The Narrow Door One at a Time

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Text: Luke 13:22-30
Full Sermon Draft

We had a baptism in service today which always serves as a great visual object lesson. The strongest visual element of the text is the narrow door. As the sermon would proclaim that font is the narrow door. The gracious call of Christ to come into the household of His Father is the narrow door. And that door narrow door is entered one heart at a time.

What this sermon examines is our natural and sinful inclination to want to smash our group through the door, or more appropriately to claim that our clan, whatever its size, is the household. We want Jesus to bless our streets. We don’t want to leave our streets to enter through the narrow door into God’s streets. But that is the pattern of Abraham and the prophets. God’s gracious call followed by a life of faith seeking to fulfill that call. Rarely is that call fulfilled in this world, but we see it from afar. Baptism is our gracious call to be a royal priesthood and holy nation. Baptism is the grace of call calling us to the life of faith. Just like the patriarchs and prophets. Baptism changes one heart at a time, from east to west and north to south.

Worship Note: There were several good hymns today. I left in the recording Lutheran Service Book #644, The Church’s One Foundation. It carries in the first verse the theme of “water and the Word” is the creation of a new house. It carries that over to the universality of the church that springs from its oneness – one Lord, one faith, one birth. The collective multitude of the Holy Bride brought together one by one. And it is honest about that call that in this world is is not a call to immediate peace, but to perseverance, to the life of faith. It is a great hymns encompassing the themes of the worship of the day.

VBS 2016 – Day 5

The final day. Here are the photo outtakes set to the theme song for the year.

VBS 2016 – Day 4

Here are the pictures and video for Day 4…

VBS 2016 – Day 3

Here are the picture outtakes from day three of our Cave Quest…

VBS 2016 – Day 2

Here are the picture outtakes from Day 2…

VBS 2016 – Day 1

Here was the closing outtakes presentation from the day…

A Humble Parson’s Response to Alan Jacobs

I tend not to preach on them because in the fifteen minutes a week I get for proclamation of Jesus I start with the gospels. But in my personal study I spend an inordinate amount of time in the twelve minor prophets. I feel drawn to them in a deep way because of the end of the age society they see. They are sent to prophesy, but their conviction is like Amos. “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman. But the Lord took me from following the flock.” They prophesy because the Lord told them to, and they do so with a passionate intensity, but what they do not prophesy with is an expectation that they will be heard. When a herdsman approaches a King, he knows that a seat at the table is probably not on offer. Joel cries, “who knows whether he will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind…”, but when the Lord has pity it is tied to the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh. Hosea is told to marry a prostitute as a sign of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and his two kids receive the worst unique names in history. Habakkuk, tired of his prophesy, takes his complaint to the Lord. “How Lorg shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry ‘violence’ and you will not save…the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth.” These prophets have words that cut my heart, and promises that I claim in Christ, but they stand to me as an awful warning for my brothers of the flesh.

I am thinking about the twelve after reading Alan Jacobs’ article in Harper’s Magazine. A strain in that article is a lament that Christian Intellectuals abandoned the liberal public square. His rebuke in these regards is not a heavy one. Mr. Jacobs understands that it was partly a two-way street. Richard John Neuhaus developed his own vehicle because when he talked about abortion he was no longer welcome at the liberal table as he had been over the Vietnam War. Likewise Mr. Jacobs does take Christians such as Marilynne Robinson to task for a witness to the liberal table that in my more harsh twelve inspired thoughts would be “peace, peace”. She is the house prophet saying all is well while Jeremiah is in rags. Another strain that Mr. Jacobs picks up but then abandons is Stanley Fish’s thoughts in First Things about just this desire to be a Christian Intellectual at the liberal table. “The religious person should not seek an accommodation with liberalism; he should seek to rout it from the field, to extirpate it, root and branch.” It is this strain that I wish he would have developed more for his audience in Harpers.

Being a Lutheran, we think in terms of Law and Gospel. The law is simply the demands of God. It can be summarized as the 10 commandments or probably better Jesus’ summary, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and your neighbor as yourself.” The bitter truth of the law is that we can’t keep it. It is good and wise, but beyond our fallen ability to actually live. That causes all sorts of strategies. You can restrict the demands of the law. “Who is my neighbor?” or “Am I my brother’s keeper?” are classic attempts to limit it. You can also replace it. Arguably this was the Pharisee strategy in tithing mint and cumin. They substituted certain holy looking ceremonial practices for the demands of the law. Likewise, this is start of Luther’s reformation calling out indulgences, pilgrimages, relics and other pious acts that were replacing the actual law and gospel. Our modern liberal society also has gutted and replaced the law. It does not have ears to hear even the basics of natural law such as marriage and children let alone the tougher strains of the temptations of the devil, this world and the flesh. In Lutheran parlance not only will it not look in the mirror of the law to recognize its sins, it has also jumped the curb of the natural law meant to be shared and keep us all safe in God’s providence.

