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Sermon at the Ordination and Installation of Christopher Biernacki, 31 May

June 5, 2015 Leave a comment

There was no audio recording that I know of.

2 Timothy 4:1-8

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Oh, Chris.  What a great day for you, for Stephanie, for Our Redeemer, for your Mom and Dad.  What a LSB Icon_048great day for Heavenly Host, and a great day, I know for Pastor Paavola, who watched you grow up, encouraged you to study for the ministry and is now here to ordain you.  There is also a great deal of comfort for older pastors in watching younger pastors come to the altar of the Good Shepherd to enter into the office of holy ministry in much the same way we did however long ago it was for us.  It’s validating for us and for the Church, not just this congregation or the one you grew up in.  The work of the Gospel, the work of proclaiming the kingdom, goes on, is continued, today in you and Our Redeemer.

I chose for my text today, one of those touchstones for pastoral ministry, the beginning of 2 Timothy, chapter four.  [Read text.]  And I chose this text because it is the perfect encapsulation of the many different things that are happening today as you are ordained and installed here.  There’s both curb and guidance here as well as comfort for you, for the saints here at Our Redeemer, and for my brother pastors too.   We need both curb and guidance from God’s Word, as well as comfort.  And this text has that tone of wise mentor pastor speaking to his protégé about it.  And I can tell you as I close in on twenty years of ordained ministry that it really doesn’t matter, especially after the first few years, how long you’ve been doing this, these words from Paul today are sage counsel.  Come back to them over and over again, and you will not stray too far from what the Lord of the Church is doing in you today.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom.”  “I charge you,” says Paul.  Other translations have “solemnly charge” you.  If this isn’t the kind of language appropriate for a day like today, I don’t know what could be.  Paul is using the formula of a solemn oath calling on Christ Jesus as righteous judge, His incarnation and His kingdom come.  And you had Gibbs so I know you know what Jesus’ kingdom is.  Yes, the pastor who watched you grow up is ordaining you today, but he is but the hands and mouth, not merely of the Church, but of the Lord of the Church to put you properly into this holy office of ministry, the predigamt, as we used to call it, the preaching office.  An office so set apart that we do not allow just anyone to hold it, to stand in it even for a moment, but “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.”  (AC XIV)  Today is the certifying that your call from Jesus through the saints here at Our Redeemer is rightly ordered.  What we do today, we do for your congregation’s sake as much as we do for your sake and you’ll both need that assurance before long.

Apostle and Bishop and Pastor Paul says, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  Brothers already ordained, is this not the case where you serve?

We live in changing times.  The talk of our vocation all over the Internet is the Pew Center confirming in a scientific survey what most pastors were already seeing and sharing anecdotally, a drop in identification as a Christian and a drop in affiliation with local congregations.  It sure seems like that’s the case and the folks at Pew said, “Nope, you’re not crazy.  We asked ‘em.  It’s happening.”  In my community, in Putnam County, in the county you grew up in, Chris, it’s happening.  I’m sure it’s happening here in Florence too, with Lauderdale County here, we rhinestones on the buckle of the Bible Belt.

Just after Easter, the phone rang and it was a pastor of a neighboring church out west of us, toward Baxter, and I guess it started out as a conversation, but he was calling every church in the county and trying to gather up their attendance numbers for Easter.  He was trying to put together a good figure for just how many people in Putnam County were in church on Easter Sunday.  Because I think it’s one thing to see a number like 70 percent in a Pew Research survey and completely another to get a real sense of what actually happened on a particular day in a particular place.  And so I asked him how it was shaking out.  He speculated with me that his best estimate was around 30 percent of the county was actually in church on Easter.  And that number shocked me and disturbed me.

