Saturday, March 28, 2020

Sermon for 3/29/2020: Fifth Sunday in Lent

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John 8:42-59

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

How could Jesus speak as if He was older than Abraham? Certainly the Jews didn’t understand what Jesus meant. How could this man standing before them, a man not yet fifty years old, have existed before Abraham? These are important questions. Jesus is teaching you an eternal truth. He is teaching you that He is God. As God, He has existed from eternity. Before the world came to be, the Son of God was there. All things that were created—the heavens and the earth, light, the sun and moon and stars, and even you—everything was created through Jesus.
But in this truth, there is another mysterious truth: time on earth is not the same thing as eternity. In eternity, everything is now. There is no past, no present, no future as we understand time. Before the world came to be, the Son of God is. I know that sounds awkward, but that’s the truth that Jesus is teaching in this lesson. Whether it happens to be the time of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, the Apostles, Martin Luther, or now, Jesus is. 
Jesus is plainly teaching them about the Incarnation. Here stands Yahweh, the God of eternity, in human Flesh. Yes, it is true that Jesus is not yet fifty. As we understand time, as time exists for fallen humanity, it would have been impossible for Him to have been in existence before Abraham. But being the eternal Son of God, Jesus not only is before Abraham; He created Abraham. And in the Incarnation, Jesus comes to His creation in flesh and brings eternity to earthly time. “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus plainly tells the Jews that He is the Son of God.
That they did understand, and it made them violently angry. Truth doesn’t sit well with sinners. We don’t even like to acknowledge that we are sinners. And while we like to look down on those Jews who heard that Jesus is God in the flesh and rejected Him, the truth is, we don’t want to accept truth, either. We are tempted to think that the faith is a ticket to health and wealth and fame—all the things the world considers the good life—if only we believe in Him strongly enough. We are tempted to think that the presence of Christ in His Church ought to mean pews overflowing with people and cash streaming into our bank account.  But these ideas originate in the sin-infested, selfish minds of the Old Adam within us, at the encouragement of Satan. Such thoughts come very naturally to our sinful flesh. But it is not the truth.
The truth is full of life, more glorious than the Old Adam in us could ever imagine. See the truth in the mystery of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus died on the Cross two thousand years ago. How can He now give His body and blood to you today? He can do that because His sacrifice to the Father on your behalf is an eternal sacrifice. Being eternal, the body of Christ is always the body of Christ—eternally present, eternally forgiving, eternally for you.
At the Lord’s Supper, Jesus comes to you and brings eternity to earthly time. The Lord’s Supper Jesus brings heaven to earth. To feast on His body and blood is not only to receive a foretaste in earthly time of the Feast to come; it is also to truly feast at the heavenly Banquet itself, in eternity. This is the truth, and the Truth has set you free. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Sermon for 3/25/2020: Midweek Lent IV (UnChristian World Series)

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Christianity in an UnChristian World: Suffering

