Advent 2 is John the Baptist week. (Advent 3 would be as well, but that week typically gets taken up by the Children’s program.) And I think that both the Baptist and his message are a little tough for us to understand, although I think we are probably approaching the time and place where they shouldn’t be. They used to require imagination, but the sermon will attempt such imagination is becoming reality. My opening question for you would be: What might make you listen to a street preacher? For I think that is akin to what John is, except that he is wildly popular. That is the space you have to get into to understand the Baptist – where a street preacher is popular. This sermon attempts to paint that picture. It also attempts help us grasp that it isn’t the street preacher antics that make John unique, but the place and the message. Come ponder just what it might the way straight, to raise up the valleys and level the hills, to do so from the desert, to do so with a Word.
Recording Note: The Choice sounded great this morning and I got a good recording, so their piece is in the recording between the OT lesson and the Epistle.
The image and the reality is all over the new and old testaments. We pray for it constantly in the Lord’s prayer. But moderns have no idea what the world King means. We don’t have a good concept what it means to receive one. And even the examples that we have, like the Queen/King of England, are not what we are talking about. When those places use the world or the thought King they don’t mean a statutory figurehead. They mean a real one. One like a lion, however nice they might be at play, all you can think is “those claws, those claws”. This sermon is an attempt to recover some of that meaning. It is also an attempt to understand how this King is still different that all the others. And finally it is an attempt to understand how we receive a king – here in time and their in eternity as Luther would explain the Lord’s prayer petition.
I hope this sermon was not a snore. It is one of those that I think is operating at a very simple level, but also I hope operating at a much deeper level. The very simple level is: a problem, a solution, and a wait. This world wears away. Good news, it will end. Until then we watch, never becoming too attached. The deeper level is the juxtaposition the title. Today, this world is an impermanent dwelling that holds within it the permanent. The core of many of the temptations of the devil, the world and our own flesh is that we trade that eternal element for some promise of immortality. I will give you all the kingdoms of the world if you worship me. The glory and fame of all the world can be yours, if you give up eternity, seeing the true God. The sermon attempts to think about this in our vampire stories – the literary example of immortal characters who are caused pain by the eternal or things that contain hints of the eternal. I think there is a great and fruitful contemplation in that juxtaposition of eternity and immortality. We watch because we are looking for eternity while spurning the flimsy offers of immortality.
This sermon is a meditation on how and what we assign meaning to. Luther in assigning meaning to the first commandment said whatever we fear, love and trust the most is our God. We all have “wonderful stones”, things we have assigned meaning, things we expect to last, that have or are often in danger of becoming our idols. We trust those stones more than anything else. Jesus’ words to all such stones – even ones that once contained the glory of the living God – is that they must come down.
For me the strongest competition to the cornerstone of Jesus Christ might be labeled an anti-stone. We’ve learned the lesson that all such temples made with hands come down. But what we then trust most is absurdity. It is a fool’s game fearing, loving or trusting anything. So we trust nothing. That likewise is a false path. Jesus says “watch lest someone lead you astray.”
But living based on trust – based on faith in Christ – in the middle of a world that is hostile to such a life is not an easy walk. As our opening hymn, the hymn I left in the recording at the end puts it, “I Walk in Danger all the Way“. The Apocalyptic accounts remind us who has it all in his hands. Yes, we walk in danger all the way, but our walk is also heavenward all the way. And along that walk we have help – like the Angel Michael from the OT lesson. We also have the examples of our Lord and the great cloud of witnesses. The Christian life is not the easy one. It is an examined life for wonderful stones that have become idols. It is assailed by temptations of shelter that are not. But it is a true life. The one who perseveres will be saved.
The big think event for this week would or should have been peace. This was the 100th anniversary of the WW1 Armistice. The text for the week was the widow’s temple offering. And we had a local congregational fact of passing a budget and the fact of stewardship.
The through line that I worked on in this sermon was this. Jesus points out the Widow as an example of faith. Her faith went in two directions. First she found what happened at that Temple to be meaningful. She supported the temple not because of the great stones that her mites wouldn’t do anything to support. She supported the temple because that is where she found the mercy and peace of God at. He faith also went outward in the fact that this God who had provided this peace was not limited to the temple, but would bestow his providence in her life. She offered the whole of her life because he trusted the promises of God which she had experienced there. In our world there are lots of things that want to say they provide peace and security. But the truth of all of them is that peace is not something we can create or every maintain. Peace is a gift of Almighty God. The history of the 20th century and the American experience of the 21st is proof of that. I didn’t include it here, but echoing Lincoln, it is beyond out ability to hallow. The only thing our great stones – our monuments – can do it point to the greater peace. And seeing that greater peace is acting as the widow. It requires faith. Specifically it requires faith in the other one who would give all he had to place the new cornerstone of the living temple – Christ. This sermon uses the example of a WW1 memorial cross that is currently under assault for exactly what it does – point not to the Armistice peace which soon failed but to the greater peace of the one who hung on the cross. The test of that peace then becomes are we willing to live out of it. Do we trust the providence of God like the widow? Or do we measure our peace and security like the others bringing their offerings. How do you measure the peace that Christ has given? Do we recognize its worth, or begrudge its price?
Probably tried to do too much. But it is a much more complex and messy answer I think. It is the mystery of faith and its sustaining in this world.
Worship Note: LSB 787, The Temple Rang with Golden Coins, is lovely simply hymn that walks the sermon through line very closely. It was our hymn of the day. I have included it at the end of the recording as a conclusion.
Who is a Saint is an interesting question. The typical answers I think fall into three categories.
a) Anyone we loved who has died. This is the generic or default answer. It is either just being nice or an unthinking universalism.
b) All those who have faith in Jesus. This the “Protestant” answer.
c) Those displaying heroic virtue. This is the “Catholic” answer.
All of these are bad answers, and all of them have a bit of the Truth. On All Saints Day (observed) this sermon attempts to ponder that question and why each one of those is a bit wrong. It also attempts to think about what a better answer would be. It then encourages us to take action in our lives. The theological engine is the distinction that Luther drew between passive and active righteousness. Passive is our righteousness before God. Only God can make saints. Active is our righteousness towards our neighbors. A tree, or a Saint, is recognized by their fruits. The sermon attempts to hear and sort and apply the word to our lives in Christ.
This is a reformation sermon reflecting on the divisions and questions of our day. My central contention is that in Luther’s Day people assumed the Justness of the collective: the unity of the church and her pronouncements, the majesty of the mass and the sacraments, the divine right of Kings and the entire sacred order. And if the society was just, then it should produce righteous members. That was Luther’s conflict. He didn’t see or feel righteous. I think ours is somewhat the inverse. We assume that at least my tribe is righteous. And if we have righteous members, we should be able to build the just society. Both of these quests are quests for righteousness/justice (the same word in the biblical languages) are pursued through the law.
But we hold that no one is justified by works of the law. One is righteous by the blood of Christ given by his grace and received in by faith. The just society is not found or made with human laws or efforts, but is see from a distance – the New Jerusalem. One day we will get there. Now, we do not seek our justice in the law, because we will be forever angry as it slips away. Now, we live by faith. And only if we life by faith are we truly free.
In some ways it is a harmless diversion. But there are other ways that the lottery, especially when it is so big and has persisted at this level, can be straight from the devil. The first part of this sermon is a old fashioned moral inventory – a preparation for confession – based on the fact of the lottery’s effect on this soul. It seemed appropriate given the text based in camels threading they way through needle’s eyes. Since it is not our typical failing it gets the shorter time, but there is the flip side of money troubles, pride in asceticism. Both of the ditches highlight how it is not possible with man. But all things are possible with God.