Monthly Archives: September 2015

Kingdom Memory, Kingdom Walk

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Biblical Text: Mark 9:38-50
Full Sermon Draft

The Gospel of Mark, per the early church, is the memories/sermons/stories of Peter written down around the time of his death. And I tend to think at the close of sections, like today’s text, you can see just the way memory works. The big story about a point is told, but there are a bunch of smaller sayings and stories that rush into the mind afterward. Those other stories and sayings are important, you can’t imagine the full story without them, but they are footnotes or modifiers on the larger points. After being put in their place about status positions this text modifies just how disciples are to walk with each other. The main modification is an acceptance that the Kingdom is something larger that one tribe or expression of it. But that modifier deserves a second, a don’t let your brains fall out. While you can find joy in an expression of the Kingdom that isn’t yours, the church still has boundaries. Those boundaries involve sin and truth. The church is a community of truth and as such is calls out sin. It doesn’t just accept it as a different expression of church. And the teachers of the church have a scary role in that that could end in millstones and deep water.

The sermon attempts to have an artistic flair. Parts of a one man show, the remembrances of Peter. And those remembrances are brought forward in application to our situation. I’ve succeeded if you’ve heard the voice of the Apostle.

Music Note. I left in the recording our hymn of the day which is in my top 5 hymns. My guess is that you wouldn’t here this one in many churches and definitely not in the local mega-church. Mainly because it is a little slow do develop and has a strong poetic structure. The first three verses get darker before the last three speak of our reality in God. It fit with my understanding of these verses. Yes, we will all be salted with fire, but that is as the living sacrifices. We walk toward truth and peace which is with Jesus and heavenward all the way. Even in the midst of trial. I Walk in Danger All the Way, Lutheran Service Book 716.

Thoughts on a Papal Visit

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. – Luke. 12:11-12

But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me – Acts 26:25-29

It might be slightly odd for a Lutheran pledged to the Lutheran Confessions, which call the Papacy the antichrist, to be interested in what a Pope says or does. Well, there is always a fascination with the anti-anything, but that is not all the confessions have to say. The same confessions that would call the Pope the antichrist are clear that it isn’t the office as Bishop of Rome that is the problem, but its claims. Bishops are fine human offices, it is when they claim authority beyond what is common to all pastoral offices and do so by claiming the divine name that they function as anti-Christ. (Catechism note 2nd commandment: “we should fear and love God such that we do not…lie or deceive by His name.” The claims of divine authority are a deception through the use of God’s name.) Specifically the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope had three objections: 1) The Pope’s claim by divine right to be above all other bishops and pastors in the church, 2) The Pope’s claim to possess authority in the realms of both Church and state and 3) The Pope’s demands that people acknowledge this authority as a requirement for salvation. The years since Luther have not been humanly kind to that office. Kings and Presidents no longer seek the confirmation of the Pope for their position upon coronation or inauguration, and the Papal States are a single hill in Rome. And the Roman Catechism itself acknowledges that while Luther might be damned as a schismatic, “one cannot charge with the sin of separation those who are born into these communities…the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. (p818)” But the papal claim of being the Vicar of Christ, holding the Keys by divine right, is still front and center. Melanchthon’s short treatise – The Power and Primacy of the Pope – still has some amazing relevance as do many of the Confessional documents with a little thought.

But the real reason I’m thinking about the Pope is his recent trip to our shores. The Pope is probably the only Christian witness that would be invited to address a joint session of Congress after having an audience with the President. When Paul got his dime in front of Caesar, he didn’t waste time. He didn’t argue about Caesar’s tax plan or the Roman welfare system (bread and circuses!). Paul did two things. He proclaimed Christ risen, and he encouraged Caesar to respect his own laws and eyes. Whether it is Peter or Paul or later martyrs (witnesses!) this is a familiar pattern. Both Jesus is Lord and we Christians are your best citizens calling you to respect what is best among you.

The Pope’s recent address to Congress was interesting in that I believe it was effective at the second portion of that pattern. The Pope cited four Americans: Lincoln, MLK, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. He used well each of those examples well. And each you could say fit well within this current Pope’s frame of mind of social justice. He wished at the beginning, through Congress, to enter into dialog (which seems to be a favorite word) with all Americans. And through that dialog to spur us to live up to the best of us.

Then I searched through the entire speech. Not one mention of Jesus. The word Christ is never used. The Pope opened with Moses, flattering the assembled legislators that they too are engaged in Moses’ task. But I want to quote that section in full.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

In one sense it was very appropriate. In a speech to lawmakers, it was all law. The unity of the people depends upon just legislation. Moses leads directly to God which is merely a stand in for the transcendent dignity of the human being. Right there you have the religion of rational man which knows nothing of Christ and faith. If our hopes for unity are in the law, we have none. If our hope for dignity rests upon Congress protecting us by the law, we are already stripped and in bondage.

I longed for Paul’s plain witness to the gospel of Jesus. Moses does not point to God directly other than the hidden God who never answers. The law tells us our need for something beyond it, something truly transcendent. We always fail the law and it never stops accusing. But that failure tells us our need for Jesus. And Jesus has won. Our dignity is not based in being human. Our human dignity is because Jesus took our humanity into God. That humanity is transcendent not by itself but because of the work of Jesus confirmed in the resurrection. Our image of God is cracked by sin, but God restores it in Christ, in baptism and through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Can you imagine a Pope, speaking to the gathered legislators not about a general human spirit, but The Spirit of Christ? An address that called on them to fulfill their vocations as lawmakers in the best American tradition, but also to trust in the grace of Jesus and to empower the body of Christ, the church, to be that grace, instead of shrinking it to a freedom to worship? An address that would make Chuck Schumer run for the nearest camera and say “Did the Pope really think he could so easily convert a NY Jew?”

