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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.

This is the Catholic Faith (A Meditation on the Immanent Trinity and its competitors)

Text: Matthew 28:16-20, Athanasian Creed
Full Sermon Draft

Trinity Sunday is the one Sunday a year that I feel free to talk a little pure theology. It is not that my sermons other Sundays are theology free, they couldn’t be if you were being faithful. It is that there are theological ideas that I think explain a lot in a compact form, but you end up explaining and lecturing instead of preaching, and the point is preaching. Trinity Sunday, with its spotlight on the Athanasian creed (which I left our congregational recitation in the recording), is a day given to deep foundational theology. What God is in Himself. Don’t worry, I connect the concepts of the economic and immanent Trinity to Pixar, Marvel and DC, so I hope I brought it down a little. It is a day to make clear the God we invoke, Three in One, and expose the idols of the age.

10 Theses on Prayer


10 Theses on Prayer after Teaching 1 Kings 8 and The Catechism on the Lord’s Prayer

1. All true prayer is placing before God his own words and promises
2. This is even more the case when our words are inappropriate
3. We pray that what is certainly true with God would also be true with us, now
4. Thanksgiving is appropriate for when we are given eyes to see what God has done
5. Sometimes the answer is no
6. Maybe worse are when the answer is yes, but we didn’t mean that petition, not really
7. Prayer is the language of the exile who was given a promise
8. Not all exiles have promise, learn to discern holy exile from discontent
9. The prayer of the exile is two-fold. First, sustain a remnant for your name
10. Second, be present with me, here in exile, such that you might bring me home.

Shoebox Week

We have in the past packed shoeboxes. It has been a congregational mission running up to Advent, but it was distributed. We provided boxes and info and delivery, but asked individuals to pack their own box. One of our members in the pictures below had done this with her mother. They had been trying to double the number of boxes they did each year and when her mother passed away it became something of a memorial. But now she was looking to double from 18 to 36. The individual approach wouldn’t work so well. She engaged the women’s group and they took it on as a mission. Those in the congregation could still pack their own, but we also asked started to ask for specific items, like 36 toothbrushes and 6 dyno-trucks (for the mid-boys) and baby-dolls for the girls. Also soccer balls (deflated w/pump) for the older kids. If you couldn’t pack your own, some of these smaller items were within reach. A big help from Thrivent action grants as well. A Thrivent T-shirt is in each of those bags. Maybe not the advertisement they were thinking of, but good. Last night they packed all those boxes. Plus it looks like we will get roughly a dozen pack your own. Margaret met her goal. (No idea how we meet next year.) And I have to add that we met a personal goal that I had. When I started encouraging this I had hopes that we would reach a total number of boxes equal to every family in the congregation. With this year it looks like we will have done that. And with how it was collected, I think we got much deeper participation than we ever could have each alone. A beautiful example of “Life Together”.

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Out of the Heart…

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Biblical Text: Mark 7:14-23
Full Sermon Draft

This is the second part of the Jesus’ discussion in Mark chapter 7. The first part (last Sunday) focused more on the centrality of the Word of God. In the words of the Lutheran confessions that would is the sole norm of life and faith. It is the norming norm. All of our traditions must conform to the Word of God. The second part Jesus turns from false source of authority to the source of our problems with it. It is not that we don’t know the Word of God, but that naturally, out of the heart of man, come evil designs. What we take into the body cannot defile us as Mark comments settling the question of foods once. But we naturally take part in wickedness and fall into foolish ways.

The sermon examines Jesus’ comments on both wickedness and foolishness and puts it in the context of the larger bible’s discussion of understanding and foolishness. It then bridges into the good news. Out of our natural hearts come wickedness, but God is about replacing those hearts.

The Indwelling Word

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Biblical Text: John 6:51-69
Full Sermon Draft

This is the third and last sermon on the “Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6. The typical and easiest way to understand the entire discourse where Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood is as a reference to the Lord’s Supper. That isn’t wrong, but we do have to ignore that fact that when Jesus said it the crowds who heard it had no recourse to the sacrament. What this sermon attempts to do is proclaim the gospel from this most perplexing text with the sacrament not as first resource but as an gift that embodies for all time the truth.

What I latch onto is Jesus’ embellishment of eating the flesh and blood as the gateway or image of Christ abiding or indwelling in us. Just as the Father dwells in Christ or Christ as the perfect icon of the Father, by eating Christ he dwells in us. Creation has always been about building a dwelling place or a temple for God. In Christ we have the perfect temple, and we are made the living stones as God dwells in us. As Christ is the icon of God, we become the body of Christ and icon of a sort (although that might be a little strong this side of the New Jerusalem). That flesh and spirit incarnation is always a scandal to the world which wants to keep them separate.

