What do me mean when we talk about last things? There of course is the very literal, but
other than 10,000 mile stuff, Jesus really doesn’t answer that. Because that is not what we are talking
about. What we are talking about is
impermanence and our anxiety caused by that impermanence. And that is was Jesus goes after. Even these “noble stones” of the temple will
come down. This thing that centers our
identity will fail. All earthly props
will give way. And Jesus goes on to name
them. And then he gives us a
promise. “Not a single hair of your head
You have both the knowledge and the promise. The knowledge that yes, the world is
impermanent. Don’t place your faith in
it, in any part of it. The promise that
there is a permanent thing, and that you are already a part of it. The Kingdom of God is coming with power and
great glory. So straighten up an raise
your heads. Because this is your redemption. This is your hour.
The question I asked in Bible Study to start discussion was “What is the most effective faith killer?” We were looking at the OT lesson for the day (Exodus 3:1-16), and there are a bunch, but what I wanted to build from was phrased by the group as “lack of experience of God”. And there are a bunch of different ways that can come about, but the one I wanted to hone in on was when religion slips into an insider code or a tradition not understood. That is the religion of the Sadducees.
This sermon might be a little rough, but I think it ponders an important point for the church. Has our religion slipped into a barely understood tradition? Is it a code that helps us ID our tribe, but has little to do with our daily lives? We need that experience of God. As Luther would say about baptism, “we daily arise to live before God in righteousness”. Is your religion world weary? Let a little fear of the Lord into your heart.
The day on the Christian Calendar was All Saints (Observed). Actual All Saints is November 1st. The point of the day is slightly different depending upon the tradition you are in. In a Roman Catholic tradition it is about all the minor saints which might not have been celebrated. In the Lutheran or Protestant traditions it is more about a celebration of the church at rest, and how the communion of saint continues to help the church at warfare. In the Roman tradition that is straightforward – invocation or prayer directed toward the saint. In the Lutheran tat is not the case. Instead the saints become for us living examples. Examples of faith and of life. Lives worthy of thanksgiving. This sermon asks the question “What is a Saint” and explores their role in our lives.
Law and Gospel is a beloved Lutheran theological slogan. For my money though it has moved from being something that is life changing to being a doctrinal formulation that is barely understood. And part of the problem is how it has been preached and used for the past 50 years or so. It has been used not as law AND gospel, but law and gospel have been set contrary to each other. That is both an abuse of the law, expecting from it what it can’t do, and a misreading of the gospel.
This sermon is my attempt to move law and gospel from a dead doctrine to a life changing reality.
This text is one that I think has had much harm done to it over the years by overly pious preachers and translators. They promise things that Jesus himself is contradicting. And their promises often make God out to be a monster and a liar. I don’t know if I manage to do it, but I hoped to set it straight. The persistent widow is not a tale about how we should pester God. That oddly feeds into a prosperity gospel trope of “asking consistently and believing”. Instead it is much more specific. What is she asking for? Justice? When does Justice for the Christian happen? At the return of Jesus. Until then we live in the now and not yet. The Kingdom is now ours; it has not yet been fully revealed. Hence we persevere is asking “deliver us from evil”. And we do that because we have faith in the one who promised. Because the Character of God is not one that needs pestering, but one slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. Persistence in prayer is just outward proof of persistence in faith.
The right use of God’s name always ends in thanksgiving.
That I believe is the message contained in the story of the 10 healed lepers. It is not just a miracle, although it is that. Neither is it an overly simple, “aw shucks, we should give thanks” lesson, although giving thanks is a good habit. It is really a lesson on who has used the name of God rightly. There are three groups named at the start: Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. All three think they know how to use the name. The 10 lepers use the name in seeking mercy. But only one receives the grace. Only one receives the kingdom. This sermon contemplates the 2nd commandment from Luther’s catechism, which is a spiritual classic. And it ponders our lives, our prayer, praise and thanks, in light of the command and the text. What does it mean to use the name of God rightly? Think about it.
Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-10 (Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4)
If Christianity is reduced to one word, that word would be forgiveness. And Jesus doesn’t mess around in this text. I think there are two parts here. There is a warning to folks like me – preachers – not to mess up that message. Natural man does not like, cannot hear that message. Forgiveness is foreign to natural man. He can accept sin, he can demand justice, but forgiveness requires faith. Preaching acceptance or justice always goes over better. But should the preacher grind out that bad bread, it would be better that he had that millstone that ground it out around his neck. The second part is that with that faith the people of God must live out that forgiveness. And Jesus’ words about this are just as harsh. If we do this, we are merely doing our duty. The people of God are to be known by their grace. Just like their Lord. And we should not be dumb about this, this is hard. It requires a supernatural faith.
Today was the Feast Day of the Archangel Michael, one of two named angels in the standard protestant version of the Bible. I’m not sure there is a bigger divide between Biblical representation and popular imagination than on angels. Popularly angels are warm fuzzy things that inspire lots of speculation. Biblically, angels are powerful creatures that just “do their job” without demanding attention. What is more interesting is just what that job is. Bottom line, that job is to watch the people of God. What this sermon does is use the feast day to understand the creation we live in, what the victory of Christ means for “thrones, dominions, principalities and powers”, and how these powerful beings use they power for the good of the people of God.
Most weeks it takes translating, a little reading and a little pondering to come up with a sermon idea. And then it takes a grind to shape it into something I’d want to give. This week I thought I had a great idea already leaving church from last week. I still thought I had the great idea until Friday afternoon. But to be honest, what I had was more of a collection of ideas, and they didn’t fully hang together. Or I wasn’t as brutal as I should have been in cutting some parts. Or what I needed to do here was go full old style Baptist and just demand folks take out their bibles and go line by line exposition. When the Rhetoric isn’t working – which I should have known by late Thursday when I couldn’t get the general outline to work.
But, putting that aside, when I made the word cloud I was shocked to see centered what might be the theme – Good Son. And what the Good Son knows is whose house he is part of. Maybe part of my troubles is know that this message has dual effects. And this is the role of the Luther quotes. (Honestly Luther’s sermon on this text is a little scattered as well. He essentially abandons the text and just preaches a sermon.) But Luther recognizes that the commands of God are greeted in two ways. To those who know their Father and are comfortable in his house, the commands flow naturally from faith. God is good and the law is given for our benefit. But to those lacking faith, or to those who have not found real faith, those commands eventually become simply a work and a grudging one at that. (Think the response of the Older Son in the parable of the prodigal.)
The parable of the unrighteous servant is a commentary on the gospel parables that precede it. The children of the world know whose house they are in, and they act in appropriate (sinful) ways. The Children of Light should do the same thing. Be the good son. And in being the good son, you have your proof of authentic faith. Because a good tree bears good fruit.
The text, a quick read, is the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. And these are such clear and tender pictures of the grace of the gospel, a preacher might be doing injustice to them by preaching anything but their simplicity. That is my request for a bit of grace at the start. Because that simplicity is there, but I push a little bit beyond that simplicity here. And the reason is that our context has changed. And I think that we as Christians need to change the context in our heads when we hear these parables. We need to be a little wiser in regards to law and gospel and ears to hear. So jumping off of a Luther himself sermon, this sermon looks at just who are the lost sheep, as well as the grumbling Pharisees and Scribes, and the sinners and tax collectors, both those who come to hear Jesus and those who are riotously secure in houses on the sand.