Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sermon for 2/26/2020: Ash Wednesday (UnChristian World Series)

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Christianity in an UnChristian World: Called

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

            Throughout the season of Lent, we will be looking at the life of the Christian in an Un-Christian world. In our Wednesday midweek services we will examine this life through the lens of the First Letter of St. Peter. Tonight we will look at the life of the Christian through the lens of our Epistle reading, which we find in the first chapter of the Second Letter of St. Peter. If you look at that reading, you see a whole list of ideals that are desirable for the life of a Christian. And any time you see a list of ideals—whether it’s this list, the list in I Timothy describing the life of a pastor, or any other such list—the list is intimidating.
            And what a list it is that Peter gives us to consider: “diligence,” “faith,” “virtue,” “knowledge,” “self-control,” “perseverance,” “godliness,” “brotherly kindness,” “love.” This is what we are called to as Christians. And if you consider the other readings appointed for Ash Wednesday and the ideals they include, that list is overwhelming. It is enough to make a person cry out in despair.
            Peter chooses a significant word to describe all this. He says that God in Christ has “called” you. He has called you to be faithful to His Word, faithful to His commands, faithful to Him. This Christian life stands opposed to the world. The world does not desire diligence, except to watch that a Christian does not impose his virtues on others. The world certainly does not crave self-control. In fact, the world is especially fond of self-indulgence: sexual promiscuity and its most ample fruit, abortion; gluttony; and instant gratification of the need for things. And the world has perverted love to include living together outside of marriage, homosexual marriage, open marriages, multiple spouses, and other abominations in the Lord’s sight.
            Pay attention to your life. Keep striving for love and knowledge of the truth. Work to increase your self-control and patience. Everyone has room for improvement in these things. Work on them diligently. Watch your life, and notice when you fail. If you do not notice any failures, then surely you are not diligently paying attention to these virtues as you should. When you notice your failures, come quickly to Christ for forgiveness. His door is always open to give you His grace. Your diligent striving for virtue will inevitably lead you to realize that you are guilty of much sin. So come, return to your Baptism through confession and absolution. Come to eat and drink His body and blood, given into death for your sin.
            This is what the life of a baptized Christian is about. We know that Baptizing with water “signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts.” This Baptism also shows that “a new man should daily come forth and rise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” As St. Paul wrote in Romans chapter 6, “We were buried with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” This is the great miracle of salvation: you have been rescued from the corruption of the world. The sinful desires in every sinful heart lead only to death and condemnation. Spiritual corruption leads to eternal damnation.
            Yet Christ has rescued you by covering you with Himself. In Baptism, you put on Christ. The image of the Son of God covers you forever. You share with Christ in everything that is in God: His righteousness, wisdom, eternal life, endless peace, blessedness, and everything good that can be named. You share His almighty power against your enemies: sin, death, Satan, and even your own flesh. It’s not that you can go around doing whatever miracle pops into your head. It is not that you are God. But you share in His nature, for Christ has made Himself one with you. God so closely dwells with you that you cannot be separated from Him.
            Luther said, “Whatever someone does to you, he must do to God, for whoever wants to crush a Christian must crush God.” And no one can crush God, as Good Friday and Easter clearly demonstrate. They killed the Son of God and put Him in a tomb, but He came forth more victorious than ever. And His life, His resurrection, and His victory, are also all yours. Sinners are called and equipped to be one with their glorious Savior! 
            As you strive to be a Christian in this unChristian world, the Holy Spirit will preserve you in repentance and faith. He will keep you steadfast so that you may rejoice in the incredible blessing you have received through His innocent sacrifice and precious Blood, so that you may cling ever tighter to His holy Word of grace, now and forevermore. 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, February 23, 2020

Sermon for 2/23/2020: Quinquagesima

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“We Are Going to Jerusalem…”