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

The first three chapters of Peter’s first letter were important: to know that we are as baptized Christians, being built as living stones into the living temple of the Church; to know that we live in love in every circumstance of life. But Peter’s words to us tonight show us what all this leads up to: suffering. This is the life of the Christian when the rubber meets the road and leaves a skid mark on us.
Sadly, suffering is often what causes some to veer off the road of Christianity. In fact, often it causes some to veer off the road of life altogether. It is why assisted suicide, sinfully called “mercy killing,” continues to grow in popularity and public acceptance. We don’t want to suffer. For Christians and non-Christians alike, the ideal life would be a smooth, straight road—all downhill, and always with the wind at your back. And many are looking for God—or false gods—to give them just that.
But man’s ideal is not man’s reality. It was in the beginning, but sin changed that. Adam’s work became toil; Eve’s childbearing became painful; brother turned against brother. Though many things have changed across the centuries, the reality of suffering has not. Suffering became the new normal, quite contrary to what the serpent had promised.
When the Son of God came into our world in the flesh, the ideal became reality again. A perfect man, unstained by sin, once again walked this earth. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, He paved the way to eternal life—though the way will still not be smooth or straight. No, it will still be hard, and it will still involve suffering. You will have to wrestle with your sinful flesh and its passions, all of which oppose the way of Christ. You will have to endure the temptations and the attacks of the sinful world; it will hate you. You will be under siege from Satan, who wants to wear you down and wear you out so that you give in. You will even have crosses sent from your Father in heaven for your good, though you will be tempted to call them evil or to believe they were sent by Him out of anger. Suffering is the norm for the Church. This is why Peter says: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 
Peter began this chapter by saying, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.”Arm yourselves.” Be ready. Soldiers arm themselves when expecting attack. So you, too, expect to be attacked, and you must be ready for it. “Arm yourselves” with the mind of Christ, who came to help the helpless, to love the loveless, to serve the lowly and outcast, to forgive the sinner, to suffer for the suffering, to die for the dying. The mind of Christ is not selfish; it is selfless. The mind of Christ seeks to cover your sins, not to hold them against you. He covers them, washing them away with His blood. That is the mind of Christ, given to you in baptism. But if you think that way—if you live that way—you, like Christ, will suffer for it.
When that suffering comes, that is a blessing. Peter says, “Rejoice! Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” This doesn’t mean that your sufferings atone for your sins, as Christ’s do. That could never be, nor does it need to be, for your Lord Jesus has done it all. He atoned for all the sin of the world, yours included. “It is finished,” He said on the cross, and it was finished. There is nothing left to be done. But when you suffer for the truth; when you suffer for doing good; when you suffer because you are a baptized child of God; you are being treated just as Jesus was. In that way, you share in His suffering. And when that happens, you are blessed, “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” The Holy Spirit, who is making you holy now, will glorify you in the end. 
“The end of all things is at hand,” Peter writes. And the closer the end gets, the more Satan will rage. Even so, do not be afraid—not of Satan, not of the world, not even of the end. Instead, go on serving one another to the glory of God, for Satan cannot harm those who are in Christ. If the end is at hand, your salvation also is at hand: the end of your suffering and the beginning of your new life.
For now, as Christians living in an unchristian world, “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Trust the Word of God. Trust His faithfulness. He who gave you life will give you new and eternal life when He raises you up on the last day. Until then, it won’t be easy. The dangers of false belief and false gods abound. The attacks and the suffering will surely continue. But you can be sure of this as well: in Christ you are safe. 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.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sermon for 3/22/2020: Fourth Sunday in Lent

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Life from Bread and a Tree

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

In the beginning “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,” and Godbreathed into his nostrils the spirit of life; and the man became a living being.” After that, “the Lord God planted a garden.” In the midst of that garden He put the tree of Life. Immediately after the breath of life comes the tree of life, the tree whose fruit sustains and nourishes, grows and matures, increases and strengthens the life God chooses to live in all mankind. This should tell you something: All you have; all the blessings the Lord God has generously given you; all the good that you don’t deserve; all the mercies our Father chooses to bestow—His Tree of Life is in the midst of it all. His Tree, the tasty fruit it bears, and the Life it is and promises and delivers—that Tree is the heart and center of all He has made for you and made you for.
Our Lord Jesus drives it home in today’s Gospel when He feeds the five thousand. There He is, in the midst of this crowd. He is the whole reason they are there. This great multitude comes from all over “because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.” So there He is, sitting on the mountain with His disciples, ready to preside over this meal, ready to give them bread—but not just any bread. This is the bread of life, the bread that is His life.
Here’s what you need to understand: This bread of life, it is just like that tree of life. One may eat of it and live. And whoever eats of this bread shall never die. This bread that the Lord Jesus gives is just like the fruit from the tree that the Lord God gave: it sustains and nourishes, increases and strengthens the life God gives to all mankind. That is what Our Lord is teaching—not just that He is kind and compassionate, but that His kindness and compassion, His mercy and love, are kneaded into and inseparable from the bread of life. And this bread of life is the fruit of the tree of life.
And there is yet another tree of life that bears fruit. It is the tree of the cross, where Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us so that we may eat of Him and not die; so that we may eat of Him, and in eating, have our communion and intimacy in God restored, refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated. For the bread that Our Lord God gives—the fruit from the Tree of the Cross, the new Tree of Life—this is the Lamb of God who not only takes away the sin of the world, who not only also gives His life for the world, but who also gives us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink so that we might live and abide and dwell in Him. For whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, and He will raise him up at the last day.
Beloved in Christ, even as we are separated because of the wages of sin, you are not alone. In your midst is Jesus, the Bread of Life, the One who abundantly provides for all your wants of body and soul. Here is the bread so abundant that it never runs out. He is the food that is so strengthening, so fulfilling, that you may eat and be satisfied.
As we eat, as we partake of the Word of God by which we live, let us not be anxious or afraid. Let us not worry about today or tomorrow—what we shall eat, what we shall wear, how we will pay our bills, how life will go in the midst of illness and panic. Let us instead rejoice and be glad. With Jesus in our midst, the Tree and Bread of Life Himself, we have life—true, abundant, eternal life. Come to the altar, all you who have no worth before God on your own. Come, and eat the bread of life from the tree of life. Come and eat the fruit of the Christ which is given without money and without price. Come and partake of the Word of God. Come, eat of it, and live. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.   

