Category Archives: Sermons

Christmas Eve 2016 – Shepherd’s Christmas

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Christmas Eve Sermon Draft

The recording for this night just didn’t turn out. The sermon conceit is a challenge: write the great Christmas hymn from the shepherds’ story. Unlike with the Angels or Mary and the Wise Men or even the night or the town, that song about the Shepherds that everyone has first doesn’t exist. What would it have to include to capture the shepherds tale of the incarnation. Take a read to see.

Instead of the recording, I did take some pictures of the place before everyone arrived. Nobody every believes me when I talk about the quality of the light in St. Mark’s sanctuary at night. These snaps capture the warm yellow glow of it.

To Us a Son is Given

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The recording is our Children’s Christmas Pageant. There is a short homily by me at the start and then the kids you see in the photos take over and renew the story of the Son given to us. Their bother, Immanuel.

Would You Call Him Jesus?

Biblical Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Full Sermon Draft

Luke’s nativity accounts are Mary focused. Matthew’s are really involved Joseph more, including the decision about what to do with a pregnant girl when you know the child isn’t yours. The Bible is always more gritty that our romantic construction of it. Our romantic construction is earned by its ending – the dragon is slain and the Kingdom established – but there are lots of adventures along the way. There is an Old English Carol – The Cherry Tree Carol – that captures the same moment that Matthew does. It is a fun Carol, but the theology is horrible. This sermon is a little compare and contrast. The Carol represents our idea of the best way to answer the problem of the pregnant bride. The gospel is God’s invitation to a different way.

Worship note: The opening and closing hymns have been included. LSB 349, Hark the Glad Sound, is on of my personal favorite hymns. It combines the themes of Advent with the ways of talking about justification that resonate most with me, release of the prisoners and enriching the poor and needy. And it does this with a snappy hymn tune. The ending traced the paths of the sermon better than any and summarized the service intended. LSB 333, Once He Came in Blessing, addresses how he is named Jesus. He frees his people from their sins. He does this through word and sacrament flowing from the cross. This sacrificial grace calling for faith looks for its resolution when the day of grace turns into the day of resurrection and triumph. I’ve also included below a version of the Cherry Tree Carol

The Threshing Floor

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Biblical Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

The season, Advent to be specific but you could say the extended Christmas season, begins for me when I hear “On Jordan’s Bank”. That was our opening hymn – LSB 344. The funny thing is that hymn reflects some of the theological turns that obscure the Baptist’s message. It turns from the direct and present cry of John on the Banks of the Jordan toward a spiritualized understanding. “The Lord is Nigh” becomes “and let us all our hearts prepare For Christ to come and enter there.” Charles Coffin, the hymn writer, was a French Jansenist. What that means is a Catholic Calvinist. The Jansenists eventually were repressed and died out within the Catholic church, but in Coffin and Pascal they remain in the Church Universal. His Jansenism dominates verses 2 and 3, but he returns is verse four to the Baptist’s message which is not a retreat to a spiritual realm, but the coming down of the Lord.

The sermon attempts to get us to hear John the Baptist. True religion is not a matter of choice – something those Jansenists would understand. True religion in the reign of Christ. Today that is the reign of grace. Christ has taken our deserved baptism of fire and given us his baptism. This time the people of God don’t cross into the promised land across that Jordan on dry ground with swords for conquest. This time we cross by water and by our absolute repentance which is our acknowledgement that before the Lord we’ve got nothing. Coming right behind, is the final baptism. The Holy Spirit which we have as the down payment will be set free to recreate everything. Those sealed in the living water shall live, those without perish in the refining fire.

The final hymn – LSB 345 – Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding is a old Latin hymn that captures well that progression. Hear the Baptist; hear the solemn warning. Today see “the lamb of God with pardon. Let us haste with tears of sorrow, one and all to be forgiven”. Tomorrow, “when next he comes in glory, the world is wrapped in fear, He will shield us with his mercy, and with words of love draw near”. The Lord has treated us with love and solidarity. We have nothing to fear in his drawing near. Come Lord Jesus.

