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.
The place where Jesus gets the roughest, at least to modern ears, especially modern protestant ears, is anytime the idea of discipleship or faithfulness or sanctification comes up. When Jesus turns the crowd and says something offensive or obnoxious or just strange, you can bet he’s talking about walking the Christian way. And that is what today’s text is about.
As this sermon lays out, following Jesus’ pictures, the financing of the tower is secure. Jesus has already paid it. Likewise Jesus has already won the victory over the enemy. We need not fear. But the tower needs to be built. The war needs to be fought. And we are called to do that. Yet many will turn away from it. And they will make peace with the world simply because they wish to avoid the cross.
The text as I read it has two clear parts. There is the introductory part which is the crucible around the man with dropsy. This part to me carries the full gospel – Jesus embraces sinners, heals us and releases us in peace. The second part is the parable or the parables. But these stories are not the cute little tales of fathers and sons or sheep and shepherds. These parables are less invitations to understand the goodness of the Father and are more warnings or wisdom sayings. (Hence the OT reading being from Proverbs.) They invite us not to ponder who God is, because Jesus has already demonstrated that clearly and completely in his action. Instead they invite us to consider how do we live having seen the revelation?
The world seat people, chooses honors and awards, in a certain order by its rules. Jesus knows this and gives that order the side eye. The warning is that we should know this as well. How the Father honors is different. How eternity with order itself is different. And if we are made for eternity, we should be acting that way today. As another parable puts it we should be using today’s mammon to be welcomed into eternal dwellings. If we eat up all our providence today, claiming the great seats now, when that day comes the shame will be known to all.
The journey inspires a lot of questions. One of them is simply who else is on this road? And that is a forked question. The first fork is what we typically hear today, which is a complaint against God. Just what kind of God are you that you might damn this person close to me. The second fork though is the buried concern for myself. Can I be one of the few?
Jesus I think answers the question rather straight-forward. First, you strive to enter. The other person’s salvation is not you concern, but your own is. You strive. And that striving is not earning it, it is simply living the life of Faith. The journey to Jerusalem is always up hill. It is always contrary to natural desire. Walk it. Second, just as we take Jesus at his word to strive, we should take him at his word that many will be outside the kingdom. The way is narrow. When the day of grace is done, there will be lots of people who knock on the door, but at that time it is just. Today, though, seek, strive, the door is open. Third, there is some solace in the midst of striving. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets. All the great cloud from East and West, from North and South. All will sit at the table in the Reign of God. All Israel will be saved. Can you be one of the few? Are you baptized?
Biblical Text: Luke 12:49-53 (Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3, Jeremiah 23:16-29)
The text is an apocalyptic saying of Jesus. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” On the face of it, it contradicts the message of the angles of Christmas. This sermon attempts to keep them together. How do we have both divisions and peace?
This is really part two from last week. Jesus is teaching about covetousness and how to avoid it. Last week we under the parable of the Rich Fool we elaborated on two parts: 1) have faith in the providence of the Father and 2) be busy putting what is given to you to work for the kingdom. The third part rests on the character of the Father. And that is what Jesus bids us to ponder – just who The Father is and how he acts. There are potential God’s where covetousness would be justified. But that is not The Father who for a day clothes the lilies in such riotous beauty to make Solomon blush. You think he’s going to do that and not clothe you with the resurrection body? C’mon. He wants to give you all the treasures of the Kingdom. And he does this because he is our Good Father.
The actual text for the day is v13-21, but part of the set up is in v1-12. Jesus teaches the disciples what I’ll call kingdom priorities. And immediately a man stands up to test those. Jesus jumps right on him and the simplest besetting sin – covetousness. The quickest way to be knocked off of Kingdom Priorities is by desire, even desire for something that might be good. Instead of aligning one’s life around the priorities of the Kingdom, one is consumed with and aligns life around those desires, or worse fear of losing them or never achieving them.
That is the aim of the parable. The Rich Fool already has a lot – his barns are full, but he has acquired more. And his only concern is how he might keep it safe for his own good. Jesus calls this attitude foolish. Foolish for some poignant reasons. Reasons that I think resonate with some current events. (Note: two items addressed here are immigration and the most recent mass shooting as it seems to relate to that. You might not agree. It might make you uncomfortable, but I could not ignore it.)
The conclusion (if not a complete solution) is to hear how the Church Father’s used this. I’d invite you to give it a listen.
I stole the main points and general outline of this sermon from one by Luther. I have to admit that I typically find Luther either so much part of who I am that he isn’t that helpful, or his context so different from ours that translating is likewise tough. But the shorter sermon I ran into was both interesting and immediately useful. I talk a little bit more about why it shocked me in the sermon. But the main points itself are answers to: what is necessary to be sure that your prayer is heard. Luther said five things are necessary. This sermon looks and them and fleshes them out for us.
Based on a Promise of God
Faith to Receive it
Lack of Bad Faith – this might be the big point for us and it is explored in the sermon. The big point is rely on the goodness of God.
Knowing our unworthiness
Trust God’s actions, don’t unnecessarily limit God in your requests
The text is Mary and Martha which has had an outsized influence on Christian history. It is not stretching it to think that the interpretation of this passage shaped Christianity from the 200’s to the Reformation. What I’m speaking of is the separation of the Christian Life into the Active and the Contemplative. But that division, isn’t really fair either to the historical reality or to the larger reality presented in all of Luke 10.
What this sermon attempts to do is understand Mary and Martha in the full context of Luke 10. It ponders how and why Mary represents the one thing needful, while at the same time giving Martha her place as one addressed doubly “Martha, Martha” by the LORD. (Ponder for a second the full list of those addressed this way. It is like finding yourself on a list with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds.) And then it answers how we move from an anxious and troubled place, to the place of holding the one thing needful.
Christians often talk about our freedom in Christ, or at least pastors do, but I’m not sure that we often talk about what the freedom actually is. If we do the farthest we often go might be our freedom from sin. Yes, Christ has freed us from sin. And that is something big. But I think borrowing the Apostle’s analogy, that is the milk of the Christian life. As one grows one needs to eat meat. And what is that meat, or at least some of it? We have not just been freed from sin and because of sin from death, we have also been freed from Satan and the powers and principalities. The Good Samaritan parable is a lesson in Christian freedom. We can be so bound in our identities, the laws, rules and chains of those powers, that we pass-by on the other side. Life – and the Lord who writes that life – presents us we many opportunities to exercise our freedom in being and becoming truly human. In becoming Christlike and triumphing over those powers. We can choose to be neighbors. We can choose to pay the cost of that. We can have our guts churned and be human. Or we can stay bound in identity chains. Christian freedom mean choosing to be a neighbor.