Any fat, dumb and happy preacher (like yours truly) should shy away from preaching on suffering. But that was the essence of the text in front of us. And the Old Testament text basic said don’t chicken out. So, this is my attempt to proclaim the Word in regards to the role of suffering in the world and in the life of the Christian. I believe this to be right and true. I also believe it to be full of hope.
This might be the first sermon I’ve written that I think needs a soundtrack. If we were a big megachurch, I’m sure it could have been a multimedia presentation, but that is not us. We just depend on the spoke Word and the hymnbook. The Word this day is one of the mot plaintive passages in scripture – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you…”. The passage is a dance between the necessity of the path that Jesus walks, and the desire of love. And a certain type of pop song, one not made much these days I think, hits all the right chords. The sermon explores those songs and their feelings, and how that represents the weakness and risk of the gospel – a God who ain’t too proud to beg. Who longs to hold you again.
There is always a bit of a frisson when I have a text with Satan in it. Giving Satan a voice from the pulpit always feels like crossing a boundary. There is a bit of that in here. But the main contemplative point is how Law and Gospel are connected with an “and”. In this world you don’t get one without the other, although that is always the temptation. Satan’s temptations are to break the relationships that bind and order our existence. Sometimes that temptation is straight up to our sinful nature. Sometimes that testing is to the power of the ring. But however they express themselves, they are always a rebellion against both the grace and the order of God. He has a way that He desires us to walk. When we tell the Spirit, sorry, I don’t like that desert or those 40 days, we’ve gone off the path. This sermon meditates on how Jesus walked it for us (hence the closing hymn), and bids us to follow.
The text is the Transfiguration which has become the standard text for the Ending of the Season of Epiphany. As such this sermon is the last in this loosely connected series. The evangelist Luke’s treatment of the Transfiguration is unique. In the parallels it is the Easter before Easter. In Luke it is Epiphany that starts the journey. And it is on the journey that everything we fear we might lose as the epiphany fades, or that we never got because we were sleepy and didn’t see the entire thing, is confirmed in the living. We remember the mountaintop, but that is the symbol for the life. Without the life, the mountaintop loses its meaning.
The title here is is a phrase that Jesus repeats three times – What Grace is Yours? And it is a question as world turning today as it was when he said it. We all have coping strategies for remaining “good people” without it really costing much. We narrow down who are neighbor is. We display love toward those we know by social conformity will return it. This is how the world works. But Jesus holds that up and says “you know what? Sinners do that. What Grace is Yours?”
If you want the good news, if you want the gospel, you can’t do what the world does, but to a new group – meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The grace that is yours, is the grace that Christ has shown us. While we were sinners, while we were the ungrateful and the evil, Christ gave us himself. And being incorporated into Christ, and with the indwelling of the Spirit, we can have that grace – both for us and to share toward our neighbors. Not in a narrow sense, but toward the world.
And when you live this way, the measure you give will be filled by God. What grace is yours? The measure of God.
I’ve grown to love this series of texts for the Epiphany season from Luke with a late Easter. The early ones are about what and where we can expect to see God (i.e. have an Epiphany). The middle ones are about the proper reaction to that. And now we will have Luke’s version of the sermon on the mount which is about discipleship. What does the good Christian life look like? What does not just reacting but enduring in the Christian life necessitate? When you get into this territory you get into the wisdom tradition, or you have to start talking about virtues. In this case the virtue of faith, but of a very specific kind. To live the Christian life requires faith in the world to come and that you are already part of it. The Christian does not act simply on maximizing the good in this world alone. The Christian works under the assumption of eternity. And that will bring them into some temporal conflict. The blessings are for those who endure and persist. The woes are for those who take their share now, forgetting the age to come.
We are moving into the second half of an Epiphany Season. And this is turning into a little longer series of at least semi-joined sermons. This second half often just gets dropped, when Easter is earlier, so we don’t always get to these lessons, which is a shame. Because it is these that ask the important questions of how do we respond to an Epiphany. If we have seen God, what do we do?
Last week showed a couple of broad wrong paths and the narrow right path. This weeks lessons walks us through the deeper give and take. Epiphany, Repentance, Reassurance, and Call.
A quick note about this sermon. It is really a short one at the start, and then the rest. With NY State becoming an open infanticide state it was necessary to say something from the pulpit about this deep wrong. That is the short clear start.
The second part hopefully ties that in. The text is about the authoritative Word of Jesus. When He preached everyone recognized the impact of what he said. And that impact wasn’t really the healings or the exorcisms which were the signs and wonder. The impact was that His Word demanded a response. The text gives us three examples of responses. The sermon looks and them and how we respond in our lives.
We are continuing through our Epiphany series which might be subtitled “seeing God”. The normal ways of seeing God that the Epiphany texts help us to see are Word and Sacrament. This text is no different in that, except this text asks the next question: what does seeing God mean for the one who sees? And Epiphany is always also a test. Do we believe? Do we trust the promises given in the Word of God and the sacraments, or do we demand what we take as greater signs? This sermon ponders Jesus’ reception in his hometown, and parallels that reception among those who have been made his family by baptism.
In Last week’s message we pondered What is an Epiphany answering that a Biblical Epiphany was seeing God. Following the Star is not just about a mental change or even a change of habit, but it is about meeting God. The question then becomes how does this happen? The texts of the season answer that for us. This message ponder’s Luke’s unique portrayal of the baptism of Jesus which is one that cares little about the actual baptism but instead pairs it down to the simplest presentation- The Word of the Father and the Presence of the Spirit. How do we see God? In the Inspired Word.