Ash Wednesday Meditation


Text: Matthew 6:19-34

The assigned Ash Wednesday gospel would have included the lines on prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we read a couple of Sunday’s ago, and stopped with the aphorism “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All of those items are a build-ups. The payoff comes after the “therefore”. “Therefore I tell you…” That is the introduction to a summary point based on what came before.

The piety practices aren’t because we need to eat our veggies. Just think for a second what each of those practices force us to do. Prayer forces our attention, our meditation, away from this world and toward the Kingdom of God. Fasting forces us to think about our hungers – physical and spiritual – and how they are satisfied. What is true food. Almsgiving forces us to give away what is probably our biggest rival idols, money and what we spend it on – ourselves. We give our own in support of someone else. The practices move us out of ourselves and toward God and others. Augustine would call sin the “incuvatus in se” the turning inward on ourselves. The practices, straighten us out.

Why? Why should we not care about old #1?

Jesus answer, listening to the ‘therefore’ is twofold. You are going to die, and your Father knows this.

Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Peter Theil thinks he can, or at least he’s throwing hundreds of millions at it, but Jesus didn’t expect and answer. Instead Jesus makes two comparisons to things whose lifespans are shorter than ours. The lilies of the field which are here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire. Not even Solomon could rival their dress. God showers a day or a short season with his finest – you think he doesn’t see you? Take the sparrow. It flits from here to there. It doesn’t have the flashy red of the cardinal. It doesn’t’ have song of the best songbird. It doesn’t have the size of the ostrich. It is a sparrow. Two a penny. Yet Matthew would say just a bit later that not a single one falls without your Father’s knowing. They neither sow nor reap, yet they eat. You think you Father doesn’t notice you?

Like Sparrows, like lilies, we are going to die. Instead of turning inward and attempting to horde what we can in an effort to avoid that, we should do what we were made to do.

Don’t lay up treasures in this world, but love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and strength and spirit. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Don’t be devoted to ourselves, or money or our status. The gentiles do all these things. The gentiles love those that love them. Instead love your neighbor as yourself. Like the lilly was made to give beauty to all, we were made to Love God and our neighbor.

Ash Wednesday has the most direct memento mori – “dust you are and to dust you shall return”. Sometimes we are so sick it takes such a shock. But don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Your Father knows. Seek first the Kingdom, and all these things will be added. God work through death and resurrection. Amen.

The Light in a Dark Place

Biblical Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Full Sermon Draft

There are so many things in life that we just don’t know. And so much of our problems aren’t what we don’t know, but what we think we know that isn’t so. Discerning the truth is tough. Sometimes truth comes in rough packages. Sometimes it is so mixed up with other things that separating it out is impossible. Welcome to life at the bottom of the mountain. Welcome to life under the cross. The transfiguration, if we believe the older and wiser Peter from 2nd Peter (the epistle lesson), was a proof of something else – the Word of God. If we are trying to figure out the way from false ways based only on our abilities we might as well quit. As Dante would say “in the middle of my years I came to rest in a dark woods and the true way was lost.” Or as Galadriel would give to Frodo “a light in a dark place”. The Transfiguration with its voice “listen to him” vouches for the firm foundation of the Word. Here, in Christ alone, is our light. And it is not a light meant only for the mountaintop. It is a light that is meant to be used at the base. The light in a dark place.

Worship Note: I wish I could have left in the choir, but the recording just didn’t work. (When the men have the strongest line, they get blocked from the main mic. I really need to get the loft mic’d better.) What I did leave in was our opening hymn. LSB 416, Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. I believe I’ve extolled this hymn before. It is a modern hymn both in its text and the tune, and it is one that deserves to claim its place in the hymnody of the church. It captures poetically the main themes of the the Transfiguration. Glory’s brilliance, yet the move to go down. The surety of revelation, yet the preeminence of faith. The need for our transfiguration passing through the dark place with only the light of Christ.

A Minute to Learn; A Lifetime to Master

Biblical Text: Matthew 5:36-6:18 (Lectionary reading was Matthew 5:36-48, I extended it to take in the next section of the Sermon on the Mount as next week is Transfiguration and lent leaving the Sermon behind.)

Full Sermon Draft

We’ve been reading the Sermon on the Mount for most of the Epiphany season. The beatitudes as the entry; salt, light and a city on a hill as the purpose; you have heard, but I say as the doctrinal basis of the Kingdom. We’ve said that the Sermon functioned as a catechism for the early church. The one thing that Luther’s catechism could be faulted for – even recognized by the earliest Lutherans who attached the table of duties – is that is almost completely an expression of the faith which is believed (fides quae creditur) and ignores the practices of the faith which believes (fides qua). Jesus doesn’t neglect that in his sermon. That is why I extended the lectionary reading. Following his authoritative teaching of the 10 commandments, Jesus takes up charity/almsgiving, prayer and fasting. These are piety practices. Using Jesus words, how we practice righteousness.

