Tag Archives: authority

Satan Right Before Us

Biblical Text: Mark 1:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

Texts on unclean spirits and demons are tough ones for sermons these days. You can completely spiritualize them, which is dishonest and drains them of all their power. As O’Connor said about the Eucharist, “if it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.” You can take a cessationist line, which could be possible, but ins’t really taught anywhere in the scripture. You could take a charismatic line, but unless you have an active exorcism ministry, that is a stretch. Or you can do what I attempted to do here. I’d invite you to listen. I think this is important stuff proclaimed in a faithful way that has Jesus at its center.

Worship Note: I have left in the record two musical parts. Our choir sang a wonderful little piece today and they were in great voice. That is between the Old Testament and Epistle lessons. I also left in the hymn after the sermon, LSB 583, God Has Spoken By His Prophets. As we were singing it this morning I was struck by how it artistically captured the core of the sermon.

Don’t Say “We Don’t Know”

Biblical Text: Matthew 21:23-27
Full Sermon Draft

The confrontation of Jesus with the chief priests and elders is the confrontation of the prophet with the stewards of the priest and king roles. It is a confrontation of authority. And the abiding question is how do we know when we’ve heard THE WORD of GOD?

The typical authority granted is of that priestly or kingly type. It comes with the office and the special garb of the office. The authority of the prophet is different. And we still long to hear that prophetic authority. The first part of the hard answer is that the prophetic authority is self-authenticating. You know it in your hearts and guts when you hear it. Our opening hymn was “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding”. That is the part of the response. The second part of the hard answer is that THE WORD comes to us under the cross. It comes in power and can be crucified, the violent can bear it away. It is always “punching up” as it were. If it is not, it might be something you desperately want to be THE WORD, but you are fooling yourselves.

When we hear the prophet the most likely response is repentance. That is the goal of THE WORD – Repent and believe. The Kingdom is here. A contrasting honest response would simply be to have the courage of your convictions. Sit in the seat of the priest or the king and deny that the prophet has any authority. It is at least a courageous honesty response. The worst response is “we don’t know”. Did you hear the Word? “We don’t know”. Stop it. You know. You just don’t like the decision is forces. True repentance or true rebellion. We want it both ways. The safe authority with the romance of the prophet.

Recording Note: You might notice during the sermon a shift in sound direction. For some reason I think the pulpit mic cut out. The altar mic picked it up fine, but it will sound more ambient. I also had to amplify the line just a smidge. We had some great hymns, like the opener mentioned, but I didn’t include any in the recording because it was one of those days where the recording just didn’t sound as good as live. Come to church, a much better experience.

Humble Authority


Biblical Text: Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 2:1-5
Full Sermon Draft

The text for the first Sunday in Advent is usually Palm Sunday. The theme is the Advent of the King. There are multiple ways that Advent invites us to ponder the Kingship of Jesus. We can reflect on the first advent in a holy longing for the second advent. The first time in grace and humility, the second in judgement and power. We could reflect on the King as stand-in for His people. In this case the King on the way to the cross and our penitential need. That is Advent as a penitential season. The Isaiah text which is just as much the sermon text of the day invites a third meditation, Advent as the dawning and growing of the light. What this sermon attempts to do is think about what it means to have a King. It posits a couple of forms of human kingship – modern and ancient. It then contrasts those with the Biblical picture of the Kingship of Jesus. It concludes with the encouragement as the natural light grows shorter, to let they spiritual light brighten. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Worship notes: The other voice you hear is our Seminarian Tim Bayer. He was in town for Thanksgiving and it is always great to be able to include him in the service. Since the break is a short one, he and his wonderful voice handled the liturgy for us. I’ve left in two hymns. At the start LSB 343, Prepare the Royal Highway. At the end LSB 331, The Advent of Our King. Both carry the Kingship theme and explore it is ways similar to the sermon. I love the hymns of Advent. I’ll often try to work some of them in during the year itself because the season itself is made to short. The other reason is that the themes of advent are so deep and worthy of reflection.

