Tag Archives: gospel

The Deceitfulness of Wealth/Jesus Loved Him


Biblical Text: Mark 10:17-22
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon explores two items wrapped by a question. The two items are: 1) the biblical view or warnings about wealth and 2) What it means that Jesus looked at the rich young man and loved him. Neither of these two things are as popular sentiment would have. This sermon attempts to instruct or correct that sentiment. What those two subjects are wrapped in is the question of the good. Not really what actions are good, because that is known defined by the law. The question is one of recognition, do we see Jesus as good? And do we recognize that God alone is good. The offer to the man to sell everything might sound like a law, but it is pure gospel. It is the offer of joining Jesus on his walk. Yes, the walk right now is toward the cross, but it is also heavenward, toward treasure in heaven. Our use of wealth is one way we are invited to participate in the kingdom now.

This text is also only half of a full section. The gospel assigned for next week continues in a similar vein but focusing less on our call and more on God’s action.

Musical notes: 1) The recording includes our choir’s first piece of the Season. 2) I’ve included the hymn after the sermon Lutheran Service Book 694 – Thee Will I Love My Strength My Tower.

Grace was Never Practical


Biblical Text: Mark 10:2-26
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon is a little longer than my typical one. The subject from the gospel text is marriage and divorce. Because the contextual density of the topic and because of its high profile in our general culture this sermon takes its time and spells out all the steps. I believe I arrive at the proclamation of the gospel, but it might not be the gospel we always want to hear.

Thoughts on a Papal Visit

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. – Luke. 12:11-12

But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me – Acts 26:25-29

It might be slightly odd for a Lutheran pledged to the Lutheran Confessions, which call the Papacy the antichrist, to be interested in what a Pope says or does. Well, there is always a fascination with the anti-anything, but that is not all the confessions have to say. The same confessions that would call the Pope the antichrist are clear that it isn’t the office as Bishop of Rome that is the problem, but its claims. Bishops are fine human offices, it is when they claim authority beyond what is common to all pastoral offices and do so by claiming the divine name that they function as anti-Christ. (Catechism note 2nd commandment: “we should fear and love God such that we do not…lie or deceive by His name.” The claims of divine authority are a deception through the use of God’s name.) Specifically the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope had three objections: 1) The Pope’s claim by divine right to be above all other bishops and pastors in the church, 2) The Pope’s claim to possess authority in the realms of both Church and state and 3) The Pope’s demands that people acknowledge this authority as a requirement for salvation. The years since Luther have not been humanly kind to that office. Kings and Presidents no longer seek the confirmation of the Pope for their position upon coronation or inauguration, and the Papal States are a single hill in Rome. And the Roman Catechism itself acknowledges that while Luther might be damned as a schismatic, “one cannot charge with the sin of separation those who are born into these communities…the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. (p818)” But the papal claim of being the Vicar of Christ, holding the Keys by divine right, is still front and center. Melanchthon’s short treatise – The Power and Primacy of the Pope – still has some amazing relevance as do many of the Confessional documents with a little thought.

But the real reason I’m thinking about the Pope is his recent trip to our shores. The Pope is probably the only Christian witness that would be invited to address a joint session of Congress after having an audience with the President. When Paul got his dime in front of Caesar, he didn’t waste time. He didn’t argue about Caesar’s tax plan or the Roman welfare system (bread and circuses!). Paul did two things. He proclaimed Christ risen, and he encouraged Caesar to respect his own laws and eyes. Whether it is Peter or Paul or later martyrs (witnesses!) this is a familiar pattern. Both Jesus is Lord and we Christians are your best citizens calling you to respect what is best among you.

The Pope’s recent address to Congress was interesting in that I believe it was effective at the second portion of that pattern. The Pope cited four Americans: Lincoln, MLK, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. He used well each of those examples well. And each you could say fit well within this current Pope’s frame of mind of social justice. He wished at the beginning, through Congress, to enter into dialog (which seems to be a favorite word) with all Americans. And through that dialog to spur us to live up to the best of us.

