Category Archives: Sermons

Joy in the Vineyard

Biblical Text: Matthew 20:1-16
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon took a form that I don’t often use, but it fell out of my prep work, three points and a poem. The standard sermon coming from this text is probably missions or something completely law based. My struggle this week was how not just to fall into the “get to work” vein. And the three points fell out, with the third speaking to my soul.

Point1: The foundation of the vineyard is the grace of God. “The Master of the House went out to hire laborers.” The first move is always God moving towards us.

Point2: The response of the workers is faith based on the character of the Master of the House. Can he make good on his promise?

Point3: The call to the Vineyard is the call to work besides God. We are invited into the life and work of god.

That third point is the crisis of grace and our understanding. Do we recognize the amazing nature of that offer, or do we just want our wage? Can we rejoice with the widow who finds her coin? Can we enter the party house for the prodigal, or have we lost the joy of the vineyard?

The Poem is simply Psalm 51 (often our offertory). Cast me not away from your presence, but restore unto me the joy of your salvation. We all occasionally find ourselves on the wrong side of the crisis of grace complaining about it radical equality. David’s words are our prayer. Let us recognize who we work with and the joy of that call.

Give Me What You Owe Me

Biblical Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Full Sermon Draft

Look, America, we’ve got an anger and outrage problem. More specifically we’ve got a “righteous” anger problem. I don’t care who you are, you think that you are right, and that you deserve to choke the person who is wrong. If we can hear Jesus first teaching Peter directly and then everyone else through the parable, this is spiritually toxic. Forgive, 77 times, and if you can’t catch the drift that doesn’t mean you start counting. Yes, you might be right. Yes, maybe the issue you are being wronged on is costly. Doesn’t matter. We’ve been forgiven a millennium of debt through Jesus, and Jesus invites us into this proper work of mercy. Forgive your brother or sister. Put down the anger, especially the righteous anger. It is killing you, perhaps eternally.

Children of God

Biblical Text: Matthew 18:1-20
Full Sermon Draft

Matthew 18 is a section held together by a verbal theme. Children or little ones are present in each little snippet. The sermon attempts to paint a picture of Matthew having a store of stories that he can’t leave out, but that don’t exactly fit into the large narrative. What emerges for me I place under a comparsion of the son of man and the son of God. While the cross represents how we (mankind) treat the children/little ones, read as the powerless and vulnerable, the Father of Jesus treats his children much differently. Jesus endures our “Fatherhood”, such that we might have His Father. Experiencing the love of true Fatherhood, we are invited to be children of God, to live it out in our lives to others. In that sense it is a sermon about love.

Worship note: I have left in the hymn after the sermon, LSB 686, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. During the service I marveled at how well its text reflected what I was attempting to preach. It is something of a classic hymn, but if you asked me it is such less because of the text and more because of the hymn tune. I’m still humming it.

The Happiness of God

Biblical Text: Matthew 16:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

I had something to say here, but I don’t know if I got it across. Maybe that is because it is more of an intuition that something that can be fully expressed. If I try and summarize it:
1. Measurements temporal are like constant correction while driving, sure to get you in an accident. Only eternal guidelines keep you on the narrow way.
2. The happiness of God is to save sinners, which requires the cross. Christ was happy to walk to Calvary.
3. We have a God who can be found. The only place we find him is on that cross, and under the cross.
4. The paradoxical truth is that to find God, the only place we can be truly happy (have shalom, experience rest), is when we deny ourselves and take our place under the cross.

That might sound masochistic, but look at the world. Is anyone who chases their temporal self-actualizing goals ever really happy? Look at those who have given up claims to “my goals”, a) how happy are they and b) how often do they get everything else?

Worship Note: I left in our final hymn, LSB 333, Once He Came in Blessing. It is listed as an Advent hymn, but as I think I’ve stated elsewhere Advent is most akin to our experience and that section in the hymnbook is stacked. The four stanza progression is just a gorgeous simple statement of what the text was expressing.

