Lord, Son of David

Biblical Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the Canaanite woman’s request. In a week of Nazis and violence it would have been harder to pick a better text. The sermon explores the relationship between Christ and Tribe or between Christ and all the various things that we base our identity on. The text, with its blunt sayings, allows us to work in two direction. The woman’s repeated title of choice is “Lord”. Jesus’ responses to the disciples and then the woman allow us to understand just who this Lord is. He is not OUR lord, the Lord of created to back up our preferred identities, but He is THE Lord. The Lord is also the Son of David. Salvation comes from the Jews. It is that joint truth that is a God large enough to save, but particular enough to be human. I believe that in such a week this sermon offers both truth and hope.

I don’t address it in the sermon, because it is a speculative or allegorical reading, but it is a reading that captures this religious imagination. This anonymous woman has been called the mother of the gentile church. The woman’s request is for the healing or exorcism of the her daughter. The woman herself as a Canaanite from Tyre and Sidon stands in for the entirety of the Gentiles. In the OT time period the nations were given over to the idols. The woman’s request is to drive the demons or those idols from her daughter – the church growing. At that allegorical level where characters are not just themselves but stand for larger entities or truths, the request is to make the gentile church clean. Even more so, admitting being “dogs”, being outside the old covenant, to still share in the new. Does the Christian have to become a Jew first, the question of Acts 15, is addressed allegorically here. The Canaanite woman’s faith in the abundance of the Lord Son of David, that the lost sheep of Israel includes Canaanites, spurs Jesus to grant the request. Hence the mother of the gentile church. Not provable in a modern way, but it rings a lot of poetic images.

Landmarks

When you spend a lifetime reading the bible, there are always parts of it that are intriguing but make absolutely no sense, until they do. There is a thread in the Old Testament, rooted in the Torah, mentioned in the prophets (Hosea 5:10), and echoed in the writings (Proverbs 22:28), that has intrigued me since I first fell upon it as a child. I was the goofy, bookish, slightly macabre child that found cemeteries fascinating. If you ask me why, I think it was just the mystery. The biggest hill in town that nobody talked about. Markers stretching back to “times before”. In the closest cemetery, that “before” would simply have been before IL was a state, but in the big town, before the US was a country. This was an actual weight of time, combined with all the epitaphs people used on stones. My pious favorite, “In the hope of the resurrection”. The touching “beloved mother”. The cryptic masonic and other odd symbols. Proud obelisks, and the sentimental despair of weeping angels or cloak draped urns. So when I ran across this:

“You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the Lord you God is giving you to possess.” – Deuteronomy 19:14.

It peaked the imagination. Why would God or Moses give such a commandment? Why did God seem to care about stones? And why are they connected with that important biblical word neighbor? Just who is my neighbor?

In our modern formatted texts, that verse is probably set apart like its own little sense bubble having nothing to do with what came before or after. I think it would be a mistake to treat it as such. The first piece of context is Deuteronomy itself. These are the commands given right before Israel takes the promised land. Israel is going to take the land, expel the Canaanites (or they are supposed to do so), and parcel it out. They will be making new boundary lines. God isn’t telling Israel to not make new boundaries, but they don’t get to remove the old owner’s boundaries. Strange. The second piece of context is the law immediately before it which concerns sanctuary cities. These sanctuary cities are to be established to protect those guilty of accidental manslaughter from revenge killing. They do not protect the murderer, they simply create a neutral court to determine the motive. “If anyone hates his neighbor” the lex talionis is in full effect. The third piece of context is the law immediately after which regulates witnesses. A single witness shall not suffice. Also, a malicious witness (i.e. a false one) shall fall under the punishment he tried to procure for his brother. Again the lex talionis is invoked. Again, neighbor and brother.

Landmarks are part of discerning judgment and refuge. Landmarks give a dual witness. They judge and the give refuge, and it is up to us to understand both from the witness of those not present. And that witness moves in both directions. They witness to us their judgments, but they also elicit from us our judgments. They witness where they found refuge, and ask where we find ours. If we are righteous we enact justice in our own day. We provide to the living refuge and judgement. That is the point of the invocations of the lex talionis. Moses knows that there will be many times we don’t wish to do so, but in both cases, the murderer and the false witness, he says “your eye shall not pity”. Landmarks often become what Jesus chides the Pharisees over. “Woe to you! You build the tombs of the prophets your father’s killed (Luke 11:47).” Landmarks can be witness to the times we did not do justice. The landmarks of a people no longer in the land, like the Canaanites, can be a witness to the fragility of our hold of it. “God can raise up children for Abraham from these stones (Luke 3:8).” Landmarks can be a refuge in a troubled time. This is the toughest to maintain in a sinful world, but I think it is the point of Jesus’ cry “My house was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it into a den of robbers (Mark 11:17).” If a place is consecrated to the worship of the Father in spirit and truth, it should remain so, for all nations. If they don’t, they witness against us. If those consecrated places do, we find the peace of Christ resting on them. But even the grandest Cathedral is but a temporary refuge, a landmark which points to our eternal refuge.

