I’ve grown to love this series of texts for the Epiphany season from Luke with a late Easter. The early ones are about what and where we can expect to see God (i.e. have an Epiphany). The middle ones are about the proper reaction to that. And now we will have Luke’s version of the sermon on the mount which is about discipleship. What does the good Christian life look like? What does not just reacting but enduring in the Christian life necessitate? When you get into this territory you get into the wisdom tradition, or you have to start talking about virtues. In this case the virtue of faith, but of a very specific kind. To live the Christian life requires faith in the world to come and that you are already part of it. The Christian does not act simply on maximizing the good in this world alone. The Christian works under the assumption of eternity. And that will bring them into some temporal conflict. The blessings are for those who endure and persist. The woes are for those who take their share now, forgetting the age to come.
We are moving into the second half of an Epiphany Season. And this is turning into a little longer series of at least semi-joined sermons. This second half often just gets dropped, when Easter is earlier, so we don’t always get to these lessons, which is a shame. Because it is these that ask the important questions of how do we respond to an Epiphany. If we have seen God, what do we do?
Last week showed a couple of broad wrong paths and the narrow right path. This weeks lessons walks us through the deeper give and take. Epiphany, Repentance, Reassurance, and Call.
We are continuing through our Epiphany series which might be subtitled “seeing God”. The normal ways of seeing God that the Epiphany texts help us to see are Word and Sacrament. This text is no different in that, except this text asks the next question: what does seeing God mean for the one who sees? And Epiphany is always also a test. Do we believe? Do we trust the promises given in the Word of God and the sacraments, or do we demand what we take as greater signs? This sermon ponders Jesus’ reception in his hometown, and parallels that reception among those who have been made his family by baptism.
Advent 3 at St. Mark’s is the Children’s pageant. On the old calendar it would be Guadete Sunday meaning rejoice. It would after be a mini-Christmas or feel like it. You light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. If you were at the Cathedral they might even have rose altar cloths and stoles. Not being the Cathedral we have a pink candle. And given societal changes, like an entire family not being in one congregation any more whether due to moves or disruptions, things that put demands on families need to be done outside of prime time. So while my childhood pageants were on Christmas Eve, ours are on Advent 3. My message before the children does some of that reflecting – a bit of nostalgia – before hopefully putting a good frame on the kids presentation. What Child is This was the theme. The answer is king and savior, but also ours. We can proclaim Christ, but it does no good if we don’t welcome him in our hearts.
Advent 2 is John the Baptist week. (Advent 3 would be as well, but that week typically gets taken up by the Children’s program.) And I think that both the Baptist and his message are a little tough for us to understand, although I think we are probably approaching the time and place where they shouldn’t be. They used to require imagination, but the sermon will attempt such imagination is becoming reality. My opening question for you would be: What might make you listen to a street preacher? For I think that is akin to what John is, except that he is wildly popular. That is the space you have to get into to understand the Baptist – where a street preacher is popular. This sermon attempts to paint that picture. It also attempts help us grasp that it isn’t the street preacher antics that make John unique, but the place and the message. Come ponder just what it might the way straight, to raise up the valleys and level the hills, to do so from the desert, to do so with a Word.
Recording Note: The Choice sounded great this morning and I got a good recording, so their piece is in the recording between the OT lesson and the Epistle.
The big think event for this week would or should have been peace. This was the 100th anniversary of the WW1 Armistice. The text for the week was the widow’s temple offering. And we had a local congregational fact of passing a budget and the fact of stewardship.
