We continue reading the sermon on the mount today. The Sermon starts with a very quick recap of the past two weeks before turning to the text. At a very basic level Jesus re-ups the 10 Commandments as part of the law that not a jot of tittle will disappear from. While this section of the Sermon on the Mount could be used as case law, Jesus’ purpose is really beyond just looking references. Instead what he is doing is demonstrating what we tend to do with the law, and telling us what we should be doing with it. We tend to look for an easy way to externally keep the law. We want the recognition for keeping it without the actual work (virtue signaling). What Jesus says back is that the external matters little, what he desires is that we attempt to keep the spirit, the internalized law. The real definition of privilege as that term is used today is the extent to which we can claim to keep the law while relaxing its claims on us individually. Part of keeping the law inwardly, is being willing to be scandalized over our own behavior. Hearts of flesh contrary to hearts of stone are able to feel the effects of sin, know where it leads, and be willing to make personal changes and sacrifices to avoid scandalizing our hearts, and not just to avoid scandalizing the neighbors.
Worship Notes: I have left in one of my favorite hymns, LSB 716, I Walk in Danger All the Way. This is the opening hymn of my funeral right now. The text and the tune mesh together perfectly. It is the rare example of the slow burn hymn. The open verse states a true problem, and things get worse from there, but there is no immediate delivery or magic as so often happens. It doesn’t deny the reality of this world, but it develops over the last three verses our solid hope both here and for eternity. Powerful text if you let yourself hear. The second item is that you might hear a missing note. Our organ decided to drop a note this morning. Providentially, we have a new organ on the way.
The lectionary continues reading through the sermon on the mount. For me the best way to read it is as what it was to the early church, a catechism on the Christian life. In these verses Jesus addresses a couple of questions. The first is a rare instance of a why question being answered by God. The second is what is the relationship between the messianic Kingdom and the old covenant contained in the law and prophets? The two answers feed into each other. As it turns out the old covenant maintains an honored role. This homily explores those answers and the role of the law in the life of the Christian.
Worship note: The Hymn of the Day supporting that theme is LSB 579, The Law of God is Good and Wise. It is a great example of a Lutheran Catechetical hymn. It teaches the three uses of the law, the important powerlessness of that law, and as with the Gospel text the fulfillment of that good and wise law. The law has become something of a four letter word in many churches. The more you read both Jesus himself and the church from different ages you realize how wrong that is.
The Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit, etc.) are the poetic introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. In Epiphany, the liturgical season given to coming to know who Jesus is, that sermon is assigned reading over five weeks. I won’t call it a sermon series for a couple of reasons, mostly because that phase annoys me, but also because I’d be worried by week 5 that even my regulars would be ditching services. More seriously, the sermons will be connected because the text is naturally connected, but it isn’t a forced connection.
So this sermon attempts to do three things:
1) Re-introduce into our imaginations the “Blessed are…” statements. We hear them, but they don’t engage the imagination as to what they actually mean because “blessed are…” is both too well known and too little understood. We’ve been inoculated to it. I want us to be infected with the Kingdom that Jesus is preaching.
2) Hear the gospel in these statements and not just a list of “well, I gotta do that.” Part of prodding the imagination is seeing a world where I would freely choose what Jesus describes.
3) Start laying the ground work for the connecting theme of compulsion vs. freedom.
Worship note: You can hear our recently growing choir in a couple of spots. This was a 5th Sunday where our choir supports the liturgy. I didn’t include the Chanted Intoit, but you can catch the gradual and the verse in the midst of the Alleluias. I have left in our closing hymn, LSB 690, Hope of the World. We sang stanzas 1-4. The tune is the workable EIRENE which grows on you once you grasp its internal stress and direction. The text is an deep contemplation not on the simple hope of a Deus ex Machina, but of the hope of becoming fully human in Christ.
The text is Jesus calling Andrew and Peter and James and John. I probably owe a few former pastors an apology as I use them as a straw man. Those sermons of blessed memory were never as bad as I put in hear. It was probably just my listening. But, the way this text is usually preached never sat well with me. In one stroke it tended to make Jesus unbelievable, ignore everyday discipleship and create lots of holy make work. (Most cries for “relevancy” I think fall into holy make work.) Learning to “walk humbly” is often enough. What this sermon attempts to do is to reimagine the situation that leads to “immediately following” as those disciples do, and to understand what that is. Not as a call to “do something- anything – for Jesus right now”, nor as a “only a religious calling is a true calling”, but to be able to hear the lifelong call as well as the more particular calls.
Worship Note: I’ve left in the hymn of the day, LSB 688, Come Follow me the Savior Spake. You might also notice a slightly different order (although my editing obscures it). Fourth Sundays as Morning Prayer/Matins days which have a massed reading of the lessons.
With the change of the church year and getting out of the festival season we will start to notice the new Gospel reading. Luke is left behind and Matthew and John have the year. It may seem like overkill, but when you’ve read through each enough you can have a epiphany. Each gospel wants to be read on its terms. John’s terms are meditative. They are like an icon through which we see the reality. What this sermon does is attempt to ponder the diptych. The first scene is John the Baptist’s proclamation of the Lamb of God. The second scene is he response of two of his disciples. John the Baptist, the authoritative prophet, gives us the valid answers to Jesus’ question – “what are you seeking?” The sermon examines the uniqueness of that answer. It then looks at the second scene as an image of our response.
