This is the last Sunday of the Church Year which recent tradition has often labeled Christ the King Sunday. The gospel lesson from the year we spend in Luke is a preaching opportunity I relish. The criminal on the cross is the bane of the theologian, but I’d bet one of the best remembered by ordinary folks. He scrambles everybody’s system, but he holds out the greatest hope. And of course is rests simply on the Grace of the King. It rests on sovereign choice. This sermon for Christ the King Sunday, is a meditation on that King’s Choice. Why is rightly causes fear…and why it should cause love.
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.
This Sunday is one of those pageant days. The start of Holy Week starts with a palm parade into the sanctuary for us today to the strains of All Glory Laud and Honor ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/442 ). But then with the readings it takes a turn toward the end of the week with a full reading of Luke 23 which is the trials before Herod and Pilate, the cries of the mob, and the crucifixion. At least the way we do it the hymns are key. The Pomp of Palms and the cries of Hosanna give way to the tumult of the streets and Pilate’s vain weaseling captured so well in No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/444 ). After the crucifixion Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/435 ) sing what has happened for us. And as we turn to go back out into the world, or to walk our way through Holy Week once again, we remember the end point with Ride On, Ride On, in Majesty ( https://hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/441 ). “Bow thy meek head to mortal pain, then take O God thy power and reign.” I’ve left in the recording snips of those hymns. It really is a liturgical day that is tough to capture just in a recording. We are recreating the week in an hour. The sights, and sounds and emotions.
Something I have been struggling with thematically with this day is how to preach it. Growing up this was just Palm Sunday. The Passion was for Thursday and Friday. But given the loss of piety, the reality was that many people would skip from the Triumphal entry to Easter Resurrection without even breezing past Calvary – a tragedy. So the reading was smashed into today. But what joins the Palms and the Passion? That is something I’ve been searching for. And I think this year I understand something I didn’t in previous years. It is the mob. Even more acutely in Luke, both are the will of the mob. Both are expressions of desire revealing the division of the ages. I’m leaning a bit on Rene Girard and his mimetic desire here. But it is a story captured fully in scripture. And it is one I see played out more and more. And it is the choice we have. He’s the King. We can crucify our desires and accept his grace, or we can let the mob rule. Anyway, I don’t know how well this walks outside of the liturgical framework, but I like it.
I joked around this week that passage – the wicked tenants – is Jesus the populist. It is Jesus reminding and urging “the people” to pick a new leadership class. The Chief Priests and the scribes have abused and killed the prophets, and they are going to take the son outside the vineyard and kill him too. And they are doing this because they think it will be theirs. That they will be able to substitute their blueprints – their laws – for the law and action of God. God is dead, so it is all ours. (Nietzsche well before his time.)
But as with all such plans, including our modern day supermen, they run into a problem. The Owner will come and kill them. The Owner has planted a new Rock a Cornerstone in Zion. And that rock will not be removed. And that Rock is Christ crucified. There is always a vineyard. Are you in it? It is given by grace, received in faith and abundantly fruitful. And the leadership of it does not hoard the fruit. It does not seek to substitute its own blueprints for the vineyard with God’s. Don’t trip over the stone, build on it.
The text is the Prodigal Son, so you already know it. It is the gospel. Nothing can separate us from the Love of the Father.
But this sermon wants to meditate on the text in a little different way. How, if we haven’t been conditioned to hear it as we have been, would we hear it? What did the original hearers think? (I think they would have jumped at the two brothers theme. Jesus doesn’t go where an OT raised person would expect. More in the sermon.) What would someone in our West hearing this for the first time think? (I think this might be more common that we know. And I think it would be the absolute Sovereignty of the Father in the story. And the prideful natures of the sons. Again, more in the sermon.) Hearing it new today, yes, it is a parable about love and grace, but it is also a parable about pride. The only thing that separates us from the Love of the Father is our pride. But He is sovereign. And how he has done things, was necessary. And he doesn’t consult us. Do we humble ourselves, or would we rather be outside the party and the love?
The title here is is a phrase that Jesus repeats three times – What Grace is Yours? And it is a question as world turning today as it was when he said it. We all have coping strategies for remaining “good people” without it really costing much. We narrow down who are neighbor is. We display love toward those we know by social conformity will return it. This is how the world works. But Jesus holds that up and says “you know what? Sinners do that. What Grace is Yours?”
If you want the good news, if you want the gospel, you can’t do what the world does, but to a new group – meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The grace that is yours, is the grace that Christ has shown us. While we were sinners, while we were the ungrateful and the evil, Christ gave us himself. And being incorporated into Christ, and with the indwelling of the Spirit, we can have that grace – both for us and to share toward our neighbors. Not in a narrow sense, but toward the world.
And when you live this way, the measure you give will be filled by God. What grace is yours? The measure of God.
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.
My Christmas Day sermons are a little more contemplative. This one is from the texts of the day, primarily Isaiah 52:7-10 and John 1:1-14, but it also leans heavily on the hymn A Great and Mighty Wonder – LSB 383. It is a contemplation of the Holy set against the normal wisdom of the middle way. Merry Christmas
The image and the reality is all over the new and old testaments. We pray for it constantly in the Lord’s prayer. But moderns have no idea what the world King means. We don’t have a good concept what it means to receive one. And even the examples that we have, like the Queen/King of England, are not what we are talking about. When those places use the world or the thought King they don’t mean a statutory figurehead. They mean a real one. One like a lion, however nice they might be at play, all you can think is “those claws, those claws”. This sermon is an attempt to recover some of that meaning. It is also an attempt to understand how this King is still different that all the others. And finally it is an attempt to understand how we receive a king – here in time and their in eternity as Luther would explain the Lord’s prayer petition.
We are continuing our reading of Ephesians Chapter 3. The formal assigned reading begins at verse 14, but to me just picking up Paul there clips off the entire thrust of his story in this chapter. Verse 14 forward is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (and all the people of God) based on the revelation in the prior verses. Verse 10 – “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph. 3:10 NLT)” – is the hinge to me. Prior I hope we know from the book of Acts of Galatians and the first two chapters of Ephesians. But Paul adds this rich line about God’s purpose. This sermon examines that line in all its richness and terror. And then it seeks to understand Paul’s prayer for us in light of that calling to display the wisdom of God. This is the Christian life in its cosmic purpose. This is the Christian life connected to its deep meaning.