In Lutheran Law and Gospel thinking, one cannot be raised by the gospel – the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ – until we have been killed by the law. When ears are closed and hearts are hard, that is the time of the prophets, of the twelve. What that looks like is confrontation. What that looks like is crazy, right up until the moment everyone is carried away. Into oblivion for the 10 Northern tribes, into exile for Judah. That is the wrong message for my congregation. For them the message is more eschatological – “comfort, comfort my people, says the Lord”. Today we might be like the grass of the field, but we are forever safe in the Lord’s hands. But for those outside Christ I can only hint at that. Tease like the parables into contemplation. There are two choices for those outside. There is the kinder and gentler law proclamation, like Corinthians 13 on love. It is heard at every wedding, and it is a ridiculous call. I can’t do that sacrificial love on my own. That takes the indwelling of the Spirit. One can be temporally kind and hope that in the moment of the first fight or the first night he’s home way late, the newlyweds will contemplate how they have trespassed that love they said they wanted. Then there is the proclamation of the twelve. “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” That is about as effective as you might think. But as Mr. Jacobs quotes Rorty, “of course the theists can talk, but we don’t have to listen.” Such prophecy as the twelve is nor really prophecy for listening, but prophecy for witness. It is the Lord putting down a marker for future generations.

Mr. Jacobs ends with the lament that the liberal table lost the ability to hear religious responses “at least in part because we Christian Intellectuals ceased to play it for them.” That might be true, but as a humble preacher I would have to add a caveat. We ceased to play it for them because the Word God was sending us wasn’t peace, but repent. As much as Cornel West and a steady stream of mainline preachers liked to claim being a prophetic Christian witness, the dreams they dreamed very often did not line up with the Word. We have had a plague of prophets, but an absence of the Word.

Division…Not Yet and Now

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Biblical Text: Luke 12:49-59 (Luke 12:35-59) – note: the larger text is really the basis, the shorter text was the lectionary reading

Full Sermon Draft

Getting last week off from having to polish a sermon because our Seminarian Tim did a great job gave me a lot of time just to meditate on Luke 12. On first read Luke 12 is all over the place veering from the harshest warning and condemnations to the sweetest promises. I think in our modern American Christian imagination we are all Jeffersonians of a kind. Jefferson famously cut out of his gospels all the “fantastical” accounts (i.e. the miracles and the resurrection) leaving nothing but a moralistic great teacher Jesus. We don’t cut out the miracles, at least not most of us, but what we cut out in the prophet. We string together nice Jesus, and come up with some way to tune out fiery Jesus. But if we refuse to listen to Jesus the prophet, we end up in situations like the OT lesson from Jeremiah, where our “prophets” blow us sweet nothings and we are shocked at division from both man and God.

Attempting to boil the chapter down into a single paragraph, it is more coherent that that first read. It is Jesus’ correction our natural views of the intersection of division/peace and temporal/eternal with the messiah or the work of God. Our natural view is that we want peace expressed temporally. Peace within families. Peace between religions. Peace on earth. Or at least we want those things assuming that they come with the correct division. Our temporal physical tribe get the peace while the out group is safely divided from us. And all of that peace coming with a healthy serving of temporal prosperity for our group. We want a sugar-daddy messiah, and we don’t give a second thought to the eternal. Or just assume like the rich fool that the good times will roll forever. But Jesus corrects us in our temporal thoughts. Now is not the time of peace, but the time of division. It is the time of division because this messiahs, and this God’s concerns, are not temporal, but eternal. Jesus has come to give eternal peace which you have right now. But this peace is by grace, through faith. And those that believe align their lives with the divine purpose. They know the will of the householder for whom they have been left as stewards. But, not everyone believes. Many might know, but they are unwilling to live with that knowledge. And that is the division in this life. That is also the cause of the temporal strife. A strife that is not yet resolved in peace. Not yet resolved in the hope that the full number will come in.

