Category Archives: Sermons

Not Fame, But Glory

Biblical Text: Matthew 25:31-46
Full Sermon Draft

Looking at the word cloud I hope I didn’t abuse the pulpit today. When a name is bigger than Christ or Jesus or even a generic God, I get worried. That and nobody knows the Iliad, and the Brad Pitt movie didn’t really help, although Brad Pitt was the absolute perfect Achilles. Anyway, this sermon is a little more reflective of the text which is the last judgment. The last judgment scene tells me two things: a) what Christ is looking for from his sheep and b) the reality of final causes or end goals. It is these two things that are almost 100% in opposition to what the world at the time held out as reality. It is these two things that are becoming increasingly at odds with out world. What Christ is looking for is love of God expressed in love of our neighbor. Seeing Christ is the least. And what we do here matters, because we are made to meet our maker. We are made for glory, not fame.

In our current environment that call feel disappointing or oppressive, but that is the nature of life under the cross. The excellence of the Kingdom has nothing to do with the excellence of the world. The weight of the Kingdom is eternal while fame blows away.

So, this sermon might have been a little too narcissistic. I might have needed to hear it more than anyone else. But I do think it preaches the text in an honest and deep way, if not a direct way.

Happy Thanksgiving

This was the Thanksgiving message. Hope you and your’s had a good day and continue having a good weekend with family and friends.

Text: Thanksgiving, 4Th Commandment, Psalm 104, Luke 19:1-10
Gospel in the World

That first Thanksgiving was definitely a celebration of material good, but it was also something larger than that. The pilgrims had arrived at Plymouth Rock in November of 1620. They spent that winter on the Mayflower. When they got off the ship in March 21st of 1621, less than half were alive. By November of 1621 that colony had had a good harvest, had seen its first marriage in May, and had established relations with the local tribes.

Luther’s long list of what is meant by daily bread – food, drink…house, home…husband, wife…good weather, peace, health…good friends. Could clearly be seen. Gov. Bradford’s Thanksgiving declaration is short, but has some of that same flavor.
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience…”

It is not as if the ravages of just a year prior were forgotten. What those pilgrims recognized was providence. They recognized exactly what Luther says in his first part. That God gives daily bread to everyone, even evil people. What we pray for when we ask for our daily bread is to recognize who it comes from, and to receive it with thanksgiving.
Trouble in the World

What I always find interesting is that is somehow seems to be easier to recognize providence after 7 skinny years instead of 7 fat ones.
Maybe there has been a time and place of greater material abundance than the United States, but I doubt it. I’ve read elsewhere that the number one health problem of the poor in America is obesity. Yet at the same time as our astounding material providence, it seems to give us nothing but trouble.

The bread to strengthen man’s heart, is turned into obesity, diabetes and drugs. The wine made to gladden the hearts of men, is tuned to abuse. The oil to make faces shine, seems to turn rancid.
We receive it all, and yet we don’t.

Trouble in the Text

And we don’t, not because God does not provide – because he does. We don’t because we often don’t recognize what we have. And when we don’t recognize what we have, we turn God’s good gifts into things that kill us.

The Pharisees had it all. As Paul would say, “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ (Rom 9:4-5).” They had the promise and presence of God. Yet that great providence had been reduced to checking off Sabbaths. “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”

They had received it all. But they didn’t know “that something greater than the temple was there.”

They wanted the sacrifice, and rebuffed the mercy.

Gospel

But the son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.

When he hides his face, we are dismayed. When he takes away his breath, we die and return to dust.

When he sends forth his Spirit, we are created, and he renews the face of the ground.

The material is good, but the deep goodness of it rests upon knowing what we have – a Spiritual truth that those Pilgrims knew.
We have not just the providence of God, our daily bread. God surely provides this to everyone, even to all evil people. But we have the mercy of almighty God.

Christ has poured out his Spirit upon all flesh such that the presence of God is with us. We are renewed daily and hourly. We are renewed unto eternal life.

If we receive it. If we receive our daily bread – the manifold material gifts of the Father – with thanksgiving. If we just take it – it is never enough. But received with thanksgiving, we are filled with god things.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever, may the Lord rejoice in his works. And I am sure of this, that he who began this good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Economics of the Reign

Biblical Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the parable of the talents. We have trouble reading this today I think because the word talent itself has become on English word with a meaning. A specific gloss of this parable is part of our language just in the use of that word, talent. What this sermon attempts to do is hear the parable in parallel with last weeks, and not just accepting the embedded gloss. I did that because that embedded gloss skips the gospel. It delivers the moral punch without pondering the reason why. To me the talents is all about our big choice in this life. Who is God? Is God hard and capricious and untrustworthy, or his He full of steadfast love? Is the economics of the kingdom about scarcity or about love? The amount of talents, the returns, the numbers that catch our attention are so much yawn. What the Lord is interested in is the attitude of our hearts towards him. Do we trust him to do what he’s promised, or not? Are we fearful, or faithful?

