. Even in the fires of hell, hearing the truth from no less of an authority than Abraham himself, the rich man refuses to believe that Moses and the prophets can save his brothers. The hard-heartedness of the faithless goats perseveres into eternity. They want to be judged by their works. They want a god of their own design, a god or goddess who looks like them. And in the end, they get what they want. At their own urging, our Lord calmly hands the Pharisees and priests over to their self-chosen fate with one of the saddest sentences in all of the Scriptures: “They have their reward.”
Longing for crumbs from the table while dogs licked his wounds, miserable Lazarus found no mercy from the rich man, no crumb to abate his hunger, no balm for his wounds, no camaraderie to soothe his lonely exile. The kingdom of men rejected him. But in the end, Lazarus found what he sought. He found mercy that endures forever. He found Living Water and Bread from Heaven. He found eternal satisfaction and health. He found it in Moses and the prophets. In the Word of God he found a Man in worse shape than himself; a Man condemned for sins He did not commit; a man in whom there was no beauty, no comeliness, not even any dogs to lick his wounds. That Man bore the iniquity of all the evil which fallen men have done, so that fallen men like Lazarus and the rich man and all who ever lived might go free.
In His mercy, God lowered Lazarus to the point where he was not too proud to beg, for, as Mary foretold, “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” God gives to His children a harvest where they did not sow, wine where they did not tend, grace they have not earned. The God of Abraham, the Baby of Mary, the Messiah prophesied by Moses; God in flesh in the person of Jesus has come to Lazarus. And now Lazarus, for all his trouble in this sad life, knows perfect joy and peace, for the holy angels have borne him to the bosom of Abraham.
Thanks be to God for His abundant grace and wisdom. He has made us like that holy beggar: helpless, weak, and dependent, trusting in no one but Him, satisfied with no other food, drinking no other wine. He has soothed our wounds with the balm of baptismal waters. He has fed us undeserved crumbs from His table, humble gifts of bread and wine in which our Lord hides His glorious body and blood. He has given us Moses and the prophets in His holy Word, which is our great comfort and joy as we sprawl here in the world, awaiting the eternal joy of the Lord, because for us—for dogs and children, drunks and outcasts, beggars and sinners all—for us is the Kingdom of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Sermon for 6/7/2020: Feast of the Holy Trinity

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Mysteries

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


Although many people try, you can’t gut, poke, prod, and dissect the mysteries of God to the point of being able to fully grasp them with your human reason. It can’t be done. There is no fancy computer equipment or technological gadget that’s going to give you all the answers you seek when it comes to the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. And if we’re honest, the Holy Trinity is one of the best examples of that. How can there be three persons in the Trinity, yet they are only one God? We don’t know. We know that Scripture teaches it and so we believe it.

Many aspects of the Christian faith are beyond human reasoning, not just the doctrine of the Trinity. That doesn’t mean these teachings ought to be rejected. Most people have no idea what goes on to get the car to start and run, but that doesn’t mean they reject the car. Sure, there are people who know all about how a car works. God also knows all about how He works, but even if He told us and let us in on all His mysteries, we probably wouldn’t grasp a bit of it. That’s why Paul writes, “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord?” God tells us what He wants us to know; He explains what He wants us to understand; and He leaves it there. His mysteries aren’t given to us for our speculation, as some sort of intellectual exercise. His mysteries are given to us to receive and to accept by faith. After all, man is not the measure of all things; God is.

In the Christian Church, we should keep the sense of wonder and mystery. We should refrain from poking and prodding at the mysteries, the things that the Lord hasn’t given to us to know. Too often, even people within the church have rejected God’s Word just because they couldn’t understand it. They’ve even gone so far as to teach false doctrine in order to explain God’s mysteries. That gets you in real trouble. Trying to look into the hidden things of God is even more inappropriate than asking a woman’s age. Certainly you should ask questions, but you must realize that the answer may not always satisfy you here and now. Pray that the Holy Spirit would grant it to you to receive God’s wisdom in faith and to believe, even when you can’t seem to understand. We know God’s will toward us is gracious because of what His Son did for us. There is no greater love than this.

