Keep Walking

Biblical Text: Mark 1:9-15
Full Sermon Draft

It is the first Sunday in Lent, hence the purple colors on the graphic. The traditional text is one of the temptation of Jesus texts. When we think of those we probably think of Matthew and Luke’s stylized accounts with three temptations and three snappy comebacks. Mark’s version isn’t so stylized. His is all of about two verses. But in those two verses he emphasizes four things. 1) It is the Spirit that leads Jesus to the wilderness with Satan and the wild animals. God is not tame. 2) The encounter is presented as a continuing act. He was in the wilderness for 40 days; the entire time under trial or testing. 3) The Angels ministering were also present the entire time. 4) The result of the trial is the proclamation of the gospel – the reign of God.

Temptation is a perfectly fine word, but I prefer the word trial or testing. I think when we hear temptation with do two things. First we minimize the truth. We equate temptation with eating too much chocolate, we dismiss it, or we think it is only a narrow category of experience. Second we think of it as an instantaneous thing. But when we say a test or a trial, since we still have those in the secular world, we take them seriously. The time of trial is a serious thing. What this sermon does is consider the time of trial and the Christian’s response. It also considers how to view testing as an instance of the gospel. I don’t think I trivialize the subject, and hopefully give some comfort for those times of testing.

I have left in a hymn before the sermon, LSB 716, We Walk in Danger All the Way. This Hymn is one of the true gems of the church and should be much better known. It also does some of the preparation or even heavy lifting for the sermon. I also left in a piece of music after the sermon that I normally don’t – the offertory. My youngest son (8yo) is the one bowing his way through the hymn – On My Heart Imprint Your Image – which we use as the Lenten offertory.

Bearing the Ashes

Biblical Text: Matthew 6:19-34
Full Draft

Ash Wednesday is one of the occasional services of the church year. I alter up the text a bit, because I think the assigned texts don’t reflect our actual practice. It is not that the historic practices are bad, just that we don’t do them. I think we might consider them in the right light if we understood the section of the sermon on the mount right after them. And by understood what I really mean is feel cut to the heart by it. That is what this attempts.

Transfigured Lives

Biblical Text: Mark 9:2-9 (Transfiguration)
Full Sermon Draft

One way to think about meaning in a text is to divide it into different levels. The first and most basic level is the words and grammar themselves. This is a very simple and literal level, but even the most complex text never outgrows the basic words. The second level is the actions (or inactions) that are narrated. A character who lies, and someone who knows it is a lie but goes along, give a scene meaning beyond the simple words. The action of a lie betrays the words themselves and the action of accepting it reveals something about the character whether that is longing, or hurt, or self-loathing, or even a kindness depending upon the social status of the liar and the lied to. I’m sure there are other levels. (I was taught a third level where both the text and the action don’t mean anything more than an expression of the power structure of the writer. This is the standard critical school reading method. The text isn’t the Word of God, but what layers of the dominant folks put into God’s mouth. This can be an interesting window, but it also fundamentally assumes that the writers were either oblivious or nefarious in their intents.) The transfiguration text to me is one that operates on the high difference between the first level of the worlds and the second level of the final deed. The words themselves detail the magnificence of Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. The deeds are that person turning from the glory and points toward the cross. The question is where does glory reside?

There is glory with God in the beginning, and that cannot be taken away, but God moves toward Calvary. There is glory in the events of Calvary, but God is not a masochist. Suffering and the cross is not the end. The full shape, which the disciples are told to remain silent until they see it, is glory growing through the cross until the final glory of the resurrection. Transfigured lives are not static lives. Transfigured lives are not lives lived in misery. Transfigured lives are lives made so by the shape of that story. We carry the cross in the hope of the resurrection. We leave comfort, to test and grow faith. We walk in love of our neighbor, because that is what Christ did. That is how we become fully human. That is how we are transfigured.

