Let me just say two things about this sermon: 1) I really hate it as a sermon. I think it misses the audience, doesn’t point to Christ enough, lacks a real solid textual foundation and doesn’t have the unity of message it should have. 2) I think some of the parts of it by themselves are bleeding raw and cut right to the heart of life. Modern life has lost the saints and the One who makes them and as a result is childish and soulless. We can’t see the problems even though they are right before our eyes. Being a Christian is a call to a life with a larger canvass, not a safe harbor.
Any sermon is a balance or weaving of separate threads. I have a comfort zone being very textual. In my own walk I can’t get over the fact that God speaks in this book, and I want to know as much about it as possible. That comfort zone moves through to application. Basically I have about five outlines: Very simple text-application, a little more complex 4 pages outline with the four pages being trouble in the text, gospel in the text, trouble in the world and gospel in the world (the individual pages can come in any order, when they are text, text, world, world it reduces to text-app), a three point outline (have something to say and say it well, or if you took debate/speech this tends to be a classic argument outline), a question and answer outline, and a refrain structure (multiple images or examples from life that end with the same biblical refrain). All of those outlines are about relating the text we are reading to our lives, or in reality relating our lives to the text. You could say I’m usually about trying to get people to let the biblical text read their lives. This sermon had a different basis in that the liturgical day (All Saints Day) was really the theme. Textual exposition was greatly reduced and the theology of being a Saint was brought forward. The general outline was compare and contrast – living life and interpreting reality from a secular veiwpoint alone (living with a calendar that only has Halloween) and living life with a church calendar (living with All Saints). Instead of being textual this sermon was theological and thematic.
It needed to be better.
A quick note – I’ve been a slacker about writing most of this summer. It has been a summer full – full of joys and of sorrows. I intend to get back to a 3 – 4 day a week cycle God willing.
Text: Mark 13:28-37
Maybe it is a psychological thing, my good daughter Anna has returned to school and candy corn is appearing in the store aisles, but today felt like autumn. The sun felt that much less intense on the forearm. The air felt crisper than the summer fullness. We pick up those signs. The longer we live on this earth, if we are perceptive, the more we just know what is coming.
Jesus is telling the disciples something that they will know and something that they won’t in the gospel reading for today. The first part most scholars think is talking about 70AD, the distruction of Jerusalem. Jesus is telling them to be observant, learn from the fig, you can tell when the seasons are changing, so when you see these things the end of the temple is near. While that will seem like the end of the world, it won’t be. That time, when Heaven and Earth will really pass away, you won’t know. You know what? The command is still watch. We watch and we can discern when an older order of things is passing away, when the temples of the world are being judged and torn down – a small letter day of the Lord. That watching is preparation for the capital letter Day of the Lord so that we might be found awake and faithful on that great and glorious day.
I’ve heard it from at least two preachers who I really admire for their wisdom and their craft that “all good sermons are first preached at the preacher.” The main point is that if the preacher himself doesn’t need it or resonate with the message he is delivering it probably can’t be a good sermon. This one falls squarely in that camp for me. I pray that my congregation was able to get something out of it as well. If you are going to read it, the thing you probably need to have in your head is that my brother died on the 24th of August at the age of 35. After spending a little over a week in Baltimore, MD cleaning out and settling his place, this was more first week back in the pulpit. The primary text was Isa 35:4-7
Text: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Paul makes complete sense, and then he doesn’t. In some ways it is easy to understand Peter when he said of Paul in 2 Peter 3:15-16 – “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand…”
The daily readings have been taking us through 2 Corinthians, and I’ve ignored them here by and large. The overwhelming sense of 2nd Corinthians to me has been of unease and unsaid recognition. (The Eastern District convention took its theme from 2 Cor, and we as a church have read it from the lectern this year, but it is still difficult.) Paul took these people to the woodshed in 1 Corinthians, and I wonder if that experience colored their entire communication from that time on. They (or some of them) question Paul’s authority. Paul defends it, but with a desperate mood – like he knows they won’t listen. As a parent you know that when you pull the “because I said so” card out, the child is probably not listening. You’ve lost the argument and now you are hoping against hope that the child still has a healthy fear of you as their parent. And so Paul says – “I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions…” Paul is pulling the becuase I said so card. I’ve seen the surpassing glory of heaven.
But he backs down from there. Instead he points at his troubles. “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamaties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” The authority of a Christian comes not from the glory first, but the glory after the cross. When our lives and our witness take a cruciform shape, then we are strong. The authority of the World will not brook insult. It owns the sword and it uses it. The authority of the Word resides not in power, but in weakness. In our weakness, in what the world says shouldn’t be, it is there that God is able to work – because only the power and grace of God could sustain it though the thorns.
