Early Faith/Come and See

Text: John 1:43-51
Full Sermon Draft

Every now and then you get a text that the received or conventional understand of it is one that you just reject. When I get in that situation it is usually because I find that conventional reading just oh-so-pious. I’m not against piety, but I’m deeply allergic to false piety which is usually a form of euphemism. This text is one of those. The received understanding involves two things: a) evangelism and b) the foresight of Jesus. But both of those understandings of the story of Philip and Nathanael ignore the actual witness give by Philip which is less about Jesus and more about his conception of Jesus and just make the epigram at the end an extraneous disconnected piece. That last bit is what drove me to think deeper. Most critical commentaries will do just what I said, they will declare verse 51 a free floating bit of tradition added here for no particular reason. What ever interpretation you put on it must make that epigram jump out of the story. What does that to me is not to force a miracle story about Jesus’ foresight, or to make too quick a jump to the idea of evangelism. Instead, what makes it jump out is to read the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael as one drenched in irony or a facetious one that Jesus plays along with. The aphorism jumps when you take it a Jesus putting Nathanael on notice that what he has said tongue in cheek, he will come to see in a deeply true way.

When you read the text the way I present in this sermon, what you have is a compare and contrast of two forms of early faith. Philip’s faith is true, but he is remarkably mistaken. His faith needs to be refined. Nathanael’s faith on the other hand might be completely absent or just nascent. He knows the errors of Philip’s, but at least Philip is on the road, Nathanael is being invited to “come and see”. He is being challenged by Jesus to set aside the unearned skepticism and take the smallest step of faith, to openly observe. If he takes this smallest step, he will see heaven open. And that still goes for us. Philip and Nathanael end up being us early in faith.

Seeing the Glory

Biblical Text: Mark 1:4-11, Romans 6:1-11 (and the general Epiphany Texts of the Magi, Cana and the Transfiguration)
Full Sermon Draft/a>

Holy Days, like Epiphany, often come with a phalanx of texts associated with them. The day itself is a concept, and over time various texts carry that theme with slightly different emphasis. For Epiphany the texts are: The Magi, The Wedding at Cana, The Baptism of Jesus and then the Transfiguration. Stars, and lights, and voices and glory manifest. The actual text of the day is the baptism, but the sermon is a pondering of all of them, and really of the season. How do we see the glory? How do we see God? Is it all at once? Are we capable of understanding that? The sermon points at two expressions of the glory that are manifest in waters of the Jordan. And then how that glory is given to us and how it is manifest here and now, and in the world to come. At some point along that trail of Epiphanies, we do really “get it”. Be rest on the promises of Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us and one day sanctify us.


Full Sermon Draft

Above was the “King’s Cake” for this year. Below was the start of the sermon. (I don’t have a recording for this because I typically don’t do these smaller groupings from the pulpit.) Hope you had a wonderful Epiphany of Three Kings day…

On the one hand you can’t talk about Epiphanies without sounding like a pretentious schmuck, on the other I’ve been thinking about how the core texts of Epiphany and the what the season itself is about is quite meaningful today.

Here is what I mean by that. Each season of the church year has a general feeling. Lent is penitential. But to be in a penitential mood, one has to have accepted a certain story about what humans are. Advent is about hopeful waiting, but again, unless you’ve accepted a story about God, hopeful waiting can be Waiting for Godot. Christmas and Easter are proclamation seasons. Christ is here! Christ has triumphed. There are no preconditions to the proclamation. It is just good news. But you don’t need to receive the good news. Maybe it just falls off the front page tomorrow, or by the 6 PM news. Pentecost is about how we live, but it requires having received that good news.

Epiphany sets itself up in that liminal space. We’ve heard the proclamation in some way. “We saw his star in the east.” We witnessed the first of his signs, when he changed the water into wine. We heard the prophet say “behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” right before he dunks Jesus in the Jordan. We’ve heard the proclamation, and with our inner eye we perceive that something is different, but what we do next isn’t sure…

Backwards and Forwards, Grounding and Hope

Biblical Text: Luke 2:22-40
Full Draft Text

New Year’s Eve is not something on the Traditional Church calendar, it is the 7th day of Christmas for those who follow the liturgical calendar. I know that other Protestant traditions (typically Reformed) have a long history of worship on New Years, but here, as I mention in the sermon, it is the first time in my pastorate that I’ve had the pulpit on the Eve. A new year automatically creates a looking backward and a looking forward. What this sermon attempts to do is ground it in the saintly examples of Simeon, Anna and the Holy Family. Instead of wishing the old gone and the new on our strength alone, the old is our grounding and the new we look for is the strength of God. Happy New Year, and may the consolation of Israel be found in your hearts.

