One little bit of widsom that stuck in my head is a maxim “preach Jesus – he’s preachable”. Its a pithy phrase that sums up Luke 24:27 and elsewhere. That phrase is easiest when you are talking about Jesus’ works and deeds, or when you are talking about the divine nature of Christ. It becomes much more difficult when you are talking mental thoughts or emotional feelings of Jesus. Everyone is happy talking about the love of God, but anger or desire tread on difficult ground. The preacher is climbing inside the head of the Christ – a very dangerous task. The text has the phrase – “He desired/wanted to pass by them.” And yet Jesus doesn’t do that, in fact the phrase is just odd as it is againt everything for which he was walking on the sea. The sermon works that out.
The only other thought thought in this vein has to do with what and how our adversary is attacking people today. There is a meme that each generation is tempted in specific paths. The task of the church and the preacher is to confront that temptation. The pressure on the church is to synchronize with or condone that temptation. The formula of Concord says something like that in Article X paragraph 4. I’m beginning to think that our modern temptation in many ways that we’ve forgotten what it means to be human. We have never been real good at parts of it (suffering, being created creatures, being both body and spirit), but never have we been so able to ignore or change our fundamental nature. Death is always held at bay until we have no time to prepare. We create special places and classes of people to segregate real suffering – like hospitals and doctors or government housing and social workers. We deny the spirit becuase it doesn’t conform to a test bench and so we become materialists. Our humanity is being limited and we are happily giving it away.
The counter to that is not the divinity of Christ, but His humanity. Jesus desired to pass by. Jesus desired to reveal the glory to his closest followers…but instead he climbs in the boat with them. A very human act in the middle of a calm sea of miracles.
Text: Luke 23:26-31
I’m taking a break from 1 Samuel because of the Gospel text of the day. This text to me has always been one of the scariest in all of scripture. To who is this warning given? Most commentators take it only as specifically to Jerusalem and warning once again of what will happen in AD 70. Very critical scholars will say it is made up after the fact. (The Jesus Seminar I’m sure put this quote in black letters indicating no chance the Jesus spoke it.) Only Luke records the presence of the women on the path and Jesus’ words to them – which fits with Luke’s overall attention to women and the high likelihood of Mary being one of his sources. The trouble with words like this is the scope. Do they apply only to that time, or does time telescope. Many of the OT prophecies about Jesus (like Isa 7:14) have a close fulfillment and then a greater fulfillment in Jesus. When Jesus speaks about AD 70 (Luke 21:5-24) does he also speak about a greater Day of the Lord?
Matt 24:22 gives our answer of hope – do not be afraid. Those days will be cut short for the sake of the elect. In more poetic language maybe you could speak of a tree planted over a stream (Ps 1:3). The church is a tree planted on the stream of life, Jesus. With such life giving water does the tree ever fully go dry? Our hope is not for this world, and we are already living in the next. That second death – the dry branches thrown in the flames – will not touch us.
The feeding of the 5000 is the only story in all 4 gospels. Why? In Mark it seems to be the climax of a series of miracles, although it might appear to be an anti-climax to the raising of Jairus’ daughter. What does it tell us. Simply that God provides. God’s providence cover us both in physical things and in spiritual things. All ate and were satisfied. The disciples saw the miracle in that.
Texts: 1Samuel 4:1-11, 1Samuel 5:1-12, 1Samuel 6:1-16
The three text sections above carry the full tale of the Ark. The Israelites under old Eli have gone to war with the Philisitnes and were being slaughtered, so they think “let’s bring the Ark out with us!” This of course is the Indiana Jones Ark, along with the spear of destiny and any other “holy” artifact that would give anyone – even Hitler – the victory. Sorry for the sarcasm. Indy is a great movie, but the theology is horrendous. A bad theology shared by the Israelites of the time. “We’ve got God in a box. Let’s take him out to fight for us.” That ends badly as the Philistines capture the ark.
The Philistines have their own bad theology. “Since we defeated the Israelites, our God must be stronger. Let’s put the Ark of their God in our temple as a lasting tribute.” The theology is suffering equals punishment from God or in a multi-god worldview -“Nah, Nah, your god is a 98lb weakling.” But the “winning idol” falls over twice and plagues start appearing in the land. The Ark becomes a hot potato being passed around among the cities of the Philistines, and plague travels with it.
Eventually the Philistines just want the Ark gone. What is interesting is that the Philistine priests acknowledge the Exodus. The warning is don’t be like Pharoah – let the thing go now! The hook it up to two cows, put images of the plagues inflicted on them next to it and send it on its way driverless. Never-the-less the cows go the right way and the Ark is returned.