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sermon for 3/18/2020: Midweek Lent III (UnChristian World Series)

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Christianity in an UnChristian World: Love

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

Looking at our lives as Christians in an unChristian world, Peter writes of husbands and wives. These verses cause no small amount of contention in our time, because the world reads them and considers them demeaning to women. If taken out of the context of the rest of Scripture, perhaps they might be. But when one speaks of husbands and wives in the Bible, always standing there is Christ and His Bride, the Church. Human marriages are to be images of that relationship. Picture a husband who loves his bride so much that he willingly lays down his life for her; picture a bride who willingly submits herself in return to her husband—though never forcibly. In such a relationship, both husband and wife are raised up. 
            Peter points to Abraham and Sarah as an example, which has no small amount of irony for us. We know that Sarah was a very beautiful woman, which is why Abraham seemed to be always afraid that someone else was going to kill him and take her for a wife. And yet, Peter says, she is an example not of outward beauty but of inward, “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” whose “hope was in God.” Because of her trust in God, she submitted herself to Abraham, even calling him “lord.” This doesn’t mean she never spoke up or stood up for herself; we know she did, telling Abraham to send Hagar and her son Ishmael away. The Lord told Abraham to listen to her and do what she said! But in calling Abraham “lord” and submitting to him, there is the acknowledgement that the Lord had given her to Abraham and Abraham to her. Her heavenly Father was working good for her through Abraham’s calling as her husband. And so she sees the Lord in her husband. Once again we see a picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church, who calls Him “Lord” and “Savior;” we expect every good from Him.
            And there is more irony with Abraham. Peter writes, “Husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” Abraham did not seem to do this. Twice, out of fear for his own life, he allows Sarah to be taken and almost made the wife of rulers: first the Pharaoh of Egypt, and then Abimelech, King of Gerar. Abraham was a sinner too. Today, the world would be upset that these verses that call the woman “the weaker vessel,” and yet the world would ignore the fact that these verses tell us that women should be “shown honor.” Husbands are to treat their wives as precious and worthy of being shown such honor. These verses have nothing to do with power and physical strength, and everything to do with how we regard one another. Again, consider how valuable and precious Christ considers His Bride and how He has honored her. In the same way, as Peter says, “All of you have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
            That is what we should do. That is how our life together should be. But just as was the case with Abraham, it isn’t always so for you. We are sinners who commit grave sins. And that is why, at the end of this chapter, Peter points once again to Jesus. There is our hope. The righteous One died for the unrighteous ones, “that he might bring us to God.” He did that in His death, resurrection, and ascension. He took the punishment for our sins. He broke open the grave. He who perfectly submitted Himself here in this life has now ascended; “all powers have been subjected to Him.”
            All this has been given you in your baptism, and baptism now saves you.” This washing removes the stain of sin from your soul. That water unites you with Christ in His death and resurrection. It is where you receive Him and all that He died to give you. You are safe in Christ, saved in the water. You are safe, forgiven, and protected in your heavenly Bridegroom.
            The baptized are united in Christ, Christians in an unChristian world. That life is going to look quite different than those of the world and what they’re used to. Since that is the case, “Always be prepared to make a defense”—to give an explanation—“to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Tell them of Christ and His forgiveness and the new life He has given you. Do not be afraid. Indeed, fear no enemy, for no one can take away what God in Christ has given to you. If you suffer for the sake of Jesus, blessed are you. Again, it doesn’t mean your life in Christ will be easy, but you can trust that your Savior can and will use everything in this world and life for your good. We may not always be given to understand how, but faith clings to that word of promise.
            The world tends to think of love only as an emotion. The Bible speaks of love as action. Jesus didn’t just say “I love you;” He lived love, especially on the cross. He has given that love to you so that, in all your relationships, living as Christians in an unChristian world, you can love without fear, for “perfect love casts out fear.” That perfect love is Christ: His forgiveness, His promises, and His victory...and all of that love is for 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.

