Tag Archives: cross

The Happiness of God

Biblical Text: Matthew 16:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

I had something to say here, but I don’t know if I got it across. Maybe that is because it is more of an intuition that something that can be fully expressed. If I try and summarize it:
1. Measurements temporal are like constant correction while driving, sure to get you in an accident. Only eternal guidelines keep you on the narrow way.
2. The happiness of God is to save sinners, which requires the cross. Christ was happy to walk to Calvary.
3. We have a God who can be found. The only place we find him is on that cross, and under the cross.
4. The paradoxical truth is that to find God, the only place we can be truly happy (have shalom, experience rest), is when we deny ourselves and take our place under the cross.

That might sound masochistic, but look at the world. Is anyone who chases their temporal self-actualizing goals ever really happy? Look at those who have given up claims to “my goals”, a) how happy are they and b) how often do they get everything else?

Worship Note: I left in our final hymn, LSB 333, Once He Came in Blessing. It is listed as an Advent hymn, but as I think I’ve stated elsewhere Advent is most akin to our experience and that section in the hymnbook is stacked. The four stanza progression is just a gorgeous simple statement of what the text was expressing.

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.

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.

In the Wilderness

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Biblical Text: Luke 15:1-10 (Ezekiel 34:11-24)
Full Sermon Draft

Congregationally we were saying good bye to beloved members. The day also had the national overtones of the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I might be wrong in this, but to me part of preaching is giving the hearers ways to understand or recognize the Kingdom of God in our midst, even in sad things, especially in sad things. The primary theme of the texts of the day was not perseverance. The primary theme was forgiveness. But there is a secondary theme that hints at perseverance in the Christian life. This sermon attempted to spotlight that secondary thread for the purpose of understanding the day.

As with most days, the hymnody of the church is so much better than anything we say. Those hymns are sermons that meant so much to so many that they survived in some cases millennia and translation, in others simply centuries. Jesus Sinners Doth Receive was the Hymn of the Day on the primary theme, but I left in our final hymn. LSB 839, O Christ, Our True and Only Light. If one heard the message that we were attempting to speak, this hymn was a good and proper response. It reminds us that in this world Christ is our only true light. It reminds us that here we walk in darkness, the metaphorical equivalent of the text and sermon’s wilderness. It asks for the one to be reunited with the 99, and the perfect 100 to find the eternal joy. And it asks that we might be a part of that. Beautiful hymn.

A Reflection on Glory

mara abbott2I’m a sucker for the Olympics, but not for the right reasons. Network coverage is first about nationalism. We only see the athletes from our country. It is second about personalities. There is a reason beyond cheesecake that you get a steady stream of Kerry Walsh-Jennings. Mother of three going after her fourth gold medal who always has a smile and speaks in an easy relatable way, who wouldn’t want to watch that? But the reason I’m a sucker I like to think is even more elementary – it’s about the glory.

The old Hebrew word for glory in its root meaning is weight or mass. When the glory of the Lord fills the temple in Isaiah’s sight, we aren’t talking radiance. It is the weight of the moment before the prophet’s eyes. Millions of moments added together are a feather in the wind compared to this one moment in time. In modern democratic societies glory is something we are not supposed to want because it is unequal. We can have pageantry and pomp which simulate glory, but meet their democratic nemesis in satire. When you encounter true glory, nobody would think of making fun of it. The only thing you wish to do is like Peter on the mount, make the encounter longer. But then it wouldn’t be glory.

Also, unlike our ersatz democratic versions, glory is found in victory and defeat. It is found not just in the glamour sports, but also in the out of the way. In that way glory is more democratic than its replacements could ever be. Four, sometimes eight, sometime more years of training and exercise, uncountable moments, go into this one performance. And even within that one performance of hundreds of moments, it is one that defines it.