It is probably a moral failure in me, but I find stories like this one amusing. We moderns think we are so advanced, but the two theological errors of the Israelites and the Philistines are still with us. When things are going bad, the first response for the christian is often to play the religion card – “God, get me out of this.” Or should we call it is the Jesus Take the Wheel theology. Not that God is not there, it is the easy and thoughtless manner of the call for divine intervention. When we think we are on top an easy triumphalism enters or maybe “Our God is an Awesome God” theology. Again, not that he is not awesome, but He claims everything is his and not just one side in a petty dispute.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whose Ark this was has his own ideas. Ideas as crazy as “I am God – there is no other. (Isa 45:5)” Ideas as crazy as dying on a cross actually being victory. Whose ideas have ultimate reality? God has a way of poking fun at our bad ideas about Him – like a driverless cow cart bringing back the Ark with gold tumors next to it.
The word Justice can bring forth two completely different responses. It can bring a law response. That repsonse ranges from the “I’ll get you” attitude of Herodias to the “what must I do to be saved” response. Either you accept the law proclamation’s validity and need to repent, or you deny that it applies along a scale of response. Justice is also a gospel proclamation. In a time of poor government and corrupt leadership, justice is a gospel proclamation to those under the rod. Those with the rod in their hand will get their due and justice will be established in the land. We can never expect full justice in this creation, but we are even now being re-created in Christ. That new creation will be ruled in justice. Of course, since we have the down payment of that new creation, the Holy Spirit, we have the responsibility to govern ourselves and those entrusted to us in justice.
This sermon is easily open to claims of being preached to the wrong audience. Those who are called to the carpet or mocked were not in the room. In that sense there was not a valid law proclamation before the gospel. But in a democracy we bear some burden for our own rulers. We picked them and continue to pick them. In that sense our quietism, our not wanting to get involved, is the sin. The gospel is that we have a king whose rule is justice, and today is the day of grace. That King has risen and will reign forever, but today is given for grace. Repent an rule your life and those entrusted to you in justice.
Text:1 Samuel 3:1-21
It is hard to really get a grip on poor old Eli. I guess the picture is just of a weak man in an office much bigger than he was. His kids ignore him and do despicable things. He assumes that drunk people normally stagger into the Tabernacle (Samuel’s mom), and quickly rushes to cover his mistake. He lives and works in the place of worship, is the chief worship leader, and yet the Word of the Lord was rare in those days.
In the Lutheran tradition we speak of Law and Gospel proclamation. The Law is what bring terror while the Gospel is God’s peace for us. I wonder if when Samuel told Eli what God said – that his house would be cut off – if Eli took that as law or as Gospel. If it was law you’d expect a personally pious man to repent and be grieved (think David when confronted by Nathan and Psalm 51). Proclaiming the law is tough and Samuel doesn’t have an easy first assignment – hence the hesitency and Eli’s insistence. Maybe for the first time in his life Eli is forcing “his son” and himself to do the hard thing. Eli’s response is – “It is the LORD, let him do what seems good to him.” I can’t help but think he took it as a Gospel proclamation – God would deliver his people from all of Eli’s faults. No tearing of the clothes. No sacrifices or attempts to save himself, his son’s and his line. But a sense of consigned happiness. The weight of it all, the office, the misbehavior, that lack of the Word, would be removed.
I can’t help but think of Eli as something of a symbol for much of our leadership both national and in families – too weak a people to carry out the duties assigned and expected. 40% of children in America are born outside of marriage. Fathers are too weak to accept the role their bodies signed them up for. Mothers too weak to admit picking poorly. Those parents bring up children who run loose and behave like Eli’s children with any amount of power. Religious leaders afraid of preaching and teaching the gospel with personal lives too screwy to do so effectively. And if they are too afraid and live like that, why should parents teach their own kids. Political and cultural leaders who behave as children and cry when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. But the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the Word of the Lord. So is our prayer – Lord reveal yourself again by your Word in our lives.
Text: 1 Samuel 2:12-26
I got a kick when the phrase “…before I go Old Testament on you…” entered into the vocabulary of every 6th grader. (If I remember right it was from Pulp Fiction which I can’t explain why 6th graders would be watching that movie.) The phrase actually captures some of the flavor of these Old Testament stories. Eli’s sons in the space of a few versus: are called worthless, demonstrate their disregard for God and their positions by abusing them and the people they serve, and using their position to procure sex from those who served in the place of worship.
I remember as a kid both at home and in Sunday School a steady diet of these Old Testament stories. Now with my oldest being 6 years old – and her favorite bible story being “The Ten Plagues” – I sometimes have the same thoughts as Ben Myers here. Just what is this little one getting out of this? Samuel was a constant in those Sunday school lessons. First his mother’s piety and Eli stupidity. Then Samuel’s calling by God in that small voice that would doom Eli. It was usually tied together with some type veggie-tales “little guys can do big things to” moral or a stern warning to “obey your parents and respect God.” (Like Mr. Myers’ child thinking about the goat, my Anna always cracks up at the frogs in the plagues. There is something about a swarm of frogs that tickles her funny bone.)
