VBS 2016 – Cave Quest

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When: Aug 15 – 19th
Time: 9 AM – 11:30 AM
Come explore the cave and make some new friends.
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There’s a Sky! And it’s Blue!

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Biblical Text: Luke 11:11-13

Full Sermon Draft

I hope this sermon is meaningful. There is a lot of thinking that has gone into it not just this past week, but for quite a while. In one way it is my attempt to address Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. That is not a book for everyone, but I think he is correct in being trapped in an immanent frame. The Chesterton quote I think captures the problem with this. And part of the reason this is so hard to escape from is because I think our situation is the opposite of the scriptures. And for that matter the opposite of the Reformation. Both of those ages feared a Holy God, but had trouble understanding his love. As such they were lacking on wonder. Our age has no problem thinking about the love of God, primarily because we have either substituted ourselves for God, or we’ve domesticated God. But we’ve lost the fear, or neither of those conceptions of God all for a holy fear. Wonder is that combination of love and fear. And that is what we’ve lost. This sermon, reflecting on the Lord’s prayer and Abraham’s experience, attempts to make real both the fear and the love. It attempts to break us out of our wonderless cage, to live before the God of wonder.

Recording note: This is a re-recording after the fact. We had some trouble with the mic’s this morning. Guess I haven’t chased down that ghost yet. So, because of that, I don’t have a hymn with it. Just hum What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

A Pastoral Letter on Political Decisions

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One of Martin Luther’s most famous phrases is the odd one “Sin Boldly”. Of course it is usually used prior to doing something really stupid or clearly sinful. As college kids we often used it on Friday around 4 PM just before heading out for the night. That is one of the more harmless places, but what it is often used for is to justify some action you want to do but know is wrong. One could imagine saying “sin boldly” before lighting a Molotov Cocktail as part of a “protest”. After all, nothing is going to change if we don’t do something in the fierce urgency of now. One could also imagine saying “sin boldly” before starting a rumor about one’s opponent. The problem is that is not really what Luther was talking about. What that phrase captures is our bound and fallen nature. In this world we really don’t make choices between good and evil. If we did, ethics would be easy. Rather most of the time our choices are given to us with little ability to influence them. And, most of the time those choices are both compromised. Ethics is not about good and evil but about bad and less bad. And the reason we argue over it is we often come to different conclusions what is less bad. Sin Boldly as a phrase meant choose less bad to the best of your ability, and more importantly rely ever more on the sufficient grace of Christ. He is the one who in this world turns less bad into good for his people. He is the one who one day will make less bad untrue.

There are multiple biblical stories that I ponder in these regards, but I keep returning to one specific place, Genesis 21:8-21. I’d suggest going and reading the story. It is Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael and Hagar. Sarah, impatient and untrusting of God’s plan, had given Abraham her slave, Hagar, to have a child with. She would fulfill by her efforts what God so clearly wasn’t. That child was Ishmael. And as these things go, you can imagine that Abraham would become attached to the child and to the mother. Sarah, perceiving this had immediately sought to have mother and child banished, and Abraham gives in. But The Angel of the Lord finds Hagar and the baby and restores them to Abraham and Sarah. In another of its great ellipses, the bible doesn’t explain how. Fast forward a few years and Sarah has Isaac. And this time, more insistent, she tells Abraham “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”

The entire scene is caused by the failure, the sin, of not trusting the promise of God – “I will give you an heir”. The entire scene is the full born fruit of that sin. There is no good choice. The choices are cast Hagar and young Ishmael out into the wilderness alone most likely to starve or to die of thirst, hunger and exposure, or keep her and the son and deal with the daily problems of the heir and his mother, and the first born and his mother. The vast majority of our choices are like this one – the fruits of past sin. We might be forgiven for that sin, but in this world we live with its results. And in Abraham’s case it really is binary – choose, you first born or your heir. The bible in its typical understatement says, “the thing was very displeasing to Abraham.” No kidding.