Then…And Now

Biblical Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the wise and foolish virgins which is one of Jesus’ most enigmatic parables of the kingdom. The images are striking, but we often don’t know what to make of it. For Protestants and Lutherans especially the simple reading would seem to give too much play to good works. It doesn’t really fit neatly into any theological system. Which is probably part of its intention as the point is “watch”. What helps me is the word and tense it starts out with: then with a future tense. Then the reign of God will be compared to 10 virgins. Then things are simple – 5 are wise and 5 are foolish and you can tell them easily. The wise have brought oil. The “then” and the future time frame is the end of days. The parable invites a then and now comparison. It describes then and asks us what behaviors and what “watching” has lead to this immutable divide. What lead to the 5 wise having oil, and the 5 foolish not? All fell asleep, what lead to the difference? This sermon is a fleshing out of that.

Worship Note: The recording includes what is one of the top 5 hymns of all time: Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying. That is LSB 516. The hymn tune seems to capture the affect of rising from slumber to a happy tumult. The text is a poetic meditation on the words of scripture applied to the person or the collective Zion hearing the proclamation.

Revelation and Challenge

Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-3 (Psalm 136)
Full Sermon Draft

Today was All Saints (observed) on the church calendar. In Lutheran circles All Saints is not a celebration of some spiritual elite but the celebration of the church in all its dimensions – the church militant, the church at rest, and the longed for church triumphant. Given special notice are those who have entered rest in the past year of the congregation’s life. Because of this juxtaposition of those of us still struggling and those at rest, as well as its position toward the end of the church year, it opens itself to a meditation on our now and not yet existence. Now we are children of God; not yet do we fully know what that means. That is John’s writing. We see the Love of God, but every time we see it, it is met with challenge. Satan challenges it, the world refuses to see it, and even our own weary flesh can challenge what has been revealed to us. God loves us. When Christ appears, we will be like him in glory, in that resurrection body. We know this because we’ve seen it, or have accepted the witness of the apostles. That is what we know by faith and by hope. And because we hope, we live into that not-yet reality now. “We purify ourselves as he is pure.” No, we will not always be successful. But blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Free Indeed

Biblical Text: John 8:31-36
Full Sermon Draft

It was a full service. Reformation Day, A Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Lots of Red. We did something a little different, the choir got the showpiece – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. That is a treat left in the recording. I went with reformation Baptismal hymns for the day. LSB 596, All Christians Who Have Been Baptized, is left in the recording.

Reformation Day is primarily about justification. That is the fancy term for what Christ did for us. The bible speaks of this work in many different language domains: New Life (like baptism), sacrifice (the lamb), legal (advocate) and some others that the sermon starts with. The domain of John 8, our text, is deliverance. The Son has made us free. We are often tempted to judge this freedom lightly, or to trade it away for next to nothing. This sermon attempts in the context of Reformation Day to proclaim the magnitude of the freedom on offer.

The Things of God

Biblical Text: Matthew 22:15-22
Full Sermon Draft

The text contains Jesus saying, “give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God”. It is possible simply take that answer as a simple dodge, but that is not what this sermon does. This sermon looks at Jesus’ saying in four ways. In the literal time frame it was a way to confront and avoid the politics of division. It encouraged the hearers to ponder both what was the state’s and what was God’s, and how they might or might not over lap. If we look through a lens of Christology one of the creedal confessions is that Christ sits as the right hand of God. He has defeated the powers and principalities and now does reign. What that rules out are the simple poles that the state’s things are always God’s things or that the state’s things are never God’s things. Caesar, like Cyrus and Pharaoh, is accountable to the God of Israel, the only God. In sorting out the things of Caesar, we can’t find ourselves at the extremes. If we look through a moral lens, Jesus encourages us to look at whose image or whose icon is on things. The coin bore the image of Caesar, but humans bear the image of God. Morally, when we see the least among us, we are to see the image of Christ, and act accordingly. Yes, that image is cracked due to sin, but it is that image that Christ repaired. It is that image that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is renewing in us. Finally, we are encouraged to take an eschatological view (a completion or end view). In how we dispose of the things entrusted to us, do we use them for temporal ends, or do we use them for eternal ends? Jesus invites us to put God in our debt. He’s good for it. If we give the things of God to him we will not lose our reward.

Worship Note: I moved our Hymn of the Day after the Sermon in the recording. LSB 851, Lord of Glory You Have Bought Us. I did this because the sermon was a little longer today. So if you just listen to that you can get to it quicker. I also moved it after because the words of that hymn I believe capture the Christological and Moral force of the message exactly. The eschatological is there as well, but not quite as direct, or not put in the same vocabulary. I use treasure in heaven as the vocab sticking with the monetary theme of the text. The hymn switches to theological virtue language: faith, hope and love.

What Are You Wearing?

Biblical Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Full Sermon Draft

We had a guest with us in worship today, Ms. Natalie Howard, who is a missionary to the Dominican Republic. So, the sermon pulled double duty, as an intro.

