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.
The text, a quick read, is the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. And these are such clear and tender pictures of the grace of the gospel, a preacher might be doing injustice to them by preaching anything but their simplicity. That is my request for a bit of grace at the start. Because that simplicity is there, but I push a little bit beyond that simplicity here. And the reason is that our context has changed. And I think that we as Christians need to change the context in our heads when we hear these parables. We need to be a little wiser in regards to law and gospel and ears to hear. So jumping off of a Luther himself sermon, this sermon looks at just who are the lost sheep, as well as the grumbling Pharisees and Scribes, and the sinners and tax collectors, both those who come to hear Jesus and those who are riotously secure in houses on the sand.
I stole the main points and general outline of this sermon from one by Luther. I have to admit that I typically find Luther either so much part of who I am that he isn’t that helpful, or his context so different from ours that translating is likewise tough. But the shorter sermon I ran into was both interesting and immediately useful. I talk a little bit more about why it shocked me in the sermon. But the main points itself are answers to: what is necessary to be sure that your prayer is heard. Luther said five things are necessary. This sermon looks and them and fleshes them out for us.
Based on a Promise of God
Faith to Receive it
Lack of Bad Faith – this might be the big point for us and it is explored in the sermon. The big point is rely on the goodness of God.
Knowing our unworthiness
Trust God’s actions, don’t unnecessarily limit God in your requests
I had to re-record this, sorry. I forgot to hit start.
The theme here is the mission and work of Jesus accomplished when he “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. All of that gets applied to us by grace, through faith. But it is a graceious and faithful call. A call not simply to a mental activity, like those sly foxes, nor a call to simply industriousness, like the bird. It is a call to follow Jesus. To set our faces for Jerusalem. We often walk toward and earthly Jerusalem that does to us that same thing it did to Jesus, rejects us. But we are always walking toward the New Jerusalem. By faith we can see that city, whose builder is God.
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.