It shocked me because I remember as a kid growing up just east of here in Georgia, we had to set up folding chairs down the aisles for Christmas and Easter.  It disturbed me because I don’t know of a church that has to do that these days.  And it’s not because they haven’t heard of Jesus; Jesus is on the billboards in our county and here too I’m sure.  It disturbs me because people are walking away from Jesus because the people no longer will endure the teachings of God become human flesh for the sake of saving sinners from their sin and the power of hell.  They will not put up with the teaching of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  They have not endured.  They’ve preferred instead the myths that come to pass for spirituality today.  You know them.  “You don’t need to confess you’re “a poor, miserable sinner” because you’re not a bad person.  You’re not nearly as bad as those mean people in the churches say you are.  You’re not nearly as in need of God’s forgiveness as some other people you know.  You need to find a more positive religion.  In fact, maybe you don’t need organized religion at all.  They’re all just a bunch of losers and hypocrites anyway.  You can believe in God on your own time and your own way and be a more authentic Christian.”  And when the people from Pew call they still say, “Yes, I’m a Christian.”  But is it any wonder now that more and more people are saying, “None,” when asked about their religious self-identification?  We live in changing times.  And what we see happening around us is not unprecedented if St. Paul is writing about it to young pastor Timothy.

But, “as for you” the Apostle says, “As for you, be serious about these things.”  Realize this is our lot.  We were born for this time.  We can bemoan all we like that it might have been easier 50 years ago in the US, but I might argue that’s probably true.  The situation we find ourselves in today did not happen overnight.  While for generations we took for granted that this nation was a Christian nation, cultural Christianity came to replace the true message of Gospel.  And when that cultural identity became threatened, we responded not with God’s truth but with identity politics, with power not with the authority of truth.  That is, we responded with a moral majority, not because it was moral but because it was the majority.  A Lutheran recognizes that instantly as a theology of glory rather than the theology of the cross.

And my experience has been, even among some “lifelong Lutherans”, people will not endure sound teaching.  They will not put up with you and the God who charges you today to preach the whole counsel of God, not endorsing their lifestyle choices and myths they have fallen into.  They will not put up with the sound teaching of Small Catechism.  They will not put up with a view of humanity as taught in the Old and New Testaments.  They won’t put up with it and they won’t put up with you.  But don’t worry, you don’t work for them but it’s not like you might think.

In ordination, you are given your orders, your charge.  Servants are charged with duties.  In the era of CEO pastors and church-sanctioned institutes for pastoral leadership, this may come as a bit of a shock.  We’re not the CEOs.  We’re the servants.  We are the servants of the King, his ministers.  That language of minister/ministry is entirely religious in our country but in many other countries that language of ministry and minister is less explicitly religious and more governmental.  In monarchies (you know, monarchies, the only Biblically justifiable government; (just think of all the myths we’ve fallen into), ministers serve the King and take charge over the King’s interests in that particular area.  Like in Britain they have a Foreign Minister and a Home Minister for foreign and domestic fairs.  Likewise, today the Lord is through the church giving you charge over the affairs of His kingdom here in Florence.  It’s not yours to do with as you please.  People of Florence, it’s not yours either.  It all belongs to the King, King Jesus.  And you and your pastor are, together, to go about the work of His kingdom here, proclaiming the King’s truth to people who would prefer to be entertained and who have already given up truth for myths.

And the goal of it all?  To be poured out like a drink offering, says Paul.  To be used up in service to the king.  It’s a powerful image.  Isn’t it?  It’s kind of like this little water bottle.  What’s its purpose?  I’m pretty sure it’s purpose is to do this.  [Take a drink.]  And the end result of course is this [crush and show crushed up bottle].  But the myths of our world say different, even in the church.  The myth says the purpose of the water bottle is something different, that it’s this [show a much larger filled water bottle] not this [show the little crushed up water bottle].  A life poured out in witness and mercy and in enduring life together vs. making a name for oneself and getting big.  [Show big water bottle] theology of glory.  [Show crushed up water bottle] theology of the cross.  Theology of the world vs. the theology of God’s kingdom.  Pride vs. faithfulness.  Theology of the cult of personality and church growth vs. the theology of servanthood.  Lord, I believe.  Help, Thou, my unbelief.  If you think this is easy, you haven’t had your first church council meeting.

I say this to say know always what the Gospel is and what it isn’t.  You might think it’s easy but it’s not always clear.  A newer, bigger building is not the Gospel.  It might help the work of the Gospel but it’s not the Gospel.  The Gospel is always this: because this is Jesus on the cross, poured out, dried up and crushed for sinners, even Lutherans, even pastors.

