In the text I find two themes that follow each other. The first is that the way of grace in this world is the way of meekness. Then the way of meekness leads to the cross. God chose grace and meekness, not the artillery of heaven to deal with sinful man. What that means for the disciple whose life is conformed to Christ and not the other way around is that in living lives of grace we expect the cross.
The tough sayings of the second part of the text are directed as warnings at the disciple, the person whose life has been re-oriented away from the self and towards God. There are more palatable ways to say the same things. I would take the parable of the soils to be that more palatable way, but in the context Jesus is after the shock value. No disciple should be able to say “you fooled me”.
The way of the cross is only made possible first by the fact that Jesus walked it already. Second it is enabled by the promises of God. Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. We set our faces to the New Jerusalem. That is how we stay on the straight path.
Worship note: I’ve left in the recording Lutheran Service Book 856, O Christ Who Called the Twelve. The tune should be familiar, It is My Father’s World is probably what you might hear. But that is the magic of hymn tunes. They are often repurposed. It is a good prayer hymn to end a service on. I didn’t include it in the recording, but the text also allowed us to sing a wonderful hymn, LSB 753, All For Christ I Have Forsaken. I linked up another congregation singing it because copyright. It has that haunting Southern Harmony melody. This is an example of a song that would never be sung in most “contemporary” churches. The text reflects Jesus’ words which are not exactly “stay on the sunny side”. But when the theme is the thorns of discipleship, it is beautiful. Something that he gospel allows that therapeutic Christianity doesn’t. “Though my cross shaped path grows steeper, with the Lord I am secure.”
The text is one that still has resonance in the popular culture due of Horror Flicks. It is the possession of a man by “legion”. Leaving aside those trifles, the text stands as an important part of Luke’s narrative argument. Jesus has turned to parables, the chief of them the parable of the sower and the soils. The Word is being spread, and its reception is varied. Amid the varied reception, there is also a pattern. Those who should know, do not. Those who would seem to know nothing, are given full healing.
What this sermon attempts to do is examine the assurances of Word in the midst of such variance. That assurance is not some small trifle, but merely the promise of sane peace, and that nothing happens outside the command of heaven. And that command is given for our good.
The texts are following along in Luke’s gospel. What is unfolding is the divide between people who are answering Jesus is “a great prophet” and “God has visited his people”. And what I think Luke is attempting to show is how just answering “a great prophet” is necessary but not sufficient. A “great prophet” faith will fail, and it will often fail before it has even started. That is Simon. He thinks he is sitting in judgment of the prophet, but he has failed to treat Jesus even as a prophet.
I’m not sure I completely got there, but this I think is something the modern church often does. It thinks it is inviting Jesus over, but when it does, it sits in judgment of Jesus. It assumes like Simon that they owe nothing, that God owes them. And consequently it presumes to question the love of God. That is a place where any “great prophet” can go. We ourselves are our own best prophets. And the less the great prophet conforms to our desires, the less He looks like a prophet. We think we are sitting in judgment. The woman on the other hand knew her sins, but she also assumed the love of God. This love is not a complete assumption because she has witnessed Jesus. It is not a compete assumption for us also, because we have seen the cross. The picture as it develops to me is that we should always presume on the love of God. Especially when we don’t understand what is happening or we are undergoing trial. In those times we might question God’s love, but his revelation of self is that whatever we are experiencing will be brought about for our benefit. Such is God’s love.
It was an full day at St. Mark yesterday – a baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and a resurrection text. You don’t get a better set up as a preacher than than. And it is one of those rare days that I was content. Oh, I could deliver it better. I’m sure there would have been words here and there I might change. But compared to most Sundays, I felt like this discharged the call of the office.
