Luke’s nativity accounts are Mary focused. Matthew’s are really involved Joseph more, including the decision about what to do with a pregnant girl when you know the child isn’t yours. The Bible is always more gritty that our romantic construction of it. Our romantic construction is earned by its ending – the dragon is slain and the Kingdom established – but there are lots of adventures along the way. There is an Old English Carol – The Cherry Tree Carol – that captures the same moment that Matthew does. It is a fun Carol, but the theology is horrible. This sermon is a little compare and contrast. The Carol represents our idea of the best way to answer the problem of the pregnant bride. The gospel is God’s invitation to a different way.
Worship note: The opening and closing hymns have been included. LSB 349, Hark the Glad Sound, is on of my personal favorite hymns. It combines the themes of Advent with the ways of talking about justification that resonate most with me, release of the prisoners and enriching the poor and needy. And it does this with a snappy hymn tune. The ending traced the paths of the sermon better than any and summarized the service intended. LSB 333, Once He Came in Blessing, addresses how he is named Jesus. He frees his people from their sins. He does this through word and sacrament flowing from the cross. This sacrificial grace calling for faith looks for its resolution when the day of grace turns into the day of resurrection and triumph. I’ve also included below a version of the Cherry Tree Carol
I broke a rule today. One of the main sermon rules is pick a point or a theme and stick with it. You can’t develop more than one in the time allowed, and your listeners can’t absorb more than one. But today I had three things. There was the highly moralistic point of the lesson in its context following last week. Charity is not a false lesson. It is also one that we need to hear. But the rich man and Lazarus is more than a moral. The second was also short. I’ve heard and read way to many sermons that construct an entire picture of heaven and hell from this example. That is an abuse of the text. The sermon tells you why.
But then I turn toward the point that I think is deeper. “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” The moral point is true, but it depends upon two things embedded in that phrase – faith and the word. Everything that happens – even a man rising from the dead – can be interpreted in different ways. People will go to great lengths to ignore or explain away things that are contrary to their monetary benefit or settled beliefs. The message of Jesus – of the cross – is contrary to both in this life. It has always been a stumbling block. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God. And what that power of God has done, by the waters of baptism and the word, is give us a name. Like poor Lazarus, we have a name. The world would surely know the rich man’s name, but we do not. Jesus didn’t tell it. But he knew Lazarus. Like he knows ours.
Worship Note: We had a great slate of hymns today. I didn’t include it in the recording but LSB 845 (Where Charity and Love Prevail) was the hymn of the day picking up on the moral point of the lesson. What amazes me is that the text is 9th century Latin. The church has taught the same things for a long time. Thy hymn I left in was LSB 782 (Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings). It was pledge card collection day, so that is part of the reason, but the hymn gets the order right as few stewardship hymns do. We have received mercy. We have heard the word. We are sustained in this creation. Lord we pray that we your people, who your gifts unnumbered claim, through the sharing of your blessings, may bring glory to your name. We have that name. We don’t do good works because we’ve been told, but because we have been named. That and the tune is one of the most uplifting in the book.
I’m always amazed as how well the word cloud captures my feelings about a particular sermon. If I pat myself on the back I hope that is because I managed to say something and say it well. Usually the core point or theme jumps out in the big letters, and the rest of the words fill in the story. Today’s effort was both a little longer than normal, and looking at the word cloud the theme is a little less immediate. It is still there – eternal mercy. And the means are there, running up and down in this picture – faith and Jesus. But the cloud is dense and complex, appropriate for the parable of the sermon text. World and worldly and things pop out. Of all Jesus’ parables, this one is the most of this world. Most of his parables, at least to me, about halfway through Jesus says something that shakes you out of the pastoral or worldly picture and screams this isn’t just a pretty story. But this sounds like a work story – “did I tell you about the time the foreman pulled one on the boss man?” You have to listen to Jesus’ words after the parable, and apply some type of allegorical method to apply. And that is what this sermon does. It invites us to see the parallels between the unjust steward’s temporal position and our eternal position.
For me Jesus tells this story of how a dishonest manager bet his entire future on lowering people’s estimation of his competence and ability while raising the status of his Lord. God work advice. You rarely go wrong betting your career prospects making your captain look good. And we are invited to do the same thing. Bet it all on His mercy approaching him as sinners. That is the core of the gospel message, but Jesus’ words after wants to say more, and it is tough for Protestant ears. The rest of the sermon attempts to challenge us to think of what a life of faith trusting in the mercy of our Lord looks like. If we are betting it all on the blood, what does that mean.
It is a tough parable. (Maybe tougher than the epistle which our world just doesn’t want to hear.) This sermon is my wrestling with it. I’m not sure if it connects, I might be limping a little, but it was a good fight.