Chris, today you join the ranks of the King’s ministers, his servants.  Remember always that what you do is not your own.  Welcome people to His house.  Proclaim His word of rebuke and pardon.  Prepare his people to be welcomed at His table and served His very own Body and Blood.  Proclaim His will for wives and husbands, parents and children, leaders and citizens.  Help them figure out the ways the King is asking them to be poured out for the sake of others, and in the end rejoice with those who have finished their lives in such a way as they awaiting the crowning glory to come in the resurrection on the Last Day.  That is, preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus poured Himself out for us all.  Amen.

Sermon for Holy Trinity, May 31

June 4, 2015 Leave a comment

This is the sermon preached on Holy Trinity.  While the Trinity is a mystery, it’s not completely unfathomable.  Keep in mind too, this sermon is preached alongside the confession of the Athanasian Creed.

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Cell phones.  Computers.  The Internet.  Your car’s engine and I’m not talking about the old Holy_Trinityones, I’m talking about the new ones with the computers and the fuel injectors.  We use these things every day without a second thought, and we rarely if ever think about how they work.  Telephones used to be easy.  If you spoke into the receiver the sound waves of your voice would be converted into electrical energy and transported along a series of physical wires to the person you were talking to and then that electrical energy would be converted back into sound waves by the little speaker in the handset.  Today’s cellular phone technology, except for those who truly understand it, is comparatively voodoo.  And yet we don’t actually believe it’s really sorcery that lets me talk to my neighbor next door or my brother half a world away.

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday.  Christians are certainly Trinitarian every Sunday but today we concentrate on the gift of knowing what we know about God about how He has revealed Himself to be and to act throughout the entirety of the Scriptures.  We don’t just get Father, Son and Holy Spirit, from the New Testament.  Actually we primarily get it from the Old Testament.  It is not enough to say these things are a mystery.  It is not enough to shrug your shoulders and say we can’t really know or only pastors learn these things in seminaries when your children and grandchildren ask you questions about these things.  It is not enough to believe less than what God says about Himself.  It is sin.  As we just confessed, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”

Peter speaks about Jesus today.  This is actually the second half of Peter’s Pentecost sermon.  And he speaks about Jesus how?  Did you notice?  He speaks about Jesus by quoting two Psalms.

“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me,

for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;

26        therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;

my flesh also will dwell in hope.

27        For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,

or let your Holy One see corruption.

28        You have made known to me the paths of life;

you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

That’s Psalm 16.  Straight from the Greek translation of the Psalms, too.

An then there’s this:

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

35     until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’

That’s Psalm 110.  Peter speaks of Jesus as though he believed the Psalms spoke of Jesus.  Peter’s conclusion is very simply, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Lord and Christ.  The Greek title for Yahweh throughout the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was Kyrios.  We’re so used to these words we don’t hear them as the crowd listening to Peter heard them.  Peter is saying that Jesus is Kyrios, that is, Jesus is Yahweh.  Peter was saying something that the crowds would have thought to be very different from what they knew.  God cannot be human.  In the minds of the 117,000 who did not hear his preaching that day, Peter was blaspheming.  Seven weeks earlier they had turned over to the Romans a man from Galilee in order that He be put to death for blasphemy, for claiming to be the Son of God, for claiming to be Kyrios, Yahweh, Divine Messiah of God Most High.

I hear it all the time.  The Holy Trinity is one of those made up doctrines of men.  The phrase isn’t in the Bible.  God does not say He is three but One.  Pentecostal Oneness churches.  Unitarians.  Mormons.  Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Unification Church, the “Moonies”.  Islam.  There is this tendency by people who have no sense of history to think that Islam is one of the three great monotheistic religions but it’s only 1,400 years old.  Islam began in the 600’s AD as a reaction against Trinitarian theology.  God is not three, they say, God is one.  Technically it’s an ancient anti-Trinitarian heresy.  The Lutheran Fathers simply called it Mohammedanism.  No different categorically from the Sabellianism and Arianism fought by the Latin and Greek fathers three centuries before it came on the scene.