The hymns also supported the theme beautifully. The baptismal hymn was Gerhart’s great catechism hymn All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (LSB 596). The hymn of the day was the newer (i.e. since 2000) Water, Blood and Spirit Crying (LSB 597). Unfortunately neither of them have the texts in the public domain to link to. I have included in the recording our closing hymn Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious (LSB 548). It is a hymn that ponders what had happened, and forms a very nice closing prayer for that service.
Liturgically this is the fist Sunday after the festival half of the year. Every preacher tends to have their pet peeves or things that frustrate them. One of mine is this Sunday which just drops us into the middle of the gospel’s account in a way that you lose all context. One of my home grown crackpot theories is that a big problem with Christians today is that none of them know the story. And I mean that in a small way and a large way. The small way is the Jesus story – what the gospels tell us. Every Christian should know the Jesus story well enough such that when any given text is referenced they know the context. In the larger way I mean the biblical story: Patriarchs, Exodus, Judges, Saul & David, Kings & Prophets, Exile, Return and waiting; John the Baptist, Jesus, Apostles, waiting. Doctrine is great, and I tried to offer a defense of it last week on Trinity Sunday, but sermons that are doctrinal first tend to be static to me. It is the story, the good news, that comes first. So consistently missing the Galilean ministry as the current lectionary does, bugs me.
So, this sermon spends a little longer than I might normally catching us up. It is important for the lesson in that we understand the statement being made in this appearance of the centurion. What is being made is a statement of just what this Kingdom is about? Neither nationality, nor works. Not pedigree, or merit. It is based on Jesus. Worthiness has nothing to do with anything other than Jesus. This sermon explores that and our reaction to that fact.
This was Trinity Sunday. Traditionally it is the Sunday we bring out the Athanasian Creed. The creeds in general but that creed in particular are statements of doctrine. Also, Trinity or Triune is not a word found in the scriptures, but a church word, a doctrinal word. For that reason, Trinity Sunday is a day to talk a bit about doctrine. We live in a time where the most successful churches, judged by the criteria of numbers, tend to eschew doctrine if not run fleeing from the word. “Deeds, not creeds” is a phrase for a purpose. But historically, and by historically I mean for 1,950 years, the church was a doctrinal body. Doctrine united. It produced creeds and confessions. It argued and debated and sometimes went further over doctrine. You can’t read Paul’s letters or even the Sermon on the Mount and not understand the deeds of Christ and the apostles driven by their creeds.
What this sermon attempts to do is correct the false understanding of doctrine that I think drives much of it becoming a pejorative word. When you picture doctrine and the voice of Mother church, as the voice of Lady Wisdom calling, you get a better idea. It is not a club to end seeking. Doctrine is an invitation to faith. It is an invitation to seek understanding. Armed with that understanding, the wise son when Mom says “because I said so” responds not with sullen anger but “what am I missing?” The person who loves you most is asking “walk with me, even if you don’t quite understand.” The wise son walks with and seeks that understanding.
Pentecost, especially in the readings this year, is a day about language. For all we depend upon it, language is something that we don’t really think much about. We let writers and preachers do that. But if we don’t have the language for something there is a question how long it can actually exist, or if we can truly experience it. That is one of the spurs for stealing words from other languages – to experience and describe experience more precisely. One of the deep lessons of Babel is that when language breaks down, that is God’s punishment. Babel is God’s Punishment, Pentecost is God’s salvation.
The Jewish Pentecost was the receiving of the law at Sinai. That is the start of our salvation. It starts to make things clear, but the law itself has no power. That is this later Pentecost, when the Spirit is poured out.
The title comes from the diagnosis of a Babel and a call to a new Pentecost.
Our concluding Hymn is my favorite Pentecost one. LSB 500, Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid. The text is an ancient chant from the 8th century that comes to us through John Dryden the English poet. It displays both a sacramental view of the world and worship. At the end of verse two: Your sacred healing message bring, to sanctify us as we sing. But the jewel of it for me is verse three in how it describes the work of the Spirit abiding in us.