This is the depth and beauty of the mysteries of the Kingdom: they are for us and for our eternal good. When you receive and believe God’s mysteries to be true, you no longer want to dissect them; you want to stand back and admire them with awe for all their beauty and wonder. It’s like looking at a wonderful painting filled with meaning, or a glorious landscape exuding the majesty of God’s creation. Admire them; take them in; rejoice that our Lord shares with you His blessings, which are beyond anything we can ask, imagine, or understand. Tearing those things apart and dissecting them would ruin them for you. So it is with the mysteries of God. Apart from faith, they lose their beauty for you.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born of water and the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus doesn’t get it. He gets hung up on the word “born.” He even asks a silly question— “silly,” because he is a teacher of Israel and should know better— about how someone could be born out of his mother’s womb a second time. Jesus is talking about the rebirth that occurs in Baptism. It is in Baptism that the name of the Holy Trinity is put upon you: the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This marks us as those who have been born again from above. It marks you as one who has been redeemed by Christ the crucified.

When you come into contact with the mysteries of God, with His holy Word and Sacraments, you are cleansed of all sins, just as Isaiah was when he was touched by the coal at the Lord’s command. “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged.” Though you did not deserve it, your sin is removed, even the sins of doubt and disbelief. This is a great mystery: by the grace of the Triune God, all who believe in Him receive forgiveness and everlasting life. We don’t need to understand how or why it works. It works, and that is enough. 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, June 04, 2020

In Memoriam: A Pastor's Study After

This is the pastor’s study at Trinity Lutheran Church in Norborne, Missouri. It’s mostly empty now--I wish I had taken a "before" picture--but for the past 32 years it has been occupied by the Reverend Kim Scharff, whose funeral is this weekend.

It’s strange to see it bereft of books, for Kim was an avid reader. Of course he read theology in all its disciplines, but his reading interests were varied and wide: history, classic literature, politics, current events, and music all decorated his shelves. Kim was a brilliant man. He read and absorbed all these books, pondered what he read, and was able to speak intelligently about what he’d read, both in agreement and in disagreement.

Music was another constant in the study during Kim’s tenure. The CD player (and the cassette player before that) was constantly running, and anyone entering would be welcomed by the strains of J.S. Bach, DuruflĂ©, Stravinsky, Vaughn Williams, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, or any of hundreds of other composers whose music graced his shelves. His taste in music vastly improved my own, to the extent that I had made a list of albums in his collection that I wanted in mine, and I’ve spent the past twenty-plus years acquiring them.

I was blessed to spend a year in that study, learning from him as a vicar. We spent long hours in there, praying, reading, writing, discussing a variety of topics, and sometimes sitting quietly, enjoying heavenly compositions.

It stands empty for now. Life goes on. With Kim’s death, Trinity will, for the first time since 1988, seek to Call a new pastor to serve them, serve with them, and be served by them. A new pastor will walk into this study, put his books on shelves, and sit at the desk. He will write sermons, pray for the flock in his care, and prepare to teach young and old about the wonderful works of God. It won’t be the same...and yet it will, for Christ will use this man to preach His Word and to deliver His Gifts to the people He places into this new pastor’s care, just as He did with Pastor Scharff.

I will miss Pastor Scharff, my friend, mentor, bishop, and spiritual father and brother. Trinity Lutheran Church in Norborne will miss Pastor Scharff, their undershepherd, the man who baptized, confirmed, married, and buried a generation of their congregation. But life goes on. God is good. Kim is at rest with his beloved Mary, awaiting the Resurrection of all flesh at the Last Day. And we will be reunited with him—first, as we gather “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” at the Communion rail, and then forever.