Authority of the Cross


Biblical Text: Luke 20:9-20
Full Sermon Draft

All of Chapter 20 in Luke is Jesus teaching on proper authority. It is set in the conflict between Jesus and the Temple, and this text is the parable that Jesus uses as the loadstone of the entire teaching. You find true north in regards to authority by pondering this parable.

It happens to be a fortuitous text as the political season moves in strange ways this year. It also comes up at the same time as a situation I have been pondering simmers. This sermon attempts to think through the text and those situations. What it emerges with I hope is a picture of what authoritative leadership looks like. In this world authoritative leadership looks like the cross.

I don’t bring it up in the sermon itself, but Luther once attempted to talk about the marks of the church, how you would find it. His biggest mark was the cross. You will know you’ve found the church when what you are looking at bears the cross. It is only that type of authority and leadership – a leadership that is directed toward God and neighbor willing to bear the burden – that is truly fruitful.

I hope that this is helpful in your meditation. Also, I want to add a note about the recording. This is a re-recording after the fact, because the recording at the time something went wrong. Which is a shame, because the choir sounded wonderful, and we sang one of my top-5 hymns. LSB 423, Jesus Refuge of the Weary. The words are by the original Bonfire of the Vanities Girolamo Savonarola. The author is a cautionary tale. He rose is acclaim and fortune castigating a corrupt authority. He was later hung and burned at the same time. I believe the text of the hymn comes from his prison meditations. It might not be true, but I hear the confession of a man who got lost but came to see the cross anew. A historical support for the limits I attempt to point out in the sermon.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Deuteronomy 4:1-20 and Matthew 7:13-29

Deuteronomy 4:1-20
Matthew 7:13-29
Teaching as one with authority (Jesus on the Mount = Cloud of Fire on the Mount)
The difference of starting with the Beatitudes

Proper Authority


Biblical Text: Matthew 21:23-27
Full Sermon Draft

Authority is one of those words that, depending upon your context, can be a dirty word today. That is truly a shame because it used to be something that was exercised with wisdom. Those with authority knew they also had accountability. Those with it respected where it came from and its proper use. They knew authority came in multiple forms – hierarchical and moral – and that you couldn’t last long with the first if you didn’t respect and preserve the second. Authority was always a grant, a gift, a grace. It was never something that you earned. If you took it you were a usurper.

This sermon has a simple movement:
1) Our current trouble with authority
2) Authority abused by the chief priests and elders of the people and proper authority in Jesus
3) Jesus’ grant of his authority to his people in discipleship

It traces a deep vein in the Gospel according to Matthew of the sources and uses of proper authority.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Joel 3:1-21 and Romans 12:14-13:14

Joel 3:1-21
Romans 12:14-13:14
Government as weather, focus on personal holiness

If Something Can’t Go On, It Won’t

How to say this? There are some long running arguments about society and social structure that seem to be coming to watersheds or settlement points.

Here is the anchoress as First Things talking about the Priesthood in the Catholic Church. It has seemed to me for a long time that “the spirit of Vatican 2” crowd and the “typical every sunday” Catholic was something that couldn’t go on. If I’m reading this article correctly, it sounds as if it won’t. The being nice to each other phase is over.

That debate is related to this next item in a way. Ask yourself the question does marriage precede the state? Then ask yourself the question: is a fundamental of the essence part of marriage children or is marriage simply a personal arrangement? This is the original NYT column where Ross Douthat would call those who would say “no, simply a personal arrangement” decadent. Here is my favorite finance columnist, reacting to that column and the many mean-spirited responses.

We used to live in a society where:
a) marriage was about four things: a picture of Christ and the church, mutual support, lust control and children (please look up the liturgy of marriage on LSB page 275 to see these things spelled out, I’m not making them up).
b) marriage was an institution that preceded the state and in fact formed the stable foundation (Gen 2:24 and Mark 10:7, and the 4th commandment and Luther’s explanation)
c) bright lines were drawn between expected choices, accepted choices and choices out of bounds

The emerging society: a) marriage is only about mutual support, it is an individual contract, b) it can be redefined by the state, and c) drawing of bright lines is judgmental which you have no authority to be and might even need to be “re-educated”.