Yet as Peter says – these are the words of eternal life. The second part of the gospel explored is Peter sequence where we believe first and then come to know. We must eat first – take Christ into us – to know. The body and blood of Christ give us a sure foundation. We can know because he is the bread that has come down. If we keep it outside of us, we can’t know. Belief comes first and it is belief from the heart.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Isaiah 26:1-19 and 1 John 3:1-24

Isaiah 26:1-19
1 John 3:1-24
The law & the place of the law in our lives
Luther & Calvin on “How do you know” or assurance of salvation

A Quick DVD Review – Snowpiercer

snowpiercerposterI was initially intrigued about this film because of the highly unusual release it received. Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein wanted 20 mins cut and some other stuff inserted. The director, South Korean Bong Joon-ho, refused. So, Weinstein dumped the film in limited release and on Video on Demand the same day. That is the release pattern of very bad movies or high critical/low production value movies, i.e. art house. Snowpiercer has A-list talent, Chris Evans otherwise known as Captain America, and it has high production value, i.e. budget of $42M. For Mr. Weinstein to dump it this way would probably mean a loss. Say what you will about Hollywood, but money usually trumps ideology. When it doesn’t, hmmm. (Note, there are other answers that put forward other explanations, like this, but they all strike me as after the fact of the movie garnering attention.) So, I got myself a copy.

At a very basic level, Snowpiercer is an effective thriller. Someone looking for The Bourne Identity 10 could enjoy this film simply from an action standpoint. But to end it there doesn’t capture all the subtle differences. I say subtle because the differences are at the worldview level. This movie invites reflection that Jason Bourne just would never countenance. Even American “art house” flicks would not invite some of the contemplation of Snowpiercer. My guess is that it is exactly the type of interpretation I’m thinking of that caused the producer to first demand cuts and additions and then dump the film.

You can almost see the elevator pitch: global warming apocalypse creates Marxist class struggle in confined space – Hunger Games meets Aliens, hence the “Fight Your Way to the Front” tagline. The movie has that form, but it is actually quite subversive to it. First, the whole global warming part is a smoke screen. Fear of global warming leads to a human attempt to geo-engineer the climate. That double hubris leads to the planet freezing and the only survivors being the passengers on the super train. The trouble is what we think we know and what it causes us to do, not on an environmental screed. Likewise the Marxist class struggle is the form of the action, but the entire string of events is turned on its head by two revelations. The final meeting with the material “god” of the train and the immediately prior action spurred by the anti-hero form the basic choice – stay within the materialist universe or reach for transcendence. The final bit of subversiveness is the presence of an actual hero and a hero’s journey. The only heroes we get today are in Chris Evans’ Captain America spandex. Mr. Evans gets the chance to play a hero outside of the spandex. His journey even includes the rejection of comfort and the embrace of sacrifice.

Ultimately Snowpiercer is bound and limited by its genre, an apocalyptic thriller. It is a piece of pop-entertainment. But where the outcome of most such thrillers is how the anti-hero secures material comfort and security, how the world is made sane again. In this one the world, the entire rigged system, is rejected and transcendence in hope is chosen. It is not explicitly Christian, the transcendence is not even religious from the viewer’s perspective, but the themes are not ones allowed in pop entertainment. Snowpiercer is smart pop entertainment. Pop entertainment that instead of stoking materialist impulses asks questions of a new world and transcendence. No wonder Weinstein wanted to edit it. That is dangerous stuff for the American mind.

Music Recital/Organ Fundraiser – Oct 5th @ 4 PM

I should have had this up much sooner, but I want to invite everyone to a great afternoon of music this Sunday at 4 PM. We at St. Mark are inching our way toward a new organ and some of our musical members (and some fabulous conscripts) have agreed to help out. The featured artists are the Vertex Saxophone Quartet. I’ll include their write up below, but they have a wonderful sound and you should come listen. Also on the program are the St. Mark’s choirs – adult and children. My amazing daughter with a friend of the congregation, and the Bare Bones Trombone Trio. As our organizer says, there will be plenty of kids around, so bring the family for an eclectic program of music.

Recital program

FEATURED ARTIST

The Vertex Saxophone Quartet has been performing in the Rochester area since it’s founding in 2009. All four members are graduates of the Eastman School of Music. Dr. Chisato Eda Marling is on faculty at both Nazareth and Houghton Colleges and is a Vandoren Performing Artist. Mrs. Kristin Bayer is the saxophone instructor for Eastman Community Music School. Dr. Mark Kraszewski is the Jazz Studies professor at the University of Rochester, and Mrs. Nancy Boone-Bahr is a faculty member at the prestigious Hochstein School of Music.

Upcoming performances for Vertex include a recital in Wilmot Hall at Nazareth College on Sunday October 19th at 3:00pm. The quartet is also recording at the Hochstein Performance Hall on Wednesday November 5th at 12:10pm as part of WXXI’s Live from Hochstein recital series. Both concerts are free and open to the public.

Paragraph to Ponder…

“In an uncertain universe, some things are still for certain: Dirty plates, if you put them on a plastic rack and push them into the machine and press the button, will come out clean–every time. If you work hard at your job and do it well, even if it’s a [bleep] job, there is some kind of satisfaction in that, whether you’re stacking plates, chopping vegetables, or just setting out a plate of food. There’s this magnificent moment before a plate goes out to the dining room, for instance, when you know, and it’s just for you. You think, Hmm, that’s a pretty good [bleeping] plate. And then it’s gone.”
– Anthony Bourdain, here