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Sermon for 3/15/2020: Third Sunday in Lent

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Hearing, Speaking, Keeping

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

You may have heard the philosophical question, “If you had to choose, would you rather lose your sight or your hearing?” It’s silly; no one is given that choice. But it raises an important Old Testament distinction. Being blind is not as debilitating in the eyes of the Lord as being deaf. Being blind is a physical disability; being deaf makes a person ritually unclean, unable to gather with the faithful in the Temple.  
The truth is, our most important and vital information comes not through our eyes but through hearing and speaking. And the two go together: those who cannot hear can only speak with the greatest difficulty. Consider the man in the Holy Gospel. He was mute. The Greek word for mute is also the word for deaf. The man could not speak because he could not hear. But mark this carefully: It is the demon within him who refuses to confess that Jesus is the Christ of God, because the demon refuses to heed the Word of God.
If you cannot hear the Word of God—if you cannot hear the Good News of your heavenly Father who forgives for the sake of his dear Son—then it doesn't matter how smart or clever is your speech or how lovely is your song. Ultimately, what you say will come from the devil, the father of lies; your speech will be as blasphemous as claiming that Jesus is not the Son of God.
You see, if you cannot hear the Word of God about your sinfulness; if you cannot hear the Word which tells you of your inability to do anything that is pleasing to God; and if you do not hear that God will condemn you for the things that others love about you and that you take pride in, then what will you confess? You will say, "I don't need that meal. I don't need a man in the fancy robe—the man who is himself a sinner—telling me that my sins are forgiven. Give me the preacher who gives me credit for who I am, who feeds my self worth, who tells me that I can be and have whatever I want." But if that is your confession of faith, you call good what God has called evil. Where the Word of God is not heeded, cold logic will do no good. Demons will rush in to fill the void where God’s Word should be. There is no hope for those who have sinned against the Holy Spirit, who have called evil what God has called good.
Yet don't be quick to condemn the people in that crowd. After all, haven't you called evil what God has called good? Perhaps even now the chastening rod of God has been laid across your back. Do you call it good? No, you resent it. We face the chastening rod of tightened finances in our dual parish. The local job market is feeble. Perhaps cancer or heart disease or Coronavirus lurks in your body. Perhaps your friends have failed you and your enemies assail you. You have called these things evil.
But God uses these things to draw His children closer to Him. With St. Paul you must say, “Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Yes, thank God for these things that distress your Old Adam. Thank God that the blessings of heaven are yours in Christ! Blessed are you, for in the font God gave you new life, drowning that Old Adam. Blessed are you, for God has fed you with the Gospel of forgiveness, pouring this Gospel into your ears in preaching and Holy Absolution, pouring into your mouths the very body and blood of Jesus to heal you in body and soul. No matter what trials you face, “blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”  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 12, 2020

Sermon for 3/12/2020: Funeral of Marvin Lampe

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Death and Joy

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is written in Chapter 8 of the Epistle to the Romans, Verse 18, in which St. Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Thus far our text.