Humble Authority

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Biblical Text: Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 2:1-5
Full Sermon Draft

The text for the first Sunday in Advent is usually Palm Sunday. The theme is the Advent of the King. There are multiple ways that Advent invites us to ponder the Kingship of Jesus. We can reflect on the first advent in a holy longing for the second advent. The first time in grace and humility, the second in judgement and power. We could reflect on the King as stand-in for His people. In this case the King on the way to the cross and our penitential need. That is Advent as a penitential season. The Isaiah text which is just as much the sermon text of the day invites a third meditation, Advent as the dawning and growing of the light. What this sermon attempts to do is think about what it means to have a King. It posits a couple of forms of human kingship – modern and ancient. It then contrasts those with the Biblical picture of the Kingship of Jesus. It concludes with the encouragement as the natural light grows shorter, to let they spiritual light brighten. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Worship notes: The other voice you hear is our Seminarian Tim Bayer. He was in town for Thanksgiving and it is always great to be able to include him in the service. Since the break is a short one, he and his wonderful voice handled the liturgy for us. I’ve left in two hymns. At the start LSB 343, Prepare the Royal Highway. At the end LSB 331, The Advent of Our King. Both carry the Kingship theme and explore it is ways similar to the sermon. I love the hymns of Advent. I’ll often try to work some of them in during the year itself because the season itself is made to short. The other reason is that the themes of advent are so deep and worthy of reflection.

Thanksgiving at Zacchaeus’ Place

tg-bulletin-cover Text: Luke 19:1-10, Thanksgiving (3rd Petition Catechism, Psalm 147)

Introduction
Thanksgiving is such a great shared holiday. It’s a secular one, but it treads on sacred ground. A sign to how those spheres in better days can work together. In the past I’ve attempt to dig out Lincoln or Washington or some other American President on the topic of Thanks, if not the day itself. Coolidge, maybe the last true heir of the Pilgrims, is more touching than you might think. Silent Cal loses some of his reticence to speak and having suffered personal loses in the midst of the roaring ‘20s, his reflections are homey-er and occasionally prophetic of what was to come.

But this year I think we’ve had enough of Presidents. The judgement passed I think if we are honest would be the God let us all have what we desired. If we didn’t like any of the results, that is what this Thanksgiving sermon is about.

Text
The text, Zacchaeus, might not be immediate for Thankgiving. Part of picking it was simply it always gets skipped. Reformation Day and All Saints – because we Observe them on Sunday instead of the actual days – consistently bump a couple of assigned readings. Poor Zack is one of them.

But Zacchaeus starts out wanting something simple and specific. He wanted to see who Jesus was. The Galilean prophet of renown is approaching Jerusalem. Palm Sunday is only a parable away. I want to see this prophet. And mixed in there is probably some apprehension about his business. Zach was a tax collector and rich after all. Is this prophet and his mob one that is going to upset my revenue stream? How big and of what type is his following? Are they going to burn it down, and me with it? That is what he wants to know. Can I keep my life?
And the crowds are big enough that he has to climb his tree to see over everyone and get his glimpse. That is when what he desired starts to be changed.

Jesus looks up as he passes the tree and calls up to Zacchaeus, “Come down, I’m going to your place today.”
I doubt that is what Zack was thinking initially. In fact it is probably just the opposite. The last thing a rich tax collector wanted at his door was a populist prophet. But Zacchaeus hurries down and receives him joyfully. Not what he originally wanted, but something better. Fear turned to joy.

Now the people following Jesus I think had different expectations as well because they begin to grumble. We brought along the pitchforks, tar and rails for guys like this, and you are going to eat with him?
But somewhere in the midst of that grumbling Zacchaeus starts thinking about “Can I keep my life” in a different way. No longer is it – are my position and goods safe for me, but how am I walking with my God and my neighbor? And he takes actions that were probably the furthest thing from his mind at the start of the day. Half my goods to the poor, and if I’ve cheated anyone – which is more or less the definition of tax collector in the day – I restore it four-fold. Who is this man? Does the grumbling crowd recognize him? Does he recognize himself? “Can he keep his life?”

