Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | January 6, 2013

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 (Pastor Tomczak’s farewell)

Let God’s stars guide you to Christ

  • Order of Service: Word and Sacrament, p26
  • Lessons:  Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:2-12, Matthew 2:1-12
  • Hymns:  56, 83, 79, 67

Downloadable Version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh! 

I know that some of you are nervous and afraid.  You’re nervous and afraid, just as I am, about the change that’s coming.  After over six years among you, your pastor is leaving.  And when a pastor leaves questions pop up.  “What next?”  “Will we get a pastor?”  “When will we get a pastor?”  “What will he be like?”  “How will we get anything done without our own full-time pastor?”  If I had the answer to any of those questions, I would give them to you, but I don’t.  I don’t know the mind and purposes of the Lord, so I don’t know what’s next for St. Mark beyond the arrival of Pastor Gabb as your vacancy pastor later this week.

But I’d like you to consider something.  The Wise Men, these Magi, did not have pastors that we know of.  Yet they managed to find Christ, to worship Christ, and, we assume, to enjoy the bliss of heaven.  King Herod, surrounded by pastors, these chief priests and teachers, couldn’t find Christ, except to try to kill Him.

I’m not suggesting that pastors aren’t important.  Or that they’re a problem.  That’s the furthest thing from the truth.  Scripture makes it clear that the pastoral office is a gift of God.  God instituted the preaching and teaching office.  He gives pastors.  He sends pastors.  He wants Christians to have pastors to preach the Word to you, to baptize you, to give you the Lord’s Supper.  So, calling a new pastor isn’t optional.  What I am suggesting is that we don’t give pastors more credit than they deserve.  I say this for you and for myself.

I say this to warn myself to avoid the pastor’s trap known as the “Messiah complex.”  I dare not think and act as if I am Jesus Christ here and without me all would fall.  That’s blasphemy.  And so, as I prepare to leave, I leave things in the hands of others.  I leave things in the hand of the Council, the Congregation, and the vacancy pastor, trusting, better, knowing, that they will do fine without me.  Because I’m not Jesus.

I say this to you, so that you don’t think that the departure of one pastor and the uncertainty of a vacancy means that the sky is falling, the world is ending, and the apocalypse is upon you.  Because they’re not.  To think so is to deny the God who says, Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5, NIV84).  That doesn’t mean there won’t be uncertainty, or struggles, or awkwardness.  Some things won’t get done or done the same way, because others will do them, others will learn to do them, and new styles of doing and leading will manifest themselves.

I say this to remind you that it’s not about the pastor.  Again, the Magi had none, and things worked out.  Herod had many, no doubt skilled and learned and capable, and he (and they) tried to murder Christ.  So, if it’s not about the pastor, what is it about? Read More…

Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 31, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 98:3 (New Year’s Eve)

God keeps His resolutions

  • Order of Service:  Divine Service II
  • Lessons:  Genesis 17:1-7, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 1:68-75
  • Hymns: 61, 247, 750 (1-3, 5-6), 593

Downloadable Version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

If we could list all the things we’ve forgotten, can you imagine how long that list would be?  From where we put something, to when we were supposed to meet someone, to what we were supposed to do for someone, we forget, forget, forget.  Forgetting must be one of the most dreadful consequences of sin.  To have this brain, and yet have it act so insubordinately so often as to forget things we want to remember.

Think of the various stages of forgetting.  There’s that terror when you first realize you’ve forgotten something.  Then you furiously comb through your memory banks. And then there’s the guilt, the guilt of facing what you’ve forgotten when you have to confess your forgetfulness.

Now go to the side of the one who feels that something has been forgetting by someone else.  You wonder, “Have they forgotten our appointment?”  You grant a few minutes in the assumption that they’re late.  As the clock ticks and they don’t arrive, or no phone call or text comes begging pardon for being late, you begin to think, “They have forgotten.”  Now it’s disappointment.  Now it’s anger.  “Do they care for me that little?  Do they respect me that little?  Do they feel that little?  What if I did this to them?”

Think of God as someone who forgets.  It’s hard to do, because it’s so ingrained in our minds that God is all-knowing and all-seeing, in other words, all-remembering.  And yet, when you come across the word “remember” in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, and see how many times the subject of that verb is “God,” as in, “God remembered,” you stop and think.  “How can God remember?  It’s not as if He forgets.”

And He doesn’t.  And yet. Read More…

Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 30, 2012

Sermon on Colossians 3:15

Don’t kill the ump!

  • Order of Service:  Morning Praise, p45
  • Lessons:  1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26, Hebrews 2:10-18, Luke 2:41-52
  • Hymns: 45, 37, 58

Downloadable Version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

We have a love-hate relationship with umpires.  On the one hand, when they make the right call, we love ‘em.  On the other hand, when they blow it, or we think they’ve blown it, we hate them.