Much of this world fears death as something hateful and ugly. But the child of God, who knows the example of Jesus in His death, knows that death is not to be feared, for it is the moment at which the faithful of the Lord are ushered into that glorious eternal life which He has prepared for them from the foundation of this world.

St. Paul wrote the words of this text to strengthen our faith and to give us hope. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Paul does not deny, or ignore, or even make light of our sufferings. He knows that all these things are very real, and very troubling. But instead, he seeks to raise our eyes to see the glorious future that awaits us, a sure and certain hope that overshadows and tempers even the sufferings of this present time, no matter how lengthy or severe they may be.

In the midst of sorrow and sickness, our thoughts so often turn to what is taking place with us physically, and we fail to see that blessed future: living with our Lord Jesus Christ forever, our bodies raised in glory. And then we begin to measure our lives only by what occurs here in these short years of time, instead of measuring them by the wondrous glory of everlasting life. We do not listen enough to the words of the Lord and Giver of Life. So let us look away from the present, if only for a moment, and see the glorious future that awaits us.

Our Lord Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” The gracious power of God stands over all things, and the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ is a completed work! The glories of heaven await all believers. Our Father awaits His children. Jesus is there to share His infinite love with those He has redeemed with His own life and blood. We can look forward to death with joy.

There is a world beyond this time of change and decay! St. John has told us in the Book of Revelation, that in this world to come, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” It is a wonderful future that awaits us because, by faith in Jesus Christ, we will forever be called “sons of God.” And in the words that come just before our text, Paul said that if we are children of God, then we are heirs, “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” By the blood of the everlasting covenant, the blood of our dear Savior, we are heirs of the glories of heaven.

Within these words of encouragement, there is also an admonition addressed to us. Though much sorrow and distress may arise to change our lives and disturb our happiness, yet we must keep our eyes and thoughts on that world to come. “Think on these things,” Paul said on another occasion. Fill up your hearts and minds with the promise of God: the promise of rest, the promise of perfect freedom from all the ills and troubles of this life. Immerse yourself in the Word of God, especially during these days of sorrow and distress, and you will know the comfort the Spirit brings.

We all make our way in this world along a narrow and sometimes fear-filled path, often accompanied with suffering. That was a path Marvin knew well, both in caring for his beloved wife and in his own more recent ailments. But we need not fear, even as Marvin was not afraid. The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has gone the way of suffering and death before us, and He has made that way holy. 
When death comes, He shows that way to us and comforts us with His Word. What seems dark and fearsome becomes light and joy. Lift up your eyes; see the redemption of the Lord drawing near. Walk with Christ now, so that you may walk with Him through the valley of the shadow of death and into that eternity He has prepared for you and for all who have gone before. Think on heavenly things, and then, like Marvin, you can look forward to death with joy. 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.

Sermon for 3/11/2020: Midweek of Lent II (UnChristian World Series)

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Christianity in an UnChristian World: Unity