And Jesus answers that one for him. “Today salvation has come to this house.” Yes he can, but his life doesn’t mean what he thought in the morning. “Because the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Application
We rightly give thanks for all the stuff we have – harvests and food and plenty. We rightly give thanks for those we have been placed with – family and friends, hearth and home. We rightly give thanks for all the first article bounties of creation that the Father daily and richly provides. And we share that thanks with all people because the Father daily and richly provides for the sinner and saint alike. A shout out to the traditional Thanksgiving text – all 10 lepers are cleansed even if only one gives thanks.

But our deeper thanks should not be over all those things that we desire. Our Father knows that we need them and provides. Our deeper thanks should be over what our Father knows we need, but we did or do not desire. He could hand us over to our desires. That is actually the punishment of sin. God doesn’t have to cook up lightning bolts and plagues to punish sins. He just lets us live with them. What our Father knew we needed was salvation. He knew when we didn’t that we were lost. We were bound to the plans of the devil the world and our sinful nature.
And he broke them. There on that cross he broke all those evil desires. That cross shows us where those desires end. In mocking, and cruelty and death. If we desire to keep that, we can.

But He has also called us. Today, I must stay at your house. If we desire His life, we can receive it joyfully. Because he’s done it, and though Christ and in Christ we are all Children of Abraham. He came to seek and save the lost.

That is our deeper thanksgiving. Not that God gives us the things we naturally desire. These are good, but we can often twist even the greatest of his gifts. We give thanks because in this one most important thing – life – he didn’t just give us our desires. God acted and continues to act. He builds up Jerusalem and gathers the outcasts of Israel. He determines the number of the stars, he gives to all of them their names. Sing to the Lord with Thanksgiving. Amen.

Hidden with Christ

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Text: Luke 23:27-43
Full Sermon Draft

It is the last Sunday of the Church Year, often called Christ the King Sunday. The other years of the lectionary that typically means an eschatological parable like the 10 virgins trimming their wicks. When we are in Luke, it means Good Friday. Luke’s Good Friday scene is unique because there is a divergence from the other Gospels. One criminal sees something that the others don’t. The world is united in seeing “This is the King of the Jews” placed above Jesus as a great joke. One naked criminal sees the King. One naked criminal sees His Grace. It is like all acts of God – hidden and revealed. It is done plainly before all the world, yet it is faith alone that perceives the revelation. To those without God’s acts remain hidden. The sermon is a meditation on this and what we see – mistaken peasant or King.

Worship note: The text drives some different hymns than normal. The opening hymn was “The Head the Once was Crowned With Thorns”, but I’ve left in the Hymn of the Day. LSB 534, Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor. The tune right after the alleluias is tough, but the words uniquely to me capture the day’s theme. The cross as throne, the acts of God hidden in humble frame.

Stand Tall and Look Up

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Biblical Text: Luke 21:5-28
Full Sermon Draft

We are already in the last two weeks of the Church Year, so what that means for the texts is typically various parables and text that relating to the end. Some are more end focused while others have a near meaning in the AD 70 destruction of the temple. This text is one that is heavily focused on AD 70, but Jesus seems to invite some meditation at the end.

This sermon looks at the difference in how Jesus describes AD 70 from how he turns to the end. While in AD 70 he gives the warning to flee, in the end the command is to “stand tall and look up, for your redemption draws near.” That difference has influenced the Christian attitude to worldly events during the entire time of the church, or in the words of the text “the time of the gentiles”. The signs of the kingdom’s coming happen all the time. What the Christian takes from these is not fear or anxiety but assurance. Our redemption draws near.

