Humbled and Exalted


Biblical Text: Luke 18:11-19
Full Sermon Draft

The parable and the life picture in the text may not on first glance appear to go together. What do the a compare and contrast of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector at prayer have to do with mothers bringing babies to Jesus? But the theme running through both is humility and spiritual pride. The kingdom belongs to the children, the tax collector went down justified, while the Pharisee exalted himself, and the disciples subtly sought to do the same.

This sermon grounds humility/pride in the second commandment, how we use God’s name. It examines the coarse form of pride of the Pharisee, but also the subtle pride of the disciples, and how both of these play in our life. It presents Jesus as the one who humbled himself for us and was exalted for us. It concludes with the response of faith both now as children under the cross and then when we come into our inheritance.

Recording note: Two items: 1) I think the recording is good, but the line volume was quite low, the raw file had to be amplified which often has the effect of bring forward background noise. I don’t think it is too bad, but if it is worse than I think, please let me know. 2) I left in the recording our final hymn, LSB 573, Lord ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee. I think this hymn captures perfectly the spiritual humility or childlikeness the text call for. Stanza one covers the coarse spiritual pride that I can be righteous in myself, I cannot. Stanza two ponders how that grace works on us while the world yet enthralls, the spiritual pride of claiming the grace, but not for the Kingdom itself but for our own glory – “to thy heavenly glories blind. And stanza three ends as all theology must, in the praise of a doxology, the calling on the name of god in praise and thanks. One of my top 10 hymns. It doesn’t hurt that the tune it is set to is a the slightly melancholy catnip of O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE shared with the great Lenten hymn by Savonarola (he of the bonfire of vanities) Jesus, Refuge of the Weary. The life of Savonarola is fitting meditation for the theme of spiritual pride and humility.

On the Radio (KFUO)

In case anybody would like to hear a bible study. I was on KFUO-AM this past Tuesday with the morning homily and bible study. We looked at Matt 14:1-21. Here is the link

Don’t Lose Heart


Biblical Text: Luke 18:1-8
Full Sermon Draft

Have you ever read a biblical passage that just doesn’t make sense or maybe I should say makes sense in very bad ways? Then this sermon is for you. This text is one that has often struck me wrong and is one that when I pushed or heard others ask question the explanations would just “keep digging.” When I hit a passage like this I typically find one of three things: 1) the translators have chosen a particular word or phrase that carries the wrong connotations or ignores the larger context, 2) the cultural assumptions of the writers are just different than ours or 3) I have a sin problem that is more or less directly being addressed by the text. In the first two categories it is not that our English translations are bad, we should just recognize that the task of translation is an art. With this text I think it falls into my first category. So, this sermon starts with my problem, which I think would probably be familiar, and attempts to think our way to something that doesn’t make Jesus a liar or the Father a cretin. Hopefully the path is full of the gospel, helping us not to lose heart.

Worship note: I’ve left in our final hymn of the day. Lutheran Service Book 652 – Father, We Thank Thee. The text is from the Didache, the earliest catechism of the church from the 2nd century. I left it in because I think it captured the two main points almost perfectly: 1) the Father that Jesus reveals is full of compassion for the sinner and 2) that we do not lose heart by staying connected in prayer. The second verse is a mighty example of the prayer “your Kingdom come”.

Lesser and Greater


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

Recording Note: Sorry, the live recording was unusable, so this is a re-recording after the fact.

I was sure walking into the pulpit this morning that I had failed. I was a page or more short. And I felt like that shortness wasn’t because I had successfully condensed a good word, but simply because I had wrestled with the text and lost. The Samaritan Leper is an easy story to just make into a moralistic word. There is nothing wrong with saying “give thanks”, the law is good and wise, but such often comes off not as “give thanks” but “give thanks because there are starving children in China”. There is always something specious about that old common phrase to get kids to eat. It doesn’t bring about thanks. It rarely made you eat your vegetables. So what I was struggling with was a way to preach not just “give thanks” as the law, but to make thanksgiving like the Samaritan Leper, full of wonder and joy and recognition. I thought I had failed, but somewhat surprising to me is that I got more good feedback than I would have expected. My inner cynic would say that is because it is only 10 minutes long, but I’m going to dismiss him as the crank he is. The Spirit takes the lessor and makes it greater.