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

Last week, meditating on being Christians in an UnChristian world, St. Peter told us that our identity as baptized children of God means we are called to holiness, a life set apart from what the world believes and offers. In chapter 2 of his first letter, Peter builds on that identity. You are meant to be holy, but there’s more to the story—more blessing, more grace. When you are baptized into Christ, you are baptized into a community, into a Church, into “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood.” That also is your identity, a reality greater than just being on your own, or just “you and Jesus.”
            This is not an original concept from Peter. All of Scripture speaks of God’s people as a group, a community, a family. When there are individuals, like Moses or Abraham, they are called to be the beginning of a community, or one will be formed around them. In the beginning God said, “It is not good for man to be alone;” that is still true. In all times and places, God gathers the solitary together. You are not on your own; you are part of a family, one that God has been building from the beginning; one which includes you, people long gone, and people yet to come. Time and place are no barrier to God. And so, Peter says, you are “living stones.” Those stones “are being built up” together into “a spiritual house,” which is built on the foundation of Christ, “the chief cornerstone.”
            Even though this is not a new teaching, it is a particularly challenging one, especially since our culture values self-sufficiency and treasures self-achievement as perhaps never before. This is aided by technology, which has created the paradox that we live in today. Technology has made it possible to communicate quickly with people around the world, yet we prisoners to the devices in our hands, chained to our chairs, seldom meeting each other face to face. We have thousands of virtual friends, and yet we do not even know the people who live next door. The neighborhood church used to be the place of gathering and socialization; now social media, chat rooms, and video interaction have tried to make the Church obsolete. The world has never been so crowded, and yet people have never been so alone.
            I’m not blindly bashing technology. I met my wife on the Internet. Technology is a good gift from God. Like any other gift, it is only evil when we make evil use of it. While technology was not nearly as advanced in Peter’s day, those Christians also found themselves alone and separated because persecution had scattered them to the ends of the earth in fear.
            Yes, we are more than how we define ourselves. But we are also not defined by our location or our friends list. True unity exceeds the divisions this world and its prince can erect. Our unity is in Christ. We are members of His Body, joined to Him through water and the Word, forgiven and raised with Him to new life. Peter summarizes that by calling you “a living stone.”
            Let us ask the good Lutheran question: What does this mean? It means you have been put where you are by the Builder. You fit there. You stand on the shoulders of the ones under you; you support the ones above you; you stand side-by-side with those next to you. Those stones around you might have pointy edges, rough spots, holes, bumps, and all kinds of imperfections. That doesn’t matter; you have them too. They are different than you, but at the same time they are one with you in this Church, built by Christ. Without you, there is a hole. You belong here.
            It may not always seem that way. You may seem smaller than some other stones, or older, or not as strong, or not as beautiful; but you matter here. This is where God has placed you: resting on Christ the Cornerstone and linked to fellow living stones, your brothers and sisters in Christ. What we do, we do together. What we do affects others, whether we realize it or not. Again, it’s not going to be easy. Peter’s hearers were scattered all over an unchristian world; you and I will leave this place today and live in the midst of a world increasingly hostile to Christ, His Word, His values, and His people. What we do and how we live does not depend on whether or not the world is friendly or receptive to us. It is simply how we live as this Body, this building of Christ, for the glory of His name.
            What if others do not live the same? What if they repay us evil for the good Christ does through us? What if they do not help, but hurt? It doesn’t matter; they did the same to Jesus. He will sustain you through trial and hardship and persecution—even to a martyr’s death. He sustains you through communion: communion with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and, more importantly, communion with Him through His Word and His own body and blood. So do not neglect the Word of God. It is your “pure spiritual milk,” and it will sustain you and strengthen you. Hear it; read it; pray it; be washed in it; eat it. For indeed “you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” 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 08, 2020