A Reflection on Glory

mara abbott2I’m a sucker for the Olympics, but not for the right reasons. Network coverage is first about nationalism. We only see the athletes from our country. It is second about personalities. There is a reason beyond cheesecake that you get a steady stream of Kerry Walsh-Jennings. Mother of three going after her fourth gold medal who always has a smile and speaks in an easy relatable way, who wouldn’t want to watch that? But the reason I’m a sucker I like to think is even more elementary – it’s about the glory.

The old Hebrew word for glory in its root meaning is weight or mass. When the glory of the Lord fills the temple in Isaiah’s sight, we aren’t talking radiance. It is the weight of the moment before the prophet’s eyes. Millions of moments added together are a feather in the wind compared to this one moment in time. In modern democratic societies glory is something we are not supposed to want because it is unequal. We can have pageantry and pomp which simulate glory, but meet their democratic nemesis in satire. When you encounter true glory, nobody would think of making fun of it. The only thing you wish to do is like Peter on the mount, make the encounter longer. But then it wouldn’t be glory.

Also, unlike our ersatz democratic versions, glory is found in victory and defeat. It is found not just in the glamour sports, but also in the out of the way. In that way glory is more democratic than its replacements could ever be. Four, sometimes eight, sometime more years of training and exercise, uncountable moments, go into this one performance. And even within that one performance of hundreds of moments, it is one that defines it.

Look at the women’s cycling road race. Cycling has an interesting dynamic in that the peloton – the mass of cyclists – are relentless and they almost always catch you. But not always, and that is why some cyclists always make a break away. Cycling is also a team sport, although it may not look like it. There is always a golden child and everyone else is a specialist to protect and carry that golden child. But sometimes it doesn’t break that way. Mara Abbot was not the golden child but a specialist climber. Her role was to hit the hills with everything she has to take the final sprint out of the legs of everyone else while carrying her teammate to the top of the hills. But her teammate couldn’t do it, and no one else would help on the climb. So Ms. Abbot did it all herself opening up a minute lead on the pack. One person had gone with her, but she didn’t share the load. And when they crested the hill, this hanger-on took off down the steep slope. About half-way down nemesis caught her as she couldn’t control the bike and flew over the handles in a heap leaving the in control Ms. Abbot alone in the lead. And she kept it, for a long time. She never looked back. She kept her eyes on what was ahead. After the race, they asked her if she ever thought she might get a medal. Abbot answered, “well at 5 miles and 4 and 2 and 1, no. The chase always captures you, and I had left it all on that hill. But, when I saw 300 meters to go, I said, this could happen.” At 200 m three riders in a chase pack zoomed past her. She didn’t respond, there was nothing left to respond with. Abbot finished fourth. After doing everything right – the perfect teammate, the lead on the climb, keeping within herself on the descent, 4 hours on the bike – she wasn’t on the podium by 4 seconds. But that is the thing about glory, the weight of all those moments compressing into that one. She had run the race. She had left it all out there. The hill specialist without the motor to win it (the expectation was that after the hill she would just drop out of the race) was there. Everyone watching knew she was going to get caught, but she never looked back. It’s not the glory of the podium, but this was something even weightier. This was a unique moment. Terrible and full of glory.

I think the apostle Paul was something of a fan of the games as well. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Cor. 9:25).” There he focuses on the winning, but later “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:42-43).” All the moments of our lives are compressing to that last one. That is a unique moment, terrible and full of glory. When the weight of eternity is placed on us, have we run the race such that it is a prize, or a punishment? “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).” Don’t be fooled by the imitations, don’t settle for what fades, see the signs and prepare for that eternal weight of glory.

Look at the Lilies…

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Biblical Text: Luke 12:22-34

We had a special treat in worship this morning. Our preacher was Tim Bayer, our seminarian. So, I don’t have the full text of the sermon. The word cloud in not the sermon but the text of the day. But, the voice you will hear delivering a great sermon is Tim’s. The Parson still read texts of the day.

I’ve left in a couple of hymns. If the text and the sermon are the proclamation to us not to worry. The hymns are our emotional responses. LSB 741, Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense, understands both that we can be compared to the lilies, but that we are also so much more when in simple faith we cling to Christ. It is a wonderful 2nd generation Lutheran hymn with a Catherine Winkworth english translation. The closing hymn is a prayer that this faith and its Lord would accompany us as all hours of the day. You’ll recognize the hymn tune – Slane – with its probably better known lyrics of Be Thou Our Vision, but for me Jan Struther’s simple plea and structure is as deeply moving as that one’s more soaring spiritual emotion. LSB 738, Lord of All Hopefulness.