I wonder how many kids of even Christian familes are hearing the old testament stories today? And I am not asking that strictly through a sentimental fog. There is no question that the OT seems rougher and more brutal (excluding the cross of the NT). After growing up, did those stories at that age have an effect on our rougher and vulgar culture today as Ben implies? Or do we not tell those stories to our children (in violation of the old testament directive to speak of them always) because we have lost or never gained the vocabulary to talk about them? Since they end up watching Pulp Fiction anyway, shouldn’t Eli and his worthless son’s get their time? And think for a second about the implied lessons on duty, authority and justice. Justice is the purpose of all authority. The authority that perverts justice loses its mantle. To the extent that a small child will tell a 90 year old the Word of God. Even from a secular point of view those sound like good republican virtues.
Text: Luke 20:19-26
The last thing that I’d want to do is wade into a political mine field, but the text before me today contains the famous reply of Jesus, “Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, and to God, what is God’s.” It is a reply that asks us at a fundamental level to examine priorities. It seems that Sarah Palin – to the great consternation and bafflement of careerist politicians and commentators – was thinking about priorities recently. Of all places it seems the NY Times runs a article that gets the Alaska governor. (HT Rod Dreher who adds some good comments about advising his kids vocational choices)
Most of us kinda stumble through life with a rough prioritization of things being whatever screams the loudest at the moment. Living in a house with three children six and under, that often means a literal scream. We also hear from the mental health community all the time about a healthy balanced life. Often that means placing ourselves first and everything else gets attention only as it impacts our healthy balance. Pastors are commonly told to not lose the self or the family in the course of being a Pastor. All of those sources usually boil down to some flow-chart list like: 1. God, 2. Self, 3. Family and 4. Church – like we can stop in the middle of life and neatly sort out what falls into each of those buckets. That is what modernity is good at doing, fragmenting and segmenting life.
But that is not what Jesus consistently says. Give to God the things that are God’s. Not that Ceasar doesn’t get his due, but even Caesar gets put under an authority. Or Jesus says things like “seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added…Matt 6:33). The consistant witness seems to be get the first thing first and leave the rest to God. God adds things to us. Modernity wants to subtract and fragment. Aim for the kingdom, and God wants to add. That is a fundamentally different view. Act in everything with the Kingdom in mind. Yes we will mess us. Yes we will be selfish and delude ourselves about our choices. We are fallen creatures. But it doesn’t say find the kingdom first, it says seek. God will do the rest. Getting that first priority right means a lot more than any of the others. It also means don’t lose sight of the person who is doing all the rest – God. It also doesn’t say anything about how we may like or dislike what God chooses to add. Jeremiah complains about just that (Jeremiah 20:7) when he says the Lord decieved him. The addition of all these things should not be confused with simple material prosperity.
Text: Mark 6:1-13
Jesus has promised to be with us, to work on us and with us and through us, in some very specific forms. The church is the place and the Word and the Sacraments are the forms of God’s work among us. Jesus’ hometown was not scandalized by the wisdom or the miralces that he did. They didn’t deny them. They were scandalized by the form – the physical carpenter, the son of Mary. That sets a pattern throughout history. People want the wisdom and the miracles, they may not even deny much of them, but they are scandalized by the form of God’s work among his creation. They are scandalized by the all too human church. They are scandalized by the mystical nature of the sacraments in simple bread and wine and water. They are scandalized by the written Word – the Bible. They are scandalizd by the oral Word – just some sinful guy preaching. The form that God chooses often scandalizes – even when accompanied by wisdom and miracles.
The good news is that Jesus does not give up on His lost sheep. He goes to the villages around. And He sends out his disciples. We ourselves may be prophets without honor. Our kids or our spouses or someone close to us may have rejected Christ and the form of that witness – namely us. God does not give up on his lost sheep. He goes to the villages around and send out disciples.
Christians, at least american Christians, have a tendency to look through the cross. We don’t think of Jesus himself being rejected. What that really does is de-humanize Jesus. Christians see him as the glorified Christ. Those who don’t already believe don’t see it. This text shows us that human Jesus up close. Rejected by even his own house. It also shows us His faith in His mission. This was important enough, that even through that rejection, Jesus continues to call people. In an age stripped and wary of transcendant claims, but rabidly looking for them, this human Jesus portrayed by Mark that invites us to answer the question – who is this? – connects at a level we often forget.