Sermon for 3/8/2020: Second Sunday in Lent

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

We are not the lost sheep of the house of Israel. We are dogs. We deserve worse than simply being ignored. Our ancestors according to blood were pagans and heathen. They did not wrestle with the Lord in the desert. They did not keep God’s Law. Even so, the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. The dogs eat and are satisfied. They are held and scratched and loved. Without our Lord’s mercy, we die. Without our Lord, we bow before this world’s prince, the one who seeks to dominate and destroy, who rules a kingdom of perfect fairness and punishment, who would give us all that we deserve. Spare us, O Lord, or else we have no hope!
We have bowed before the devil for far too long. He has sorely abused us. His flattery and promises evaporate like dew in the sun. He never delivers or satisfies. He always hurts us. The only thing he feeds is our addictions. We are dirty from his touch, humiliated, dying. And we are afraid.
Honestly, we have brought much of this misery upon ourselves. We have complicated our sad lives with lies and vain plotting. We have risked everything God gives for the sake of a moment’s pleasure. We’ve even tried to fool ourselves, but we know the truth. Even though we’ve learned to wipe our hard drives, eliminate evidence, and pretend we’ve forgotten, we are still haunted by our guilt. We have manipulated and bullied, stolen and coveted, gossiped and slandered. And no matter how much we are honored and respected by men, we know that God knows the truth. We have been so stupid, so selfish, so vain! Our friends and loved ones have borne the brunt of our sin. We are afraid, and rightly so. We are weary. We have nearly ruined everything God has given. Despair and depravity, loneliness and regret are all we know on our own.
But we are not on our own. “Remember, O Lord!” We dare not ask for justice; God forbid that He give us what we deserve. We ask only for mercy. We ask for restoration, for redemption. We ask that God keeps His Word. We are not worthy. We are but beggars. So we beg: Be merciful. Crush the serpent’s head. Love us. Forgive our sins. Wash us clean. Make us Your people again. Keep Your Word. Be gracious. Be our God. “O Lord, Son of David, have mercy upon us.”
We beg Him for the sake of His death. This death He died, alone and without comfort, He died for all. He died for us, dogs and beggars and traitors that we are. He died for His children who can barely stand to spend one grudging hour in His house to worship Him. He died for us. He rose for us. He satisfied all that Justice asked. He quenched the Father’s wrath. He paid the devil’s ransom. He defeated death and Hell. He has brokered peace between God and man. He calls us to be His own. He washes us clean in the bloody waters of Holy Baptism.
God’s Word cannot lie. He has promised to deliver us from evil, and our Lord Jesus has done so in His death and resurrection. He gives us the fulfillment of that victory in Holy Baptism, in the gracious Word of Holy Absolution, in the eating and the drinking of His body and blood. He sustains us in these gifts, and He comforts us in them, for in these we have life and a future. Thanks be to God, for He lets us be dogs at His table, where we eat the crumbs of His grace. 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 04, 2020

Sermon for 3/4/2020: Sermon for Midweek of Lent I (UnChristian World Series)

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Christianity in an UnChristian World: Holiness

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

            Who are you? Some people answer that question with their name. For example, I’m Alan Kornacki, Jr. That tells you I’m named after my father. It tells you that I’m of Polish or Slavic descent. Other people will answer with their occupation or their educational status. Again using myself as an example, I’m a pastor. I have a Master’s Degree, which I earned from Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. That tells some people a great deal about me, and they can guess other things. Still others might answer that they’re a work in progress; they don’t really know who they are. And for some, the answer changes. One such example lately is the trend of claiming a gender other than the one your DNA determines, and even having surgery in an attempt to change that reality. 
            In his first letter, St. Peter starts out by giving quite a different answer. He starts out by saying that your identity is of one who is born again, “begotten again to a living hope.” That identity is above all others: you are a baptized child of God. We hold Baptism in high regard, so Peter’s words may not sound surprising. But to those Peter was writing to—first century Christians under persecution, scattered throughout the known world, with an uncertain future—this was critical. A Christian does not define himself, and the world does not define what it means to be a Christian. This is our Lord’s job. And His definition and identity is a reality far greater than your name, your nationality, your work, or any other way you think of yourself. Who are you? You are baptized. You are a child of your Father who art in heaven.
            And that means a number of things. First, Peter says, it means that, even if you are homeless here on earth, you have a home: “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” Jesus told His disciples just before His crucifixion, “I will not leave you orphans.” Those who are born again as children of God are cared for by their Father, through Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. You are not on your own. God does not leave nor forsake His children.
            Part of that care, however, is trial or testing. Precious metals are put into the fire to burn off their impurities, to make them even more pure and valuable. You are more precious than anything in this world, the crown of God’s creation. You will be proved in the same way—not as punishment, but in love, to loose your hold on the things of this world, that you would cling to God alone. He does this so that, when He comes again, you will not be holding on to your false gods and idols. Instead you will rejoice in Him and, as Peter says, receive “the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” This is why God gives you this identity: so that you will not be defined as the world identifies you, nor will you be defined by the Old Adam that still clings to you. Instead, you will live a life of holiness
            When we think of holiness, we usually think of a sinless life or perfection. And certainly we should be like that. But as you know, you cannot—not on your own, at least. Peter knew that well. It was Peter who told Jesus not to go to the cross. It was Peter who denied his Lord after he claimed he would be the faithful disciple. Peter knew that, if you are sinless, it is only because your sins have been washed away in the flood of Christ’s blood and forgiveness. If you are perfect, it is only because His perfection has been given to you. To be holy means to be set apart. In Baptism you have been united to Him in His death and resurrection. You have been set apart from sin and death. You have been set apart from the world by being called into the church. You have been set apart from your former ignorance by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit.
            Even in times of persecution or trouble, this reality does not change. This is the reality that will carry you through all trials and temptations—even through death itself—to life forever with God. The things of this world are passing away. “All flesh is as grass,” Peter says, “but the word of the Lord endures forever.” His Word of grace, His Word of forgiveness, His Word which is living and working in you—this Word will never fail. If you know who you are in Christ, then nothing the world claims about you matters; nothing the world does to you matters. You, your future, and your eternal home are safe in Christ. As Luther writes, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the kingdom our remaineth.”
            That doesn’t make it easy. Satan is going to hound you every step of the way. That’s why Peter is writing to his dear Christian flock that has been driven out and scattered. He wants them to know that there is a greater reality than what is seen and felt. Yes, you are Christians living in an unchristian world, but you live in Christ through Baptism, and Christ lives in you. No matter what this world brings upon you, you have confidence and hope. You are children of God, holy and precious to Him. Do not be afraid to live in that truth, that reality. “Be holy,” just as Christ is holy for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
            The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Sermon for 3/1/2020: First Sunday in Lent