It’s a good study in a good church with wonderful people. And God is good, too. Knowing both these things, I know the study won’t be empty long.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

HYMN: Lord, You Have Called Your Servant to His Rest

Comedians, artists, writers, and others who have the gift to make art often say that some of their greatest art comes from times of sadness and even depression. The past month has been tough, between the continued stress of the virus and the death of my beloved friends, Kim and Mary Scharff. Kim was my Vicarage (internship) pastor, friend, mentor, and spiritual father and brother. Mary, his wife, was a second mother to me. I’ve already written a hymn text in Mary’s memory, and it seems as if my sadness has loosed the flood gates of creativity once again, this time in Kim’s memory. The purpose of this text is to praise God and thank Him for the life and serve for a now-deceased pastor. My thinking isn’t particularly straight right now, so please, if you catch something that doesn’t sound good or right, something that needs to be fixed, please let me know.

Lord, You Have Called Your Servant to His Rest
In Memory of the Reverend Kim L. Scharff

1. Lord, You have called Your servant to his rest,
To sleep in peace, for now his race is run.
Though we will mourn, we know Your will is best,
For in Christ’s blood the vict’ry has been won!

2. You sent this shepherd forth to serve Your sheep,
To preach Your Word and give the Gifts of grace.
Help us rejoice, for, even as we weep,
You draw us also in to Your embrace.

3. With Pastor’s hands, O Christ, the Church’s Head,
You washed us clean, our new life to begin.
At Your command and serving in Your stead,
He spoke, and You forgave our wretched sin.

4. With great temptations, Satan sought his fall,
With lies and conflict strove to bring him low.
Your great compassion led him through the squall,
Safe in the peace You only can bestow.

5. Soon, soon, we pray You, bring us to that Day,
When saints are raised in light, now free from shame.
And as we wait, oh, give us joy, we pray,
To meet here at Your altar in Your name.

∆ 6. O holy Father, praise be unto You;
O Jesus Christ, our holy Shepherd King;
O Holy Spirit, Fire and Comfort true;
O Triune God, Your endless praise we sing.


(c) 2020 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
10 10 10 10
FARLEY CASTLE (LSB 631)
Occasion: Death of a Pastor

Sermon for 5/31/2020: The Feast of Pentecost




(Let me know if you have problems with these links. Google has altered the posting page for Blogger, "fixing" something that didn't need to be fixed, as seems to be their modus operandi these days. The links disappeared, so I hope I fixed them correctly.)


The Spirit and the Gospel
John 14:23-31
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 
 
Fifty days after the Passover lamb was sacrificed according to the Lord’s commandment, the children of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai to hear what God said to Moses. “Then Moses came and set before them all the words which the Lord commanded him.” And the people answered, “All the people answered with one voice saying, “Everything that God has said, we will both do and hear.” They pledged themselves entirely, and surrendered themselves completely, to do what the Lord said. They vowed to deny themselves the luxury of following their own path. They promised to live by the commandments that the Lord gave through His holy prophets. But most of all, with these words, the children of Israel confessed that their life, their health, their well-being, and even their freedom was utterly dependent upon the Lord’s Word. Whatever He commanded was not just good, but led them in the way of salvation.

Likewise, when the day of Pentecost had come, fifty days after the true Paschal Lamb was slain, the children of Israel are once again gathered by the Holy Spirit, this time in the city Jerusalem. This time they would not hear Moses, but Saint Peter and the Twelve. And just like Moses, the Apostle Peter delivers to them what the Lord has said by the same Spirit that inspired Moses. Peter and the others speak in the language of the people “the wonderful works of God.” He preaches to them the Gospel of Christ crucified. He shares the news that God has poured out on them His Holy Spirit so that all creation might also be exalted and glorified by being gathered in Him into His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