Worship Note: Because of the recording problem you won’t hear it, but an important thing was this service started with a baptism. Baptism’s place in the sermon’s conclusion rests partly on what we had all witnessed that morning. Also, I just want to put this here. Lutheran Service Book 788, Forgive Us Lord, for Shallow Thankfulness, was the hymn of the day, surrounded by the staple hymns of Thanksgiving. This is also probably part of the rescue. Those are some of the best hymns in Christendom. But 788 is a powerful text. It is a comparatively modern hymn from 1965. I could wish that the text had a better tune, although Sursum Corda is not bad. It is the text that carries a necessary message about recognizing the greater and less, and not confusing them. The fifth stanza stands out to me: Forgive us, Lord for feast that knows not fast/for joy in things that meanwhile starve the soul/for walls and wars that hide your mercies vast/and blur our vision of the Kingdom goal. I’m sure it was written by a old fuzzy commie, but one that never let his politics become unmoored from the signs and wonders of the true kingdom.

Remembrance (October Newsletter)

Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. – Isaiah. 44:21

I’ve never been a specific date person. If you asked me how old I am, I’d have to calculate it. Probably after looking at my driver’s license to check the date. And I recognize that there are people who get offended when you forget specific dates, but such things to me have usually been abstractions. It is real hard for me to fix emotion to an abstract calendar. There are concrete things that make me recall past events. For example walking around Darien Lake this summer one of the things that is unmissable is the strollers and little kids being carried on shoulders. Ethan is now past riding on shoulders. But that concrete experience brought to mind the three-year-old we might have been carrying around. Another one would be an upcoming happy event. By the end of the year we will have the car paid off and be back to no car payments. Seeing as the car I drive is almost 14 years old and well over 100,000 miles that might mean it’s my turn. I haven’t driven a new-ish car since the one I leased in 1998 when I got my job at IBM and kids were still just a thought. But I’m in no hurry to lose the Santa Fe. A practical reason is I’m cheap, let’s say frugal to be nice. But that car was my brother’s. He had just finished paying it off when he passed away seven years ago already. Time like an ever rolling stream, soon bears us all away.

Remembrance is a tricky thing. The young are unburdened by it. The old can wallow in nostalgia over things that never actually were. The constant drumbeat of crack church consultants is relevance. Stay in the now looking to the near future. But that has never been the way the people of God have operated. The proclamation of the Kingdom – OT and NT – has always started with the call repent, and repentance is an act of remembrance. It is a remembrance of whose we are – “remember these things, O Jacob…I formed you.” It is a remembrance of His words and His ways – “you are my servant”. Repentance is always an act of memory.

But if that was all it was about, to hell with it. My remembering ends the day I do, maybe earlier. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may as the poet says. But when the bible talks remembrance it may start with repentance, but it always points to something bigger. “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD (Psalm. 25:7)!” “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke. 23:42).” Our remembrance ultimately fails. As much as I might be willing to fix the Santa Fe, eventually I won’t be able to, as Jerry’s experience with a model year newer recently reminded me. What the Psalmist begs for is not his ability to remember, but that God would remember him according to his steadfast love. Like the thief on the cross asking the innocent lamb, “remember me”. That is the promise. “Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.”

The church’s remembrance is not a false nostalgia, neither is it focused on a myopic short term relevance. It is sustained in the now, by looking far. By looking to the fulfillment of that promise that all Israel shall be remembered. By looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Means and Extremes


Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

Actually hearing Jesus is tough. What I mean by that isn’t that listening is tough, but that what he is attempting to teach is just so foreign to both our natural ways of thinking and our learned ways. The text today in the context of the the Gospel according to Luke is actually a non-confrontational part. Things should be low key, but Jesus’ teaching might be at its most extreme. And that is part of the mystery of faith and its danger. Wisdom rightly would tell us to avoid the extremes, except when the extreme is what is true. That is the mystery of Jesus. He is extreme, but he is true.

This sermon develops that theme. It suggests that this mystery is grounded in the two natures of Christ. And it suggests that our experience of of being bound either to sin or to Christ is also an expression of this mystery. We so want to be in the middle, in the mean, but truth is at the edges. If you listen I hope it inspires some good contemplation, a hearing of Jesus. And at hearing an attempt not to settle for the mean, but to live the tension of Christian extreme.

I did not include any of the hymns today primarily because the recording quality wasn’t quite there. Hymns are so much better live. (Sermons too for that matter.) So please, take this as an invite to come next Sunday. Blessings.