It seems like we simply tolerate refs.  We know they serve a purpose, but we’d prefer for them to be seen and not heard.  I don’t hear a lot of praise for umps:  “Way to go, Zebras, way to go!”  I do hear pretty sharp criticism, all the way up to, “Kill the umps!”

Part of the problem is about control.  Something you hear a lot in sports, from the players, from the coaches, from broadcasters, from fans, is, “Let ‘em play.”  People appeal to the umps to swallow their whistles.  People hate it “when the refs decide the game.”  And we hate thinking, “If only for that call, we would have won.”

We don’t just hate that in sports, we hate that throughout life.  We don’t like our parents telling us what to do.  We don’t like the boss telling us what to do.  We don’t like our teachers telling us what to do.  We don’t like the government telling us what to do.  “Let me play,” we say.  “Let me do my thing.”  You know who else we hate to hear this from?  God.  “Let me play, Lord.  Let me do my thing.  Don’t interfere.”

We don’t want anyone in charge except us, least of all some all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, all-meddling God.  We don’t like being told to do this and avoid that.  We don’t like being told what’s right and wrong.  Parents do that.  Bosses do that.  Teachers do that.  Governments do that.  And now God does that, too? Read More…

Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 25, 2012

Sermon on John 1:5 and 1:14 (Christmas Day)

Trying to grasp Jesus

  • Order of Service:  Divine Service II, CW:Supplement, p28
  • Lessons:  Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-9, John 1:1-14
  • Hymns: 62, 63, 39, 61

Downloadable Version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh!

“Keep the merry!  Dump the myth!”  So cries out a billboard in Times Square, where millions walk and shop and soon will watch the ball drop ushering in 2013.  Above the words “Keep the merry,” Santa Claus.  Above the words “Dump the myth,” the crucified Christ.  You can thank the group American Atheists for this wit.

“I think that the stories are made up.”  So blogs the Rev. Dr. Don Carlson, assistant to the bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The Reverend Doctor says that in a blog post discussing the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’ birth.  He then unites himself to the atheists by saying:  “They are myth.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of the horror in Newtown, Connecticut, a news-anchor on CNN interviewed a Jewish rabbi to get the real story behind the shootings, from God’s perspective.  That is, “Why did God let this happen?”  She began by ridiculing someone who suggested that part of our problem could be that we’ve removed God from so much of our lives voluntarily that He has graciously consented to stay where we’ve put him.  This irritated the CNN anchor, leading her to say, “God is a gentleman and thus will not save 20 children until we invite him back into the public school system?  How can people get away with this kind of thing?”  The Rabbi she interviewed took the “Why did God do this?” question in another direction by saying, “We need a new approach to religion.”  We “have a right to challenge God.”  We shouldn’t just “always surrender in silent submission to God’s will.”

And thus we’ve proved John right:  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:5, NIV84).   The Light of the world baffles the darkness.  It baffles the atheists.  It baffles the liberal theologian.  It baffles the outside observer of events.  It baffles our own sinful natures.  We struggle to get a hold of it, to grasp it, to understand it.  We struggle to understand Him, Jesus, Christ, the Word – the Word made flesh. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see?  Hail the incarnate Deity?  God gestating?  God developing?  God going through the birth canal?  God crucified?  God bleeding?  God buried?  Word, water, bread, wine, we find God in those things?

And so, in a way, it’s good that things like this happen each Christmas. Read More…

Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 24, 2012

Sermon on Titus 2:11-14 (Christmas Eve)

Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving

Downloadable version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

We like to say:  “This is the gift that keeps on giving.”  Many businesses apply that title to their product.    They hope to induce someone to buy their thing because it’s such an incredible gift – it keeps on giving.  Most of the time, we discover that at some point the gift stops giving.  The subscription runs out.  The sparkle fades.  The interest isn’t what it used to be.  Some do better than others, but, in the end, every gift has only a certain, limited life of giving in it.

Except one.  Since it’s Christmas Eve, and since you’re at church, and since it’s a Christian church, I feel pretty confident that you already know where I’m going with this.  That won’t stop me from saying it again.  But I think as we consider Titus 2 tonight, we’ll see it from some different angles than we’re used to.

One of our mistakes is to view Jesus only in the past tense.  Jesus came.  Jesus lived.  Jesus died, etc.  We think of the gift as something given thousands of years ago in a time far removed from us and our experiences and understanding.  On the one hand, it’s true.  Those things happened in the past, and it’s important to acknowledge that they are historical facts, whether they happened 2,000 years ago or 20.  Mary did give birth to Jesus.  Jesus did live for 30-some years.  Jesus did die on the cross under Pontius Pilate.