But the preacher in me doesn’t hand over the pulpit so easily, and the text is a fascinating one, or at least it was fruitful meditation material for me this week. Jesus parables all take some strange turns. Last week with the wicked tenants I invited us to see the horror. And if we stop to think about horror, what causes it is the presence of something that shouldn’t be or acts that transgress what should be. Those wicked tenants might be more appropriately absorbed by those in leadership roles, but today’s wedding feast is simply the man not dressed for the occasion. The point of the picture is not what everyone else is wearing, but what he is not, and what that says. And it should cause us to ponder what are we wearing?

Worship Notes: In the recording I did not leave in Natalie’s presentation. Not because it wasn’t good, but because the person is part of the presentation. (If you would like to hear it, contact me and I can send you the larger recording.) You always get more if you come to church. I did leave in our hymn of the day. LSB 636, Soul Adorn Yourself With Gladness. The text and tune together create one of the great works of beauty in Christian Worship.

1 Soul, adorn yourself with gladness,
Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
Come into the daylight’s splendor,
There with joy your praises render.
Bless the One whose grace unbounded
This amazing banquet founded;
He, though heav’nly, high, and holy,
Deigns to dwell with you most lowly.
2 Hasten as a bride to meet Him,
Eagerly and gladly greet Him.
There He stands already knocking;
Quickly, now, your gate unlocking,
Open wide the fast–closed portal,
Saying to the Lord immortal:
“Come, and leave Your loved one never;
Dwell within my heart forever.”
3 He who craves a precious treasure
neither cost nor pain will measure;
but the priceless gifts of Heaven
God to us has freely given.
Though the wealth of earth were proffered,
none could buy the gifts here offered:
Christ’s true body, for you riven,
and His blood, for you once given.
4 Now in faith I humbly ponder
Over this surpassing wonder
That the bread of life is boundless
Though the souls it feeds are countless:
With the choicest wine of heaven
Christ’s own blood to us is given.
Oh, most glorious consolation,
Pledge and seal of my salvation.

Horrors

Biblical Text: Matthew 21:33-46
Full Sermon Draft

Given the events of Las Vegas, it was a week of horrors. This biblical text is the parable of the wicked tenants which turns on the horrors perpetrated by those tenants. This sermon is a meditation on what we as Christians should discern in horrors. Also what is a Christian response to such horrors. In a search for “why?” that so often ends unsatisfactorily, or ends in too easy answer, the Christian is able to focus on the justice of God. And this justice is good news. I’ve pondered three forms of that justice. 1) Those wicked men will come to a horrible end. We might not be used to this as a good news proclamation, but it is. God is just. 2) That phrase should inspire a holy fear in us, and the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That wisdom should lead us to repentance and a return to the Lord who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 3) The vineyard will be fruitful. The horrors that we might witness are the groaning’s of the world longing for the revelation of the son’s of God. They are the rage of Satan and those aligned. But the Justice of God will replace them, and the vineyard will produce its fruit.

I have left in our final hymn, LSB 753, All for Christ I Have Forsaken. The melody is the Southern Harmony Restoration which has an interesting minor key feel (give it a listen and you’ll know what I mean). The lyrics are From Calvin Chao, a mid-20th Century Chinese Christian, the chair of the Chinese InterVasity in the WW2 years. He had quite the life as a missionary. Here is an old article on his wife I unearthed. You can get the feel for the source of the powerful words.

Don’t Say “We Don’t Know”

Biblical Text: Matthew 21:23-27
Full Sermon Draft

The confrontation of Jesus with the chief priests and elders is the confrontation of the prophet with the stewards of the priest and king roles. It is a confrontation of authority. And the abiding question is how do we know when we’ve heard THE WORD of GOD?

The typical authority granted is of that priestly or kingly type. It comes with the office and the special garb of the office. The authority of the prophet is different. And we still long to hear that prophetic authority. The first part of the hard answer is that the prophetic authority is self-authenticating. You know it in your hearts and guts when you hear it. Our opening hymn was “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding”. That is the part of the response. The second part of the hard answer is that THE WORD comes to us under the cross. It comes in power and can be crucified, the violent can bear it away. It is always “punching up” as it were. If it is not, it might be something you desperately want to be THE WORD, but you are fooling yourselves.

When we hear the prophet the most likely response is repentance. That is the goal of THE WORD – Repent and believe. The Kingdom is here. A contrasting honest response would simply be to have the courage of your convictions. Sit in the seat of the priest or the king and deny that the prophet has any authority. It is at least a courageous honesty response. The worst response is “we don’t know”. Did you hear the Word? “We don’t know”. Stop it. You know. You just don’t like the decision is forces. True repentance or true rebellion. We want it both ways. The safe authority with the romance of the prophet.

Recording Note: You might notice during the sermon a shift in sound direction. For some reason I think the pulpit mic cut out. The altar mic picked it up fine, but it will sound more ambient. I also had to amplify the line just a smidge. We had some great hymns, like the opener mentioned, but I didn’t include any in the recording because it was one of those days where the recording just didn’t sound as good as live. Come to church, a much better experience.