I received; I delivered (Maundy Thursday)

Biblical Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32
Maundy Thursday 1.0

The job of a pastor could be described as putting forward very old things, things we all know by heart, in ways that make the heart recognize them again. That is how Paul starts his presentation of the the sacrament of the altar: what I received, I delivered. Part of what he delivers are two suggestions or even injunctions: 1) discern or recognize the body and 2) examine yourself. This sermon attempts to put forward at least three ways of recognizing the body, and then leaning on Luther’s preparation questions and the confessional address we started the service with is presses the examination.

Old Cat

Biblical Text: Mark 15:1-47
Full Sermon Draft

The Sermon is for Palm/Passion Sunday, so the service starts out with those Hosannas and the Palm procession, it moves through Pilate’s palace, and ends at Golgotha and the tomb. There are a myriad of subjects possible, but the with Mark’s text what stood out to me this week was Pilate’s repeated pawing, “The King of the Jews”. He’s having perverse fun with the Chief Priests, and the crowds, and even with Jesus. He’s abusing his office for entertainment. The sermon compares it to an old cat and a mouse. The irony is that Pilate, the de facto king of the Jews, actually has the King of the Jews before him. And all throughout Jesus is nothing but truthful. The test is can we see that. Can we see the King not just in his purple, but also in His suffering? Old cats grow blind, all tyrants fall, but the King shall come when morning dawns. Can we see it?

Worship note: I’ve left in a verse or two of several of our hymns today. The hymns of Palm Sunday are such a big part of the experience.
We fade in with the choir processional – Hosanna
In between the split reading is No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet verse 2 (LSB 444)
At the conclusion of the readings is Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted verse 2 (LSB 451)
The conclusion is Ride On Ride On in Majesty (LSB 441)
All of these hymns in their fullness deal with seeing the King on the Throne which is the cross.

Choose Your Prince

Biblical Text: Mark 10:32-45
Full Sermon Draft

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell is a fascinating character. Nobody would ever believe me, but I once wrote up a Character Study of the guy for school that was titled – “Historical Libel”. The thesis was what she did for the man much better. Anyway, one of her lines she gives him is “Choose your prince carefully.” It is a fascinating insight to the character and the time. Mantel’s books don’t have much theology, well, because Henry’s Reformation wasn’t really about theology, but that phrase I think is surprisingly deep theologically. This sermon starts there. But moves into a meditation on Jesus’ words that the son of man cam not to be served but to serve. There are plenty of moralistic sermons about how we can serve God. I get some of that in here riffing off our Hymn of the Day – “Go to Dark Gethsemane”. But for me the much more fascinating pondering is choosing what we serve. Thinking in gentile lines we are aiming not to serve but to Lord it over. But the truth is that these deals with the devil, the world and our flesh always end in serving them. It is only Jesus whose yoke it easy. Because his hierarchy is inverted. The greatest was the slave of all. So Choose Your Prince, carefully.

Subjects and Objects

Biblical Text: Numbers 21:4-9
draft 1.0

The brass snake the Moses elevated in the desert has an interesting post history. The little snippet is 2 Kings 18:4 where after hearing nothing about it for centuries, we get the notice that King Hezekiah destroys it as part of a leveling of the “high places” because Israel had been sacrificing to it. An example of how items of piety can migrate into idolatry. But that is not even in the sermon.

The sermon poses a question at the start. What is our response, how do we act, when life hits us instead of we hitting life? What do we do when we are the objects and not the subjects?

It then ponders that question through the light given both by Moses’ bronze serpent and its greater fulfillment the cross. We really have two options, either that of faith, or that of anger and despair. As comfortable perceived justified as anger, despair and victimhood might feel, they are all venom. We must leave them at the foot of the cross to live, to enter the promised land, to not die in the wilderness.

One post preaching reflection. I think this is a very effective and necessary sermon. But there is one thing that I know I did which is homiletic gold but on shaky exegetical grounds. The snakes are completely spiritualized. The venom is the effects of that sin that we must live with. I think that this is justified as the fruit of reflection. But if there are any homiletic practitioners who give this a read/listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

When God Enters the Temple

Biblical Text: John 2:13-22
Full Sermon Draft

We are often pretty good at realizing when something that shouldn’t be at the center of our life is, and when something that should be isn’t. We just aren’t that good at changing. That is part of the message of the Cleansing of the Temple which the evangelist John makes the theme of the ministry of Jesus. We are not good at centering the right things, but Jesus has come to cleanse us and to keep us centered. The Temple was supposed to be at the center of the life of Israel, and of course it was a “true myth” in Lewis’ terms. God really was in the temple at the center of Israel. But we are very good as creating distance and de-centering the things that should be there. Jesus cleansed that temple and pronounced the new one. The temple of the new covenant would not be made of stone, but of living stones. The cornerstone which would be Christ. This sermon thinks through what it means when God comes to the temple – both old and new.

The Way of the Cross

Biblical Text: Mark 8:27-38
Full Sermon Draft

The first natural reaction to suffering is simple avoidance. Run away from it and anyone associated with it. But life is too tough for such a simple strategy to work forever. And too many people suffer for the spoils of society to go to cowards. The second reaction is more nuanced, more full of wisdom, but I’m not sure it is greatly different. We turn our reactions to suffering into a merit game. The merit going to the one who handles and by their handling avoids feeling the suffering. This is partly what is going on in virtue signalling and victim culture. This also goes on in religion and philosophies as diagnosis of problems turns to recommended paths. The sermon highlights two examples.