That is what we are here for. Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me. Whether dialog or road to Damascus, would that you would hear Christ and believe. You are my witnesses, in Jerusalem and Judea, in Samaria and the US Congress. Don’t worry, the Holy Spirit has a few good words, and they begin with the name Jesus.

Willful Moral Ignorance

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Biblical Text: Mark 9:30-37
Full Sermon Text

This text is the second passion prediction and a unique to Mark saying of Jesus. The saying is mirrored a couple of other places in very similar sounding ways, but the setting and the vocabulary of this text are unique. Unique enough to support this sermon. The central theme or problem is what do you call it or what happens when you know the moral path but are afraid. And this is tied to a very specific living example.

Faith over Fear

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Biblical Text: Mark 9:14-29
Full Sermon Draft

Fear is just not a permanent facet of the Christian life. It is not that we don’t feel it. It is not that we are spared the type of experiences that bring it forward. But the big difference is our belief in the end. The Christian both believes in an author of history, a providential God, and he believes that this providential God loves us and does all things for our benefit. We may fear for a night, but the steadfast love of the Lord is forever. This sermon examines fear, the response of faith with overcomes fear, and how the Christian lives out of that faith instead of fear. As we started Sunday School today, special emphasis is given to that roll of teacher.

A Thought on Kim Davis, Citizen

Someone on Quora asked me to answer this question: Is Kim Davis morally responsible for the marriage licenses that she certifies?

I answered in the following manner.

That is actually a quite involved question. The writers of the NT were writing to people who were largely powerless. Having a government position just wasn’t on the radar. The first people to start addressing it are later, and then the most comparable questions I would say would be: can a Christian be a soldier? There has always been a strain of Christianity that has said no to that question, although the large majority have said yes. Their reasoning was that the citizen had both a moral duty to the government and the moral duty to the law of God not to kill. These moral duties were in conflict in the vocation of a soldier who was often a conscript. The mainstream of Christian theology absolved – note that this is absolution or forgiveness, not just saying it is not wrong – they were absolved of killing because the greater moral weight would rest upon the commanders and leaders who put them in that position. They too could be absolved under the “just war” conditions. In both cases they were still morally accountable for the killing, but that accountability was not the grave sin it would normally have been due to other duties. This situation is what Luther would quip “sin boldly” about. Whatever we do, we are sinners, so admit that and trust in the greater amount of God’s mercy. That is the same Luther who at Worms in 1521, being told to recant or otherwise follow the law, said he could not because it was against his conscience.

Now to Kim Davis. If she was just a hired person, her moral responsibility I think would be akin to that basic soldier, but she is not a hired person. She holds office. She is elected, so she, however low on the totem pole, is more akin to the commanders. Being a mere clerk her accountability is not great, but it is not nothing. Nuremberg understood this very well. The clerk that affixed his name and handled all the paperwork for the gas chambers was held morally responsible. He could not just say I followed the law. Kim Davis’ request is a reasonable one for a clerk. She is not saying change the law on my account, she is just saying come up with a way that I as a simple clerk do not have my name or the office I run on this. As long as it is her name or her office that issues the certificates, she bears a moral responsibility for them. A higher authority that bears more responsibility has given her an order to do this, but it is still her office, so she is not without moral accountability.

The question then would become what do you do. The easiest way is what many people have said, resign. But the problem there is that the Christian faith has always held that we are placed into circumstances and drug before magistrates often not for our own desires but simply to witness to the truth. A Christian who simply resigned is understandable as Amos would write “the prudent keep silent at such a time, because the times are evil (Amos 5:13).” The Christian who resigns is practicing prudence over courage, both of which are virtues. They might not be the one with the calling to witness. But eventually, all virtues require courage. Someplace the courage to stand will be called for. That is the point of conscience. Like Luther being asked to recant and saying he could not, Kim Davis found that point in herself. Now the question is what do those who have more moral standing do. They can impeach her which would establish a religious test for that office. They can accept the moral responsibility of what they are telling her to do by changing whose name or office issues and making her office more akin to general soldier. They could join her in witness and tell those even higher up (i.e. justice Kennedy) that he has missed the truth. But in any case, Ms. Davis has stood. Right now, even if she was in jail, she might be the most free person in America. A true citizen and not just a subject.

Be Opened – The Kingdom Inbreaking in Unexpected Ways

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Biblical Text: Mark 7:31-37
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon is based on a “level 2” reading of the Gospel of Mark. What I mean by level 2 is that to make the connections necessary you have to look at the locations, characters and actions of what is being told and assume that the writer picked this story specifically to carry meaning. The deaf and mute man was chosen because his disabilities and their healings are symbolic for what the Kingdom of God is doing on a larger level. The first part of the sermon hopefully establishes at least the plausibility of that level 2 reading. The second attempts to apply it to our situation.

Doctrinally this puts me in the realm of election and sanctification. The sermon is about the tension or specific actions that these doctrines call for.