Tag Archives: God

Joy in the Presence

121315wordle

Biblical Text: Luke 1:39-56
Full Sermon Draft

Luke tells us a couple of things at the start of his gospel. One is the format, he’s telling a specific type of history, a diagasis which the dictionary defines as an orderly narrative. The second thing he tells us is that the eyewitnesses have delivered these stories to him and he’s compiling them. (Luke 1:1-4). It is not provable, but it has long been the supposition that Mary herself was the source for Luke’s first four chapters. (If you look closely at Acts there is probably even a time when Luke with Paul is in Jerusalem at the same time as Mary with John.) The repetition of the phrase “and his mother treasured up these things in her heart” is often taken as the textual signal of the source.

As with most saints, their reality is more interesting and human that the sanitized stories the church often tells. I think that goes in spades with Mary. Mary often gets transformed, like Jesus, into this meek and mild creature. That isn’t the story she tells, or the psalm she sings. These are full throated paeans of joy from someone who has had their dreams of conventional happiness shattered, but replaced with joy in the presence of God and his plan. And that is what this sermon attempts to explore, the source of joy in contrast to happiness. It winds through Dickens as an example of a surprising juxtaposition, but keeps Mary front and center. Joy in the presence of God.

Music Note: I’ve left in our opening hymn, Hark the Glad Sound LSB 349. This is one of the hymns I want at my funeral. The gates of brass before him burst, the iron fetters yield. Sin, death and the power of the devil give way before Christ. I’ve also left in one of the Magnificats or Songs of Mary that we sang today. Mary’s psalm has inspired some of the great hymns of the church as well as the standard chants in Vespers (West) or Matins (East). My Soul Rejoices LSB 933 is a modern text dating from 1991 paired with an older beautiful tune reflecting a little of the plain chant tradition. (I understand the need of publishing houses and hymn writers to have copyright, but it sure makes the sharing of the hymn experience difficult. I almost makes one favor older songs just because they are public domain.) I think both of these reflect the joy of the day even in the midst of Advent waiting and watchfulness.

Thanksgiving Homily

Text: Luke 6:27-36, Psalm 34, Fifth Petition & Explanation

If I say prisoner’s dilemma or game theory, I hope you have some understanding of what I’m talking about. It is usually represented as a 2 x 2 grid. The Prisoner part is the standard cliché of cop shows. Two criminals in separate rooms. Each one issued demands. Tell us what happened. First one to open up gets the deal. The other guy gets the book. If the prisoners follow the code of omerta – they can’t be touched. But is your criminal buddy in the box next door going to talk? Do you risk a dime upstate to get away scot-free, or do you take the two-year stretch and talk? Prisoner’s dilemma is the negative framing. I always appreciated the more positive one. Think of the binary win/lose. There is a variable pot of money. If you both pick win, usually co-operation, you both get 7 units. If you both pick lose, usually hostility, you both get 2 units. But if one picks win and the other lose – the one who picks lose or hostility gets 9 units and the one who picks co-operation gets nothing. There is a clear world nobody wants to live in. Lose-lose only has 4 units. Its shelves are North Korea. There is also a clear world where we all want to live in. Win-win has 14 units. It’s the local Sam’s club of worlds. But those other two worlds are tempting. I could have 9 units. It is a much poorer world overall, but I’ve got it all.

As a kid and not so kid – I often found myself in lose-lose. Lose-lose can have a roguish charm. I can take this longer that you can. It’s the position captured in: Born to Run, Against the Wind, Rebel without a Cause, and more recently Breaking Bad. Walter White, a guy tired of choosing win and being paired with lose, sets it on permanent lose. “I’m in the empire business”. It’s all mine.

But even Bob Segar claiming he’s still running against the wind, finds himself searching for shelter. The Stones would end gimme shelter turning from rape, murder to love, It’s just a kiss away. The romance of lose-lose wears off with deadlines and commitments. Or with enough blood.
But the problem is not lose-lose, the problem is lose-win. How do you avoid a conflict with those who want a fight? Or maybe more troubling, how do you avoid making your own separate peace. I’ve got mine, go find someone else to get yours from.

Every real-politick expert and all the best research will tell you lose-lose is necessary sometimes to maintain win-win. When they put one of yours into the hospital, you put one of theirs into the ground. And that is true. It is not called real-politick for nothing.
But here comes Jesus saying essentially rip out your lose option and stick it permanently on win. Do good to those who hate you. The one who strikes you, give him the other cheek. Love you enemies. Completely unrealistic. Dangerously unreal.

And for us maybe it is. Although as a law – notice that the golden rule is embedded here. As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. As a law I think it tells us how far from righteousness we are. Just how impossible righteousness by the law is.

But if we hear this only as a law, I think we miss its purpose. “You will be sons of the most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Yes, it is a call to live the Christian life. But it is more a statement of how God himself acts. In Christ, God has ripped out his lose button. He’s declared peace and put down the conflict. We are the ones who insist upon conflict. And the only way to avoid conflict is to accept personal loss. To not withhold your tunic, as they gamble for it at the base of the cross. To accept the beating and the lash. To forgive those nailing you to the tree. To be merciful, as the Father is merciful.
Yes, it’s a call to the cross. One that even the best of disciples often run from. But it is also a statement of shelter. God always welcomes the prodigal. He always invites the older son in to the feast, when he’s willing to put down his accounting.

We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them…but God gives them to us by grace.

Thanksgiving can be about thanks for many things. But the wellspring of it should be we have this kind of God. One who is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. One who redeems the life of his servants. One that none who seek shelter in him will be condemned. One who loves his enemies and does good. Lending and expecting nothing in return.

And the best way to show that thanks? Turn away from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it. Sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us. Be conformed to the likeness of our God. Amen.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Judges 4:1-24 and Acts 14:1-18

Judges 4:1-24
Acts 14:1-18
The Experience of God by David Bently Hart, Augsburg Confession Article 1, A more fundamental starting place reflected in Paul’s preaching (comparing his sermon to the Jews vs. the Gentiles)

Fear, Love and Trust…

Text: 2 Kings 9:17-37

In confirmation class last night we were covering the 10 commandments and Sinai in Exodus. The opening question was – what does it mean to have a God? Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism to the first commandment is that ‘we should fear, love and trust God above all things.’ If you say that having a God is that thing that you fear, love and trust above everything else, it is impossible to not have one. All you can say is that you are following better or worse ‘gods’. The most common ‘god’ is probably our belly. Our appetites drive us from one thing to another. Some might deify their mind. Some might deify the nation-state, ancestors or other family members. All of those things have an element of fear in them. The state holds the sword, family members exert all kinds of psychological influence. In between running from one idol to the next, we stop and think about the loving arms of Jesus. We trust that he will always be there. And there is truth in that. But that view is a very domesticated view of Jesus. Aslan, the Christ figure in Narnia, is a wild lion. The Jesus of Gospels says things like ‘go and sin no more’ and ‘be holy as you Father is holy’.

And then you get to our text. God said through Elijah that Jezebel would be eaten by dogs. Later God through Elisha annoints a new King for Israel. A King who kills the the old one and throws Jezebel, the queen mother, out the window and then sits down for a meal. When they get around to cleaning up the mess – to bury the body – Jezebel has been carried away by dogs.

Luther’s definition of God includes fear. Is the God you serve a nice domesticated lion, or is he wild enough to say things like ‘I am about to spit you out (Rev 3:16)’ or ‘follow me, let the dead bury their own dead (Matt 8:22)’ or ‘You are badly mistaken (Mark 12:27)”?