We had a baptism in service today which always serves as a great visual object lesson. The strongest visual element of the text is the narrow door. As the sermon would proclaim that font is the narrow door. The gracious call of Christ to come into the household of His Father is the narrow door. And that door narrow door is entered one heart at a time.
What this sermon examines is our natural and sinful inclination to want to smash our group through the door, or more appropriately to claim that our clan, whatever its size, is the household. We want Jesus to bless our streets. We don’t want to leave our streets to enter through the narrow door into God’s streets. But that is the pattern of Abraham and the prophets. God’s gracious call followed by a life of faith seeking to fulfill that call. Rarely is that call fulfilled in this world, but we see it from afar. Baptism is our gracious call to be a royal priesthood and holy nation. Baptism is the grace of call calling us to the life of faith. Just like the patriarchs and prophets. Baptism changes one heart at a time, from east to west and north to south.
Worship Note: There were several good hymns today. I left in the recording Lutheran Service Book #644, The Church’s One Foundation. It carries in the first verse the theme of “water and the Word” is the creation of a new house. It carries that over to the universality of the church that springs from its oneness – one Lord, one faith, one birth. The collective multitude of the Holy Bride brought together one by one. And it is honest about that call that in this world is is not a call to immediate peace, but to perseverance, to the life of faith. It is a great hymns encompassing the themes of the worship of the day.
We had a special treat in worship this morning. Our preacher was Tim Bayer, our seminarian. So, I don’t have the full text of the sermon. The word cloud in not the sermon but the text of the day. But, the voice you will hear delivering a great sermon is Tim’s. The Parson still read texts of the day.
I’ve left in a couple of hymns. If the text and the sermon are the proclamation to us not to worry. The hymns are our emotional responses. LSB 741, Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense, understands both that we can be compared to the lilies, but that we are also so much more when in simple faith we cling to Christ. It is a wonderful 2nd generation Lutheran hymn with a Catherine Winkworth english translation. The closing hymn is a prayer that this faith and its Lord would accompany us as all hours of the day. You’ll recognize the hymn tune – Slane – with its probably better known lyrics of Be Thou Our Vision, but for me Jan Struther’s simple plea and structure is as deeply moving as that one’s more soaring spiritual emotion. LSB 738, Lord of All Hopefulness.
Luke has a habit of telling a powerful story (The Good Samaritan) and following it up with a minor correction (Mary and Martha). That minor correction is the text of this week. (A couple of other examples are the Sermon on the Plain’s teaching about loving you enemies and not judging other (Luke 6:27-42) followed by a tree and its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). The net effect is love your enemy, don’t judge him, but don’t let your brains fall out. Two chapters later you have the parable of the sower & the purpose of the parables (Luke 8:4-15) which emphasize the roll of election followed by the short teaching on a lamp under a jar (Luke 8:16-18). The net effect is that you can’t guess the yield, and many who hear won’t understand, but don’t be overly discriminating is sharing the gospel. Election and mission are not to be placed in opposition.) The Martha and Mary story reminds us of the “one thing needful”. As important as being a neighbor/service is, the one needful thing is Christ. Christ is our neighbor, he came to serve us, so that we could serve others. And the means of that divine service to us is the Word. So this sermon is about the importance of Faith Alone and Word Alone – two thirds of the Reformation Solas – and how because they are Christ’s work, they will not be taken from us.
Recording Note: I’ve left in our closing hymn LSB 583 God Has Spoken by His Prophets. I think the stretch from prophets to now and the focus on the unchanging message of Christ alone captures the solidness of the promise. Nations rise and fall, the world’s despair and turmoil seems never ending, but God abides with us. We have a sure anchor. And it will not be taken from us.
In the text I find two themes that follow each other. The first is that the way of grace in this world is the way of meekness. Then the way of meekness leads to the cross. God chose grace and meekness, not the artillery of heaven to deal with sinful man. What that means for the disciple whose life is conformed to Christ and not the other way around is that in living lives of grace we expect the cross.
The tough sayings of the second part of the text are directed as warnings at the disciple, the person whose life has been re-oriented away from the self and towards God. There are more palatable ways to say the same things. I would take the parable of the soils to be that more palatable way, but in the context Jesus is after the shock value. No disciple should be able to say “you fooled me”.
The way of the cross is only made possible first by the fact that Jesus walked it already. Second it is enabled by the promises of God. Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. We set our faces to the New Jerusalem. That is how we stay on the straight path.