Worship Note: I’ve left in our choir which had a beautiful short piece that our recording equipment caught rather well. I also left in one of the best not just modern hymns, but hymns of all time. I moved it in the recording to after the sermon from it place as hymn of the day. LSB 416, Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. Unfortunately the song is still under copyright, so I’m going to cheat. If your hymnal doesn’t have this hymn, you need a new one.

Swiftly pass the clouds of glory, Heaven’s voice the dazzling light
Moses and Elijah vanish; Christ alone commands the height!
Peter, James and John fall silent, Turning from the summit’s rise
Downward toward the shadowed valley, where their Lord has fixed his eyes.

Glimpsed and gone the revelation, They shall gain and keep its truth
Not by building on the mountain any shrine or sacred booth
but by following the savion through the valley to the cross
and by testing faith’s resiliance through betrayal, pain and loss

Lord, transfigure our perceptions with the purest light that shines
and recast our life’s intentions to the shape of your designs
Till we seek no other glory than what lies past Calvary’s hill
And our living and our dying and our rising by Your will.

What are We Here For?

Biblical Text: Mark 1:29-39
Full Sermon Draft

That title is the question of purpose; it is the specter of despair. It is also something that Jesus, in his time on this earth, experienced with us. And in his experience showed us how we should attempt to answer. As with all things Jesus it is so simple anyone could do it, yet not simplistic or limiting in any way. The sermon develops the role of that question in Jesus’ life, the thread of continuity found in the will of the Father through changes in purpose. It then develops that teaching for our lives.

Satan Right Before Us

Biblical Text: Mark 1:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

Texts on unclean spirits and demons are tough ones for sermons these days. You can completely spiritualize them, which is dishonest and drains them of all their power. As O’Connor said about the Eucharist, “if it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.” You can take a cessationist line, which could be possible, but ins’t really taught anywhere in the scripture. You could take a charismatic line, but unless you have an active exorcism ministry, that is a stretch. Or you can do what I attempted to do here. I’d invite you to listen. I think this is important stuff proclaimed in a faithful way that has Jesus at its center.

Worship Note: I have left in the record two musical parts. Our choir sang a wonderful little piece today and they were in great voice. That is between the Old Testament and Epistle lessons. I also left in the hymn after the sermon, LSB 583, God Has Spoken By His Prophets. As we were singing it this morning I was struck by how it artistically captured the core of the sermon.

Origin Stories

Biblical Text: Mark 1:14-20
Full Sermon Draft

I’ve always been fascinated by the synoptic gospel accounts of the disciples juts leaving, dropping their nets and following Jesus. For a long time I thought it doesn’t make any literal sense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t history, but that there had to be a lot more behind those stories. John’s gospel I believe gives us some of that more. John and probably Andrew had been watching this Jesus for a while because of the Baptist. So when he comes by the Sea calling, they drop their nets and follow. But there is more psychological depth to these stories. They are stories of longing, and stories of opportunity. God passes by, the moment moves quickly on, do you live, or go on with life? Do you embark on something original, or stay in well worn ways?

These stories are important to moderns because we have a twofold problem. We are surrounded by origin stories and new beginnings, but then none of ours satisfy, because we don’t actually live them. The call of Christ is the call to true life. It is not something we can live at a remove. We can stay in the boat, or get go toward the shore. We can leave the nets, or hold on, but not both. This sermon attempts to explore that area of necessity and longing.

Early Faith/Come and See

Text: John 1:43-51
Full Sermon Draft

Every now and then you get a text that the received or conventional understand of it is one that you just reject. When I get in that situation it is usually because I find that conventional reading just oh-so-pious. I’m not against piety, but I’m deeply allergic to false piety which is usually a form of euphemism. This text is one of those. The received understanding involves two things: a) evangelism and b) the foresight of Jesus. But both of those understandings of the story of Philip and Nathanael ignore the actual witness give by Philip which is less about Jesus and more about his conception of Jesus and just make the epigram at the end an extraneous disconnected piece. That last bit is what drove me to think deeper. Most critical commentaries will do just what I said, they will declare verse 51 a free floating bit of tradition added here for no particular reason. What ever interpretation you put on it must make that epigram jump out of the story. What does that to me is not to force a miracle story about Jesus’ foresight, or to make too quick a jump to the idea of evangelism. Instead, what makes it jump out is to read the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael as one drenched in irony or a facetious one that Jesus plays along with. The aphorism jumps when you take it a Jesus putting Nathanael on notice that what he has said tongue in cheek, he will come to see in a deeply true way.