A Name from the Mouth of the Lord


Text: Luke 16:19-30
Full Sermon Draft

I broke a rule today. One of the main sermon rules is pick a point or a theme and stick with it. You can’t develop more than one in the time allowed, and your listeners can’t absorb more than one. But today I had three things. There was the highly moralistic point of the lesson in its context following last week. Charity is not a false lesson. It is also one that we need to hear. But the rich man and Lazarus is more than a moral. The second was also short. I’ve heard and read way to many sermons that construct an entire picture of heaven and hell from this example. That is an abuse of the text. The sermon tells you why.

But then I turn toward the point that I think is deeper. “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” The moral point is true, but it depends upon two things embedded in that phrase – faith and the word. Everything that happens – even a man rising from the dead – can be interpreted in different ways. People will go to great lengths to ignore or explain away things that are contrary to their monetary benefit or settled beliefs. The message of Jesus – of the cross – is contrary to both in this life. It has always been a stumbling block. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God. And what that power of God has done, by the waters of baptism and the word, is give us a name. Like poor Lazarus, we have a name. The world would surely know the rich man’s name, but we do not. Jesus didn’t tell it. But he knew Lazarus. Like he knows ours.

Worship Note: We had a great slate of hymns today. I didn’t include it in the recording but LSB 845 (Where Charity and Love Prevail) was the hymn of the day picking up on the moral point of the lesson. What amazes me is that the text is 9th century Latin. The church has taught the same things for a long time. Thy hymn I left in was LSB 782 (Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings). It was pledge card collection day, so that is part of the reason, but the hymn gets the order right as few stewardship hymns do. We have received mercy. We have heard the word. We are sustained in this creation. Lord we pray that we your people, who your gifts unnumbered claim, through the sharing of your blessings, may bring glory to your name. We have that name. We don’t do good works because we’ve been told, but because we have been named. That and the tune is one of the most uplifting in the book.

Bet It All on Red


Text: Luke 16:1-16
Full Sermon Draft

I’m always amazed as how well the word cloud captures my feelings about a particular sermon. If I pat myself on the back I hope that is because I managed to say something and say it well. Usually the core point or theme jumps out in the big letters, and the rest of the words fill in the story. Today’s effort was both a little longer than normal, and looking at the word cloud the theme is a little less immediate. It is still there – eternal mercy. And the means are there, running up and down in this picture – faith and Jesus. But the cloud is dense and complex, appropriate for the parable of the sermon text. World and worldly and things pop out. Of all Jesus’ parables, this one is the most of this world. Most of his parables, at least to me, about halfway through Jesus says something that shakes you out of the pastoral or worldly picture and screams this isn’t just a pretty story. But this sounds like a work story – “did I tell you about the time the foreman pulled one on the boss man?” You have to listen to Jesus’ words after the parable, and apply some type of allegorical method to apply. And that is what this sermon does. It invites us to see the parallels between the unjust steward’s temporal position and our eternal position.

For me Jesus tells this story of how a dishonest manager bet his entire future on lowering people’s estimation of his competence and ability while raising the status of his Lord. God work advice. You rarely go wrong betting your career prospects making your captain look good. And we are invited to do the same thing. Bet it all on His mercy approaching him as sinners. That is the core of the gospel message, but Jesus’ words after wants to say more, and it is tough for Protestant ears. The rest of the sermon attempts to challenge us to think of what a life of faith trusting in the mercy of our Lord looks like. If we are betting it all on the blood, what does that mean.

It is a tough parable. (Maybe tougher than the epistle which our world just doesn’t want to hear.) This sermon is my wrestling with it. I’m not sure if it connects, I might be limping a little, but it was a good fight.

In the Wilderness


Biblical Text: Luke 15:1-10 (Ezekiel 34:11-24)
Full Sermon Draft

Congregationally we were saying good bye to beloved members. The day also had the national overtones of the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I might be wrong in this, but to me part of preaching is giving the hearers ways to understand or recognize the Kingdom of God in our midst, even in sad things, especially in sad things. The primary theme of the texts of the day was not perseverance. The primary theme was forgiveness. But there is a secondary theme that hints at perseverance in the Christian life. This sermon attempted to spotlight that secondary thread for the purpose of understanding the day.