Your sevenfold gifts to us supply
Help us eternal truths receive
And practice all that we believe
Give us yourself that we might see
The glory of the Trinity.
Through the working of the Spirit, through His sanctification, we receive the eternal truth which is Jesus Christ. Receiving Christ and repenting, we then seek to follow him, to put into practice the love we have been give. And we do this because of our hope in the resurrection, that we might see the Trinity face to face. Just a beautiful hymn that maintains a bit of its chant origin.
We observed Ascension Day yesterday. The core teaching of Ascension day is right in the creed. He sits at the right hand of god. Christ reigns. Simple teaching, plenty of proofs throughout history. But there are two standing complaints, both express right away by the disciples. THis sermon looks at both of those complaints. It suggest a reasoning, part of it is where the title comes from. God does not desire courtiers, but Knights of Faith. It ends with a comparison of everything that we might find “more real” than an ascended king with a challenge to compare their realities. When you do that, you’ve answered the second complaint.
The final hymn in our worship I think captures the message of Ascension Day perfectly. LSB 830 Spread the Reign of GOd the Lord. It is also paired with a pretty tuned that I’ve been humming for the last day.
Biblical Text: John 16:23-33, Acts 16:9-15 draft 1.0
I was trying for something a little different here. In my simple reading of the text I found two themes: 1) Prayer and 2) Jesus overcomes the world. It is the juxtapostion of those two things that was interesting to me because prayer seems to be the weakest thing in the world. From a purely materialist standpoint, and we are all de facto materialists, it does nothing. Yet this is what enables us to overcome the world.
What I latched onto was a comparison to the letter. I attempted to mine an old emotional connection and reflect on changes and what has been lost. How losing personal letters makes prayer that much more difficult to understand. The core of the comparison has two points. Every letter (at least good ones) was an act of love and an invitation into that persons life. Every letter was also a plea or a promise to come, we will not always be separated. We will see each other in the flesh. Prayer is the same. It is God’s Spirit present with us, and it is the promise that we will not always be so separated.
I wish I could have carried it off better. But…
THe hymn of the day left in the recording was LSB 779 Come My Soul with Every Care. I think the hymn in its verses recognizes this movement of prayer. At first it is a law – Jesus bids us pray. Then it is petitions of a King – just big stuff. But then there is a breakthrough, the big stuff is the sin and guilt that separate. This is the gospel recognition. The fourth verse moves prayer from this real to that personal love. “Lord, thy rest to me impart, take possesion of my heart.” Your kingdom has come, let it come to me also. The final two verses capture what it points toward. “While I am a pilgrim here, :et they love my spirit cheer.” Pilgrims eventually reunite at home. But verse six is the recognition that I as a pilgrim have a duty. “Show me what is mine to do.” The prayer has started simply as law and ends as pure gospel. Because of love, because of the beloved and His presence in prayer, I seek what I should do. Not out of compulsion, but love.
This is a tough passage to preach on. In part because Jesus just repeats himself. He knows he has things to say, but it is like the only language he has is modern English. Until Pentecost, or until after the little while, none of it will really make sense to Aramaic Peter. For me it forces a meditation on sorrow and joy and the appropriate time we can expect them. When Jesus uses ‘a little while’ the immediate meaning is clear to us – after the Supper until Easter Morning. But Jesus connects ‘a little while’ to the eschatological – the time between the advents. For a little while we lament, and that little while is now. But we also have the same joy that cannot be taken away as those disciples – He’s risen. What we do not yet have is our completion, our final sanctification.
So, now, we share in the cross, or we share in nothing. We also share in the resurrection, while we groan for our new birth as true humans.
Recording notes: 1. The recording chip fell out of my suit pocket, so this is a re-recording. 2. The hymn references in the sermon is LSB 756 Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me. I’m sorry I lost the recording because this is one of those deep hymns. Gerhardt does a better job of the sermon than I do. The tune it is paired with I find touching as well. Here is another recording of it.