Underware. That is the term for too much sermon prep work actually making it into the sermon. That was what this one was. There is a really good 700 word meditation at the end, preceeded by 700 words that should not have made it into the final draft.
It is not that the first 700 words are bad. They helped the preacher in understanding and picking that one thread to tug on, but the hearers did not have to hear that.
This was the Sunday of the children’s Christmas service. The older tradition was that the Christmas Eve was the Children’s pageant. In our hurried world we cancel Christmas Day, mvoe the kids to Advent 4 and Christmas Eve becomes the Christmas worship. So, the kids – who are like the old Hollywood saying about being in a movie with kids or animals – don’t – they do two things. 1) They are so cute that anything after them is wasted breath. 2) Congregations are either packed or empty for the kids program. I’ll leave you to think why that is so. What used to be done over three hours or three services (Advent 4, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day) with the time to actually think about the day and its events is done in one day.
I can’t help but think that might be a problem. It says something about a lack of communion in the body of Christ – especially if your congregation falls on the empty side. When 51 of 52 weeks the kids are banished to the nursery so the adults have their worship and then the adult stays away on the 52 sunday for the kids. Is there a connection between not making time for the Christ child and the fact that most of the children have drifted away from the faith and if not the faith the church?
This was the last mid-week sermon. We had been roughly following a chain of OT promises of the messiah. The first grouping was about a savior/prophet. The second group were kingly predictions. The last group was priestly predictions. I didn’t start out with prophet, priest and king, but that was always latent and it became more obvious. It also made sense to work from prophet, a more or less completely fulfilled role, to the king, which is fulfilled but hidden, and end with the priest, which sacrificial respect is fulfilled but the presense of God sense remains.
Like when Paul talks about Faith, Hope and Love with the greatest being love becuase while faith and hope give way to knowing love will remain, two of the roles of prophet, priest and king will disappear. We will not need a prophet as all will be known. We will not need a priest as God will be with His people and they will have been remade. We will still have a King.
We moderns, especially modern americans who think history started about 1964, tend to abide by a corollary of history starting in 1964 – anything or anyone that came before that was stupid. Scholars make hay talking about unbridgable difference and making you think you need an expert to help you understand old texts like the Bible. I don’t want to seem anti-intellectual or risk being called a cancer on the church for poking a little fun at this hubris. Good guides to the culture and history of the Bible are good sources, but don’t let your lack of them frighten you away from the Scriptures. The fundamentals of the human condition remain as they ever were. And you do have an expert in reading the scripture – the Holy Spirit.
And this reading from Peter clearly separates what people say about the Gospel from the real Gospel. This link is to athiest Dan Dennett responding to Rick Warren. The net of Dennett’s talk, ironically for someone who is so against design, is that religions are cleverly ermerging responses (awfully close to designs) of man. Religions evolved over time to answer specific questions. Read now how Peter responds to some challenges in the first century – “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” Cleverly devised myths sounds like some brights of the 1st century were talking in a similar vein as Dennett. Ancients weren’t stupid. Or said more in a more biblical and ancient manner, there is nothing new under the sun.
Peter’s witness was not cleverly devised myths but “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty – for when he received honor and glory from the Father…this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased…we heard this voice from heaven.” The transfiguration, the cross, the resurrection. The Apostles were eye witnesses. We have 4 canonical eyewitness testimonies (5 if you include Paul’s Damascus road encounter). None of them teach religion but they preach Christ. It is not laws or rules or religion that saves. It is the power of Christ who has triumphed over the grave. Foolishness to greeks and athiest philosophers and a stumbling block to the Jews and those looking for religious and legal manipulation of God but the power of God for those being saved.
That preaching of Christ is not man made. Man likes philosophy and religion and things of our own clever desgin. But revelation – prophesy – as Peter says, that comes about by men moved by the Holy Spirit speaking from God. God has saved you in Christ and claimed you in the Spirit. You can reject that, but why would you throw away such a gift of love?
After preaching in what is called a lectio continua (a continuous reading) for most of the summer, fall and early winter, the advent texts are herky jerky. One moment you are in Mark and the Next you are in John or Isaiah or Paul. Since I used the Markan text for John the baptist last week (and Mark is the primary Gospel this year), I didn’t jump on the Baptist from John. The Paul text just jumped out at me on second reading. I broke a rule about choosing a text and sticking with it as I changed texts last Tuesday after going not the Baptist again.
I am glad I did. There are many things I like about this sermon. I still wish I was better at merging interesting life stories into sermons, or maybe that is just I wish I was a better storyteller. I’m afraid my sermons too often may come off like lectures. The story I feel best prepared to tell is the biblical story, the story behind the readings. And I am getting more confident in talking about intersections of that story and our modern existence. I think this sermon did that as well as I am able to right now.
Too much of religion is just our own version of oral tradition. We make up laws or only look for laws from religion. Christianity gets reduced to ethics. The resurrection of the Son of God morphs into the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is not what we are waiting for – more tradition or laws. We are waiting for resurrection, the revealing of glory, the kingdom come. Our temporary problems with sin and the old order of things passing away are inconsequential to what the Spirit is working in us and the salvation given through Jesus Christ. Religion is about hope and joy and prayer and thanksgiving. Not about do’s and don’ts.
I’d like you to really read that text. Anything strike you as odd? See anything strange? Read it again.
