According to the Scriptures

Biblical Text: Luke 24:36-49
Full Sermon Draft

The Lukan resurrection texts are one long story – one long Easter. When I read it I wonder if that is authorial privilege, or Luke’s research. The eating of fish sounds so much like John’s beachside story. The road to Emmaus is uniquely Luke’s. The rest are reflections of the other gospel stories. Luke pulls them all together and tells a very tight story that focuses reflection on seeing the body of Christ in three things. The Emmaus disciples are the first in Luke to see the risen Christ, and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread which is a Lord’s Supper scene. We recognize the body in the Supper. We recognize the body is the Peace of the gathering is the next one. It is in this one that we also recognize that the body is not just a spiritual reality, but is flesh and blood. Lastly we recognize the body because the scriptures have testified to it.

This sermon starts out playing with the Nicene creed’s phrase “according to the scriptures” which was one that young Parson Brown didn’t really get. But Luke gets it, and Jesus goes to great lengths to make sure the disciples get it. This sermon meditates on those scriptures not as the proof, but as the family album. In and through those scriptures we can recognize the body of Christ. And because we can recognize it, we can also move forward in faith on the promises that are not yet.

Peace be with You

Biblical Text: John 20:19-31
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the standard text for the second Sunday in Easter, Doubting Thomas. It is paired with the epistle less from John’s first letter. The pairing of these two texts is almost perfect. This sermon stakes out three points: 1) The pride of place in the Thomas passage should not be the sight of the body, but Jesus’ “Peace be with You”. It is this proclamation of the gospel and the shorthand for the entire story that enables all the disciples to truly discern the resurrection. 2) Jesus re-explains just what that peace is about. That peace of God is both the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the issuance of the Keys. The Keys are the authority to forgive sins which are given to the church and to individual members. We as Christians are at peace because we are forgiven. Because we are forgiven we can “see” the resurrection rightly. 3) When we live by the story (Peace be with you), we have fellowship with the Father. That fellowship is unto eternal life.

This Morning Is Different

Biblical Text: Mark 16:1-8
Full Sermon Draft

I didn’t do my normal word cloud for this, instead above is the Icon of Mary Magdalene. She was one of the Mary’s that went to the tomb to spice the body. The icon captures both of those things. In her left is the jar of spice, but in her right is that bright red egg. That egg is a very ancient symbol of the resurrection. That bright red is the blood that bought this day.

The sermon focuses on the uniqueness of Mark. It ends with Mary running from the tomb afraid. It is an existential question. We know what happened with Mary. She took courage and told the others. Mark’s point is a question to us. We’ve seen the empty tomb. We’ve heard the resurrection. It demands we live in hope. Do we take courage? Or do we stay in fear? This Morning is different. Choose to live.

Notes on a Saturday (Re-upped)

HarrowingofHell1The scriptures are rather silent about today. The Nicene creed goes from “he suffered and was buried” to “and on the third day he rose”. Notice how the Nicene creed even skips the flat declaration of Good Friday, he died. The apostles creed though states it “was crucified, died and was buried”. The east, the seat of the Nicene dealt with what we would call Nestorian sensitivities. The west, the seat of the apostles, was clearer. That apostles creed continues with the line “he descended into hell”. It is a line that has baffled moderns for a long time. A bafflement that I think stems from an obscuring to the scriptural teaching. Not a loss but a shift of emphasis. The creedal hope is resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The obscuring is something like my eternal soul goes to be with Jesus. Going to be with Jesus is true, and it is comforting, but it obscures the real hope. Our hope is that in Christ we will attain the resurrection of the dead and life in the age to come. The descent into hell, only really attested to scripturally in 1 Peter 3:18-20, is for a single purpose.

Like I often say about Pentecost, Easter did something. It actually did many things, but I’m focusing on one thing here. What Peter says is Christ “proclaiming to the spirits in prison”, the artists have a very clear image of. My favorite is the hymn verse from Hark the Glad Sound. He comes the prisoners to release/In Satan’s bondage held/The gates of brass before him burst/the iron fetters yield. (Hark the Glad Sound LSB349). But visually the iconographers have it.Harrowhell2 I’ve placed a few around this post. This is the harrowing of hell. The psalmist would talk of “going down to the pit”. The word that usually stands behind that is sheol. And it is one of those difficult to translate words because our conceptual framework has shifted. The KJV often just translated it as hell. Except for the pagan undertones you might say underworld or abode of shades. Before Good Friday and Easter that flaming sword keeping us out of Paradise was there. We were in bondage to the spirits of this dark realm. What descent into hell means is the victory parade of the faithful souls out of sheol to be with Christ. Adam and Noah and Abraham and Jacob and David and Sarah and Ruth and Leah and Rahab and you get the picture. In fact look at this picture and you see the crown on the one soul. That is not the “crown of life” which would simply be the nimbus or the halo, but the representation of David, freed by his Royal Son.
Harrowhell4

The is the harrowing of hell, a term I think that needs to come back into everyday usage. If we talk of a harrowing, it is an escape, a jailbreak by divine means, from situations that we got ourselves into and can’t get out of. When we confess that he descended into hell, we confess that Christ has come to our lowest point and brought us out. That lowest point is death to sin. Appropriately Peter continues in that next verse (1 Peter 3:21-22) to talk about baptism. Baptism is our harrowing. Every remembrance of our baptism (confession & absolution, confirmation, awakenings through life) are a harrowing. We have been harrowed out of the chains we often put ourselves in. This last painting I think gets at the core of this victory parade. That carved out tomb was deeper than we can imagine. But Christ has knocked in the doors. Satan is beaten to the side, and the saints marched out from the tomb with Christ. We too will rest in that tomb. But unlike those in former days, we rest with Christ. And we rest in the certain hope of a resurrection like his. A Harrowing is a victory parade. It goes past Calvary and the grave, but like going to Jerusalem it is uphill all the way singing the Halleluiahs.