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

The journey to Jerusalem is not about Jesus. It’s about you. Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for His own sake, but for yours. He’s not out to prove anything. He’s not trying to win anyone’s affection or demonstrate what kind of God He is. He’s not going for His benefit. Our Lord Jesus is going up to Jerusalem for only one reason—to bear your sin and be your Savior. To be sure, He does all the doing in Jerusalem. There’s nothing there for you to do. But He’s not going there alone. You are going with Him. And so He says, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem.”
Jesus is not challenging you. He’s not out to prove anything, so He doesn’t demand or even suggest that you must prove something to Him. He’s not saying, “Come with Me, if you can.” He is not inviting you merely to witness what He’s going to do. Jesus does not need an audience to suffer your death and to overcome death and hell. He is not asking you to lend Him a hand. Our Lord Jesus Christ is quite capable of enduring hell and taking on your demons without you cheering Him on.
So when He says, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem,” what does Jesus mean? He means this: “You’re coming with me.” That’s not a threat. It’s a statement of fact. It’s not you trying to get there, you trying to somehow get to Jerusalem or to the cross. Rather, the Lord brings you with Him, within His very body. You are there, but not because you somehow imagined yourself there or transported yourself back there. You are with Him because the Holy Spirit has put you in Christ’s very body.
Willingly and freely our Lord unites everything that you are into everything that He is. Jesus is sacrificed by His Father for you—for everything that you are: body, soul, and spirit. So you are in His flesh when He goes to Jerusalem. You are in His flesh when He is delivered to the Gentiles and mocked and insulted and spit upon and scourged and killed. You are united to Him. And if you are united in His death, you are also united in His resurrection. So you are also in His flesh when He rises from the dead on the third day.
Do not lose heart in the face of all you suffer and endure in this life. The devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh persecuted Him; they will also persecute you. You suffer many things for the Lord’s sake, just as He suffered the wrath of God and hell’s fury for you. But do not lose heart. He does not say, “You are going to Jerusalem.” He says, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem.” You are not alone. Your Jesus is with you, taking the brunt of the blows of the devil, the world, and your own flesh. The suffering of Christ is your blessing. His death is your life. If you died with Him, you shall also live with Him. If you endure, you shall also reign with Him.
All of that is in the little word “we.” Jesus packs all that into the sentence, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” It’s hard to see, impossible to imagine, and difficult to believe. Is it any wonder, then, that when Jesus speaks these words, they didn’t understand? Yet our Lord opens their eyes, just as He opened the eyes of the blind man. And by the Spirit, the Lord also opens your eyes to show you that He delivers His mercy in His flesh and blood, which He feeds into you for your strength and comfort.
In this Supper, you are with Him and in Him as He goes to Jerusalem. It is not by your own power. Instead, He prepares you for the journey in the waters of Holy Baptism. He nourishes you for the journey at His holy Table. Your bags are packed. You begin your walk to the cross with Christ on Ash Wednesday. He will carry you with Him on this journey of salvation. Go to the cross. Go 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.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sermon for 2/16/2020: Sexagesima

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The Sower Keeps Sowing

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

There is a dark side to the Gospel: not everyone believes. The Lord will not force Himself on anyone. Some reject His Word and gifts; they are damned. Some hear for a moment but give up when tempted. Some are choked out by worry and greed. There will be a sifting process, a judgment on the last day. God gave us ears so that we sinners would hear His Word and be changed.
Every Christian endures the attack of demons, the temptations of the flesh, and daily trials of the world. No one gets out unscathed. This parable is a warning. The attacks you suffer are dangerous; if you does not abide in the Word of God, you will lose your faith and suffer the fate prepared for Satan and his angels on the last day. Repent. None of us fears God’s punishments as we should. All of us have sinned thoughtlessly.
But there is also good news. The Sower keeps on sowing. He does not look for good and noble hearts. He simply looks for hearts: corrupted, weary, fearful hearts. He sows His Word without regard to how likely it is to take root and grow, for He knows the power is in the seed and not in the soil. He seems reckless, wasteful, to the eyes of men. He simply throws His seed without tilling the soil. He sends out His Word to those who need it, who cannot save themselves, the ones demons would claim for themselves.
The disciples are models of faith here. While they did not immediately understand the parable, they were hearing. They were seeking God. The parable hid God from unbelievers and even damned them; it drew the disciples to listen more closely, to ask Jesus what it meant. They were seeing and hearing what the prophets longed to see and hear. The mysteries of the Kingdom of God were given to them, and through them the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are given to you.
Faith on this side of glory always wants more. The disciples want answers from Jesus. The Christian widow might piously assert that she is at peace because her husband no longer suffers and is at rest; at the same time she longs to join him, eager for the culmination of her faith and the end of her sorrow. We confess that Jesus lives. We are confident that our sins are forgiven. We trust that Jesus is present for us in bread and wine. Even so, we are still being snatched at, tempted, and choked with worry.
The will of God is sometimes hidden from us. The same is true of His Word. We do not understand all that we are given, all that we are promised. Still, we trust by grace that His Word is true. We trust that His is will good and that it is best for us. We will be snatched at, tempted, and threatened by choking worries until we are brought home. The only antidote to that snatching and worry is more: more Word, more Jesus. So God provides a constant and ongoing application of the Word. We cannot stand against God’s enemies. We are weak; they are strong. But He gives us a promise: His Word does not return void; it will accomplish what He sent it to do.
The Word was sent by the Father to become flesh and dwell among us. His Word bore all the accusations against you, all the false names, all the slander. His Word was sent to go to the slaughter, to accept your guilty verdict, to be killed for crimes that you committed. God cannot die. Yet on the cross, God died, and that sacrifice set you free and gave you life. He rose, opening heaven to you. He speaks you righteous. He declares you innocent. Instead of thorns, up comes the cypress. The Lord bears a hundredfold harvest of faith in you. It is a miracle. For to you it has been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, including the mystery of Holy Supper, where He comes in that human body and blood to join you to Himself. 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, February 09, 2020