This is not the way of the cross. Christ did not seek to avoid sufferings, but he embraced it. He did not come to tell us a path, but to give us the way to walk. Not around Calvary, but with it. This sermon attempts to speak without being trite or overly simplistic about that way of the cross.

Keep Walking

Biblical Text: Mark 1:9-15
Full Sermon Draft

It is the first Sunday in Lent, hence the purple colors on the graphic. The traditional text is one of the temptation of Jesus texts. When we think of those we probably think of Matthew and Luke’s stylized accounts with three temptations and three snappy comebacks. Mark’s version isn’t so stylized. His is all of about two verses. But in those two verses he emphasizes four things. 1) It is the Spirit that leads Jesus to the wilderness with Satan and the wild animals. God is not tame. 2) The encounter is presented as a continuing act. He was in the wilderness for 40 days; the entire time under trial or testing. 3) The Angels ministering were also present the entire time. 4) The result of the trial is the proclamation of the gospel – the reign of God.

Temptation is a perfectly fine word, but I prefer the word trial or testing. I think when we hear temptation with do two things. First we minimize the truth. We equate temptation with eating too much chocolate, we dismiss it, or we think it is only a narrow category of experience. Second we think of it as an instantaneous thing. But when we say a test or a trial, since we still have those in the secular world, we take them seriously. The time of trial is a serious thing. What this sermon does is consider the time of trial and the Christian’s response. It also considers how to view testing as an instance of the gospel. I don’t think I trivialize the subject, and hopefully give some comfort for those times of testing.

I have left in a hymn before the sermon, LSB 716, We Walk in Danger All the Way. This Hymn is one of the true gems of the church and should be much better known. It also does some of the preparation or even heavy lifting for the sermon. I also left in a piece of music after the sermon that I normally don’t – the offertory. My youngest son (8yo) is the one bowing his way through the hymn – On My Heart Imprint Your Image – which we use as the Lenten offertory.

Bearing the Ashes

Biblical Text: Matthew 6:19-34
Full Draft

Ash Wednesday is one of the occasional services of the church year. I alter up the text a bit, because I think the assigned texts don’t reflect our actual practice. It is not that the historic practices are bad, just that we don’t do them. I think we might consider them in the right light if we understood the section of the sermon on the mount right after them. And by understood what I really mean is feel cut to the heart by it. That is what this attempts.

Transfigured Lives

Biblical Text: Mark 9:2-9 (Transfiguration)
Full Sermon Draft

One way to think about meaning in a text is to divide it into different levels. The first and most basic level is the words and grammar themselves. This is a very simple and literal level, but even the most complex text never outgrows the basic words. The second level is the actions (or inactions) that are narrated. A character who lies, and someone who knows it is a lie but goes along, give a scene meaning beyond the simple words. The action of a lie betrays the words themselves and the action of accepting it reveals something about the character whether that is longing, or hurt, or self-loathing, or even a kindness depending upon the social status of the liar and the lied to. I’m sure there are other levels. (I was taught a third level where both the text and the action don’t mean anything more than an expression of the power structure of the writer. This is the standard critical school reading method. The text isn’t the Word of God, but what layers of the dominant folks put into God’s mouth. This can be an interesting window, but it also fundamentally assumes that the writers were either oblivious or nefarious in their intents.) The transfiguration text to me is one that operates on the high difference between the first level of the worlds and the second level of the final deed. The words themselves detail the magnificence of Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. The deeds are that person turning from the glory and points toward the cross. The question is where does glory reside?

There is glory with God in the beginning, and that cannot be taken away, but God moves toward Calvary. There is glory in the events of Calvary, but God is not a masochist. Suffering and the cross is not the end. The full shape, which the disciples are told to remain silent until they see it, is glory growing through the cross until the final glory of the resurrection. Transfigured lives are not static lives. Transfigured lives are not lives lived in misery. Transfigured lives are lives made so by the shape of that story. We carry the cross in the hope of the resurrection. We leave comfort, to test and grow faith. We walk in love of our neighbor, because that is what Christ did. That is how we become fully human. That is how we are transfigured.

Worship Note: I’ve left in our choir which had a beautiful short piece that our recording equipment caught rather well. I also left in one of the best not just modern hymns, but hymns of all time. I moved it in the recording to after the sermon from it place as hymn of the day. LSB 416, Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. Unfortunately the song is still under copyright, so I’m going to cheat. If your hymnal doesn’t have this hymn, you need a new one.

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 savion through the valley to the cross
and by testing faith’s resiliance through betrayal, pain and loss

Lord, transfigure our perceptions 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.

What are We Here For?

Biblical Text: Mark 1:29-39
Full Sermon Draft

That title is the question of purpose; it is the specter of despair. It is also something that Jesus, in his time on this earth, experienced with us. And in his experience showed us how we should attempt to answer. As with all things Jesus it is so simple anyone could do it, yet not simplistic or limiting in any way. The sermon develops the role of that question in Jesus’ life, the thread of continuity found in the will of the Father through changes in purpose. It then develops that teaching for our lives.