The applied moral is really for this congregation. We are debating the purchase of a new organ. The sermon attempts to calm some fears in those matters.

Worship Note: Two musical parts are left in. Our opening hymn: Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying is the classic Lutheran chorale, LSB 516. Also, our choir sounded very good today at full strength singing the Psalm of the Day, Psalm 98.

Witness

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Biblical Texts: Rev 7:9-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12 (All Saints Day)
Full Sermon Draft

All Saints Day officially was Nov 1, but we observed it today. It is one of those festivals or celebrations that I do every thing I can to raise its profile. In my strange head it should be The Lutheran festival. Roman Catholics reserve saints for institutionally proclaimed brand names. The various flavors of reformed observe a strict separation of the communion of saints and attempt not to use the word for the most part. It is the Lutheran church that both holds up the great and the local as witnesses of the faith, and only a sacramental church can maintain anything but historical connections with the church at rest. Just some stray thoughts roughly in line with the Augsburg Confession on the Saints.

The sermon itself does three things. It examines one perversion and one mistake in the witness that have hurt the church in the last generation. The primary effect is the eclipse of the cross, but you could also say that it is the movement of sovereignty of God to us. It then proclaims what I think is the consistent witness of the saints – today the cross, tomorrow the crown; the offerings of the world pale in comparison to the life in Christ regardless of its temporal trials. It concludes with the challenge of the middle section of the beatitudes. Are we willing to live life in this world according to the way of Christ? The saints did. The saints do. Are we knights of faith? Is the story of the church, the witness of the saints compelling and binding on us?

Worship note: I left in the recording two hymns. LSB 677, For All the Saints, is a great hymn that tells the full story. And I left in our concluding hymn, LSB 662, Onward Christian Soldiers. In think the progression of hymns reflects the message. We gather to remind ourselves of who we are and what our story is. Then we go out to live it. Onward until our day of rest.

The Specific Gospel

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Biblical Text: Matt 11:12-19 (Matt 11:1-19)
Full Sermon Draft

It is Reformation Day. The Lectionary gives us an alternative gospel text and I tend to take it. There are a bunch of reasons. The sermon puts forward a couple of reason. But the deepest reason is simply I like it. And I like it because it captures a gritty and real moment. Jesus, John the Baptist, the crowds and a confrontation of a sort. What did you think the Kingdom was? What are you going to do now?

Individuals of every age might have to answer “who do you say that I am,” but not every age gets confronted with a dramatic prophetic call. That is what John the Baptist was. That is what Luther was. Whose works and wisdom do you trust? Your own, or God’s? What this sermon is, is my pathetic attempt at proclaiming what a new Luther or a new Baptist would be saying to this generation. “To what shall I compare this generation?” My simple answer is that we lose that gospel because we dismiss its specific nature. We dismiss the specific law of the people of God defined in the Decalogue. And we glide over the body of Christ, the form of the gospel. We believe that god loves us, but we do so in a generic way such that the god who loves us is not Jesus Christ, at least not the one of scriptures, but one that looks more like ourselves. A recovery of the gospel today would be about its specific-ness and peculiarity – Jesus Christ, friend of sinners. It would be a recognition of the body in Word and Sacrament in our midst.

Worship note: I left in a little more music than normal. I left in stanza one of our opening hymn, Salvation Unto Us has Come (LSB 555). Our choir sounded great this morning in liturgical duty. I didn’t leave their Introit, but you can hear them in the gradual (between the First lesson and the epistle), and in the verse with the Alleluia before the gospel. A Mighty Fortress is Our God, LSB 657, was our closing hymn. We tend to sing the Bach arrangement, but most of the LCMS uses a LSB 656. A Mighty Fortress ends up being “the reformation hymn” but if you asked pastors they would probably give you Salvation Unto Us has Come. It captures the teaching of the Reformation clearly. A Mighty Fortress is a great hymn, but its popularity stems not so much from its teaching but from a later political-theological rallying cry.