The interesting thing about Jesus’ teaching is how free it is. He doesn’t mandate or limit piety practices. He assumes that we will have them and that they are necessary, but that we will live our own faith. What he is concerned about is that our piety practices are done with the correct heart. He is concerned that we do them to be connected to the Father instead of desiring the reaction of our neighbors. This is the difference between true piety and virtue signaling. Develop the first and you Father who sees in secret will reward; do the latter and you have received your reward.

The last movement of the sermon is to examine how the phrase that ends the doctrinal section “be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” is fulfilled in Christ, and grows in us. The doctrine of the church can be summarized in a few minutes, the living of it takes a lifetime to master. And even then it is not us, but God who brings it to completion.

Worship Note: I have left in the recording two musical pieces. First between the OT and the Epistle readings our Choir sings a gorgeous piece. (I really need to get a better mic aimed there instead of simply ambient. I did raise the volume level slightly to compensate.) Then I left in our closing hymn, LSB 848, Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service which captures well I believe the force of the text. If we capture the vision of the doctrine taught, it empowers our lives. It also has one of the great tunes in the hymnal which is almost pure Americana from The Sacred Harp. If the American church adds nothing to the eschatological choir beyond these tunes, it will still have added something worthy.

Scandalized Hearts

Biblical Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Full Sermon Draft

We continue reading the sermon on the mount today. The Sermon starts with a very quick recap of the past two weeks before turning to the text. At a very basic level Jesus re-ups the 10 Commandments as part of the law that not a jot of tittle will disappear from. While this section of the Sermon on the Mount could be used as case law, Jesus’ purpose is really beyond just looking references. Instead what he is doing is demonstrating what we tend to do with the law, and telling us what we should be doing with it. We tend to look for an easy way to externally keep the law. We want the recognition for keeping it without the actual work (virtue signaling). What Jesus says back is that the external matters little, what he desires is that we attempt to keep the spirit, the internalized law. The real definition of privilege as that term is used today is the extent to which we can claim to keep the law while relaxing its claims on us individually. Part of keeping the law inwardly, is being willing to be scandalized over our own behavior. Hearts of flesh contrary to hearts of stone are able to feel the effects of sin, know where it leads, and be willing to make personal changes and sacrifices to avoid scandalizing our hearts, and not just to avoid scandalizing the neighbors.

Worship Notes: I have left in one of my favorite hymns, LSB 716, I Walk in Danger All the Way. This is the opening hymn of my funeral right now. The text and the tune mesh together perfectly. It is the rare example of the slow burn hymn. The open verse states a true problem, and things get worse from there, but there is no immediate delivery or magic as so often happens. It doesn’t deny the reality of this world, but it develops over the last three verses our solid hope both here and for eternity. Powerful text if you let yourself hear. The second item is that you might hear a missing note. Our organ decided to drop a note this morning. Providentially, we have a new organ on the way.

Glorifying the Father

Biblical Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Full Sermon Draft

The lectionary continues reading through the sermon on the mount. For me the best way to read it is as what it was to the early church, a catechism on the Christian life. In these verses Jesus addresses a couple of questions. The first is a rare instance of a why question being answered by God. The second is what is the relationship between the messianic Kingdom and the old covenant contained in the law and prophets? The two answers feed into each other. As it turns out the old covenant maintains an honored role. This homily explores those answers and the role of the law in the life of the Christian.

Worship note: The Hymn of the Day supporting that theme is LSB 579, The Law of God is Good and Wise. It is a great example of a Lutheran Catechetical hymn. It teaches the three uses of the law, the important powerlessness of that law, and as with the Gospel text the fulfillment of that good and wise law. The law has become something of a four letter word in many churches. The more you read both Jesus himself and the church from different ages you realize how wrong that is.

In The Zone

Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

The Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor in spirit, etc.) are the poetic introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. In Epiphany, the liturgical season given to coming to know who Jesus is, that sermon is assigned reading over five weeks. I won’t call it a sermon series for a couple of reasons, mostly because that phase annoys me, but also because I’d be worried by week 5 that even my regulars would be ditching services. More seriously, the sermons will be connected because the text is naturally connected, but it isn’t a forced connection.