Christmas is coming up. That is a time full of tradition. Families gather around tables and fireplaces and tell stories. Grandpa tells the kids about what mom did when she was your age. Mom tells the kids that grandpa is going senile and doesn’t remember it right. Dad tiptoes out of the room because the pie smells good and he doesn’t have a dog in this one. Which version is right? The likelihood is that both are correct, but we remember what was most important to us at that time.
Did you read that account of the Last Supper? Did you catch the 2nd cup or should I say first cup? What is that doing there? Why don’t we have two cup? Does this make the entire tradition wrong?
I obviously don’t think it makes the tradition wrong, but it is an example where knowing a little about Tradition helps. The Passover meal (which this was) has 3 or 4 cups in it. The one that is important to Christians is the one that contains the New Covenant. That cup is the one Jesus blesses for all of us. That first cup that Luke records is something different. Jesus gave thanks for that particular meal and shared something just with those disciples in that upper room. Take this and divide it among yourselves. I won’t drink anymore until the Kingdom of God comes. This is a private cup, a private thankgiving with his companions for the last three years. Think that might have been important to those disciples? Think a good historian interviewing those disciples years later might have picked up on that?
Just a thought. It is speculation. But Luke is a good historian and obviously a good listener. He cared about his audience, but he also wanted to get the story right. So we get a 2nd cup, a fondly remembered private blessing. Be sure in your family traditions to share those private blessings.
In the modern world Christians who are looking forward to a coming King have a problem. Christopher Hitchens goes right at that problem. The idea of a King is oppressive in a world of democracies.
Somewhat surprisingly the answer is part affirmation of what Hitchens says – a Holy King is a scary dictator. We are sinful beings. Being judged by the Holy is not what we want. But God has demonstrated his Love for us while we were still cowering in fear. He gave up all the opulence of the best kingdom and tool the lowest rung to show his love. That is love we can trust.
I liked this sermon. If you’ve got 5 mins or have read Hitchens before, give it a click and scan it.
The Lutheran understanding of the calling of a minister is of a mediated divine call. Mediated means it comes through his people the church. Unlike say Paul, the disciples or Isaiah in this scene, God does not speak directly (unmediated) and call the minister. Nevertheless, that call is still divine. God is still at work placing that call – through the Spirit at work in His people. The Lutheran can talk about receiving a call from God. They can also talk about receiving the call from the church. It is one of those incarnational, two natures things. An appropriate topic in advent as we think about the incarnation of God in man as the baby Jesus.
The early part of the reading is heard often. It takes pride of place in Christian worship – Holy, Holy, Holy! and the picture of God’s majesty and the prophet’s reply – Here I am! Send me!
The second part is what is never considered. Isaiah is jumping up and down saying send me, I’ll do it. Then he gets the content of the call. Isaiah, go, go to my people and make them stupid. Shut their eyes and their ears and close off their understanding.
Wait just a second God, that is not what I was jumping up and down for. How long he asks? Maybe this is only a short time to make the reversal all the sweeter. What have I gotten myself into?
The Lord’s reply is stunning. Though 1/10th be left, burn it again. It is a gallows humor joke among seminarians already fearing being sent to North Dakota that when you open up the call package you don’t want to see Isaiah 6:1-13 in the documents.
That is part of the prayer in consideration and discernment. From the Divine side of the call, what Lord do you want me to do in this place? The biggest part of that answer is a faithful proclamation. The holy seed in Isaiah’s stump has come and budded and grown. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the calling of the Father to save mankind from her sins. Jesus Christ and the Spirit are both fulfilling the Mission of God to call sinners to repentance and salvation.
The above picture is one I’ve seen in other contexts as well. What appears to be every house on the block on in a neighborhood for sale. Having a house for sale currently, and reading this passage from Isaiah is interesting. In its context in ancient Israel after the conquest the land had been divided up among the tribes and then among the people. Everyone started out with a hereditary plot. The sabbath year and the jubilee years were supposed to “bail out” those who did not have good business sense and had sold their property or themselves. There is no written account of these ever taking place on a large scale. Instead the rich would get richer and the poor would be driven out. As Isaiah says the rich would add field to field and they would dwell alone – the ancient version of the gated community or the cul-de-sac development or Tom Wolfe’s insulation.
The LORD condemns that. Through Isaiah he says surely many houses will be desolate, large and beautiful houses without inhabitant. Economic ruin comes from this activity. Eventually exile from the land.
One can make extrapolations to the entire US rather easily. That might be correct – the Lord is Lord of all, but the warnings were given to Isreal, the people of God. Does the church today demonstrate any of these tendencies? One of my wonders is the growth of Mega-Churches. Being the minister at a small congregation, this could just be sour grapes, but how many mega-churches grow to that size because they are just joining field to field? What I mean by that is becuase they are big to begin with they offer programs. Those programs are attractive regardless of the theology or belief behind them. Do they attract a disproportionate number of church shoppers – i.e. people who had a church home, but became attracted by the offerings of the larger church? The net is not an increase in the reign of God, but just an adding of field to field.
I don’t have a sure Word on that. I am sure there are large congregation who are very missional, but there are also those who clearly are just gathering market share. But it is something each congregation should think about in regards to obligations to fellow congregations.
This link takes you to a blogger who helpd at one of the larger gathering places for Operation Christmas Child. If I remember my count we sent along about 20 shoeboxes. Nancy relayed on the moving van full of boxes as the church that was the drop off point. This picture comes from even further down the line.
The comments are interesting. Something I’m not always the best at. A mentor of mine said, “talk life and you eventually get around to theology.” The link does that very well.