But on the other hand, these facts really do transcend past history.  I’m not saying that as so many liberal theologians do, those guys who try to separate the historical Jesus from the biblical Christ, who like to say, “What does Jesus mean to you?”  What I mean is that while the Word became flesh at a certain moment in history and lived, died, and rose again on days we can mark on a calendar – “While Quirinius was governor of Syria,” “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” “crucified under Pontius Pilate,” – what He did was so much more than merely historical.  Paul tells Titus that the saving grace of God appeared to all men.

That phrase “all men” makes Christmas more than merely historical. Read More…

Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 23, 2012

Sermon on Genesis 4:1-2, 6-8. 25-26, 5:1-5

A case of mistaken identity

  • Order of Service:  Common Service, p15
  • Lessons:  Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-55
  • Hymns: 23, 378, 32, 20

Downloadable Version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

It was an understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.  After nine months of pregnancy, after the first pain-filled labor and delivery, Eve holds her newborn son in her arms and thinks, “He’s the One!  I have brought forth the man God promised, the Lord who would crush the devil’s head!”  She named him Cain.

However long Eve may have felt that way, it all came to an end on the day Cain crushed his brother’s skull out in the back forty.  After God rejected his offering because he brought it without faith, brought it in the hopes of gaining some favor or credit from God, Cain looked and saw that God approved of Abel’s offering, for Abel brought it with faith.  And Cain hated Abel.  And killed him.  The sin that the LORD warned Cain about, the sin crouching at the door of Cain’s heart, the sin waiting, hoping, dreaming to have Cain, got him.  And destroyed him.  And, along the way, proved that Cain was not the Seed of the woman who would crush the devil’s head.  He was not God’s Savior.  The farthest thing from it.

Even before Cain murdered his brother, Adam and Eve and their descendants seemed to grow less certain that God would send this Savior-Seed in their own lifetime.  They name their second, ill-fated son, Abel, which means “breath” or “vapor.”  God graciously replaces Abel with Seth and he has a son whom he names Enosh, which means “human” or “ordinary.”  While believing in God’s promised salvation no less, all these descendants of Adam and Eve realize that God will work in His own time.  And that they should be cautious in identifying the Lord’s chosen Man, the Lord’s Savior and Messiah.

Because if they didn’t learn it from Cain, they learned it along the way: sin messes things up.  It started with Cain murdering his brother.  And continues as one of Cain’s descendants introduces polygamy and war into the world.  And Adam realized that while God made him in God’s image and likeness, he was producing sons in his, Adam’s, image and likeness.  Seth and his brothers and sisters lied to mom and dad, stole from each other, hit each other, cheated each other.  And then, they died.  There’s the sad refrain of Genesis 5:  And then he died (Genesis 5:5, NIV84).  A refrain we still sing today.  If after all the lying, cheating, stealing, hating, hurting, and murdering, we don’t get that there’s all kinds of problems, problems not with the world, but with us, you, me, mankind, then death seals the deal.  It’s literally the last nail in the coffin.

But we still make the same mistake today.  We still misidentify things. Read More…

Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 21, 2012

Christmas Season Schedule at St. Mark

Come join us as we worship the Word made flesh this Christmas season:

  • Christmas Eve — Monday, December 24, 6:30pm, a service of Lessons and Carols
  • Christmas Day — Tuesday, December 25, 10:30am, Divine Service with Holy Communion
  • First Sunday after Christmas — Sunday, December 30, 10:30am, Divine Service
  • New Year’s Eve — Monday, December 31, 6:30pm, Divine Service with Holy Communion
  • Festival of Epiphany — Sunday, January 6, 10:30am, Divine Service with Holy Communion
Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 19, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 85:1-8

We need what the Holy Spirit has to give

  • Order of Service:  Meditation on the Creed
  • Lessons:  Luke 1:57-80, Psalm 85:1-8
  • Hymns:  12, 275, 753 (1-4), 6

Downloadable Version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

“Oops, I did it again.”  “I slipped up.”  “I screwed up.”  “I relapsed.”  Here you have a few of the ways in which we acknowledge sinning.  They tend to minimize sin.  They make sin a slight fault, an error in judgment, a mistake.  Not good, but, you know, not the end of the world or anything.

The Bible doesn’t minimize the sins of a Christian: “The dog returns to its vomit.”  It’s no small, slight thing to sin, especially when you’re a believer in Christ.  The apostle John says in his first letter, No one who lives in him keeps on sinning (1 John 3:6a, NIV84).  Yet the same apostle says, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1:8, NIV84).  These two claims seem to contradict.  “The Christian doesn’t keep on sinning.”  “You know you sin!”  Our psalm does something similar, Let them not return to folly, the sons of Korah sing (Ps. 85:8, NIV84).  Yet in verses four to seven the singers plead with God to restore them again, to revive them again, to grant them salvation…again!  Because they’ve sinned.