Feet on the Mountain

Biblical Text: Isaiah 52:7-10
Full Sermon Draft

Christmas Day is always a smaller, more intimate time. Sometimes I wonder what it was like when that was not the case. But anyway, the sermon attempts to honor that. It is less a polished piece of rhetoric and more a personal message. An end to Christmas reflection for those who mostly have been on this church service tryptic (advent 4, Christmas Eve, Christmas day) in two days.

I’ve left in our opening hymn (A Great and Mighty Wonder) which the sermon owes a debt too, and our close, Away in a Manger. The simple invite to keep these things and ponder them in our hearts.

Hidden and Revealed

Biblical Text: Luke 2:1-14
Full Sermon Draft

Christmas eve evening is mostly about the people and the candles, the sights and sounds together. But after 10 years I finally hit a message that I felt was worthy of the night. I’ll say and post that now before tomorrow erases the feeling.

It always helps having both a wonderful opening hymn (Hark the Herald Angels Sing) and a fantastic liturgical piece by the choir (The Magnificat – Vespers Chant). Both are left in.

Wisdom from Mary’s Heart

Biblical Text: Luke 1:26-38
Full Sermon Text

An unfortunate circumstance of the reformation has been the tendency to look for things that say “not catholic”. One of the big ones is how Protestant’s tend to treat Mary. The first generation (i.e. Luther) didn’t have this problem. They went on as they had before. Mary just wasn’t an issue. She only became an issue in my historical understanding as later Protestants and Catholics made things that were not dogma prior into dogma. And it is a crying shame, because the Biblical Mary has a lot to tell us how to live the life of faith in her son. This sermon is an attempt to hear the annunciation story (advent 4) as original Jews and Gentiles/Pagans might have heard it, and then to to apply that to us moderns. I don’t think we are as far away as we might think. Mary’s faith and Mary’s wisdom are wonderful examples in contrast to our demands for signs and worldly wisdom. I’d invite you to give Mary a fresh look.

Worship Note: I’ve left in a bunch more music that normal. Our choir piece from this morning in is. The gorgeous hymn “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” is in. And I left in “Once in Royal David’s City” and the organ postlude.

2017 Christmas Services

From Heaven Above (A Shepherds and Angels Children’s Pageant)

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Today was our Children’s Pageant. The pageant this year was built around the hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”. That is LSB 358 is you would like to see all 15 verse by Luther. The recording here is my homily introducing the kids followed by the children’s songs and sayings. The photos are parson’s wife’s as I didn’t get a chance this year (thank you!). They did an outstanding job. Lend and ear and a voice if you would like to sing along.

The Beginning of the Gospel…

Biblical Text: Mark 1:1-8
Full Draft Sermon

All of the canonical gospels have their own spirit, a spirit expressed often at the very beginning. This is “year B” in our three year cycle of readings, so we are in the Gospel according the Mark. Mark’s spirit is one of immediacy, of now. It is a spirit of beginnings and ending. It relentlessly presses us with the oddness of the inbreaking kingdom. And with that very wonder and strangeness invites us to begin. To prepare the way. To make the paths straight. Now. Because you know not the time. The mighty one comes right behind, and all flesh will see the glory of the Lord. This sermon is a attempt to capture that strangeness, to experience the beginning of the gospel. To hear and fear the word to make straight the paths to our hearts.

Worship note: I have left in two hymns. The one before the sermon and the one after. Both share a word – Hark! It is the call of the herald, the Baptist, listen! Important information follows. LSB 349, Hark the Glad Sound, I believe reflect the pure Gospel content of that message. The greater one comes bringing a baptism of the Spirit. A baptism that bursts the gates of brass, and make the iron fetters yield. LSB 345, Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding, captures well the immediacy of the Hark and the pressure it puts on us. “Cast away the works of darkness, all you children of the day!” And that pressure it recognizes coming from its eschatology. “So when next he comes in glory, and the world is wrapped in fear…”. Two marvelous advent hymns that happen to have a couple of wonderful tunes as well.