Tag Archives: faith

Signs and Wonders

Biblical Text: Mark 5:21-43 (Lamentations 3:22-33)
Full Sermon Draft

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.

Living Connected (To the Vine)

Biblical Text: John 15:1-8
Full Sermon Draft

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.

According to the Scriptures

Biblical Text: Luke 24:36-49
Full Sermon Draft

The Lukan resurrection texts are one long story – one long Easter. When I read it I wonder if that is authorial privilege, or Luke’s research. The eating of fish sounds so much like John’s beachside story. The road to Emmaus is uniquely Luke’s. The rest are reflections of the other gospel stories. Luke pulls them all together and tells a very tight story that focuses reflection on seeing the body of Christ in three things. The Emmaus disciples are the first in Luke to see the risen Christ, and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread which is a Lord’s Supper scene. We recognize the body in the Supper. We recognize the body is the Peace of the gathering is the next one. It is in this one that we also recognize that the body is not just a spiritual reality, but is flesh and blood. Lastly we recognize the body because the scriptures have testified to it.

This sermon starts out playing with the Nicene creed’s phrase “according to the scriptures” which was one that young Parson Brown didn’t really get. But Luke gets it, and Jesus goes to great lengths to make sure the disciples get it. This sermon meditates on those scriptures not as the proof, but as the family album. In and through those scriptures we can recognize the body of Christ. And because we can recognize it, we can also move forward in faith on the promises that are not yet.

Choose Your Prince

Biblical Text: Mark 10:32-45
Full Sermon Draft

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell is a fascinating character. Nobody would ever believe me, but I once wrote up a Character Study of the guy for school that was titled – “Historical Libel”. The thesis was what she did for the man much better. Anyway, one of her lines she gives him is “Choose your prince carefully.” It is a fascinating insight to the character and the time. Mantel’s books don’t have much theology, well, because Henry’s Reformation wasn’t really about theology, but that phrase I think is surprisingly deep theologically. This sermon starts there. But moves into a meditation on Jesus’ words that the son of man cam not to be served but to serve. There are plenty of moralistic sermons about how we can serve God. I get some of that in here riffing off our Hymn of the Day – “Go to Dark Gethsemane”. But for me the much more fascinating pondering is choosing what we serve. Thinking in gentile lines we are aiming not to serve but to Lord it over. But the truth is that these deals with the devil, the world and our flesh always end in serving them. It is only Jesus whose yoke it easy. Because his hierarchy is inverted. The greatest was the slave of all. So Choose Your Prince, carefully.

Subjects and Objects

Biblical Text: Numbers 21:4-9
draft 1.0

The brass snake the Moses elevated in the desert has an interesting post history. The little snippet is 2 Kings 18:4 where after hearing nothing about it for centuries, we get the notice that King Hezekiah destroys it as part of a leveling of the “high places” because Israel had been sacrificing to it. An example of how items of piety can migrate into idolatry. But that is not even in the sermon.

The sermon poses a question at the start. What is our response, how do we act, when life hits us instead of we hitting life? What do we do when we are the objects and not the subjects?

It then ponders that question through the light given both by Moses’ bronze serpent and its greater fulfillment the cross. We really have two options, either that of faith, or that of anger and despair. As comfortable perceived justified as anger, despair and victimhood might feel, they are all venom. We must leave them at the foot of the cross to live, to enter the promised land, to not die in the wilderness.

One post preaching reflection. I think this is a very effective and necessary sermon. But there is one thing that I know I did which is homiletic gold but on shaky exegetical grounds. The snakes are completely spiritualized. The venom is the effects of that sin that we must live with. I think that this is justified as the fruit of reflection. But if there are any homiletic practitioners who give this a read/listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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.