If we go about in spasms of iconoclasm moving landmarks, it is not that that their witness it no longer true, but that we can no longer discern its voice. “Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing (Luke 11:44).” We become even more unclean, because we have removed that which would have witnessed to someone who might have heard, and understood, and repented. We ourselves are cursed, and our actions curse others.

I wish I could take down every statue of Robert E. Lee. I wish I could remove the markers of a racist past. I wish that I didn’t know now what I didn’t then about Sally Hemmings. I wish that I could return to the graveyard of my childhood awash in mystery. But when we become men, we put away childish things. The most childish of those things is believing that anything straight was ever made from the crooked timber of humanity. It is such a tempting fantasy that we can remake the world in our image. That by moving a few landmarks we can make the land new. That by taking the body off the cross, we can return to divine impassibility. That by taking the crucifix off the altar we can have our best life now. That by whitewashing the tombs everything will be beautiful.

But the Lord says, “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark.” Why? Because the Canaanites, the racists, the slaveowners, the crucifiers, these are my neighbors and my brothers. If they can’t be saved, neither can I. But Christ came for sinners. Even the stones cry out. Every landmark gives a witness – some soft and some brash, some welcome and others a scandal. This land we held, which is yours now, is fleeting. This land is not the promised land. Don’t wait, don’t hold on to it. Do justice now, love righteousness now, walk humbly with God now, that you might enter into eternal dwellings.

Stay in the Boat

Biblical Text: Matthew 14:22-33
Full Sermon Draft

Recording note: I had to rerecord the lessons, but the sermon is live. It is a skinny recording this week, sans the music, for that remix reason.

The point of a church is to make disciples. To make disciples is more complicated than it might sound. The hard truth is that Jesus was never about just getting someone to recite a creed (as important as it might be) or say a prayer (as meaningful as it can be). The disciple, as the reading from Romans would highlight, is someone that has “the word near you, in your mouth and in your heart”. The disciple is someone who has made the faith given to the apostles their own. To do that requires a work of the imagination. Sadly, it is that very imagination that I think our modern world fails at. If the ancient heresies were due to over-active imaginations, the modern are due to a lack. If they thought there was more in the text than actually there, we think there is much less. Ours is a spiritual poverty.

This sermon is an attempt to encourage the imagination of discipleship. The text is taken as a surprisingly deep, yet easy picture of the Christian life. There are two images, Peter getting out of the boat and Jesus and Peter getting in the boat, and then one image of narrative conclusion. All applied to our lives, to build up live in the boat.

VBS 2017

Come Join us for VBS 2017

What: Vacation Bible School 2017 – Maker Fun Factory
Who: Pre-k through 6th grade
When: Monday August 21th – Friday August 25st
Where: St. Mark’s Lutheran
Time: 9:00 AM – 11:30 AM daily.
How: Show up a little early the first day or (Greatly Encouraged to be sure we have enough materials) Pre-register on the VBS 2017 tab

Kingdom Feast

Text: Matthew 14:13-21
Full Sermon Draft

After the last month of parables, today’s text was a shift to miracles. But the feeding miracles are almost a category of their own. The way I categorize miracles is typically: healings, nature or power, and restorations to life (I don’t use resurrection because that is a special term meaning the resurrection body which is no longer subject to death). All miracles reveal or invite us to ponder a specific part of who this Jesus is. Healings, like the man lowered in the house, invite us to ponder the Great Physician and how the one who can cleanse of of disease, more importantly cleanses us of sin. Those categorized miracles invite us to see how Christ has beat: the devil, the world and our sinful nature. The feeding miracles could by the nature miracle, but that is not the reaction of those who were there. Instead, the feeding miracles ask us to imagine how the Kingdom works in this world.

It works through compassion for those who might be our enemies. It works not through offering the world a worldly solution, but by offering Christ. It works not through direct power, but through means. The church or the disciple in this world is invited to follow Christ, and go and do likewise. This sermon explores that.

Time Capsules

An internet buddy’s church recently celebrated their 150th anniversary as a congregation, and they opened the cornerstone time capsules. The stuff they found is interesting. Here is a link to some pictures and his write up.

Pastor Jackson had a quick summary of his thoughts. 1) We are illiterate compared to 8th grade educated bilingual German-American farmers. 2) Confessional movement has lost its swagger and 3) They were not afraid to address social issues.

I agree with those, but I corresponded that when I read things from that period I walk away with three thoughts. 1) The Sermons, and they were popular. Most of the publications lead with a sermon on the front page. And it is not my 1500 word, 12 minute specials. These are 3000 – 5000 word works. 2) The ease with which they dealt with a rather large standard deviation of language/culture/experience. We think we are so cosmopolitan, but our cosmopolitanism is so very narrow compared to what German-American farmers in 1890 were exposed to. My third is perhaps my deepest reflection. You can’t help but be struck by the juxtaposition of innocence and profundity. “Mayor goes for a walk” is news. The swagger that Pastor Jackson talks about is earnestly endearing and witty, but without a single sniff of knowing irony that all our wit today requires. Those earnest 8th grade educated farmers reading about the mayor walking were on the next page contemplating Chemnitz and the two natures of Christ. It is almost unbelievable, except that I’ve got my grandfather’s books that have marginalia that prove it. I think we long for something of that innocence, but we can’t imagine giving up our “knowing”. What we don’t realize, or refuse to realize is that our “knowing” is what Jesus says to Laodicea “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked”.