The OT text for the day was Isaiah 6:1-8 but I lengthened it to Isaiah 6:1-13. Anything less felt like taking stuff out of context.
When you read the rest of that passage the first reaction is, “How did that get in there?” But without the rest you don’t get the gospel. Without the failure of the law, without the reduction of Israel to one, the seed in the stump, Jesus Christ, you don’t get the gospel. Sitting on the other side of Jesus we have something similar. Our call by Jesus is to pick up the cross and follow him. The call is not to victory and glory in this world. Salvation is free and clear – by grace through faith. What God is asking is for those who will jump up and down saying Here I am, send me! because they trust the one who saved them. Trust Him freely, even though crosses come first. Trust him knowing that placing your life into those nail marked hands is the only sure thing in this world.
There is an entryway question – who do you say that I am? Jesus asks that of the disciples. There is really only one answer that starts the journey, Peter’s answer. You are the Christ! But what does that mean? Jesus defines it in terms of A Cross Shaped Door. There are two ages. This fallen and corrupt age that is passing away, and the age to come which has already been revealed in Jesus Christ. The only way out of this age of death is the cross shaped door. The prophets point at that door, but the Christ opened that door. Because of that, the authorities of this age, who have authority over death, have no authority over life. This age is passing away, and through that cross shaped door we have been granted life. Make no mistake, the door is cross shaped, but it is the only way to life.
Transfiguration sunday. Exactly what we do with this picture of the Glory of God in Jesus is tough to talk about. Fundamentally, the image is too bright for our mortal eyes. What we can look at is the reactions of the disciples in contrast to the reactions of other people who have glimpsed the glory, primarily those healed like the leper or the deaf man in Mark’s gospel. Those two can’t keep the joy and the word in. Jesus tells them to be quiet, but they run and tell everyone, and there is no crackdown.
The Disciples don’t do that. They do three things. 1) They equate Jesus the messiah with Elijah and Moses – just another teacher, and they want to build an institution around them. Let’s build three tents. When God works in his glory we often want to domesticate it. We are scared of God working so we try and put Him in a box. The world and the church is full of sad empty boxes where God used to work. 2) They react out of fear. The text says they were terrified. The leper and the deaf man come to Jesus, unafraid or at least uncommented. Jesus drags the disciples up the mountian, and they cower. This view of the glory before calvary was for their reassurance, but run in fear. Fear is the power of the law. In Jesus God is doing a new thing. Fear is not called for. 3) They keep the word to themselves. They have just glimpsed the glory of God. Would this not have been something to share? If they had been healed like the leper, if they had been under the gospel, they would have told everyone.
Don’t build institutions, but follow Jesus where the Spirit wills. Don’t cower in fear. The law has no claim on you in Jesus Christ. And please, pass the Word on to those still in cowering. Under the Gospel we are freed from fear. The little kids know it best. Jesus loves me this I know. Hide it under a bushel – no! I gonna let it shine!
Text: Mark 10:32-45
American Idol ends up being NASCAR for the creative set. All the contestants so desperately crave fame- they need glory. I have trouble watching the early episodes because of the horribly deluded people. It makes me mad that they don’t have a parent who loves them enough to tell them they can’t sing. The inevitible cry and hugging of mom who is saying, “Simon doesn’t know what he’s saying” is just wrong. In many ways Simon might have been the first parent those kids ever had. But the part I really like is watching how the really good contestants handle the approaching glory (or the disapointment). If something in society gives me hope it is often how the american people vote on this show. The winners of American Idol are usually balanced people as well as being great singers – they somehow realize that the glory of winning is something to enjoy but does not define them as people, that the glory has come at a cost already paid. The great singers who are fundamentally unhinged – who can’t deal with the glory well – usually lose and you hear about their crack up later.
In our text James and John are not dealing with the glory well. Jesus – the messiah – is heading to Jerusalem to claim his rightful throne. James and John, ignoring the Galilean teachings, get first in line to ask Jesus for a special share of the glory – the left and right thrones. Jesus has just told them what the glory will look like – the Son of Man will be killed first, and then he will rise. But James and John don’t get it. The messiah doesn’t die. He takes power. Jesus calls them on it – didn’t you just hear me? You don’t know what you are asking! (They in reality are asking to be crucified on the left and on the right.) We are able! Just like those unhinged singers who try to sing another song or start trying to beg the judges – “oh you don’t see it, we are so ready for the glory.” No they aren’t. And Jesus tells them as much. Come back later. Now is not your time. Let’s review what is necessary. “The greatest shall be the servent of all…”
Lord, the cross comes before the glory, prepare and strengthen us for the cross, so that we can handle the glory.