If you live or believe in that old society you see the new one as decadent and narcissistic which ultimately leads to collapse. If you live in the emerging society – “Hey, don’t harsh my buzz, you evil troll”. That is a divide in worldview that can’t be sustained or bridged. If something can’t go on, it won’t.

An example of subversiveness of the Gospel according to Mark

First, I hate adding one of these after our Preschool Teacher Ms. Wahl has put up a post. Please do take a look at the zoo in the post below. My (almost) three year old was following the tracks first thing this morning.

Second, this picks up on a conversation we were having in Sunday Morning Bible study. I had stumbled into explaining why I am the Lutheran I am after I had made a much too flippant remark to end bible study the last week. (Something about getting too old to change.) Also, in reflecting upon the sermon delivered this past week, I mentioned the subversiveness of Mark. Now just mentioning subversive probably either sends off all kinds of alarm bells (if you are of the political right) or warm fuzzies (if you are of the political left).

My basic answer to the Lutheran that I am was that when you start asking the ‘how do I know” type questions, Lutherans very quickly get to Jesus. Catholic and Lutheran alike would both answer how do I know I have grace with: the proclaimed Word and the Sacraments. The promises of God are given in these. Believe the promises of God. When you push that to the next level – how do I know that I have the real word and the real Sacraments? – the catholic answer (grossly simplified) is that you are in the visible church traced back to the foundation of St. Peter. The sacraments rest on the authority of the church. The Lutheran answer is that the sacraments have a power of their own based in the authority and revelation of Jesus. The word and sacraments create the church. The Augsburg Confession article 7 on the church defines the church as the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the sacraments are correctly administered. Word and Sacrament are the means through which the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the church. That is not a proof, like holding up an institution. It is a call to faith in Jesus.

But that leads to an emerging church problem. A bunch of spiritual but not religious people gather and baptize and pass out bread and grape juice – are they the church? (And this happens – Kingdom Bound at Darien Lake was the example.) Being a Lutheran allows me to say – yes, but in some incredibly messed up way which in a perfect world wouldn’t happen. Augsburg 14 talks about a rightly order call being the basis of public teaching and administering the sacraments. What that means is that you can’t lock God up, but there is a normal way to receive the sacraments and hear the word. God might work outside of that normal way, just like you might get rich by the beauty of your singing voice through American Idol, but the normal way is something called a church which might not be as flashy as that singing career but a whole lot more solid (and probably more rewarding) like being a teacher.

Now to Mark. Mark 2:1-12. First, where was Jesus. A: In a home. What did he do first? A: Preach. What was the result of that word? A: Faith that he could see (v 5). What is the result of that faith? A: “Your sins are forgiven”. Second, what was the normal place to receive grace in that day? A: Synagogue and Temple – word and sacrifice. Jesus would say as much – he tells the man with leprosy in Mark 1:44 to go show himself to the priest – right before this story. But what are the Pharisees mad at in verse 7? A: Only God forgives sins, (and you find God in the appropriate place, the Temple and the synagogue, not in this house).

Can you see the parallels? Now there is a big problem in that this is Jesus and he had the authority to do this. The traveling evangelist is a much different person. But if you base the effectiveness of the Word and Sacraments on the institution (i.e. the church, Temple) you end up arguing just like the Pharisees. The way of Jesus would appear to be to recognize their validity, but say now go get it regularized. But that is a very subversive statement – because there is no way for us to regulate or police the work of the Spirit. Who knows what the Spirit will bring into our midst? It might be tax collectors and sinners.

But that is a good kind of subversive. It strips away our conceits and fantasies of having a righteousness and authority of our own. The church has no authority of its own, only what it is given by Jesus Christ. Go, baptize and teach (Matt 28:19-20). Do this in remembrance of me. That is the kind of subversive that holds a wonder at what God is doing, but also then gives understanding. “That you might know that the Son of Man has authority, get up and take your mat.” That is the kind of subversive that hold the mirror to the world while saying repent, the Kingdom of God is near.