Then I searched through the entire speech. Not one mention of Jesus. The word Christ is never used. The Pope opened with Moses, flattering the assembled legislators that they too are engaged in Moses’ task. But I want to quote that section in full.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

In one sense it was very appropriate. In a speech to lawmakers, it was all law. The unity of the people depends upon just legislation. Moses leads directly to God which is merely a stand in for the transcendent dignity of the human being. Right there you have the religion of rational man which knows nothing of Christ and faith. If our hopes for unity are in the law, we have none. If our hope for dignity rests upon Congress protecting us by the law, we are already stripped and in bondage.

I longed for Paul’s plain witness to the gospel of Jesus. Moses does not point to God directly other than the hidden God who never answers. The law tells us our need for something beyond it, something truly transcendent. We always fail the law and it never stops accusing. But that failure tells us our need for Jesus. And Jesus has won. Our dignity is not based in being human. Our human dignity is because Jesus took our humanity into God. That humanity is transcendent not by itself but because of the work of Jesus confirmed in the resurrection. Our image of God is cracked by sin, but God restores it in Christ, in baptism and through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Can you imagine a Pope, speaking to the gathered legislators not about a general human spirit, but The Spirit of Christ? An address that called on them to fulfill their vocations as lawmakers in the best American tradition, but also to trust in the grace of Jesus and to empower the body of Christ, the church, to be that grace, instead of shrinking it to a freedom to worship? An address that would make Chuck Schumer run for the nearest camera and say “Did the Pope really think he could so easily convert a NY Jew?”

That is what we are here for. Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me. Whether dialog or road to Damascus, would that you would hear Christ and believe. You are my witnesses, in Jerusalem and Judea, in Samaria and the US Congress. Don’t worry, the Holy Spirit has a few good words, and they begin with the name Jesus.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Psalm 94:8-14, Luke 22:24-46

Psalm 94:8-14
Luke 22:24-46
The Law as Blessing
Christ as the blessed one

AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Metaphysics

This is an article by a former High School classmate of mine and it addresses in a calm clear way the reality of AI. And it treads, without knowing it, on a pet theory of mine. That pet theory is that most of what causes us angst and trouble today is simply that we have un-learned basic metaphysics. Big word, I know, but it shouldn’t be scary because we all have a metaphysic. Metaphysics is simply what we believe about being, consciousness and purpose or will. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we think, and why do we seem to share the same world? Are we pointed toward something, or just random cause and effect chains governed by butterflies in China?

None of those questions are directly about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Lutheran terms they are all about the law. The first use of the law we usually teach catechism students is a curb or the civil use. This is one of the places I like using a sports metaphor. The basic law is the out-of-bounds lines. The game takes place within these lines. The first table or the first three commandments really cover this ground in a specific way from revelation. Why is there something rather than nothing? You shall have no other gods before me. God made it. Why are we conscious and seem to share an existence? This might be the biggest stretch, but the second commandment is about the name of God. Don’t misuse it. The name of God is taken as shorthand for his essence and attributes which in Christ he shares with us. We think because we were thought. In Him, we live and move and have our being. Don’t abuse this image of God given to you by grace. Are we pointed toward something? Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Yes, we are pointed toward the joy of God, that day of the perfection of all creation.

Now specifically the short post is about AI and the fears of it. The fears could be summed up in one word, Skynet. (Or maybe today I have to use Ultron. I’m getting old.) The problem with this, and the entire “singularity” movement, of which I take the pinnacle to be the “uploading” of your consciousness to a non-organic based body, is that they confuse intelligence with consciousness and purpose. We encounter this problem all the time with the law. We can know what the law says, but that doesn’t mean we live it. Intelligence is not either consciousness or will. Watson can beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy, but Watson’s will is still directed by those programmers. Watson doesn’t have any self-conception of itself. Of these three first things: being, consciousness and bliss/purpose, we humans have zero power to make any of them. We come the closest with being. We can create new things out of the stuff that already exists. We can fashion artificial intelligence, even AI that might pass a strong Turing test. But these are always going to be things made in our image. To steal a title, they are children of a lessor god. Or tapping into the zeitgeist, I bet we can make zombies, but zombies don’t have consciousness or will.

I’m not afraid of Skynet. I’m more afraid of the distilled consciousness and will of the programmers of these AIs. That these intelligences would behave more like our crooked timber than we would like. And they wouldn’t do it because they chose to. They would do it because we told them to. That we don’t know what we are doing. But that is not a new problem. That is the same problem we’ve always had, except the nails in the boards are getting bigger. The load on the cross is beyond our comprehension.