Sermon for 2/9/20: Septuagesima

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A Vineyard of Grace

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

The workers who worked all day wanted more. It made sense to them. After all, they had worked longer than the rest—and much longer than those who started to work at the final hour. It was only right, only fair that they'd get more. It would be foolish of the landowner to give a worker who slaved all day the same as someone who had worked for just an hour. If you do more work, you should get more pay. But they didn’t have a legitimate argument. They had agreed to work for a day’s wage, and that’s exactly what the landowner paid them. These longest-serving workers would have called their union rep if they could. As it is, all they could do was object to the landowner, and the landowner gave them exactly what He promised.
But the Landowner doesn't run His vineyard by what anyone else deems fair. He pays the ones who work all day the same as the loiterers He grabs off the street and puts to work an hour before quitting time. It's His vineyard; isn't it lawful for Him to do what He wants with His Vineyard? From the eyes of the long-serving workers, the landowner was cruel. From the eyes of those hired at the last hour, perhaps the landowner seems generous. Yes, the landowner is that good. His vineyard, His Kingdom isn't about what work you do or how long you have done it. He is not about giving you what you deserve. No, it's much better than that! The kingdom of God is what God gives to you in Christ.
The Lord gives the wages. He gives the gifts. He gives the last worker the same as He gives the first worker. He gives you the same as He gives Jesus. That's how He runs His Kingdom, His vineyard. What a perfect way to start the preparatory season of Pre-Lent! When we put our eyes on what we think we deserve from God for all that we have done for Him, this parable calls us to repent. The Kingdom of God is not about what you do for Him. Turn away from that kind of thinking. If God gives you what is fair, if God gives you what you deserve, you won’t like what you get.
Because the truth is, you are not the long-serving worker in this story. You are the one who has been standing around, pretending you have been willing to work, when in reality you have been comfortable where you are. You have been comfortable in your sin. You have been comfortable in believing that you are worthy of God’s love, His attention, His forgiveness. What you do, what I do, is no more than what we owe to God. You have been standing around, waiting for Him to ask you to do something.
And at the eleventh hour, the Landowner, your heavenly Father, gives you daily wages and more! He gives you Jesus, the One who worked all day in the hot sun for you. He worked Himself to death in the vineyard, bearing the heavy load of your sin in the heat of the day, bearing it on the cross. It was not fair; it was not what He deserved. But He took the wages of sin which He did not earn; He suffered and died the death He did not deserve. He did this to give you the whole day’s worth of God’s mercy. He didn’t even complain about it; He went to His work willingly, so that you could live with Him in righteousness and purity forever. And for the sake of the suffering and death of His Son, our Father willingly calls you His “friend.”
That is the Kingdom of God. It is not about your work. It is not about what you earn or what you have deserved. The Kingdom of God is about a Landowner, your heavenly Father, who gives everyone the same wage: the eternal life earned by the hard work of His Son. Purely by grace He washes you clean of your sin. Purely by grace He speaks His word of forgiveness to you. Purely by grace He feeds you the innocent body and blood of Jesus. What a wonderful Vineyard; what a wonderful Savior! 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, February 05, 2020

HYMN: O Lord, I Lift My Soul to You

In the process of writing texts for every Sunday of the Church Year in the 1-Year Lectionary, I've written some which I considered to be of lesser quality, and others I've found difficult to sing. My text for the First Sunday in Advent, Hosanna, Mighty Savior, Come, was more of the latter than the former. Before I (self-)publish my texts, I'm trying to fill in some of the holes, strengthen some texts, write new texts to replace others. This text combines bits from all the readings and Propers for Advent I and addresses both our Lord's entry into Jerusalem and His return in glory on the last Day. Feedback is love.