Worship note: I’ve left in the recording Lutheran Service Book 856, O Christ Who Called the Twelve. The tune should be familiar, It is My Father’s World is probably what you might hear. But that is the magic of hymn tunes. They are often repurposed. It is a good prayer hymn to end a service on. I didn’t include it in the recording, but the text also allowed us to sing a wonderful hymn, LSB 753, All For Christ I Have Forsaken. I linked up another congregation singing it because copyright. It has that haunting Southern Harmony melody. This is an example of a song that would never be sung in most “contemporary” churches. The text reflects Jesus’ words which are not exactly “stay on the sunny side”. But when the theme is the thorns of discipleship, it is beautiful. Something that he gospel allows that therapeutic Christianity doesn’t. “Though my cross shaped path grows steeper, with the Lord I am secure.”
Liturgically this is the fist Sunday after the festival half of the year. Every preacher tends to have their pet peeves or things that frustrate them. One of mine is this Sunday which just drops us into the middle of the gospel’s account in a way that you lose all context. One of my home grown crackpot theories is that a big problem with Christians today is that none of them know the story. And I mean that in a small way and a large way. The small way is the Jesus story – what the gospels tell us. Every Christian should know the Jesus story well enough such that when any given text is referenced they know the context. In the larger way I mean the biblical story: Patriarchs, Exodus, Judges, Saul & David, Kings & Prophets, Exile, Return and waiting; John the Baptist, Jesus, Apostles, waiting. Doctrine is great, and I tried to offer a defense of it last week on Trinity Sunday, but sermons that are doctrinal first tend to be static to me. It is the story, the good news, that comes first. So consistently missing the Galilean ministry as the current lectionary does, bugs me.
So, this sermon spends a little longer than I might normally catching us up. It is important for the lesson in that we understand the statement being made in this appearance of the centurion. What is being made is a statement of just what this Kingdom is about? Neither nationality, nor works. Not pedigree, or merit. It is based on Jesus. Worthiness has nothing to do with anything other than Jesus. This sermon explores that and our reaction to that fact.
Some days you have a text that has a powerful image. Like this one with the image of “my sheep”. That image isn’t unimportant, but especially when it is a beloved image, it can erase the rest of the text. It can obscure everything that might contain treasures that aren’t quite as bright. This text has launched many a sermonic broadside on the doctrine of election as well as many sugary sweet meditations on the love of the shepherd. Decent theology and preaching. But the conflict or question in the text isn’t over the things caught up in the image of sheep. The conflict is over the reaction to their statement. Even when it is stated plainly, some believe and some don’t. The question is not if Jesus is the Christ. He is. What we must come to understand is what Christ means. It does include power, but it is a power displayed in this world through weakness. It a power that is great enough to show itself on a cross. Jesus proclaims himself plainly in words, but more clearly in his deeds. And those deeds inspire believe in the sheep, and rejection in others. Revelation is always about faith. Is God – Father, Son and Spirit – as Jesus has revealed him? Does the cross inspire trust, or revolt.
On a practical level, when you pass over such an image for a different thread, you’ve created a problem in the worship service. You won’t get it on the recording, but the hymns of the day were largely given to that image. The hymns are always a second sermon. Most of the time you hope they reinforce what you are going to be saying. Occasionally you let them preach the well worn sermons while you try something different.
Palm Sunday has the best hymns, they even rival Easter in my mind. Since the lectionary (the assigned readings for the day) have pushed Palm Sunday toward the Sunday of the Passion it sets up an interesting dynamic. There is a juxtaposition of the Palm Sunday parade which we re-enact in a small way with the via dolorosa. The hymns capture this changing dynamic. Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (LSB 443) and All Glory, Laud and Honor (LSB 442) are more pure Palms and celebration. But then No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet (LSB 444) starts perceiving the irony of the Palms and another parade. (For my opinion, this is a classic of what hymns are supposed to be – sung meditation. And it does it from a modern viewpoint.) And then Ride On, Ride On in Majesty (LSB 441) ends with the eschatological note. These parades of palms and cross are not the final word.
I don’t have the hymns on the recording. (The sad truth is we just don’t have the equipment for that sort of thing.) But the sermon attempts that sort of motion. It starts off with thinking about what parades are actually about and hopefully demonstrating that these biblical parades are the same as we can understand from our own time. It then moves on to the heavy irony, here defined as the difference between human and divine perception, that covers these parades and all of holy week. In that irony it perceives what Christ has done for us. It attempt to align our perception with the divine. We do that through the moral burden that comes with knowing the divine view, and knowing that we don’t measure up. It concludes with that eschatological view. We accept the moral burden because that is how we live out faith. We believe this is what God had done. And we believe that he will do as promised. So we walk in this parade.