God’s Work; Our Growth

Biblical Text: Mark 4:26-34
Full Sermon Draft

The year preaching on the Gospel according to Mark is one of the most interesting. Mark’s gospel has the most cryptic and odd parts. It is no wonder that the current reigning academic model puts Mark as the earliest. It makes sense that some thing like today’s parable or last Sunday’s visit by Mary would be smoothed out later. It makes sense, but I’m not personally convinced. Of the four gospels Mark simply seems to have a sense of the absurd. How crazy and paradoxical and wonderful at the same time life and the God of life actually is. This sermon attempts to ponder the odder of the seed parables. “The earth produces by itself.” It invites you to think of it as a parable of the work of the Spirit. God doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – “he sleeps and rise night and day”, “he scatters everywhere” – but the plants grow and produce a harvest. The Kingdom of God can be absurd that way, but it is God’s work. And he grants us the growth.

Slight Momentary Affliction

Biblical Texts: Mark 3:20-35, 2 Corinthians 4:2-5:1
Full Sermon Draft

I list some biblical texts above, and it is correct to say those are the seed bed for this sermon, but this sermon is more topical that is my normal pattern. The specific topic might be suicide, but the more general one would simply be The Christian Life. It is hard for me to summarize or evaluate this work. There are all kinds of ways I can pick it apart, but I think it stands as an emotional whole. The promise of the gospel is not that it gets better. The promise of the gospel is that what we experience here, any slight momentary affliction, is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. Today we have this treasure – life – in jars of clay or in tents. Not yet, but soon, we will have the resurrection body, the building not made with hands. And yes, this rests on faith and out experience of God in Christ. So do me a favor, and believe it.

Just What is a Sabbath Anyway?

Biblical Text: Mark 2:23-28
Full Sermon Draft

In the course of my lifetime I’m not sure if there is a word that went from being in general use to almost obsolete more than Sabbath. It might be hard to imagine if you didn’t live through it, but the great deliberative bodies of our nation once spent great amounts of time thinking about a Sabbath and its meaning. Today I’d bet that the vast majority of folks wouldn’t even recognize the word. It is in the 3rd commandment. Lots of the controversies around Jesus are because of it. What is a Christian supposed to do? That is what this sermon is about. What is a Sabbath anyway? And if we are supposed to keep it holy, how do we do that? It is so easy, and yet awfully hard. It is all about the gospel, and yet we so often want a law. But as Jesus says, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So we need to understand how to receive it as a gift, not work to secure it. We have a Sabbath rest, even if we don’t know it. This is about knowing it, and living it.

Pride and Promise

Biblical Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Full Sermon Draft

This is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar. That means a couple of things. The first is that we typically roll out the long creed – the Athanasian Creed. We break it into two logical portions in the service and I’ve tried to capture that here. The second thing that Trinity Sunday invites is a more theological approach. What I mean by that is that the day concerns the nature of God which is something that we can never fully comprehend. If we could, they we aren’t pondering God. This sermon is an attempt to mark out some of the boundaries of pondering God. Not boundaries on God himself, but things that should bind us. And it does this through a contrast between King Uzziah, whom the text starts off telling us died in the year of Isaiah vision, and Isaiah’s vision and call. The contrast I’d boil down to the path of pride and the path of promise. One is the path of life and the other of death. I hope you enjoy this.

Bones

Biblical Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Full Sermon Draft

This is possible the all time greatest preaching text. As a congregant said on the way out, it is time to fix some bones. Yes it is. And we can’t do that. But the Spirit does. And not only does he fix them, he breathes life. I’m sure I can say more, but if there is one sermon I’d let speak for itself, it is this one.

Spiritual Children, Consecrated Parents

Biblical Text: John 17:11-19
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We all start off as parents with great expectations. It doesn’t take long, and the older they get, to see those expectations give way to more realistic definitions. Instead of forming the next president we take on goals like stopping them from doing stupid stuff, or in Chris Rock’s formulation “keep them off the pole”. We might think this is miles away from Jesus especially in that High Priestly Prayer on the night he was betrayed. But I think we’d be wrong. His formation of his spiritual children, those disciples, was over. And given the fact of what Judas and Peter were about to do we might even say it was a failure. Yet what Jesus prays is akin to every Mother’s prayer – “keep them away from the evil one”. It is not a prayer of formation or heroic desire, but of salvation and preservation.