What do we do in such a situation? Such situations often lead to paralysis and breakdown. In attempts to find third ways, we compound sin by avoidance or grumbling. I bet Abraham decided to spend some time with the herds for a couple of days. The camp was probably walking on eggshells. But in this case God comes down to Abraham and tells him, “Whatever Sarah says, do it. And don’t be worried about Ishmael, I will prosper him.” This prospering of Ishmael will be a thorn in the side of Israel forever. Today’s Arabs claim biblical descent as the first born of Abraham. Some of the consequences of sin are long lasting. But God tells Abraham make the choice. Sin boldly, and trust on the grace of God to bring out good. In this case, Joseph’s brothers would sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites who would take Joseph to Egypt where he would eventually save Israel from the famine. A further good would be Ruth, the Moabite, part of Ishmael, who would become a grand-mother of Jesus.

I’m talking these things because I think we have found ourselves with such a choice in November. Whatever the merits of Trumpism, Mr. Trump himself does not appear to be fit for such high office. But likewise the other major party has nominated someone who if her last name wasn’t Clinton and she were not running for President would be in an orange jump suit right now. FBI director Comey found fit to put Martha Stewart in one for much less than exposing the nations secrets for personal whim. None of which gets into the international grift of the Clinton Global Initiative. Due to the sins of the primaries, and the sins of past years, we find ourselves with such a choice – a felon and a man who describes his personal Vietnam as dodging venereal disease in the 1970’s and who has never asked God for forgiveness while proclaiming himself a Christian.

What does a citizen do in such a case? And what can we expect? Ted Cruz said “vote your conscience”. It’s a cute line and he earned it. When someone unleashes conspiracy theories against your dad, I would imagine your conscience would say words I can’t write here. But it begs the question, what is a properly formed conscience in such a case for a citizen, especially for one not directly slandered? One option, which the Amish normally take, is simply not to vote. The citizen does not have to take part. But, if you are like me, this feels like a cop out because I am not Amish. The Amish see politics as necessarily defiling oneself with the world. That has never been the majority report of Christianity which has normally held that God is sovereign in the political kingdom (the kingdom of left) just as much as in the gospel kingdom (the kingdom of the right). When he sits at the right hand of God it is not over some truncated Kingdom. The biggest difference being that the kingdom of the left is exercised through crooked us, while the right is simply the declaration “your sins are forgiven” in the many ways that Christ has instituted that to be said. There are many voices – both former Sander’s supporters and supporters of people like Ted Cruz – that sound very Amish. Voting for either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump would sully their morals. Such a conscience to me seems malformed in a hyper-moral way applied to the wrong place. If you want to see saints, you go out to the desert, you don’t go to where people wear the soft clothes and $5000 suits.

So, what does a citizen do? Sin boldly. Choose which ever candidate seems least bad. And trust in the grace of God to work for his people. That doesn’t mean I don’t think either choice is going to lead to good things immediately. Abraham’s choice lead to 400 years of slavery in Egypt. It was roughly a millennium until Ruth met Boaz. I have a sense of foreboding that long after I am gone, my grand-children will be living with the results of this election, the results of picking two such uniquely unqualified people for such an office. But then the Christian’s call is not to think about preserving one’s holiness because we have none. The Christian’s call is to consecrate the fast and call the solemn assembly. Cry out to the Lord. Who knows, after it is past, he might relent and leave a blessing behind. Our salvation comes not from the Princes we elect for a mere four years, but from Christ who reigns forever, and ever. Amen.

It Will Not Be Taken Away

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Biblical Text: Luke 10:38-42, (Gen 18:1-10, Col 1:21-29)
Full Sermon Draft

Luke has a habit of telling a powerful story (The Good Samaritan) and following it up with a minor correction (Mary and Martha). That minor correction is the text of this week. (A couple of other examples are the Sermon on the Plain’s teaching about loving you enemies and not judging other (Luke 6:27-42) followed by a tree and its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). The net effect is love your enemy, don’t judge him, but don’t let your brains fall out. Two chapters later you have the parable of the sower & the purpose of the parables (Luke 8:4-15) which emphasize the roll of election followed by the short teaching on a lamp under a jar (Luke 8:16-18). The net effect is that you can’t guess the yield, and many who hear won’t understand, but don’t be overly discriminating is sharing the gospel. Election and mission are not to be placed in opposition.) The Martha and Mary story reminds us of the “one thing needful”. As important as being a neighbor/service is, the one needful thing is Christ. Christ is our neighbor, he came to serve us, so that we could serve others. And the means of that divine service to us is the Word. So this sermon is about the importance of Faith Alone and Word Alone – two thirds of the Reformation Solas – and how because they are Christ’s work, they will not be taken from us.