As with most days, the hymnody of the church is so much better than anything we say. Those hymns are sermons that meant so much to so many that they survived in some cases millennia and translation, in others simply centuries. Jesus Sinners Doth Receive was the Hymn of the Day on the primary theme, but I left in our final hymn. LSB 839, O Christ, Our True and Only Light. If one heard the message that we were attempting to speak, this hymn was a good and proper response. It reminds us that in this world Christ is our only true light. It reminds us that here we walk in darkness, the metaphorical equivalent of the text and sermon’s wilderness. It asks for the one to be reunited with the 99, and the perfect 100 to find the eternal joy. And it asks that we might be a part of that. Beautiful hymn.

Rally Day

decalogue-windowThe second use of the law is as the mirror. It shows us our sins. One of the old Rabbi’s ways of using the Decalogue was to line up one through five on the first side and six through ten on the other and use it as a diagnostic. (Sorry any reformed/evangelical readers, Calvin and Zwingli messed up your order because two commandments on coveting offended their reason and they needed to bolster their iconoclasm. The numbering used is the Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran.) If your community or society was engaged in rampant adultery (sixth commandment), the deep problem was idolatry (1st Commandment). That particular insight is often found in the prophets where Israel is compared to the harlot. Likewise if your culture is driven by coveting stuff (“ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”, 10 Commandment), the deeper problem is with the 5th (don’t murder). The presenting problem may be late stage capitalism, but we are willing to make commodities of everything because we have already made commodities of each other. We can see this in cases big and small, the over 1 million aborted a year to the Chicago murder rate. And if you take Jesus in the Sermon in the mount at his word that hating your neighbor is murder, well our every 4 year festival of hatred where the people wearing the other color are compared to Hitler and real friends are sacrificed should be troubling.

A particular outgrowth of that media cycle that I find almost like cat-nip is the attributing of the worst possible meaning to whatever the red/blue flag bearer said yesterday. Charity assumes that what was said has some reason behind it, that there is some way in which it captures truth, until the pure malevolence of the speaker is proven. I may not understand it, but it is my moral obligation to attempt to or at the least assume there is one. This is the 8th commandment’s territory. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor which Luther glossed with a positive force of “defend him, speak well of him and put the best construction on everything.” Not being a Pollyanna type, more specifically being a hyper-analytical person who likes winning, I have too often put those traits not in the service of charity but destruction, of figuring out the worst possible meaning and imputing that to the speaker. It has been a conscious effort and struggle of mine to control that impulse. It is depressing how often I fail.

That might be the sin that lives in my members, the battle against the flesh, but if I look at the parallel commandment, the 3rd (Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy), I think I am staring at what the world is attacking. When asking what does this mean Luther wrote that “we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” That Sabbath commandment to Luther is about our handling of the Word of God. As Jesus would say “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Word of God is given to us for our good. If I am willing to intentionally distort my neighbor’s words, that stems first from my willingness to impugn God’s word. When God’s Word is not taken as sacred, it is real easy to treat my neighbor’s word as trash.
We can lament that the world does not take the Word seriously as Alan Jacob’s article in Harper’s a few weeks ago did, but we really should have no expectation of the world doing so. That was part of my response a couple of weeks ago which I posted here. It is another thing when the church neglects the Word. This interview with Kenneth Briggs, the “godbeat” editor for many years at places like the New York Times, talks about what he has seen. His pungent phrase is that the Bible has “become a museum exhibit, hallowed as a treasure but enigmatic and untouched.” Until the church is willing to reform its house back into what Luther called “God’s mouth-house”, the place where the Word forms us deeply, we will find it tough living with our neighbors. The church is the salt of the earth. If we can’t treat each other with charity, how will the world know?

I occasionally get asked why I insist on or put so much effort behind things like VBS, Sunday School, Bible Class and confirmation when the numbers are few. My response is usually something like “that is the call”. If the Pastor doesn’t put the Word first, then who will. Do I worry, especially around budget season, that someday that focus will leave me without a paycheck? I’d be lying if I said no. Another thing to repent from – “each day has enough trouble of its own, don’t fret”. So I turn back to the call, to call out all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is near, and to proclaim that now, in your hearing, is the year of the Lord’s mercy. Or taking that out of the high Biblical register, it’s Rally Day. Sunday School and Bible classes are starting again. I’d invite you to set aside a Sabbath to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn that Word.