And while that prayer often gets a “not yet” response, as it did with Jesus himself. It ultimately gets a “yes”. He will not lose a single lamb that has been given to him. On that great day, his children will be kept away from the evil one. And this is because Jesus consecrated himself, dedicated himself to the purpose of saving sinners. While formation as solid adults, prayer for their well being, and all the other higher goals of parenting good and proper. The highest truth of the job is to relay that truth – whoever has the son has life, and wherever we are at however stupid, we can have the son. Teach them that truth and the good shepherd will keep them from the evil one.

Spirit Led

Biblical Texts: Acts 10:34-48, John 15:9-17
Full Sermon Draft

The Christian Life could be described as being drug kicking and screaming towards love. While we never reach perfection here in this world, if we are blessed I do think that we can outgrow the kicking a screaming part. The natural sinner in each of us will always be there, but we can become wise to ourselves and know that his or her ways leads to misery and death. Instead we listen to the Spirit and walk where He leads. The main text for this sermon is the Acts 10 story of Cornelius and Peter which I paint as something of a NT fulfillment of the Jonah story. Peter, through the Spirit overcomes his kicking and screaming, while Jonah never does. This is the difference of Pentecost which we are fast approaching, and which Acts 10 is sometimes called the Gentile Pentecost. The sermon seeks to proclaim how God has chosen us, and how we can become wise to ourselves becoming Spirit led.

Living Connected (To the Vine)

Biblical Text: John 15:1-8
Full Sermon Draft

Jesus’ saying “I am the true and vine my Father is the vinedresser” is one of those sayings that is immediately accessible but almost limitless in imagination. This sermon starts out with a contemporary example of the negative, cutting oneself off from the vine. It then explores from the text what it means to stay connected. There are two things to staying connected that come from Christ, call them the life circulating in the vine and branches, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Then there are two things that are part of the sanctified life, trials or pruning in this context and prayer. We might focus on that pruning as the big asymmetry of the Christian life, but I think that is simply life in a fallen world. If anything knowing that the Father is going to make use of them is a benefit. They could just be bad luck. The big asymmetry to me is in the time frames considered. Those branches that remove themselves wither and are burned while those that stay connected have a perpetual growing season – eternal life.

The Koan of the Shepherd

Biblical Text: John 10:11-21
Full Sermon Draft

What is the good shepherd? Can we understand it alone, or only is comparison to other things? The Good Shepherd is Jesus himself, but does it have more than romantic meaning for us today?

This sermon obviously answers yes. But it does so through the contrasts that Jesus develops. The Good Shepherd is contrasted both with The Hired Hand and with the Wolves. The contrast with the hired hand is something that Jesus alone fulfills. Christ’s alone are the sheep. The contrast with the wolves is where we have more skin in the game if you would. The wolves do two things: seize and separate. The Good shepherd: lays down his life and gathers. We can give in to the wolves plan, or we can follow the shepherd.

And when we follow the shepherd, we are incorporated into the shepherd. We put down our lives, to take them up for eternity.

According to the Scriptures

Biblical Text: Luke 24:36-49
Full Sermon Draft

The Lukan resurrection texts are one long story – one long Easter. When I read it I wonder if that is authorial privilege, or Luke’s research. The eating of fish sounds so much like John’s beachside story. The road to Emmaus is uniquely Luke’s. The rest are reflections of the other gospel stories. Luke pulls them all together and tells a very tight story that focuses reflection on seeing the body of Christ in three things. The Emmaus disciples are the first in Luke to see the risen Christ, and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread which is a Lord’s Supper scene. We recognize the body in the Supper. We recognize the body is the Peace of the gathering is the next one. It is in this one that we also recognize that the body is not just a spiritual reality, but is flesh and blood. Lastly we recognize the body because the scriptures have testified to it.

This sermon starts out playing with the Nicene creed’s phrase “according to the scriptures” which was one that young Parson Brown didn’t really get. But Luke gets it, and Jesus goes to great lengths to make sure the disciples get it. This sermon meditates on those scriptures not as the proof, but as the family album. In and through those scriptures we can recognize the body of Christ. And because we can recognize it, we can also move forward in faith on the promises that are not yet.