O Lord, I Lift My Soul to You

O Lord, I lift my soul to You.
I wait for Your salvation.
As Zion’s joyful children do,
I cry in acclamation:
Hosanna, David’s greater Son,
My righteous Lord, the blesséd One.

The peril of my sin is great.
The devil would enslave me.
I trust in You. I hope. I wait.
I beg You, come and save me.
My Jesus, come! Your people free
From guilt and Satan’s tyranny.

The night of death will soon be past,
Putting to death my lusting.
My joy shall wake with dawn at last,
Your Word most surely trusting.
This present dark shall pass away,
As You, my Light, bring endless day.

The day shall surely come, my Lord:
The day of Your returning.
I shall be made anew, restored,
Your Word no longer spurning.
Oh, come, my humble Savior King
With mercy You alone can bring.

© 2020, Alan Kornacki, Jr.
87 87 88
Advent I; The Last Day

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Sermon for 2/2/2020: Transfiguration of Our Lord (observed)

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Down the Mountain

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

We have been watching Jesus. The One who humbled Himself to become a true Man in flesh has also revealed Himself as God. We’ve seen Jesus declared as God’s own Son at His Baptism, the Spirit descending upon Him. We’ve seen Jesus turn water into wine. We’ve seen Jesus healing the sick and suffering. And now we once again hear the Father’s voice from heaven, declaring Jesus to be His beloved Son. Jesus is transfigured, radiant in His holiness, right in front of Peter, James, and John. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as light.
In the previous chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was talking about His cross. The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem, where God dwelt among His people in the Holy of Holies. He must suffer many things at the hands of the religious powers and the secular authorities. He must be killed, and then, after three days, He will be raised from the dead. Among all these wonders and miracles, this message was more than a bit of a downer. Peter didn’t want anything to do with that sort of Christ. Peter wanted to follow a glorious Messiah, a Savior who would restore Israel, a King who would overthrow both foreign and domestic overlords. That would be the right kind of Christ! This is the kind of religion Peter wanted. That is why He was so overwhelmed by the Transfiguration. If it were up to Peter, they would never come down from the mountain. Lord, it is good for us to be here! says St. Peter. Let us stay here and see your glory forever.
That is the sort of Jesus we want, too. The idea of a suffering Savior; the idea of a Church made up of suffering sinners; the idea of repentance; the idea of a cross to pay the price of redemption—all these things are downers. Let us not hear about suffering. Let us do away with all this repentance talk. Let us not speak of the cross or dying, Jesus. We want a happy Jesus, a powerful Jesus, a victorious Jesus. A powerful Jesus will bring about a powerful Church, we think: a Church where Jesus gives Christian congregations growing membership numbers and overflowing bank accounts. But that Jesus on the cross seems to fit all too well in this postmodern age, with a shrinking and closing congregations, with buildings that are falling apart, with membership rosters that are shrinking with the death of the saints and the departure of those who had once been faithful members.
But the suffering Christ is reality. The voice of the Father from above, the bright cloud appearing—it seems like Jesus is supposed to be glorious. But while Jesus is revealed once again as God in the flesh, the Father reminds the trio of disciples that Jesus was there for more than just the glory. “Hear Him,” the Father says. Listen to Him. When Jesus tells you that He has come to die, believe Him. You can’t stop Him, nor should you want to stop Him. He has come to die for you. He has come for your salvation.
Jesus would lead them down the mountain. He would lead them to Jerusalem, to the cross. The disciples were saved. You have been saved. We are saved, but not merely by the bright shining Jesus of the Transfiguration. Our salvation is won by the Jesus who comes down from the Mount and heads for Lent, for Holy Week, and for Good Friday. Moses was gone; the Law could not save them. Elijah was gone; the prophets could only look forward to Jesus. Only Jesus—humble, lowly, suffering, dying—could save them. This is exactly what He said must happen. Listen to Him.
God continues to be glorious, even though He hides that glory. Jesus invites you to come with Him, to receive Him in water, hidden in His Word at the font. He invites you to hear His Word, read to you, proclaimed to you in the pulpit, placed upon you in Holy Absolution. He invites you to receive His body and blood, hidden in His Word in bread and wine. As the Father directed, fix your eyes and ears on Jesus. Now that He has revealed Himself to you, He brings you down the mountain. He suffers with you. He suffers for you and for your salvation, just as He said He must. 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.