This is something of a statement about the purpose of preaching. We attempt to put so much on the sermon. We look for all kinds of things there. And I honestly think we look for the wrong things. What the sermon is about is proclaiming the gospel. What the sermon is about is evangelism, our evangelism. And that is what this sermon attempts to do. It isn’t 7 words of wisdom for your best life. It isn’t 5 ways to life hack your way to Jesus. It is “God so loved the world that he gave his son.” He gave him for you. He gave him that we might hear and believe and live. There is a lot else that the Bible teaches that we should do, but preaching – that is about love, what God has done for us.
I’ve become convinced that the real “crisis” if you want to call it that in American Christianity is the dismissal of the calls of the spiritual life. Even the church seems to have a very utilitarian view of the faith. It “sells” faith as something that will be good for you. It will make you healthier, wealthier and maybe wise. The trouble is that The Faith makes none of those claims. It doesn’t necessarily rule them out, but the norm would be the life of Christ, which is a life of trial. What the Faith does claim is truth. Christ is Lord. He bids us follow him. Hence the real test, do we follow?
This particular sermon was composed to take part in a specific liturgical situation. We had a baptism at the start of service. It was also helped by one of the great hymns of the Faith – I Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716).
Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, has a very specific ritual. And rituals, for some deep reason, fulfill a need in humans. Out problem is perverting the ritual. It is the same thing the sin does to lots of good things. It takes the action and twists the direction the wrong way. Instead of love flowing outward to our neighbor, or love coming to us from God, sin wants love to flow from our neighbor and then believes it can give something to God. The Ashes tell us otherwise. They set us in proper relation with God and with out neighbor. Or they should. If we are listening to them instead of trying to get them to speak for us.
We had a glitch in recording today, so I had to rerecord after the fact, but I can’t rerecord the music. And the Hymn of the Day I think was important. Maybe more important that the sermon. This particular hymn is one I look forward to all year. It is a favorite, and I believe it stands up to the best of all time. In our hymnal – Lutheran Service Book 416 – Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. The text is by Thomas Troeger. The music is Love’s Light by Amanda Husberg. It is a gorgeous pairing.
Swiftly pass the clouds of glory. Heaven’s voice the dazzling light/Moses and Elijah vanish; Christ alone commands the height/Peter, James and John fall silent, Turning from the summit’s rise/Downward toward the shadowed valley where their Lord has fixed His eyes.
Glimpsed and gone the revelation, they shall gain and keep its truth/Not by building on the mountain any shrine or sacred booth/but by following the savior through the valley to the cross/And by testing faith’s resilience through betrayal, pain and loss
Lord, transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines/And recast our life’s intentions to the shape of Your designs/Till we seek no other glory than what lies past Calvary’s hill/And our living and our dying and our rising by Your will.
This sermon is slightly longer than I normally go, which yes, I realized that means nobody will listen. Way to lead with the glass jaw parson. But more seriously, I think I use the extra 10 mins or so for good effect. I promise you that this is not the typical sermon you will hear on Sunday. In short it is a defense of the law. It is an encouragement to holiness. But Christian holiness should not be something based in fear, because the law has lost its sting. Give it a listen.
There was an ancient tradition, probably coming over from the synagogues, where visitors would share news of what was taking place in the church where they were from. Maybe the salutation (“The Lord be with you”) at the start of the service is the ritual placeholder for that. We welcome you, please share. To which the response would have been to share and end with “and also with you”. The welcome has been given and accepted. This sermon is a bit like that. When you read something that is so profound it humbles you, you really need to share it. I could not come up with a better illustration of “a city on a hill” than the response of this pastor from Wuhan.
February 2nd, commonly known as groundhog day, in the church is Candlemas or The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus. Candlemas is actually a lot older than the groundhog, but it doesn’t have a cute animal mascot. In pre-electric times it had a great ceremony, but candles just aren’t as important as they used to be. Anyway, the point of the day is seeing the light. Regardless of what extreme we are coming from – male or female, jew or gentile – the light of our salvation has come. This sermon invites us to ponder the reality of Jesus, redeemed by Mary and Joseph as true man, but also true God, and how that redeems us.
The text presents us with the basic message of Jesus – “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – and two ways that this reign of God becomes evident to us. Those two ways are the immediate preaching and miracles of Jesus and his specific calling of the disciples with the promise to make them fishers of men. So this sermon asks us to repent – to change our minds about the order of this world toward Jesus – and to join in discipleship.
The Sunday after the Epiphany for us is always the Baptism of the Lord. And it is an incredibly rich text. Off the top of my head I can think of five “topics” that are justifiable to preach on from it. Looking at the sermon file I had done most of them over the past 11 years. The one that might be the most apparent, but is actually tougher is Jesus’ Baptism connected to our Baptism. Now you can just say Baptism and elide the difference, but if you do that you miss what this theophany in the Jordan tells us about God. Because Jesus baptism is not like ours. As Luther says in his Baptismal Liturgy prayer, it is by His baptism that all waters have become a blessed flood. We get Jesus’ baptism, because God stood with us and took ours. We get brought through the chaos to life, because he defeated death.