Harrowhell3

Seven Words (Good Friday Meditation)

Meditation Drafts

The service is a Good Friday Tenebrae service built around the seven last words from the cross. The Choir sings an opening, middle and closing as well as the texts. After each text there is a short meditation on it. The congregation responds singing the hymnals meditation LSB 447, Jesus, In Your Dying Woes. Then slowly, one-by-one, seven candles are extinguished.

It is a unique service and a unique preaching chance. It is seven mini-sermons. It is seven funeral sermons in a way. Words that are full of pathos, and prayerfully hope.

I received; I delivered (Maundy Thursday)

Biblical Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
Maundy Thursday 1.0

The job of a pastor could be described as putting forward very old things, things we all know by heart, in ways that make the heart recognize them again. That is how Paul starts his presentation of the the sacrament of the altar: what I received, I delivered. Part of what he delivers are two suggestions or even injunctions: 1) discern or recognize the body and 2) examine yourself. This sermon attempts to put forward at least three ways of recognizing the body, and then leaning on Luther’s preparation questions and the confessional address we started the service with is presses the examination.

Old Cat

Biblical Text: Mark 15:1-47
Full Sermon Draft

The Sermon is for Palm/Passion Sunday, so the service starts out with those Hosannas and the Palm procession, it moves through Pilate’s palace, and ends at Golgotha and the tomb. There are a myriad of subjects possible, but the with Mark’s text what stood out to me this week was Pilate’s repeated pawing, “The King of the Jews”. He’s having perverse fun with the Chief Priests, and the crowds, and even with Jesus. He’s abusing his office for entertainment. The sermon compares it to an old cat and a mouse. The irony is that Pilate, the de facto king of the Jews, actually has the King of the Jews before him. And all throughout Jesus is nothing but truthful. The test is can we see that. Can we see the King not just in his purple, but also in His suffering? Old cats grow blind, all tyrants fall, but the King shall come when morning dawns. Can we see it?

Worship note: I’ve left in a verse or two of several of our hymns today. The hymns of Palm Sunday are such a big part of the experience.
We fade in with the choir processional – Hosanna
In between the split reading is No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet verse 2 (LSB 444)
At the conclusion of the readings is Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted verse 2 (LSB 451)
The conclusion is Ride On Ride On in Majesty (LSB 441)
All of these hymns in their fullness deal with seeing the King on the Throne which is the cross.

Choose Your Prince

Biblical Text: Mark 10:32-45
Full Sermon Draft

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell is a fascinating character. Nobody would ever believe me, but I once wrote up a Character Study of the guy for school that was titled – “Historical Libel”. The thesis was what she did for the man much better. Anyway, one of her lines she gives him is “Choose your prince carefully.” It is a fascinating insight to the character and the time. Mantel’s books don’t have much theology, well, because Henry’s Reformation wasn’t really about theology, but that phrase I think is surprisingly deep theologically. This sermon starts there. But moves into a meditation on Jesus’ words that the son of man cam not to be served but to serve. There are plenty of moralistic sermons about how we can serve God. I get some of that in here riffing off our Hymn of the Day – “Go to Dark Gethsemane”. But for me the much more fascinating pondering is choosing what we serve. Thinking in gentile lines we are aiming not to serve but to Lord it over. But the truth is that these deals with the devil, the world and our flesh always end in serving them. It is only Jesus whose yoke it easy. Because his hierarchy is inverted. The greatest was the slave of all. So Choose Your Prince, carefully.

Subjects and Objects

Biblical Text: Numbers 21:4-9
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The brass snake the Moses elevated in the desert has an interesting post history. The little snippet is 2 Kings 18:4 where after hearing nothing about it for centuries, we get the notice that King Hezekiah destroys it as part of a leveling of the “high places” because Israel had been sacrificing to it. An example of how items of piety can migrate into idolatry. But that is not even in the sermon.

The sermon poses a question at the start. What is our response, how do we act, when life hits us instead of we hitting life? What do we do when we are the objects and not the subjects?

It then ponders that question through the light given both by Moses’ bronze serpent and its greater fulfillment the cross. We really have two options, either that of faith, or that of anger and despair. As comfortable perceived justified as anger, despair and victimhood might feel, they are all venom. We must leave them at the foot of the cross to live, to enter the promised land, to not die in the wilderness.

One post preaching reflection. I think this is a very effective and necessary sermon. But there is one thing that I know I did which is homiletic gold but on shaky exegetical grounds. The snakes are completely spiritualized. The venom is the effects of that sin that we must live with. I think that this is justified as the fruit of reflection. But if there are any homiletic practitioners who give this a read/listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

When God Enters the Temple

Biblical Text: John 2:13-22
Full Sermon Draft

We are often pretty good at realizing when something that shouldn’t be at the center of our life is, and when something that should be isn’t. We just aren’t that good at changing. That is part of the message of the Cleansing of the Temple which the evangelist John makes the theme of the ministry of Jesus. We are not good at centering the right things, but Jesus has come to cleanse us and to keep us centered. The Temple was supposed to be at the center of the life of Israel, and of course it was a “true myth” in Lewis’ terms. God really was in the temple at the center of Israel. But we are very good as creating distance and de-centering the things that should be there. Jesus cleansed that temple and pronounced the new one. The temple of the new covenant would not be made of stone, but of living stones. The cornerstone which would be Christ. This sermon thinks through what it means when God comes to the temple – both old and new.