Monthly Archives: November 2015

Credential Check

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Text: Luke 19:28-40
Full Sermon Draft

Our world is awash in various forms of credential checks. What I mean by that is various ways of authorizing or legitimizing certain behavior or positions. The opening comparison is how we as American used to be by looking at Abe Lincoln’s credentials to be a lawyer vs. what we require to be a hairdresser today. (Hint, I think we require more of the cosmetologist than Abe had to provide to practice law.) We then look at what credentials mean to theology and the pastorate.

The reason I do that is hopefully to evoke the uneasy nature of theological credentials. The text has this idea running throughout it with two conflicting groups. There are those who accept Jesus at the word of his disciples. The Lord has need of it at which the colt’s owners let it go. And there are those who reject the word of Jesus. The Pharisees telling the “teacher” to “rebuke your disciples.” Both scenes are a form of credential check. Those with the perfect Jerusalem credentials fail the city. Those without have the freedom and hearts to join the triumphal entry.

The theological truth that the Kingdom of God comes humbly always makes theological credentials tenuous. The best are learned through prayer, study and trial – represented by the margin notes of my grandfather.

It is the humility of those credentials that free us. The false messiahs and false prophets – the laws and priests – that Bethany and Bethphage represent (per o]Origin) always try and keep us bound. It is the humble credentials of Christ and his word that free us, and free us for his need. The Lord has need of us. Do we hear his credentials, or do we demand better ones?

Thanksgiving Homily

Text: Luke 6:27-36, Psalm 34, Fifth Petition & Explanation

If I say prisoner’s dilemma or game theory, I hope you have some understanding of what I’m talking about. It is usually represented as a 2 x 2 grid. The Prisoner part is the standard cliché of cop shows. Two criminals in separate rooms. Each one issued demands. Tell us what happened. First one to open up gets the deal. The other guy gets the book. If the prisoners follow the code of omerta – they can’t be touched. But is your criminal buddy in the box next door going to talk? Do you risk a dime upstate to get away scot-free, or do you take the two-year stretch and talk? Prisoner’s dilemma is the negative framing. I always appreciated the more positive one. Think of the binary win/lose. There is a variable pot of money. If you both pick win, usually co-operation, you both get 7 units. If you both pick lose, usually hostility, you both get 2 units. But if one picks win and the other lose – the one who picks lose or hostility gets 9 units and the one who picks co-operation gets nothing. There is a clear world nobody wants to live in. Lose-lose only has 4 units. Its shelves are North Korea. There is also a clear world where we all want to live in. Win-win has 14 units. It’s the local Sam’s club of worlds. But those other two worlds are tempting. I could have 9 units. It is a much poorer world overall, but I’ve got it all.

As a kid and not so kid – I often found myself in lose-lose. Lose-lose can have a roguish charm. I can take this longer that you can. It’s the position captured in: Born to Run, Against the Wind, Rebel without a Cause, and more recently Breaking Bad. Walter White, a guy tired of choosing win and being paired with lose, sets it on permanent lose. “I’m in the empire business”. It’s all mine.

But even Bob Segar claiming he’s still running against the wind, finds himself searching for shelter. The Stones would end gimme shelter turning from rape, murder to love, It’s just a kiss away. The romance of lose-lose wears off with deadlines and commitments. Or with enough blood.
But the problem is not lose-lose, the problem is lose-win. How do you avoid a conflict with those who want a fight? Or maybe more troubling, how do you avoid making your own separate peace. I’ve got mine, go find someone else to get yours from.

Every real-politick expert and all the best research will tell you lose-lose is necessary sometimes to maintain win-win. When they put one of yours into the hospital, you put one of theirs into the ground. And that is true. It is not called real-politick for nothing.
But here comes Jesus saying essentially rip out your lose option and stick it permanently on win. Do good to those who hate you. The one who strikes you, give him the other cheek. Love you enemies. Completely unrealistic. Dangerously unreal.

And for us maybe it is. Although as a law – notice that the golden rule is embedded here. As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. As a law I think it tells us how far from righteousness we are. Just how impossible righteousness by the law is.

But if we hear this only as a law, I think we miss its purpose. “You will be sons of the most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Yes, it is a call to live the Christian life. But it is more a statement of how God himself acts. In Christ, God has ripped out his lose button. He’s declared peace and put down the conflict. We are the ones who insist upon conflict. And the only way to avoid conflict is to accept personal loss. To not withhold your tunic, as they gamble for it at the base of the cross. To accept the beating and the lash. To forgive those nailing you to the tree. To be merciful, as the Father is merciful.
Yes, it’s a call to the cross. One that even the best of disciples often run from. But it is also a statement of shelter. God always welcomes the prodigal. He always invites the older son in to the feast, when he’s willing to put down his accounting.

We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them…but God gives them to us by grace.

Thanksgiving can be about thanks for many things. But the wellspring of it should be we have this kind of God. One who is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. One who redeems the life of his servants. One that none who seek shelter in him will be condemned. One who loves his enemies and does good. Lending and expecting nothing in return.

And the best way to show that thanks? Turn away from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it. Sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us. Be conformed to the likeness of our God. Amen.

Our Shoebox Effort

29 Shoeboxes delivered. Thanks to all who took part this year!
2015 Shoeboxes (2)

Abominations and Consolations

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Biblical Text: Mark 13:14-37
Full Sermon Draft

This week we read the rest of Mark 13. The sermon is really divided into a macro and a micro part. The consolations are the macro. If you read Mark 13 as a whole there is a great rhythm to the sermons. The horrors seem to increase, but each increase ends with a promise. The point is not to stoke worry or even less rage as so much of the world’s narratives are designed to do. The point is to restore sanity. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He really does sit at the right hand of God. It’s going to be okay.

