When I first saw these texts for this plague week I felt “wow, lets change them.” But I’ve only changed the assigned texts of a Sunday less than 5 times. And I am glad I didn’t. In the midst of death, or at least the fear of death, these lessons tell us our hope. That is what the sermon does. Hopefully gives the saints God’s word to live in these times.
Service note: We are splitting our services to say under 10 people locally (everyone has their own pew), 9 AM and 11 AM with roughly the same number online. So, we don’t have music. We are using responsive prayer 2 in LSB. It is also wired up to produce the best sound for those online. I’ve put the entire service out. The back half after the sermon is collective prayer.
The work of God is always being displayed in our midst. It is up to us how we respond to it. God’s desired response is faith in his son. The life of Jesus is the demonstration, the work of God displayed, of the Goodness of the Father. Even in bad things, God is good. This sermon, through examining the story of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, is a mediation on both the purposes of God and faith’s response.
This is something of a statement about the purpose of preaching. We attempt to put so much on the sermon. We look for all kinds of things there. And I honestly think we look for the wrong things. What the sermon is about is proclaiming the gospel. What the sermon is about is evangelism, our evangelism. And that is what this sermon attempts to do. It isn’t 7 words of wisdom for your best life. It isn’t 5 ways to life hack your way to Jesus. It is “God so loved the world that he gave his son.” He gave him for you. He gave him that we might hear and believe and live. There is a lot else that the Bible teaches that we should do, but preaching – that is about love, what God has done for us.
I’ve become convinced that the real “crisis” if you want to call it that in American Christianity is the dismissal of the calls of the spiritual life. Even the church seems to have a very utilitarian view of the faith. It “sells” faith as something that will be good for you. It will make you healthier, wealthier and maybe wise. The trouble is that The Faith makes none of those claims. It doesn’t necessarily rule them out, but the norm would be the life of Christ, which is a life of trial. What the Faith does claim is truth. Christ is Lord. He bids us follow him. Hence the real test, do we follow?
This particular sermon was composed to take part in a specific liturgical situation. We had a baptism at the start of service. It was also helped by one of the great hymns of the Faith – I Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716).
We had a glitch in recording today, so I had to rerecord after the fact, but I can’t rerecord the music. And the Hymn of the Day I think was important. Maybe more important that the sermon. This particular hymn is one I look forward to all year. It is a favorite, and I believe it stands up to the best of all time. In our hymnal – Lutheran Service Book 416 – Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. The text is by Thomas Troeger. The music is Love’s Light by Amanda Husberg. It is a gorgeous pairing.
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 savior through the valley to the cross/And by testing faith’s resilience through betrayal, pain and loss
Lord, transfigure our perception 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.
The Baptist calls Israel back to their core beliefs. God will come down and redeem us. We are not enough in ourselves, but the Lord fights for us. And this God is a creator God, and a re-creator. When God comes down and establishes his reign, he is not limited to what he finds. He shall create all things new. And so what we – what Israel – can do is prepare. We can prepare the way of the Lord. We can make his paths straight. What does that mean? It does not mean that we build the Kingdom. Neither does it mean we melt away into the Kingdoms of the World. What it mean is that we believe. We repent of where we have gone wrong. And we bear the fruits of that repentance. Christ has delivered us from sin, and the power of the devil. And he will deliver us from death. We prepare to re-cross that Jordan.
The day on the Christian Calendar was All Saints (Observed). Actual All Saints is November 1st. The point of the day is slightly different depending upon the tradition you are in. In a Roman Catholic tradition it is about all the minor saints which might not have been celebrated. In the Lutheran or Protestant traditions it is more about a celebration of the church at rest, and how the communion of saint continues to help the church at warfare. In the Roman tradition that is straightforward – invocation or prayer directed toward the saint. In the Lutheran tat is not the case. Instead the saints become for us living examples. Examples of faith and of life. Lives worthy of thanksgiving. This sermon asks the question “What is a Saint” and explores their role in our lives.
This text is one that I think has had much harm done to it over the years by overly pious preachers and translators. They promise things that Jesus himself is contradicting. And their promises often make God out to be a monster and a liar. I don’t know if I manage to do it, but I hoped to set it straight. The persistent widow is not a tale about how we should pester God. That oddly feeds into a prosperity gospel trope of “asking consistently and believing”. Instead it is much more specific. What is she asking for? Justice? When does Justice for the Christian happen? At the return of Jesus. Until then we live in the now and not yet. The Kingdom is now ours; it has not yet been fully revealed. Hence we persevere is asking “deliver us from evil”. And we do that because we have faith in the one who promised. Because the Character of God is not one that needs pestering, but one slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. Persistence in prayer is just outward proof of persistence in faith.
Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-10 (Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4)
If Christianity is reduced to one word, that word would be forgiveness. And Jesus doesn’t mess around in this text. I think there are two parts here. There is a warning to folks like me – preachers – not to mess up that message. Natural man does not like, cannot hear that message. Forgiveness is foreign to natural man. He can accept sin, he can demand justice, but forgiveness requires faith. Preaching acceptance or justice always goes over better. But should the preacher grind out that bad bread, it would be better that he had that millstone that ground it out around his neck. The second part is that with that faith the people of God must live out that forgiveness. And Jesus’ words about this are just as harsh. If we do this, we are merely doing our duty. The people of God are to be known by their grace. Just like their Lord. And we should not be dumb about this, this is hard. It requires a supernatural faith.
Most weeks it takes translating, a little reading and a little pondering to come up with a sermon idea. And then it takes a grind to shape it into something I’d want to give. This week I thought I had a great idea already leaving church from last week. I still thought I had the great idea until Friday afternoon. But to be honest, what I had was more of a collection of ideas, and they didn’t fully hang together. Or I wasn’t as brutal as I should have been in cutting some parts. Or what I needed to do here was go full old style Baptist and just demand folks take out their bibles and go line by line exposition. When the Rhetoric isn’t working – which I should have known by late Thursday when I couldn’t get the general outline to work.
But, putting that aside, when I made the word cloud I was shocked to see centered what might be the theme – Good Son. And what the Good Son knows is whose house he is part of. Maybe part of my troubles is know that this message has dual effects. And this is the role of the Luther quotes. (Honestly Luther’s sermon on this text is a little scattered as well. He essentially abandons the text and just preaches a sermon.) But Luther recognizes that the commands of God are greeted in two ways. To those who know their Father and are comfortable in his house, the commands flow naturally from faith. God is good and the law is given for our benefit. But to those lacking faith, or to those who have not found real faith, those commands eventually become simply a work and a grudging one at that. (Think the response of the Older Son in the parable of the prodigal.)
The parable of the unrighteous servant is a commentary on the gospel parables that precede it. The children of the world know whose house they are in, and they act in appropriate (sinful) ways. The Children of Light should do the same thing. Be the good son. And in being the good son, you have your proof of authentic faith. Because a good tree bears good fruit.