When every earthly prop gives way…the problem of authority

Young Luther (and by young I’m talking 37, one of my personal quibbles with Luther scholars is that I don’t think they comprehend age very well, a man of 37, especially in an age of shorter lifespans, was bordering on old, not young, even today we’d say he’s approaching middle age, anyway), Young Luther in the Freedom of a Christian would pine for theodidacti, those taught by God. Old Luther (and by that I mean 42 year old) would get grumpy and complain that the peasants were revolting. Little gripes about the “true gospel” and other complaints about people just not following it would creep in until very late life ugly stuff about Jews. It is a famous question among Lutheran theologians – are you a young Luther or an old Luther gal? What that really means is: what are you views on authority? Are you looking to God alone, or have you been mugged by reality? Are you willing to live with the chaos of people not getting the lesson right, or do you want things settled even if it takes a good strong hand not from the right hand of the Father?

Two things bring that to mind that I want to ponder here. First is Rod Dreher with his typical wind-y post but with a tough core question – Aren’t we all Protestants now?.

No, what’s startling and troubling to me about this is not that American Catholics fail to live up to the demands of their faith, but that in very large numbers, they reject the binding Authority of the Church on their consciences. I don’t see any other way to read this. For them, the Church doesn’t command, because it doesn’t have the authority to command; the Church only suggests.

The second thing is a typography of younger “leavers” of the church from Barna Group. It is extracted from a larger book you can find following the link, but the typography breaks 18 to 29 year old’s into three groups in relation to the church. 3 out of 10 stay in the church they were brought up in. 2 out of 10 they label exiles which means they have left the church for cause (i.e. the church did or continued to do something they couldn’t stomach but they “still like Jesus”). 4 out of 10 are nomads which means they have just wandered away from the church without any real passion or judgment about it. And 1 out of 9 (there must be a remainder who never had contact at all) they label prodigals which means they have outright rejected the church and its teachings.

Both of those items to me point to a question or a problem with the foundations of authority or epistemology (how do you know? How do you know you know?). Barna’s typology reflects Dreher’s question. All the groups – I’d say even most on the stay pile – are just going to what already mirrors their own outlook. The only authority or maybe I should say the trump authority is my reason and gut. As a more young Luther guy, I’m not terribly upset about that. I’m part of a tradition that trumpets being convinced by “scripture and plain reason” and which says “it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience”. (Luther @ Worms).

It’s the scripture part that is troubling. Read Matthew 16:19 then Matthew 18:18 then John 20:23. Those are all the “keys” passages about binding and loosing sins. To whom was that authority given? The Lutheran answer is to the church. The church (or local congregation) when it calls a pastor gives those keys to the pastor for public use. That is why you would see me say things like “by virtue of my office…I forgive you your sins”. Well and good, the church has the authority to forgive and to bind. But that is in general not how we act. If I were to stand up and say – “you there, hiding in the corner, I know that you are cheating on your wife, I’m binding that sin until you make good and change” – what do you think the response would be? {@!?$&!} But isn’t that what those keys passages say?

And the pastor doesn’t get off scot-free. The episcopal way would be to say the pastor is under a bishop or needs to be with a fellow pastor, but that never struck me a making sense. That just passes the problem up until you find a Pope. The pastor is bound and loosed by the congregation, think the body of Elders. A Walther way of explaining it is that in each congregation you have the incarnation of the full church. The full powers of the church are inherent in each congregation.

But all of that flies in the face of 9/10th of 18-29 year olds and probably a similar number of the those older. They just aren’t as free to walk. Read Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7. Who holds the key in the final analysis? Jesus. Who did Jesus give the key to? Whether you answer Peter (Roman Catholics), the apostles (Eastern Orthodox), the church (Protestants), if you believe scripture is a true witness, then the church is authoritative in morals. How do we live or receive that statement? Especially as a Lutheran?

I’ll continue this in the next post.