Tag Archives: faith

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.

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.

Early Faith/Come and See

Text: John 1:43-51
Full Sermon Draft

Every now and then you get a text that the received or conventional understand of it is one that you just reject. When I get in that situation it is usually because I find that conventional reading just oh-so-pious. I’m not against piety, but I’m deeply allergic to false piety which is usually a form of euphemism. This text is one of those. The received understanding involves two things: a) evangelism and b) the foresight of Jesus. But both of those understandings of the story of Philip and Nathanael ignore the actual witness give by Philip which is less about Jesus and more about his conception of Jesus and just make the epigram at the end an extraneous disconnected piece. That last bit is what drove me to think deeper. Most critical commentaries will do just what I said, they will declare verse 51 a free floating bit of tradition added here for no particular reason. What ever interpretation you put on it must make that epigram jump out of the story. What does that to me is not to force a miracle story about Jesus’ foresight, or to make too quick a jump to the idea of evangelism. Instead, what makes it jump out is to read the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael as one drenched in irony or a facetious one that Jesus plays along with. The aphorism jumps when you take it a Jesus putting Nathanael on notice that what he has said tongue in cheek, he will come to see in a deeply true way.

When you read the text the way I present in this sermon, what you have is a compare and contrast of two forms of early faith. Philip’s faith is true, but he is remarkably mistaken. His faith needs to be refined. Nathanael’s faith on the other hand might be completely absent or just nascent. He knows the errors of Philip’s, but at least Philip is on the road, Nathanael is being invited to “come and see”. He is being challenged by Jesus to set aside the unearned skepticism and take the smallest step of faith, to openly observe. If he takes this smallest step, he will see heaven open. And that still goes for us. Philip and Nathanael end up being us early in faith.

Wisdom from Mary’s Heart

Biblical Text: Luke 1:26-38
Full Sermon Text

An unfortunate circumstance of the reformation has been the tendency to look for things that say “not catholic”. One of the big ones is how Protestant’s tend to treat Mary. The first generation (i.e. Luther) didn’t have this problem. They went on as they had before. Mary just wasn’t an issue. She only became an issue in my historical understanding as later Protestants and Catholics made things that were not dogma prior into dogma. And it is a crying shame, because the Biblical Mary has a lot to tell us how to live the life of faith in her son. This sermon is an attempt to hear the annunciation story (advent 4) as original Jews and Gentiles/Pagans might have heard it, and then to to apply that to us moderns. I don’t think we are as far away as we might think. Mary’s faith and Mary’s wisdom are wonderful examples in contrast to our demands for signs and worldly wisdom. I’d invite you to give Mary a fresh look.

Worship Note: I’ve left in a bunch more music that normal. Our choir piece from this morning in is. The gorgeous hymn “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” is in. And I left in “Once in Royal David’s City” and the organ postlude.

Joy in the Vineyard

Biblical Text: Matthew 20:1-16
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon took a form that I don’t often use, but it fell out of my prep work, three points and a poem. The standard sermon coming from this text is probably missions or something completely law based. My struggle this week was how not just to fall into the “get to work” vein. And the three points fell out, with the third speaking to my soul.

Point1: The foundation of the vineyard is the grace of God. “The Master of the House went out to hire laborers.” The first move is always God moving towards us.

Point2: The response of the workers is faith based on the character of the Master of the House. Can he make good on his promise?

Point3: The call to the Vineyard is the call to work besides God. We are invited into the life and work of god.

That third point is the crisis of grace and our understanding. Do we recognize the amazing nature of that offer, or do we just want our wage? Can we rejoice with the widow who finds her coin? Can we enter the party house for the prodigal, or have we lost the joy of the vineyard?

The Poem is simply Psalm 51 (often our offertory). Cast me not away from your presence, but restore unto me the joy of your salvation. We all occasionally find ourselves on the wrong side of the crisis of grace complaining about it radical equality. David’s words are our prayer. Let us recognize who we work with and the joy of that call.

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.

Truly, Truly, I Say to You

Biblical Text: John 10:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the fascinating precursor to the “good shepherd” passages. In the context, precursor is the wrong word because the first 6 verses of John 10 are the basis. Verses 7 through 10 are an expansion or a change of emphasis. The good shepherd verses are elaborations on these initial “truly, truly” sayings. What this sermon attempts to do is meditate on those sayings. It asks the confirmation question “what does this mean” about the structure. After answering is examines three things: a) how God acts in this world as explained by the parable, b) our duty after “hearing the voice” and c) what Jesus means by abundant life. I think this is a rather thick sermon, but worth a listen

A Singular Occurance

Biblical Text: Matt 28:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

I forget where I heard it but I heard a great quote recently. “It is not that people don’t believe in the resurrection, it is that they don’t believe it happened only once.” Or something close to that effect. This Easter Sunday sermon takes a look at what resurrection really means and how it is part of our existence contrasted to apparently both popular and elite understanding. The primary touchstone is that it is not generic resurrection, but it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Resurrection is in Christ.

Worship Note: You can’t really capture Easter Service on a recording. The Spirit might work in different tongues, but recorded is not something that captures him all that well. I’ve left in our Choir’s piece, the Easter standard Christ the Lord is Risen Today. I’ve also left in the closing hymn Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds, LSB 465.

Wrath for Trust


Biblical Text: John 11:1-46
Full Sermon Draft

The text contains a couple of staple funeral texts. They are more than that, but it is that connection that is part of this meditation. The greatest of the “I AM” statements is the first text – “I am the Resurrection and the Life”. The shortest verse in the bible, “Jesus wept”, is the second. Both of these are part of the larger story of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. And the repeated line is theirs. “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.”

This sermon is a personal reflection on those words. I hope that it carries the gospel.

Worship Note: Two points. First, we got our new organ this week. I believe you might he a much clearer sound. Second, today was a good day to sing some of the great Lenten hymns. The one I left in the recording is LSB 435, Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain. I believe it carries the themes of resurrection and the life, a God who keeps his promises.