When the people heard this, they did not speak with the confidence of the Hebrews gathered at Mount Sinai. Instead, they were terrified. “What shall we do?” they asked. Peter tells them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Those words of the Holy Apostles still reverberate to this day. “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” And it is my duty to repeat what has always been said by those faithful preachers who have gone before me—beginning with Saint Peter, continuing through Pastor Welp and Pastor Schultz, Pastor Mech and Pastor Esget and Pastor Buetow, and continuing to this day. Jesus says as much in the words you heard today. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” In keeping God’s Word, you realize that your body is no longer your own; it is now “the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

 That is why the Holy Spirit is given to us: not so that we live how we like, but so that we conform ourselves to the Lord’s love by living in His holy Church, gathered around His Holy Supper, which gives us the strength and the courage to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and lay down our lives for all men—even our enemies. For that is how our Lord lived His love for us. And He has generously poured out that love into us by His Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified. Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift! 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, May 26, 2020

HYMN: Lord of Harvest, Ever Planting

This is the text that was set aside for my previous text, “I Have Been Called to Serve, O God My King.” As I said, I’ve been working on this text, pretty much fruitlessly, for about a month now. Then, this weekend, I finally received some inspiration, and I got to work, only to be interrupted by a power outage and then by another, more insistent text idea. Still, I was able to complete the first draft of this text once I got the other one out of my system. 

Originally this was a text with an 87 87 meter, but then I combined stanzas to form as 87 87D text, and the combined ideas seem stronger together than apart. This text is for the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, based on Matthew 13:24-30 (36-43) text. I tried hard not to sound too much like “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come;” I hope I’ve succeeded. Anyhow, I would appreciate any feedback you could provide.

By the way, this is hymn text 100. Yippee!!!


Lord of Harvest, Ever Planting

1. Lord of harvest, ever planting
Children in the harvest field,
Feeding them by Word and Spirit
To produce a fruitful yield.
Satan hates what God has planted.
He has sowed his blatant lies
To mislead God’s great creation.
Their corruption is his prize.

2. Wheat and tares are sown together:
Worthless weeds and precious grain.
Nobody can tell the diff’rence
‘Til the time to reap again.
Until then, God’s workers tend them:
Word and water, bread and wine.
Wheat and tares, they both will prosper,
Feeding on these gifts divine.

3. Then shall sound the mighty trumpet
On that last and awesome Day.
Christ will send His holy angels
Who will bear the chaff away.
Wholesome wheat, God’s righteous children,
Free at last from Satan’s tares,
Finally rejoice forever
In the wounds our Jesus bears.

4. Son of God, revealed in patience,
Grant that we reflect Your grace,
Loving our unrighteous neighbor,
Seeking good in ev’ry place.
Even as the evil prospers,
Use it for our chastening.
Keep us steadfast, true, and humble,
Faithful to our Savior King.



© 2020 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87D
JEFFERSON (LSB 338)
Occasion: Epiphany V

Monday, May 25, 2020

HYMN: I Have Been Called to Serve, O God My King

Sometimes when I’m working on one hymn text, another text jumps the line and demands to be written. I’ve been working on a text for the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany for about a month now. I finally made some progress this weekend, but a power outage Saturday night slowed me down. And then, today, as I was hoping to finish the first draft of that text, another text idea demanded attention. So I started writing the new text, and, despite changing the meter of the text in the middle of the writing process, I had a first draft in the space of an hour.

This text started out as a text for those serving in the Armed Forces, and it still applies. However, as I wrote, I realized it was also appropriate for those serving in the Office of the Holy Ministry as they wage spiritual warfare. I’d be interested in hearing how you might strengthen it for one or the other...or both.

I’d appreciate your feedback. Also, if you are a composer, I would appreciate your thoughts toward an original tune. We have good tunes for the 10 10 10 10 meter, but I’ve already used those for other texts. Anyway, here it is.


I Have Been Called to Serve, O God My King

1. I have been called to serve, O God my King,
To take up arms, to serve as You command.
Blessed be the Lord my Strength—Your praise I sing!
For warfare you have trained my feeble hand.