Built on the Rock

Biblical Text: Matthew 16:13-20 (21-23)
Full Sermon Draft

This text in my reading is really about one thing, Jesus’ definition of the office of Christ and its work. To understand Christ and his work requires for things.
1) Christ works in and through His church
2) That Church will not fail
3) It will not fail because to it has been given the key of heaven, the forgiveness of sins
4) That forgiveness was won on the cross

This sermon is an exploration of those points and how those point all rest on the rock of confessing Christ and the cross.

Worship Note: We lost a memory card, so this is a recording after the fact. Which means we lost the great music we had in church today. Great Day: LSB 609, 949, 645, 575. Moral? Come to church!

Lord, Son of David

Biblical Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the Canaanite woman’s request. In a week of Nazis and violence it would have been harder to pick a better text. The sermon explores the relationship between Christ and Tribe or between Christ and all the various things that we base our identity on. The text, with its blunt sayings, allows us to work in two direction. The woman’s repeated title of choice is “Lord”. Jesus’ responses to the disciples and then the woman allow us to understand just who this Lord is. He is not OUR lord, the Lord of created to back up our preferred identities, but He is THE Lord. The Lord is also the Son of David. Salvation comes from the Jews. It is that joint truth that is a God large enough to save, but particular enough to be human. I believe that in such a week this sermon offers both truth and hope.

I don’t address it in the sermon, because it is a speculative or allegorical reading, but it is a reading that captures this religious imagination. This anonymous woman has been called the mother of the gentile church. The woman’s request is for the healing or exorcism of the her daughter. The woman herself as a Canaanite from Tyre and Sidon stands in for the entirety of the Gentiles. In the OT time period the nations were given over to the idols. The woman’s request is to drive the demons or those idols from her daughter – the church growing. At that allegorical level where characters are not just themselves but stand for larger entities or truths, the request is to make the gentile church clean. Even more so, admitting being “dogs”, being outside the old covenant, to still share in the new. Does the Christian have to become a Jew first, the question of Acts 15, is addressed allegorically here. The Canaanite woman’s faith in the abundance of the Lord Son of David, that the lost sheep of Israel includes Canaanites, spurs Jesus to grant the request. Hence the mother of the gentile church. Not provable in a modern way, but it rings a lot of poetic images.

Stay in the Boat

Biblical Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Full Sermon Draft

Recording note: I had to rerecord the lessons, but the sermon is live. It is a skinny recording this week, sans the music, for that remix reason.

The point of a church is to make disciples. To make disciples is more complicated than it might sound. The hard truth is that Jesus was never about just getting someone to recite a creed (as important as it might be) or say a prayer (as meaningful as it can be). The disciple, as the reading from Romans would highlight, is someone that has “the word near you, in your mouth and in your heart”. The disciple is someone who has made the faith given to the apostles their own. To do that requires a work of the imagination. Sadly, it is that very imagination that I think our modern world fails at. If the ancient heresies were due to over-active imaginations, the modern are due to a lack. If they thought there was more in the text than actually there, we think there is much less. Ours is a spiritual poverty.

This sermon is an attempt to encourage the imagination of discipleship. The text is taken as a surprisingly deep, yet easy picture of the Christian life. There are two images, Peter getting out of the boat and Jesus and Peter getting in the boat, and then one image of narrative conclusion. All applied to our lives, to build up live in the boat.

Kingdom Feast

Text: Matthew 14:13-21
Full Sermon Draft

After the last month of parables, today’s text was a shift to miracles. But the feeding miracles are almost a category of their own. The way I categorize miracles is typically: healings, nature or power, and restorations to life (I don’t use resurrection because that is a special term meaning the resurrection body which is no longer subject to death). All miracles reveal or invite us to ponder a specific part of who this Jesus is. Healings, like the man lowered in the house, invite us to ponder the Great Physician and how the one who can cleanse of of disease, more importantly cleanses us of sin. Those categorized miracles invite us to see how Christ has beat: the devil, the world and our sinful nature. The feeding miracles could by the nature miracle, but that is not the reaction of those who were there. Instead, the feeding miracles ask us to imagine how the Kingdom works in this world.