But I can hear it now, “Oh, the Trinity’s just a mystery.  We can’t really understand anything about the transcendent God in this human language of One Divine essence in three divine persons.” Except that we can.  By listening to the Lord God speak of Himself and by listening to Jesus speak of His Father and of the Spirit of God whom He will send.  When we do all that listening we come up with statements about God that keep our understanding about God firmly structured.  We do not have three gods; we have one God.  If we worshiped three gods we would be denying what God says about Himself in the Scriptures.  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Dt 6:4)  And yet Jesus is fully divine.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  These statements in the Scriptures that tell us something of who God says He is get condensed into the creedal formulas.  Today in our marketing soaked world we might call them slogans or tag lines, but because they are statements about what we believe about God we call them creeds, from the Latin word, “credo,” which means literally “I believe.”  As in “Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, factorem cæli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et invisibílium.” You don’t even have to know very much Latin to know that’s, “I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”  Credo.  I beleive.  What is it that you believe about God?  Credo.  I believe what God says about Himself.

I believe what David said about Jesus.  I believe that God spoke to Jesus, even before He was born into human flesh, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  I believe that Jesus even before He was born of the Virgin Mary was with God as the eternal Word of God and was Himself God.  I believe that God the Father had as His eternal plan, before the foundations of the world were set, that He would send that eternal Word into human flesh to show His great love for His sinful and fallen creation, humankind.  This we believe.  No one else believes these things.  If they did they could say they believed what we believe.  It is not enough to say these things are a mystery.  It is not enough to shrug your shoulders and say we can’t really know or only pastors learn these things in seminaries when your children and grandchildren ask you questions about these things.  It is not enough to believe less than what God says about Himself.  It is sin.

I said in my little email blurb that the Trinity is a great comfort for us.  And it is.  We do not have a God who delights in hiding from us.  We do not have a God who hides his great love for us, who delights in metaphysical nonsensicals and unhelpful paradoxes, transcendent and ineffable.  We have a God who tells us quite plainly who He is and most importantly how He loves us in sending His Son into the World that whoever believes in Him might have his death sentence pardoned.  We have a God who delights in telling us about Himself; a God who enjoys teaching us to know more about Himself and His great grace for us.  We have a God who even forgives our laziness and our willful ignorance of the mighty acts He was completed on our behalf.  The fact is no one less than the eternal God could have saved us from sin death and hell.  No one more than man could have died in human flesh under the penalty of the Law to satisfy the requirements of the Law.  The creeds are therefore no more than collecting in one place what God says about Himself in His Word.  The first creed, “Jesus is Yahweh!” should have been enough but as we all know sinful people like playing around with the definitions of words like what “is” means, what “kyrios” means.  So the teaching of the apostles collected in the Apostles’ Creed.  So the teaching of the Church collected in the Nicene Creed to combat Arianism and Sabellianism and Manichaeism and Mohammedanism and all the other false understandings of who Jesus is.  We have a God who delights to be known by us.

This is the great truth we have in Christ Jesus who is both eternal Lord and the Messiah of the Most High God.  No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is Lord!  Say that with me!  Jesus is Lord.  Amen.  What great joy we have from God Himself to say, “This we believe.”  Amen.

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Message for Wednesday after Pentecost

June 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Every Wednesday night we have a service, sometimes it’s evening prayer and other times a spoken Divine Service.  Tonight we used the readings for Pentecost Evening which gives us Peter’s sermon in Acts 10 and the “little Pentecost” there.  The pericopes really chop up both tonight’s text and Pentecost’s so it’s best to read them whole.

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Message for Pentecost 2015, May 24

June 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Here’s the sermon for Pentecost.  In the US this year, Pentecost fell on the weekend we observe as Memorial Day.  Not sure how this message was received, to tell the truth.  I thought it was a good example of the “two kingdoms” theology that makes up a good part of the brand identity of Lutherans.  Judge for yourself.  The text is the account of Pentecost in Acts 2.

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Pentecost20

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Sermon for Easter 7, May 17

June 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Here is the message from the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 17th.  The text for the message is Acts 1:12-25.

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