So this sermon attempts to do three things:
1) Re-introduce into our imaginations the “Blessed are…” statements. We hear them, but they don’t engage the imagination as to what they actually mean because “blessed are…” is both too well known and too little understood. We’ve been inoculated to it. I want us to be infected with the Kingdom that Jesus is preaching.
2) Hear the gospel in these statements and not just a list of “well, I gotta do that.” Part of prodding the imagination is seeing a world where I would freely choose what Jesus describes.
3) Start laying the ground work for the connecting theme of compulsion vs. freedom.

Worship note: You can hear our recently growing choir in a couple of spots. This was a 5th Sunday where our choir supports the liturgy. I didn’t include the Chanted Intoit, but you can catch the gradual and the verse in the midst of the Alleluias. I have left in our closing hymn, LSB 690, Hope of the World. We sang stanzas 1-4. The tune is the workable EIRENE which grows on you once you grasp its internal stress and direction. The text is an deep contemplation not on the simple hope of a Deus ex Machina, but of the hope of becoming fully human in Christ.

Right Timed Calls and Rightly Ordered Priorities

Biblical Text: Matthew 4:12-25 (Psalm 27)
Full Sermon Draft

The text is Jesus calling Andrew and Peter and James and John. I probably owe a few former pastors an apology as I use them as a straw man. Those sermons of blessed memory were never as bad as I put in hear. It was probably just my listening. But, the way this text is usually preached never sat well with me. In one stroke it tended to make Jesus unbelievable, ignore everyday discipleship and create lots of holy make work. (Most cries for “relevancy” I think fall into holy make work.) Learning to “walk humbly” is often enough. What this sermon attempts to do is to reimagine the situation that leads to “immediately following” as those disciples do, and to understand what that is. Not as a call to “do something- anything – for Jesus right now”, nor as a “only a religious calling is a true calling”, but to be able to hear the lifelong call as well as the more particular calls.

Worship Note: I’ve left in the hymn of the day, LSB 688, Come Follow me the Savior Spake. You might also notice a slightly different order (although my editing obscures it). Fourth Sundays as Morning Prayer/Matins days which have a massed reading of the lessons.

What Are You Seeking?

Biblical Text: John 1:29-42
Full Sermon Text

With the change of the church year and getting out of the festival season we will start to notice the new Gospel reading. Luke is left behind and Matthew and John have the year. It may seem like overkill, but when you’ve read through each enough you can have a epiphany. Each gospel wants to be read on its terms. John’s terms are meditative. They are like an icon through which we see the reality. What this sermon does is attempt to ponder the diptych. The first scene is John the Baptist’s proclamation of the Lamb of God. The second scene is he response of two of his disciples. John the Baptist, the authoritative prophet, gives us the valid answers to Jesus’ question – “what are you seeking?” The sermon examines the uniqueness of that answer. It then looks at the second scene as an image of our response.

Worship note: I left in our opening hymn, an Epiphany season staple, LSB 409, Hail, O Source of Every Blessing.

Freedom to Become

Biblical Text: Matthew 3:13-17, Romans 6:1-11
Full Sermon Draft

I think I mentioned that because Christmas was a Sunday there are a bunch of small feast days that end up on the calendar. Today was another, the Baptism of Jesus. These days might seem extraneous, but with a little reflection are often quite deep and meaningful. The baptism of Jesus is connected to our baptism. Because he stood under those waters for us, we receive his baptism of grace. He took our unrighteousness and gives us his righteousness. This sermon meditates on a slightly different theme supported by the Epistle lesson. When we have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised to new life – freedom – what is the quality of that freedom. Are we made free to do whatever we want? As Paul answers, by no means. The freedom that Jesus displays is not the freedom to do what he wants but the freedom to become what we are. In Jesus’ case he is the Son of the Father and the savior of mankind. Was Jesus at liberty to proceed right to the fire? Well, he could have, but that would not have been freedom because it was less than Jesus was to be. We also, through our baptism, are free to become Children of God. We are freed from our fear of death and our bondage to sin, free to live as God intended. And we do this by faith. The sermon investigates

Epiphany 2017

Full Text

These special services I tend to treat homiletically different. If I’m exegetical meaning more surely grounded in the text on a regular Sunday, in the special services I tend to the personal and reflective. Part of that is audience, part of that liturgical settings. One theme of Epiphany is coming to know the truth. We live in an age that is constantly experiencing what it thinks are epiphanies. Also, as a Lutheran minister, I’m the heir to an epiphany of sorts – Luther’s recovery of the gospel. The gospel itself according to Paul is an epiphany – “hidden for the ages and now revealed”. This sermon is my reflections on spiritual discernment. How do I sort out true epiphanies from false claims of truth. As I say in the sermon, I think every Christian must develop some of this on their own, but this is mine.