Recording Note: I’ve left in our closing hymn LSB 583 God Has Spoken by His Prophets. I think the stretch from prophets to now and the focus on the unchanging message of Christ alone captures the solidness of the promise. Nations rise and fall, the world’s despair and turmoil seems never ending, but God abides with us. We have a sure anchor. And it will not be taken from us.

The Law is Always AN answer, but…

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Biblical Text: Luke 10:25-37
Full Sermon Draft

I am always amazed as the lectionary’s ability to be a very appropriate text for the day. In a week of horror, the Gospel lesson was the Good Samaritan. There are no easy answers, but all of the answer start right there in contemplating mercy. This sermon attempts to do that in light of the week’s events, and a lawyer who asks “what shall I do?”

Worship planning is consistently one of those spaces where the work of the Spirit is evident. We plan services typically from a couple weeks in advance to a couple of months. We try to do 6-8 every time we meet, and we meet roughly every other month. So when you pick the hymns that far out, you really have no idea what will be happening. But I’ve rarely had a Sunday where the hymns just seemed out of touch. Much more often they are spookily on point. Often to the point of scratching my head: a) how did we pick this one and b) how is it so right. The hymn I left in the recording was the one we sang after the sermon. LSB 844, Where Charity and Love Prevail. The text is from a 9th century Latin work. It was translated and paraphrased circa 1990. The music it is paired with in the Lutheran Service Book is 17th century common meter work originally for the 24th psalm. The composer, Lucius Chapin was a soldier at Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. The hymn is spot on for meditation this week.

Peace, Healing & The Reign

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Biblical Text: Luke 10:1-20
Full Sermon Draft

Program Note: I’m sorry about possible recording quality. I’ve been having a little trouble with the line volume. I think the pulpit mic might be going out, so the altar mic is doing all the recording except for occasional pops. I’ve amplified and leveled the signal such that I think its okay. The altar mic is a real good one and the system isn’t bad, but I’ve got some wire work to do.

The text for the day is often appropriated for mission Sundays, and it can work that way. Biblical texts are multivalent in that there are often multiple appropriate understandings of them. But I don’t think that the sending of the seventy-two is primarily about lay evangelism. Using it to preach that people in the pews should be ready and able to share their faith misses a distinction. That is better preached from something like 1 Peter 3:15. The distinction which is missed using it for that is that the 72 are the new elders of Israel. There are traditions that don’t have an ordained ministry, but the apostolic church, following Jesus here, did set aside those called – think Stephen and the Seven deacons and Timothy and Titus and those Paul sent Titus to appoint and lay on hands. When the apostles did that they were following Jesus here.

What Jesus does here is give the charter for that office. When that office is functioning within bounds as intended what does it do? It preaches peace. It seeks to heal those of the house. It proclaims the reign of God. What this sermon does is attempt to do that while providing examples.

Music Note: I have left in two of the hymns. Our opening hymn Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing (LSB 584) is a wonderful prayer for the opening of service that mirrors Jesus’ words to pray to the Lord of the Harvest. The hymn of the day has a wonderful message, but I left it in primarily because of the tune – We Are Called to Stand Together (LSB 828). Both of them are newer hymns the texts written by people living at the time of hymnal publication (2006) and the tunes as well, although Holy Manna is a new setting of an older hymn tune. The text of We are called mirrors the progression of the sermon moving from Patriarch, Prophets and Apostles through ages to us. The urge is to continue in each generation to proclaim the truth, that the reign of God has come near to you with His peace. That time will end, when we will all be united, but till then we tell the story.

We Set Our Faces By Faith

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Biblical Text: Luke 9:51-62 (Luke 9)
Full Sermon Draft

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.”

Assurance of the Word

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Biblical Text: Luke 8:26-39
Full Sermon Draft

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.

Assuming God’s Love

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Biblical Text: Luke 7:36-8:3
Full Sermon Draft

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.

Great Prophet or LORD

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Text: Luke 7:11-17
Full Sermon Draft

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.