Some speculate that the Spirit gave these words sometime after the return from exile.  Some events hinted at in the psalm point to the time of Nehemiah, Haggai, and Malachi.  Verse one talks about God showing favor to the land and restoring Israel’s fortunes, a possible reference to the return of exiles under Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel.  Verses two and three recall God forgiving sins and setting aside His wrath.  Through the prophet Jeremiah the LORD said, “You will seek me in captivity and find me” (cf. Jeremiah 29:14).   Verse twelve talks about harvesting land again, which might refer to the end of a famine God sent during the time of Haggai, because the people cared more for building their homes than rebuilding God’s Temple.

And yet, despite that, the people did it again.  They slipped up.  They screwed up.  They fell back into the old ways.  They relapsed.  They returned to their vomit.  They kept on sinning.  And they know, as we know, what a fearful thing it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God.  We think of the earth opening up to swallow rebels.  We think of poisonous snakes bringing death.  We think of plagues of flies and locusts and rivers of blood.  We think of the death of the firstborn.  We think of the eternal fires of hell, prepared for the devil and his angels, but opened for humans too.

So they did what any sinning Christian would do.  They tried to go back in time. Read More…

Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 15, 2012

A prayer and some thoughts on the Connecticut tragedy

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! On us!

Dear Lord, be with those suffering in Connecticut today! Send your Spirit to fix the eyes of those who were spared and those who lost loved ones on You, the source of comfort and joy and peace in all tribulation!

“In this world you will have trouble, take heart, I have overcome the world!” — Jesus, to His disciples, John 16.

From Pastor Tomczak:
“It is exceedingly hard to take all our thoughts captive to Christ and hear him say, ‘I AM in control.’ Today is one of those days, where, with Luther, we remember that He is God, and so He is beyond us. If we understood, than we would be God.

“Today is a day to remind us that our own precious freedoms must be balanced with the lives and cares and concerns of our neighbor. Today is a day to hug our children tighter and share with them once more the love of Jesus who loves little children. And today is also a day, as Ecclesiastes says, to mourn, to weep, to cry for what sin has brought into the world.

“Yesterday I studied my sermon text for next Sunday (Advent 4), the story of Cain and Abel. We see just how hopeless things are in a sin-drenched world apart from Christ. As Judgment Day comes, as sin increases, as faith decreases, there remains only the God-man crucified and risen, dead for our sins, raised for our justification.”
Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | December 12, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 24:1-2

We take nothing, because God gives us everything

  • Order of Service:  Meditation on the Commandments
  • Lessons: Luke 1:26-56, Psalm 24:1-2
  • Hymns: 702, 3, 285 (1, 8, 11-12), 24

Downloadable version

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. 

At first glance these words of David don’t seem too controversial.  The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters (Psalm 24:1-2, NIV84).  But what David does next reveals the controversial nature of these words:  Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?  Who may stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false (vv3-4).  That makes sense if everything belongs to the LORD.  If it’s the LORD’s, He gets to set the rules.  He gets to determine who comes and goes and how and when they come and go.  He gets to include and exclude.  It’s His, after all.

And so these words are bitterly controversial, for they are confrontational.  They confront us with the issue of ownership.  Ownership brings to mind the law.  You invent something, you take out a patent to prove that it’s your idea and your product.  You write some book or poem or piece of music and you copyright it, to prove that it’s yours.  You own it.  An ancient rule of law says that possession is nine-tenths of the law.  If you’ve got it, the burden of proof falls upon the person who does not to show that it’s theirs.  “How can I have stolen this?  It’s in my house.  I have this receipt.  I’m here.”  Squatter’s rights, we sometimes call this.  Among siblings and families and friends the words commonly used are “shotgun” and “dibs.”  You call “shotgun” to reserve your seat in the car, or announce dibs on your favorite part of the Christmas turkey

And here’s the Holy Spirit, through King David announcing a copyright and patent, calling shotgun and dibs, on behalf of the LORD.  On everything.  The earth is the Lord’s.  Everything in the earth is the Lord’s.  The world is the Lord’s.  All who live in it are the Lord’s.  And so, very quickly, every moment of our lives becomes a moment in which the Seventh Commandment is in play.  “You shall not steal,” the LORD told Israel, and we must understand that to really begin with, “You shall not steal…from me, the Lord your God!”  He has money and property, both material and intellectual.  In fact all money and all property, all things material, all things intellectual, all things physical and spiritual, human and animal, they are His.  He owns them.  For the simple reason, David says, that the LORD made them.  They’re His, for, or “because,” He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.

Genesis 1 announces that the LORD possesses all things, for all things come from Him as the Source.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said…. (Genesis 1:1-3a, NIV84).  And from the waters God made emerged the land.  And from that land emerged the plants and trees and animals.  And finally man from the dust of the ground and Adam’s rib.

But, as Peter says, man forgets this. Read More…

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