(Note: I’m a theist. Hard core philosophical materialists have answers to being, consciousness and bliss/purpose. I just find them severely lacking. Good thinking on First Things is like a coarse adjustment. It gets you in the right ballpark so you aren’t playing football on a baseball field.)

Can I Get a Witness?


Text: Acts 1:1-11, John 17:11-19
Draft of Homily

On the Sunday we celebrated Ascension Day (actual Ascension Day was Thursday) we had a mission Sunday. This seems fitting because the last words of Jesus at His Ascension were that we, his disciples, would be His witnesses. We would also be clothed with power from on high, the promise of the Holy Spirit fulfilled 10 short days later on Pentecost. For this reason we invited Scarlett Aeckerle, the executive director of LINC-Rochester which is the local Lutheran mission society for the city of Rochester, to come speak. So, my little homily served a couple of purposes. The first was a mission charge. Don’t fall in the ditch of being mute or the opposite ditch of distorting the witness of the sake of “effectiveness”. The power is the Spirit’s. We get to take part. The second was to introduce Scarlett. So, you’ll hear me and then Scarlett.

Scarlett brought visuals, so at the end she moves away from the mike. I’ve amplified it in line with the rest and think it sounds ok, but if the background sounds a little louder, that is why.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Numbers 9:1-23 and Luke 16:1-18

Numbers 9:1-23
Luke 16:1-18
Grace and Mercy and the roll of the Law in following God
Getting the order of Lord’s correct

Program note: The phrase I was struggling to remember about Luke 16:16 is “the violent bare it away”. That is a better translation of the phrase. It is another example of what we’ve seen in Sunday bible class recently of the translators bringing a “cheery” gloss to a verbal aspect or metaphor instead of the “sign of contradiction”. In this case the Kingdom of God comes and meets violent rejection. The verse is not about everybody’s scramble to be part of the Kingdom, but in context how the things of God are violently rejected by men, in this case the Pharisees. Never-the-less choose your Prince. The one who rewards in this life alone, or the one who welcomes into eternal dwellings.

Fruitful Friends


Biblical Text: John 15:9-17
Full Sermon Draft

The text is a continuation from last weeks Gospel reading which has Jesus declare “I am the true vine”, but here Jesus drops the metaphors and talks very plainly. The Christian life starts at a very simple point – God loves you. It has as its goal something likewise simple – fruitful living. Jesus ties these things together here. The Gospel, God’s love for us, take precedence as we are declared his friends. We are no longer slaves to the law, but friends. Love first. But it is directed love. A love directed toward fruitfulness which is defined by the commandments. What does love look like? When a friend gives his life for another. The Christian life has a cruciform shape. But it is a life of invitation into communion with God. It is a call to a life of prayer and a life of love.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Leviticus 24:1-23 and Luke 12:54-13:17

Leviticus 24:1-23
Luke 12:54-13:17
The hardness of the Moral Law
The Necessity of Mercy

Sweet, Pure and Costly


Biblical Text: Mark 14:1-11, Mark 14:53-65, Mark 15:1-15, Mark 15:25-37
Full Sermon Draft

The appointed texts for Palm Sunday have morphed into The Sunday of the Passion. The introduction to the passion story in Mark is the story of the woman who breaks an alabaster jar and anoints Jesus with perfume worth a year’s wages. This sermon uses that as the main text with the two trials of Jesus as the supporting texts. Its focus is upon the human fascination with Justice and what these trials have to tell us about our justice. The woman’s beautiful act or good work marks Jesus response to our calls and his alternative. We can always do justice. What we have we can do. But calls for justice miss the instruction of the passion of Jesus. The better path is mercy – sweet, pure and costly.

Musical Note: The season of Lent to me has the best Hymnody (which I know could just be because of the inherent drama), and it really ends on Palm Sunday which has a huge stable of great songs. All Glory, Laud and Honor and Ride on, Ride on in Majesty are two of them. What I left in the recording here is a modern hymn that is climbing my personal favorites – No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet (LSB 444). Many of the Palm Sunday Hymns reflect the irony of the triumphal entry being followed by the passion, but this hymn makes that its central theme. In the service it makes the perfect transition hymn from the festivity of the Palm Procession to the Passion Readings.