The micro part is when you start focusing on the words and tracing out what they mean in scripture and history. One part of that is listening carefully to Jesus’ time markers. When we listen carefully we can make the distinction between those times by which Jesus means the time around AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple and that day and that hour by which he means the last day. Those times have a specific sequence and will end within this generation. And they did. That day and that hour are unknown. That is necessary to set some ground rules, but the word that this sermon hones in on is abomination or more specifically the abomination of desolation. It is actually a well defined term or concept in the Old Testament and history. We can’t use it to make a timetable; that is foolishness, but we can think about endings of old orders. This sermon lays out that groundwork and does what a watchman does, it cries watch.

Musical Note: This morning was our matins week which I always realize when formatting is so defined by its music and continuous in one way it is difficult to cut pieces. But cut I did. I left in two musically bits. Our Choir sang “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” which is a great Last Sunday of the Church Year or Advent piece. And I left in the final hymn, Rise My Soul to Watch and Pray Lutheran Service Book 663, which is fast becoming one of my favorites and captures the key thought of Jesus’ sermon – watch. It is a great tune that you find yourself humming all day. The text is a typical Catherine Winkworth translation by which I mean crisply poetic and poignant if sometimes pietistic. (I’ve been told that her translations are often quite free. Nothing wrong with that because they work.)

A Watchful Hope

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Biblical Text: Mark 13:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

This is part one of what is variously called the Olivet discourse, the Mark Apocalypse or the end times discourse. The Olivet Discourse is so named because of its location on top of the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple. That is actually the name I prefer because I think the other two get things wrong from the start.

There is a way that Mark 13 is about the last days, but it not an easy direct application. Most of Mark 13 I think is talking about the run up to AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple. Jesus condemns the temple, what eventually serves as part of his conviction by the Sanhedrin, and the disciples ask when and what are the signs. Jesus tells them. Within this generation and a fairly detailed amount of signs. But after that, Jesus seems to know that we couldn’t resist attempting to find out the last day, so he says “about that day, no one knows, only the Father.” So Mark 13, for us, is not a step by step countdown. No one knows.

But there is a way it is not a dead letter. The temple was about the end of the old order. The temple specifically was about the sacrificial system. After the crucifixion there is no need of sacrifice. The cross of Christ is the only necessary sacrifice. The old order was over and its symbol the temple came down. But not all of the old order was brought to completion. This fallen world chugs along. Jesus doesn’t answer the when question to that, but much of what he says about the signs of the end of the temple also apply to the world. What are the signs? False prophets, political turmoil and persecution. These are the signs of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.

And what Jesus counsels is a watchful hope. We know we have won, because he won. Jesus lives. All who endure to the end will be saved. That is our sure hope. Watchful because we know this world hates us. It is dying and we have life. We are on our guard lest it manage to steal that hope from us. We live in that tension as witnesses to the hope.

Musical Note: I have left in our Hymn of the Day, Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers Lutheran Service Book 515. It is a pretty tune absent the often minor and melancholy of other End Times type hymns. The last couple of stanzas carry the watchful hope that I desired to preach about. The of the start of the fourth stanza: Out Hope and Expectations, O Jesus now appear.

Beware the Scribes

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Biblical Text: Mark 12:38-44
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon includes an larger explanation section than I normally try to enter. There are two things that need to be understood to grasp the text. Just what is a scribe in the time of Jesus, and the role of polemic in the ministry of Jesus. And neither of those things are immediately clear to us today. This sermon attempts to alert us. And then it attempts to translate to a more likely modern analogy. More likely than what our simple “religious bad guys” definition would mean. Part of that is drawing some distinctions between scribes and two other groups, Pharisees and Chief Priests, that they are often connect with. As with any speech where you are explaining, you are losing. One thing in hindsight that I would have added might be an elaboration on the “lay holiness movement”. The holiness part includes a code or an imbedded polemic. Every such movement thinks there is something in the society that is drastically wrong. We only call people Pharisees today whose code is obnoxious to us. And we do that because of the success of Jesus’ polemic.

But what this passage really attacks is corruption. Because of the fallen nature of the world, that corruption is inevitable. Even holiness movements are corrupted. The gospel focus is two fold. That corruption will be judged and dealt with. We believe in the life of the world to come. The second part is that we have been freed to make our own choice. We can be complicit in the corruption, or we can live lives of simple faith and charity. Because God sees the widow putting in her mites. Yes, the institution is corrupt. But her heart is not.

Saints Now Saints Not Yet

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Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-5
Full Sermon Draft

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

That is one of the most profound and hope filled sentences in all of scripture. And it perfectly captures what it means to live as saints. We are saints now, but not yet saints. This was All Saints Day, so that is why I’m using that world. What this sermon attempts to do is describe the feeling and the facts that make it so. There is a reflection from family life that I think captures it better than everything that follows. But what follows that family picture attempts to follow John’s compact reading through three facts of the Christian life in the now and not yet. The resurrection opens the door which we enter through baptism. We are now God’s children by water and the word. But right now we live by faith. When he appears we will see him as he is, but that is not yet. Now by faith, not yet by sight. The final fact is what baptism and faith set us out on and that is sanctification. “Everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The pattern of that is the life of Christ, but as the biblical text continues it is captured in the moral law. Christians do not practice lawlessness, but they practice righteousness.

I didn’t include them on the recording. (If you would like to hear just leave a comment.) But, the hymns today were both some of my favorites and All Saints staples. I didn’t include them because “For All The Saints” (LSB 677) has 8 stanzas. It is great to sing, but our recording isn’t exactly professional. We opened with Jerusalem the Golden (LSB 672. And we closed with Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus (LSB 660). You’ve got a picture of the Church at Rest, a hymn sketch of the Church militant through the church at rest and into the Church Triumphant, and a Church Militant remembrance.