Pep Rally or Precious Treasure?

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the conclusion of the parable sermon. It encompasses three parables, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price and the net. In this preaching I’m, resting almost exclusively on work done by Dr. Jeff Gibbs. Parables are interesting in how we treat them, in that they are often simply free floating stories. And we tend to interpret them divorced from the speaker or the context. But the parable sermon didn’t come from nowhere. It came from the building opposition to the advent of the kingdom in Jesus. It came from the anxieties of the John the Baptist, Jesus’ family and even the disciples themselves. The standard gloss on these parables I compare to a pep rally (remember those?). Pep rallies can be fun, but they don’t really change anything. As often as not, those pep rallies can turn into something cruel just a few hours later. If these are a discipleship pep rally, I’ve got to sell everything and commit to Christ, there is a way that it it true, but the second you go out of the house failure is waiting around the corner.

Instead of a pep rally, these parables are a promise. You are God’s precious treasure. Christ sold everything to buy you through the Incarnation and the cross. Yes, he sticks us back in the ground and goes to complete it, but even that conforms to the parables of the kingdom – the yeast hidden in the dough, the wheat and the weeds together. They are not statements of discipleship cheer. They are statements that actually change things. God has bought you. The only choices left are to believe it or shun it.

Worship Note: I left in our opening hymn: LSB 573, Lord, ‘Tis Not that I Did Choose Thee. I think it captures the real purpose of the text. It also has for my money one of the most affecting hymn tunes – O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE. It is the same tune used for Jesus, Refuge of the Weary – Savonarola’s great hymn. It has that “heartsong” effect of a steady beat going up and down with the occasional extended beat. The meter is listed as 87 87 D. What that means is that each measure of a stanza has 8 syllables followed by 7 syllables, 8 followed by 7, and then doubled. When I look at the other hymn tunes following the same meter, I find a list of many of the most beloved, but I’d bet that when they are played people walk out singing the tune, but not exactly remembering the text of the hymn. Hymns that hit the heart carried by the music.

Don’t Turn Away. This is the Reign of God…Now.

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:24-43
Full Sermon Draft

Parables and the purpose of the parables have in the last couple of generations of interpreters have had two dramatically different purposes. In the hippy era, the parables were these nice earthy stories that allowed the interpreter to say whatever odd but nice things popped into their heads. Think Godspell, parable edition. Almost as a reaction to that, some interpreters latched on the evangelists’ quotes of Isaiah on the purpose of the parables. Parables were not meant to be understood except by disciples. Parables became an exercise not in creation homey communication, but in esoteric teaching. Both of these, at least in my reading, are horrible over-shoots. (I think the hippy version itself was a reaction to an overly stiff German “there is no allegory, there is only one meaning” parable dogma.) Part of what this sermon does is attempt to avoid both inviting the listener to imagine how the parables could have been a natural development from the actual ministry of Jesus.

I lean quite heavily on Jeff Gibbs for this, but I think he nails it. The parables themselves are preached to the crowds, and they are invitations to not turn away. Yes, this Reign of God doesn’t look like what is expected – a messy field, small, scandalous – but this is God working. In this they are a statement of the now. The sermon comes in two part though. Jesus moves into the house, and his explanations are to the disciples. To those who are following however haltingly, the emphasis isn’t so much on the now. They know the now. Jesus’s emphasis is on the not yet, the eschatological promise.

Worship note: with two “seed” type parables in a row, you really burn through those hymns. One of them, which we sang today is a little tricky. Not a surprise because LSB 654 (Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure) is a hymn from 2003. Modern hymns so often have tunes or metrical phrasing that is just harder for congregations. So, I didn’t include that one, but instead left in our closing hymn, which is a classic. LSB 921, On What Has Now Been Sown.

Some 100, some 60, some 30…

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Draft 1.0 (Vacation Sermon)

I was on vacation, so I didn’t deliver this sermon, one of our members gave it. I hope I didn’t throw him off too much writing in my own voice. As I say at the start, this is a favorite text to preach on and to worship with the hymnody associated with it.

I must apologize, I don’t have a recording. I could record it I suppose, but that wouldn’t be the sermon delivered. So, I’d invite you to read and ponder. The main hymn that is echoes through the sermon is Lutheran Service Book 584, Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing.

At That Very Time…

Biblical Text: Matthew 11:25-30
Full Sermon Draft

Ever felt that everything was going to crap? That something you had invested all your hopes in was coming up snake-eyes? That moment in the ministry of Jesus is what this sermon is about. That moment is the Word of the Cross. That is what I hoped this preaches.