When you read the text the way I present in this sermon, what you have is a compare and contrast of two forms of early faith. Philip’s faith is true, but he is remarkably mistaken. His faith needs to be refined. Nathanael’s faith on the other hand might be completely absent or just nascent. He knows the errors of Philip’s, but at least Philip is on the road, Nathanael is being invited to “come and see”. He is being challenged by Jesus to set aside the unearned skepticism and take the smallest step of faith, to openly observe. If he takes this smallest step, he will see heaven open. And that still goes for us. Philip and Nathanael end up being us early in faith.

Seeing the Glory

Biblical Text: Mark 1:4-11, Romans 6:1-11 (and the general Epiphany Texts of the Magi, Cana and the Transfiguration)
Full Sermon Draft/a>

Holy Days, like Epiphany, often come with a phalanx of texts associated with them. The day itself is a concept, and over time various texts carry that theme with slightly different emphasis. For Epiphany the texts are: The Magi, The Wedding at Cana, The Baptism of Jesus and then the Transfiguration. Stars, and lights, and voices and glory manifest. The actual text of the day is the baptism, but the sermon is a pondering of all of them, and really of the season. How do we see the glory? How do we see God? Is it all at once? Are we capable of understanding that? The sermon points at two expressions of the glory that are manifest in waters of the Jordan. And then how that glory is given to us and how it is manifest here and now, and in the world to come. At some point along that trail of Epiphanies, we do really “get it”. Be rest on the promises of Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us and one day sanctify us.

Epiphany

Full Sermon Draft

Above was the “King’s Cake” for this year. Below was the start of the sermon. (I don’t have a recording for this because I typically don’t do these smaller groupings from the pulpit.) Hope you had a wonderful Epiphany of Three Kings day…

On the one hand you can’t talk about Epiphanies without sounding like a pretentious schmuck, on the other I’ve been thinking about how the core texts of Epiphany and the what the season itself is about is quite meaningful today.

Here is what I mean by that. Each season of the church year has a general feeling. Lent is penitential. But to be in a penitential mood, one has to have accepted a certain story about what humans are. Advent is about hopeful waiting, but again, unless you’ve accepted a story about God, hopeful waiting can be Waiting for Godot. Christmas and Easter are proclamation seasons. Christ is here! Christ has triumphed. There are no preconditions to the proclamation. It is just good news. But you don’t need to receive the good news. Maybe it just falls off the front page tomorrow, or by the 6 PM news. Pentecost is about how we live, but it requires having received that good news.

Epiphany sets itself up in that liminal space. We’ve heard the proclamation in some way. “We saw his star in the east.” We witnessed the first of his signs, when he changed the water into wine. We heard the prophet say “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” right before he dunks Jesus in the Jordan. We’ve heard the proclamation, and with our inner eye we perceive that something is different, but what we do next isn’t sure…

Backwards and Forwards, Grounding and Hope

Biblical Text: Luke 2:22-40
Full Draft Text

New Year’s Eve is not something on the Traditional Church calendar, it is the 7th day of Christmas for those who follow the liturgical calendar. I know that other Protestant traditions (typically Reformed) have a long history of worship on New Years, but here, as I mention in the sermon, it is the first time in my pastorate that I’ve had the pulpit on the Eve. A new year automatically creates a looking backward and a looking forward. What this sermon attempts to do is ground it in the saintly examples of Simeon, Anna and the Holy Family. Instead of wishing the old gone and the new on our strength alone, the old is our grounding and the new we look for is the strength of God. Happy New Year, and may the consolation of Israel be found in your hearts.