Look at the women’s cycling road race. Cycling has an interesting dynamic in that the peloton – the mass of cyclists – are relentless and they almost always catch you. But not always, and that is why some cyclists always make a break away. Cycling is also a team sport, although it may not look like it. There is always a golden child and everyone else is a specialist to protect and carry that golden child. But sometimes it doesn’t break that way. Mara Abbot was not the golden child but a specialist climber. Her role was to hit the hills with everything she has to take the final sprint out of the legs of everyone else while carrying her teammate to the top of the hills. But her teammate couldn’t do it, and no one else would help on the climb. So Ms. Abbot did it all herself opening up a minute lead on the pack. One person had gone with her, but she didn’t share the load. And when they crested the hill, this hanger-on took off down the steep slope. About half-way down nemesis caught her as she couldn’t control the bike and flew over the handles in a heap leaving the in control Ms. Abbot alone in the lead. And she kept it, for a long time. She never looked back. She kept her eyes on what was ahead. After the race, they asked her if she ever thought she might get a medal. Abbot answered, “well at 5 miles and 4 and 2 and 1, no. The chase always captures you, and I had left it all on that hill. But, when I saw 300 meters to go, I said, this could happen.” At 200 m three riders in a chase pack zoomed past her. She didn’t respond, there was nothing left to respond with. Abbot finished fourth. After doing everything right – the perfect teammate, the lead on the climb, keeping within herself on the descent, 4 hours on the bike – she wasn’t on the podium by 4 seconds. But that is the thing about glory, the weight of all those moments compressing into that one. She had run the race. She had left it all out there. The hill specialist without the motor to win it (the expectation was that after the hill she would just drop out of the race) was there. Everyone watching knew she was going to get caught, but she never looked back. It’s not the glory of the podium, but this was something even weightier. This was a unique moment. Terrible and full of glory.

I think the apostle Paul was something of a fan of the games as well. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Cor. 9:25).” There he focuses on the winning, but later “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:42-43).” All the moments of our lives are compressing to that last one. That is a unique moment, terrible and full of glory. When the weight of eternity is placed on us, have we run the race such that it is a prize, or a punishment? “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).” Don’t be fooled by the imitations, don’t settle for what fades, see the signs and prepare for that eternal weight of glory.

Two Parades

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Biblical Text: Luke 23:1-56, Luke 19:35-40
Full Sermon Draft

Palm Sunday has the best hymns, they even rival Easter in my mind. Since the lectionary (the assigned readings for the day) have pushed Palm Sunday toward the Sunday of the Passion it sets up an interesting dynamic. There is a juxtaposition of the Palm Sunday parade which we re-enact in a small way with the via dolorosa. The hymns capture this changing dynamic. Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (LSB 443) and All Glory, Laud and Honor (LSB 442) are more pure Palms and celebration. But then No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet (LSB 444) starts perceiving the irony of the Palms and another parade. (For my opinion, this is a classic of what hymns are supposed to be – sung meditation. And it does it from a modern viewpoint.) And then Ride On, Ride On in Majesty (LSB 441) ends with the eschatological note. These parades of palms and cross are not the final word.

I don’t have the hymns on the recording. (The sad truth is we just don’t have the equipment for that sort of thing.) But the sermon attempts that sort of motion. It starts off with thinking about what parades are actually about and hopefully demonstrating that these biblical parades are the same as we can understand from our own time. It then moves on to the heavy irony, here defined as the difference between human and divine perception, that covers these parades and all of holy week. In that irony it perceives what Christ has done for us. It attempt to align our perception with the divine. We do that through the moral burden that comes with knowing the divine view, and knowing that we don’t measure up. It concludes with that eschatological view. We accept the moral burden because that is how we live out faith. We believe this is what God had done. And we believe that he will do as promised. So we walk in this parade.

The Hour of Sacrifice

From Dag Hammarskjold…
“For the sacrificed-in the hour of sacrifice-only one thing counts:faith – alone among the enemies and skeptics. Faith, in spite of the humiliation which is both the necessary precondition and the consequence of faith, faith without any hope of compensation other than he can find in a faith which reality seems so thoroughly to refute.

Would the Crucifixion have had any sublimity or meaning if Jesus had seen himself crowned with the halo of martyrdom? What we have added later was not there for him. And we must forget all about it if we are to hear his commands.”

That is what the author of Hebrews is getting at when he write about Jesus being the “author and perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2).” For the inheritors of tradition, any religious tradition, there is the halo of martyrdom. Your life in its end transcends and becomes about your testimony. Martyr after all just meant witness. But Jesus was paraded through Jerusalem and hung on the cross rejected by everybody. His co-religionist, the Jews, were the ones who pressed the case. His state, only concerned about power and its maintenance as all states are, perverted justice to the louder voices. Even his friends betrayed and ran. Nobody saw or accepted his witness, except the Father. And even that was behind the darkness from the sixth to the ninth hours, the last breaths. He hung there in faith. For the joy that was set before him that only he could see and only through the eyes of faith. The joy for us is more visible, because we see Him. He gave the true offering, believing the absolute love of the Father. Even for one condemned and forgotten.