The through line that I worked on in this sermon was this. Jesus points out the Widow as an example of faith. Her faith went in two directions. First she found what happened at that Temple to be meaningful. She supported the temple not because of the great stones that her mites wouldn’t do anything to support. She supported the temple because that is where she found the mercy and peace of God at. He faith also went outward in the fact that this God who had provided this peace was not limited to the temple, but would bestow his providence in her life. She offered the whole of her life because he trusted the promises of God which she had experienced there. In our world there are lots of things that want to say they provide peace and security. But the truth of all of them is that peace is not something we can create or every maintain. Peace is a gift of Almighty God. The history of the 20th century and the American experience of the 21st is proof of that. I didn’t include it here, but echoing Lincoln, it is beyond out ability to hallow. The only thing our great stones – our monuments – can do it point to the greater peace. And seeing that greater peace is acting as the widow. It requires faith. Specifically it requires faith in the other one who would give all he had to place the new cornerstone of the living temple – Christ. This sermon uses the example of a WW1 memorial cross that is currently under assault for exactly what it does – point not to the Armistice peace which soon failed but to the greater peace of the one who hung on the cross. The test of that peace then becomes are we willing to live out of it. Do we trust the providence of God like the widow? Or do we measure our peace and security like the others bringing their offerings. How do you measure the peace that Christ has given? Do we recognize its worth, or begrudge its price?
Probably tried to do too much. But it is a much more complex and messy answer I think. It is the mystery of faith and its sustaining in this world.
Worship Note: LSB 787, The Temple Rang with Golden Coins, is lovely simply hymn that walks the sermon through line very closely. It was our hymn of the day. I have included it at the end of the recording as a conclusion.
Living the Christian life isn’t always easy. I’m not talking about easy choices like things coded into the 10 commandments or lines of the creed. Those things are easy. I’m also not talking about those times of clear persecution. Those are easy in the way I’m talking about, but hard in reality. What this sermon addresses is what the text addresses which is the normal life of discipleship. Jesus’ words put a couple of things in tension. On the one side discipleship is a serious thing. I call it the discipleship of commitment. We are to be committed to each other in that we are responsible for our brother’s faith. Likewise we are to be committed to holiness for the sake of our own faith. Jesus is serious as a literal hell. On the other side, this commitment never excuses a lack of openness or grace. The disciple, as long as who they are interacting with in not against Christ, is to act as if they are with you. What that will lead you into sometimes is getting burned. But that is to be expected as Jesus says “we will all be salted with fire.” We are to be living sacrifices. Salted in ourselves. Ready to be at peace. This sermon expands on that and explores what that might mean in concrete situations.
I like this one. If I was going to edit a volume of sermons this one would go in there. It is built around what I think are the three big lines of the text.
– O faithless generation, how long will I remain
– All things are possible for the the faithful one (my translation, listen to the sermon)
– This kind only comes out with prayer
Each one of these lines addresses a problem of faith. Each one of them points us as the solution which is Jesus himself. We think of the exorcism as the healing here, but the true healing was done to the father and the disciples. The child was the sign. The child was the proof that Jesus is the faithful one.
I didn’t leave it in simply because of recording quality, but the hymns today were perfect. I was a very good day.
The text is a juxtaposition of a couple miracles of Jesus. One a seemingly minor healing, and the other a resurrection. But this juxtaposition soon sucks in not just the miraculous but everything we like to think about. It is status, popularity, wealth and health, faith and doubt, fear and courage. In other words it is a juxtaposition that cleaves to the marrow of life. It is also a message that cleaves a tough spot in my faith. I accept, but I don’t really understand God’s use of actual miracles. I have an intellectual understanding, but my heart still doesn’t like it. This sermon is my attempt to express both that intellectual understanding, but also to reach for something that might begin an emotional peace. I don’t know if anybody else has such a similar problem. I also don’t know if I succeeded. But here it is. A meditation on signs and wonders.
Jesus’ saying “I am the true and vine my Father is the vinedresser” is one of those sayings that is immediately accessible but almost limitless in imagination. This sermon starts out with a contemporary example of the negative, cutting oneself off from the vine. It then explores from the text what it means to stay connected. There are two things to staying connected that come from Christ, call them the life circulating in the vine and branches, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Then there are two things that are part of the sanctified life, trials or pruning in this context and prayer. We might focus on that pruning as the big asymmetry of the Christian life, but I think that is simply life in a fallen world. If anything knowing that the Father is going to make use of them is a benefit. They could just be bad luck. The big asymmetry to me is in the time frames considered. Those branches that remove themselves wither and are burned while those that stay connected have a perpetual growing season – eternal life.