2. I have no weapon greater than Your Word,
No shield but faith to give me sure defense.
Belted with truth, to combat I am stirred,
Prepared to serve my Lord with confidence.

3. The fight is ever fierce, the battle long.
My foes, like lions, seek me as their prey.
Grant me the courage, Savior; make me strong,
That, faithful, I may rise to face the fray.

4. As my dear brothers come to heed the call,
Help me to give them strength to stand and fight.
When, as the battle comes, I see them fall,
Then give me words to comfort them aright.

5. If it should be, according to Your will,
My lot at last my very life to give,
Then let me serve once more. All fear be still!
And let me rest in hope as I did live.

6. Into Your hands my spirit I commend,
O holy Father and most gracious Son,
Whom, with the Holy Spirit, heav’nly Friend,
Be endless songs of praise while ages run.


© 2020 Alan Kornacki, Jr.
10 10 10 10
TEMPORARY TUNE: LSB 917 or LSB 637 (I had thought of 946, but it's under copyright.)
Occasion: The Armed Forces, the Office of the Holy Ministry

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sermon for 5/24/20: Ascension of Our Lord (Observed)

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Ascended and Still Here

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


What a difference forty days makes! The Evangelist St. Mark records that, on Easter morning, the women fled from the empty tomb, saying nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Forty days later, everything changes! From now on, no matter what we face, God never abandons us, never leaves us alone. The apostles, once hidden in the upper room for fear of the Jews, now venture forth, armed with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Jesus has sent His men to preach His good news to all creation. He has put His name on us in the waters of Holy Baptism, promising that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. He has reclined with us at Table, feeding us His body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins.
God won’t abandon us. How do you know? Jesus was taken into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God. Jesus, who is both true God and true Man, sits right next to His Father and our Father, whispering in His ear that Jesus has died to redeem sinners. A flesh-and-blood Man has the eternal attention of the Father, speaking to Him on our behalf, and His innocent crucified body and shed blood testify on our behalf. This is the miracle of the Ascension of our Lord: in ascending to His Father, in sitting at the right hand of God, Jesus lifts and exalts humanity in Himself.
How often does the Ascension Gospel get bumped from your mind? Or to ask the question another way, how often do you think about the Ascension of our Lord and what it means for you? Do you consider it at any other time than when we mention it in the Creed? How often do other things take over and leave you sad, mopey, and despairing? How often do you wonder if God loves you—or does He even bother to think about you at all? How often do you allow yourself to believe that you’re too great a sinner, that you’re too bad a person for God to forgive? How often do you despair of God’s goodness for you?
When these thoughts confound you and cloud your thinking, remember that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. Don’t despair anymore! Whatever else is true about you and God, this is the most sure: the One who died on the Cross, who rose on Easter morning—Jesus Christ, God with us in human flesh—now sits at the right hand of God for you. Everything that God does, He does through His right hand for your good. Jesus is there for you: your friend, your advocate, your high priest, your Savior.
With Jesus at the right hand of the Father, there is no power, no event, no authority in heaven, on earth, under the earth, or anywhere else, that can lay back on you the sins you have committed, so that you need to despair ever again. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Satan may prowl around like a roaring lion, but his teeth have been pulled; he has no more power over you, no accusation to make against you. You belong to God; Jesus has set you free!
What a difference forty days makes! Like the disciples, we have been tempted to live in fear, whether from disease, financial disaster, or any other tribulation that afflicts our daily lives. But Jesus has entered into our shuttered, fearful hearts, and has breathed on us to give us His peace and the Holy Spirit. He has made Himself known to us in the breaking of the bread of the Holy Supper. And now He stands with us and promises to be with us now and always, even to the end of the age. We have nothing more to fear, for Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God, promises that He will be with us now, and He promises that we will be with Him forever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!