Bones

Biblical Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Full Sermon Draft

This is possible the all time greatest preaching text. As a congregant said on the way out, it is time to fix some bones. Yes it is. And we can’t do that. But the Spirit does. And not only does he fix them, he breathes life. I’m sure I can say more, but if there is one sermon I’d let speak for itself, it is this one.

Spiritual Children, Consecrated Parents

Biblical Text: John 17:11-19
Full Sermon Draft

We all start off as parents with great expectations. It doesn’t take long, and the older they get, to see those expectations give way to more realistic definitions. Instead of forming the next president we take on goals like stopping them from doing stupid stuff, or in Chris Rock’s formulation “keep them off the pole”. We might think this is miles away from Jesus especially in that High Priestly Prayer on the night he was betrayed. But I think we’d be wrong. His formation of his spiritual children, those disciples, was over. And given the fact of what Judas and Peter were about to do we might even say it was a failure. Yet what Jesus prays is akin to every Mother’s prayer – “keep them away from the evil one”. It is not a prayer of formation or heroic desire, but of salvation and preservation.

And while that prayer often gets a “not yet” response, as it did with Jesus himself. It ultimately gets a “yes”. He will not lose a single lamb that has been given to him. On that great day, his children will be kept away from the evil one. And this is because Jesus consecrated himself, dedicated himself to the purpose of saving sinners. While formation as solid adults, prayer for their well being, and all the other higher goals of parenting good and proper. The highest truth of the job is to relay that truth – whoever has the son has life, and wherever we are at however stupid, we can have the son. Teach them that truth and the good shepherd will keep them from the evil one.

Spirit Led

Biblical Texts: Acts 10:34-48, John 15:9-17
Full Sermon Draft

The Christian Life could be described as being drug kicking and screaming towards love. While we never reach perfection here in this world, if we are blessed I do think that we can outgrow the kicking a screaming part. The natural sinner in each of us will always be there, but we can become wise to ourselves and know that his or her ways leads to misery and death. Instead we listen to the Spirit and walk where He leads. The main text for this sermon is the Acts 10 story of Cornelius and Peter which I paint as something of a NT fulfillment of the Jonah story. Peter, through the Spirit overcomes his kicking and screaming, while Jonah never does. This is the difference of Pentecost which we are fast approaching, and which Acts 10 is sometimes called the Gentile Pentecost. The sermon seeks to proclaim how God has chosen us, and how we can become wise to ourselves becoming Spirit led.

Living Connected (To the Vine)

Biblical Text: John 15:1-8
Full Sermon Draft

Jesus’ saying “I am the true and vine my Father is the vinedresser” is one of those sayings that is immediately accessible but almost limitless in imagination. This sermon starts out with a contemporary example of the negative, cutting oneself off from the vine. It then explores from the text what it means to stay connected. There are two things to staying connected that come from Christ, call them the life circulating in the vine and branches, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Then there are two things that are part of the sanctified life, trials or pruning in this context and prayer. We might focus on that pruning as the big asymmetry of the Christian life, but I think that is simply life in a fallen world. If anything knowing that the Father is going to make use of them is a benefit. They could just be bad luck. The big asymmetry to me is in the time frames considered. Those branches that remove themselves wither and are burned while those that stay connected have a perpetual growing season – eternal life.

The Koan of the Shepherd

Biblical Text: John 10:11-21
Full Sermon Draft

What is the good shepherd? Can we understand it alone, or only is comparison to other things? The Good Shepherd is Jesus himself, but does it have more than romantic meaning for us today?

This sermon obviously answers yes. But it does so through the contrasts that Jesus develops. The Good Shepherd is contrasted both with The Hired Hand and with the Wolves. The contrast with the hired hand is something that Jesus alone fulfills. Christ’s alone are the sheep. The contrast with the wolves is where we have more skin in the game if you would. The wolves do two things: seize and separate. The Good shepherd: lays down his life and gathers. We can give in to the wolves plan, or we can follow the shepherd.

And when we follow the shepherd, we are incorporated into the shepherd. We put down our lives, to take them up for eternity.

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.