Worship note: I left in our opening hymn, an Epiphany season staple, LSB 409, Hail, O Source of Every Blessing.
I think I mentioned that because Christmas was a Sunday there are a bunch of small feast days that end up on the calendar. Today was another, the Baptism of Jesus. These days might seem extraneous, but with a little reflection are often quite deep and meaningful. The baptism of Jesus is connected to our baptism. Because he stood under those waters for us, we receive his baptism of grace. He took our unrighteousness and gives us his righteousness. This sermon meditates on a slightly different theme supported by the Epistle lesson. When we have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to new life – freedom – what is the quality of that freedom. Are we made free to do whatever we want? As Paul answers, by no means. The freedom that Jesus displays is not the freedom to do what he wants but the freedom to become what we are. In Jesus’ case he is the Son of the Father and the savior of mankind. Was Jesus at liberty to proceed right to the fire? Well, he could have, but that would not have been freedom because it was less than Jesus was to be. We also, through our baptism, are free to become Children of God. We are freed from our fear of death and our bondage to sin, free to live as God intended. And we do this by faith. The sermon investigates
Whenever Christmas is on a Sunday there are a bunch of minor holidays of the the life of Christ that are also observed because they fall on a Sunday. A couple of them come right away. January 1 is the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus – 8 days after the birth. This sermon tackles that subject.
I hope the really bad joke at the start cleared the air for a stronger consideration of the day, because as I hold in the sermon I think the Circumcision and Naming is a deep strain of the gospel. If we weren’t able to contemplate the day because of snickering, we are missing something that stretches from Abraham to the Eschaton. I’d invite you to listen.
Part of the sermon is the example that prior generations have left us in the hymns. I left in our three hymns today. The first two are referenced directly: The Ancient Law Departs LSB 898 and Jesus Name of Wondrous Love LSB 900. I also left in our concluding hymn, O Sing of Christ LSB 362. The words are modern and the tune is familiar (Forrest Green, the Fancy O Little Town of Bethlehem). That combination makes for a surprisingly good 1st Sunday after Christmas hymn. It moves on from the simple fact of the incarnation to ponder it along with John 1 but including the themes resonant with the Circumcision and Naming – the frailness of the flesh and the wealth of the Name.
Maybe it is just getting older, but two things I experience daily that a younger man wouldn’t think could happen together. It could just be becoming set in my ways, but that isn’t how I experience it. Daily I am more convinced both of basic Christian doctrine and also with specific Lutheran doctrine. I’m a contrarian by nature. It is the last thing I would have expected. At the same time as becoming more sure of that doctrine, I’m becoming less militant. What I mean by that is while I can’t imagine something that forces a rethink on Augsburg Confession doctrine, I’m also much more willing to say with Paul “and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Phil 3:15-16)” We are all straining toward a goal we have not attained. I save my militancy for those situations where I see people deliberatively leaving the narrow way, and those tempting them off it.
A Great and Mighty Wonder is my favorite Christmas hymn. It helps that it is set to Es IST Ein Ros (Lo, How a Rose is Blooming), but that isn’t everything. When you understand a little of the life of the writer it becomes all the more powerful. This sermon hopefully proclaims the savior’s birth, reflected through St. Germanus, while living in the eschatological hope. Germanus’ life is a life that is incomprehensible outside of doctrine. It is also one that understands how that doctrine itself can deny the hope that is only Christ. His hymn is a moving meditation moving to the great hope when all idols – seen and unseen – shall perish and satan’s lying cease. And Christ shall raise his scepter, decreeing endless peace.
The recording is our Children’s Christmas Pageant. There is a short homily by me at the start and then the kids you see in the photos take over and renew the story of the Son given to us. Their bother, Immanuel.
Luke’s nativity accounts are Mary focused. Matthew’s are really involved Joseph more, including the decision about what to do with a pregnant girl when you know the child isn’t yours. The Bible is always more gritty that our romantic construction of it. Our romantic construction is earned by its ending – the dragon is slain and the Kingdom established – but there are lots of adventures along the way. There is an Old English Carol – The Cherry Tree Carol – that captures the same moment that Matthew does. It is a fun Carol, but the theology is horrible. This sermon is a little compare and contrast. The Carol represents our idea of the best way to answer the problem of the pregnant bride. The gospel is God’s invitation to a different way.
Worship note: The opening and closing hymns have been included. LSB 349, Hark the Glad Sound, is on of my personal favorite hymns. It combines the themes of Advent with the ways of talking about justification that resonate most with me, release of the prisoners and enriching the poor and needy. And it does this with a snappy hymn tune. The ending traced the paths of the sermon better than any and summarized the service intended. LSB 333, Once He Came in Blessing, addresses how he is named Jesus. He frees his people from their sins. He does this through word and sacrament flowing from the cross. This sacrificial grace calling for faith looks for its resolution when the day of grace turns into the day of resurrection and triumph. I’ve also included below a version of the Cherry Tree Carol