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“…In All Your Ways…”

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

When the serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say?” he invited her to doubt that God had her good at heart. This doubt is the heart of sin, and it is a very powerful thing, even though it seems so small. When God led Israel out of Egypt, they doubted the good will of God. They grumbled and complained for water and food. When Moses was up on the mountain with God, the people doubted God’s goodness; they built a golden calf and worshiped it. So He led them into the wilderness to test them. He led them for 40 years, until the generation who doubted had died.
In the same way, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tested. He is all of Israel in one person. Where Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus succeeded. There was no doubt in Jesus when He went into the Jordan River to be baptized. And there was no doubt in Him when He was led up into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He did not go on His own accord. Even so, He was willing to be led according to the will of His Father. It was time to reveal what kind of Son Jesus would be.
The things Jesus was tempted with are no strangers to you, are they? The devil wants you to try to save yourself. He wants you to serve your own desires. He wants you to worship someone other than the one true God. All these things tempt you to doubt God’s good will for you. By the grace of God, most of you have never known real hunger. We can go only a few hours without food before we’re so anxious that we must have something to eat. This is why we join with Jesus in praying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The truth is, “God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.”
And yet, don’t you think God should bless you in the ways you think are best? The devil left out an important part in reciting Psalm 91. The Psalmist wrote, He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” The devil conveniently left out the phrase, “to keep you in all your ways.” That phrase does not refer to the things you desire; they refer to the ways of God, the things He desires. Have you needlessly put yourself in danger only for the thrill of it? Have you gambled shamelessly? Have you done something that, if you got caught, would have caused you shame? These things distract you from the will and the ways of God.
And so we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” You know what Luther says: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”
What god do you worship? Do you allow yourself to be led astray? Are you seduced by fortune and glory? Satan twisted Scripture to serve his own purpose to deceive and to invite doubt in God. When you abuse the Word of God by neglect or malicious intent, you are guilty of despising God. You don’t “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” Holy Scripture as you should; instead you worship your own thoughts and words.
I urge you to remember the words of Ash Wednesday: “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yes, you are a sinner, but you have the hope of new life through the cross. When you were baptized, you had the righteousness of Christ placed upon you. That deceiver, Satan, wants to steal it from you, just as he tried to do to Jesus. He attacks you both at your weakest points of doubt and in the pride of your strengths. But Christ’s righteousness is stronger; He covers you with it in the blood-washed baptismal robe He places upon you. He strengthens you for the fight with His own body and blood. Are you ready to quit? Does the fight seem hopeless to you? Come to the throne of grace. Return to your baptism. Receive mercy in the body and blood of Christ freely, given for you in your time of need. In these blessings, God will “keep you in all your ways.” 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.