It works through compassion for those who might be our enemies. It works not through offering the world a worldly solution, but by offering Christ. It works not through direct power, but through means. The church or the disciple in this world is invited to follow Christ, and go and do likewise. This sermon explores that.

Pep Rally or Precious Treasure?

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the conclusion of the parable sermon. It encompasses three parables, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price and the net. In this preaching I’m, resting almost exclusively on work done by Dr. Jeff Gibbs. Parables are interesting in how we treat them, in that they are often simply free floating stories. And we tend to interpret them divorced from the speaker or the context. But the parable sermon didn’t come from nowhere. It came from the building opposition to the advent of the kingdom in Jesus. It came from the anxieties of the John the Baptist, Jesus’ family and even the disciples themselves. The standard gloss on these parables I compare to a pep rally (remember those?). Pep rallies can be fun, but they don’t really change anything. As often as not, those pep rallies can turn into something cruel just a few hours later. If these are a discipleship pep rally, I’ve got to sell everything and commit to Christ, there is a way that it it true, but the second you go out of the house failure is waiting around the corner.

Instead of a pep rally, these parables are a promise. You are God’s precious treasure. Christ sold everything to buy you through the Incarnation and the cross. Yes, he sticks us back in the ground and goes to complete it, but even that conforms to the parables of the kingdom – the yeast hidden in the dough, the wheat and the weeds together. They are not statements of discipleship cheer. They are statements that actually change things. God has bought you. The only choices left are to believe it or shun it.

Worship Note: I left in our opening hymn: LSB 573, Lord, ‘Tis Not that I Did Choose Thee. I think it captures the real purpose of the text. It also has for my money one of the most affecting hymn tunes – O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE. It is the same tune used for Jesus, Refuge of the Weary – Savonarola’s great hymn. It has that “heartsong” effect of a steady beat going up and down with the occasional extended beat. The meter is listed as 87 87 D. What that means is that each measure of a stanza has 8 syllables followed by 7 syllables, 8 followed by 7, and then doubled. When I look at the other hymn tunes following the same meter, I find a list of many of the most beloved, but I’d bet that when they are played people walk out singing the tune, but not exactly remembering the text of the hymn. Hymns that hit the heart carried by the music.

Don’t Turn Away. This is the Reign of God…Now.

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:24-43
Full Sermon Draft

Parables and the purpose of the parables have in the last couple of generations of interpreters have had two dramatically different purposes. In the hippy era, the parables were these nice earthy stories that allowed the interpreter to say whatever odd but nice things popped into their heads. Think Godspell, parable edition. Almost as a reaction to that, some interpreters latched on the evangelists’ quotes of Isaiah on the purpose of the parables. Parables were not meant to be understood except by disciples. Parables became an exercise not in creation homey communication, but in esoteric teaching. Both of these, at least in my reading, are horrible over-shoots. (I think the hippy version itself was a reaction to an overly stiff German “there is no allegory, there is only one meaning” parable dogma.) Part of what this sermon does is attempt to avoid both inviting the listener to imagine how the parables could have been a natural development from the actual ministry of Jesus.

I lean quite heavily on Jeff Gibbs for this, but I think he nails it. The parables themselves are preached to the crowds, and they are invitations to not turn away. Yes, this Reign of God doesn’t look like what is expected – a messy field, small, scandalous – but this is God working. In this they are a statement of the now. The sermon comes in two part though. Jesus moves into the house, and his explanations are to the disciples. To those who are following however haltingly, the emphasis isn’t so much on the now. They know the now. Jesus’s emphasis is on the not yet, the eschatological promise.

Worship note: with two “seed” type parables in a row, you really burn through those hymns. One of them, which we sang today is a little tricky. Not a surprise because LSB 654 (Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure) is a hymn from 2003. Modern hymns so often have tunes or metrical phrasing that is just harder for congregations. So, I didn’t include that one, but instead left in our closing hymn, which is a classic. LSB 921, On What Has Now Been Sown.