Technically next Sunday is Rogate (if you listen to the sermon you’ll find out), but the calendar got a little scrambled and the texts this week fit the old liturgical practice better. The selected text is sometimes called Gentile Pentecost, but what I’ve portrayed it as here is how the living and active Word – Jesus Christ – precedes us and calls us to be an active part of the Kingdom.
Occasionally you give a sermon that you know is going to be challenging, or is just not going to connect with some. That is the fact of being an every Sunday preacher. If you don’t that means you are never stretching any of your listeners. And worse you might not be stretching yourself. This is one of those sermons. I like this one. I also know this is one of the types that many preachers would stay away from. The only thing I would add is that we live in a technological society, and locally we have a national-class STEM school. That should be engaged.
Honestly what I wish I had was another 5 – 10 minutes. The set up, which is overly long as it stands, tees up two things that are both present in the text and are important for our Christian lives. A modern reality around AI asks questions both on our divisions and how they are created and about personhood. As I was writing I intended to bring both of those. But the personhood argument is left as something of a stub. It is there. Hopefully it will give you something to ponder.
The text is the conversion of Saul/Paul on the Damascus Road. I took the first text because of something that happened with the confirmands. When I mentioned “The Damascus Road” they had no idea what I meant. I also took it because we most often concentrate on what I think is one part of the Damascus Road experience, and that the lesser part. We focus on the dramatic turn, Saul going from “threats and murder” to preaching the gospel. And that change of action is important. The gospel does lead to good works. But there is a second part which should be the first. And it is the second part that puts all of us on the Damascus Road. We all were agents of the powers that be. Whether we met Jesus on the Road quite a ways down it before he turned us around, or if we met Jesus as an infant in a baptismal font, we all have changed Lords. This sermon ponder what I see as our cultural denial of the ability to change, how that hardens, and how the gospel gives us the contrary hope.
Thomas and his doubt usually get pride of place today, but in the text Jesus repeats on phrase three times. And when Jesus repeats something it is usually worth paying attention to what that is. In this case it is peace, or more specifically “Peace be with You”. The Lord desires that his disciples have peace. The question is what does he mean by peace.
This sermon ponders on what type of peace the Lord brings. How that peace differs from what the world calls peace. And how that peace comes to reside in us and the life that it gives us. The resurrection peace of Christ be with you.
The liturgy for Good Friday that we follow is called the Tenebrae service, which is the service of darkness. There are different ways it can be arranged. A traditional one of the seven words from the cross. We have in the past followed something like the final stations of the cross. This year, looking at Luke whose year it is, we arranged it as a triptych. The above is my hack attempt at that.
The meditations look at what fails us, and then what hope is available in each scene. In the Garden of Gethsemane, it is personal failures. Failures of friends and associates and even the temptation of the self of our human nature. The hope is that prayer is always there. And God answers prayer. Maybe not how we would like, but he walks with us through the trials. The trials themselves are the failure of our institutions. Knowing our personal failures we invest our hope in groups. These too fail us, at exactly the time we need them. The hope is that while we often run from the truth, God brings the Truth out, even when we don’t like it. And it is the Truth that wins. And that points to the center panel, the crucifixion. There we find our real hope.
Maundy Thursday is the night the Christians remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Liturgically we celebrate it, and then the altar is stripped. The service does not really end, no “Now Let Us Depart in Peace”, no benediction, no closing hymn. It continues with Good Friday. If follows to the garden and the trial and the cross and the grave. It finishes on Easter Morning.
The meal is a Passover meal, it is also as it is called a “last supper”. It is a reading of the last testament of Jesus. And what Jesus grants us is himself. He gives us his righteousness. He gives us unity with God. And he does this by giving us his body and blood with the bread and wine. This sermon is a reflection on that great miracle.
This Sunday is one of those pageant days. The start of Holy Week starts with a palm parade into the sanctuary for us today to the strains of All Glory Laud and Honor ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/442 ). But then with the readings it takes a turn toward the end of the week with a full reading of Luke 23 which is the trials before Herod and Pilate, the cries of the mob, and the crucifixion. At least the way we do it the hymns are key. The Pomp of Palms and the cries of Hosanna give way to the tumult of the streets and Pilate’s vain weaseling captured so well in No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/444 ). After the crucifixion Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/435 ) sing what has happened for us. And as we turn to go back out into the world, or to walk our way through Holy Week once again, we remember the end point with Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/441 ). “Bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take O God thy power and reign.” I’ve left in the recording snips of those hymns. It really is a liturgical day that is tough to capture just in a recording. We are recreating the week in an hour. The sights, and sounds and emotions.
Something I have been struggling with thematically with this day is how to preach it. Growing up this was just Palm Sunday. The Passion was for Thursday and Friday. But given the loss of piety, the reality was that many people would skip from the Triumphal entry to Easter Resurrection without even breezing past Calvary – a tragedy. So the reading was smashed into today. But what joins the Palms and the Passion? That is something I’ve been searching for. And I think this year I understand something I didn’t in previous years. It is the mob. Even more acutely in Luke, both are the will of the mob. Both are expressions of desire revealing the division of the ages. I’m leaning a bit on Rene Girard and his mimetic desire here. But it is a story captured fully in scripture. And it is one I see played out more and more. And it is the choice we have. He’s the King. We can crucify our desires and accept his grace, or we can let the mob rule. Anyway, I don’t know how well this walks outside of the liturgical framework, but I like it.
I joked around this week that passage – the wicked tenants – is Jesus the populist. It is Jesus reminding and urging “the people” to pick a new leadership class. The Chief Priests and the scribes have abused and killed the prophets, and they are going to take the son outside the vineyard and kill him too. And they are doing this because they think it will be theirs. That they will be able to substitute their blueprints – their laws – for the law and action of God. God is dead, so it is all ours. (Nietzsche well before his time.)
But as with all such plans, including our modern day supermen, they run into a problem. The Owner will come and kill them. The Owner has planted a new Rock a Cornerstone in Zion. And that rock will not be removed. And that Rock is Christ crucified. There is always a vineyard. Are you in it? It is given by grace, received in faith and abundantly fruitful. And the leadership of it does not hoard the fruit. It does not seek to substitute its own blueprints for the vineyard with God’s. Don’t trip over the stone, build on it.
The text is the Prodigal Son, so you already know it. It is the gospel. Nothing can separate us from the Love of the Father.
But this sermon wants to meditate on the text in a little different way. How, if we haven’t been conditioned to hear it as we have been, would we hear it? What did the original hearers think? (I think they would have jumped at the two brothers theme. Jesus doesn’t go where an OT raised person would expect. More in the sermon.) What would someone in our West hearing this for the first time think? (I think this might be more common that we know. And I think it would be the absolute Sovereignty of the Father in the story. And the prideful natures of the sons. Again, more in the sermon.) Hearing it new today, yes, it is a parable about love and grace, but it is also a parable about pride. The only thing that separates us from the Love of the Father is our pride. But He is sovereign. And how he has done things, was necessary. And he doesn’t consult us. Do we humble ourselves, or would we rather be outside the party and the love?