Tag Archives: grace

Watching & Being Upset

“The first woman (let’s call her Sally) told me she was having trouble finding an Episcopal Church that she liked. I suggested she try St. Such and Such, ‘Oh no,’ she exclaimed. “I could never go there.’ ‘Why not?’ I asked. To my amazement she said, ‘I would have to look at that big cross they have behind the altar with that figure of Christ hanging on it. It would upset me terribly.'” – Fleming Rutledge

Fleming Rutledge is a great preacher. I say that with a bit of envy at her skill, but also with the recognition that her style is just not something I could pull off. That quote is just the shortest from an even better string of stories making her point. (It is in the book Bread and Wine, a great little Lenten reader.) I could never pull her style off because of two reasons: a) something guilty about using specific people at their worst and b) I always think these are “preacher stories” which are just a little too good to be true. But she makes it work, and stick, and if she used me I’d thank her for putting me on the narrow path instead of being mad (that is her greatness by the way). And her point here is simply that we are told to watch, and that biblical injunction is really to watch ourselves. Because when we do, we don’t like what we see. It is much easier to look away. To look at our neighbor. And to draw that line of grace for thee, but I don’t need it. Staring at a crucifix is recognizing that I put Jesus there. And there is only one way out. His grace, alone.

Give Him Another Year

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Biblical Text: Luke 13:1-9
Full Sermon Draft

Today is one of those days that stuff happening in the service is real important. We had a baptism this morning, and when you have a baptism you have an invaluable object lesson. That is absent from the recording, but you will hear it used a couple of times in the sermon.

From the text there is an overriding theme in the spirit of Lent – repentance. But the gospel text itself is abrupt. A report of a happening, a strong reaction to that report by Jesus and then a parable. This is one of the places where we as readers and hearers of the gospel really have to puzzle it out. Why would they bring this report to Jesus? What was their point? Jesus’ response gives us some clues, but the larger context of Luke which last week’s sermon look at as gives us a good idea of what was being asserted.

The crux of the issue is line drawing. Where is the line drawn that creates the division Jesus claims to have brought? Jesus’ answer is grace. The sermon examines the difference between mercy and grace and attempts to show why grace is that line of division. But the people of that day, just like the people of our day, like drawn their own lines. We draw lines that place us on the deserving side. Whether those are lines of race, or class or language or people or behavior. It can’t be grace, because we are on the right side.

Jesus answer is a clear nobody is on the right side. “Unless you all repent, you likewise will perish.”

The application of this is my attempt at encouragement and example of a proper repentance.

Worship Note: I have left in two of the hymns sung today. Lutheran Service Book 611 Chief of Sinners Though I Be, and LSB 610 Lord Jesus, Think on Me. It was a day of rich hymns because I loved our opening hymn and the baptismal hymn as well which all spoke the same gospel, but I left these two in the recording in their places as hymns of the life of repentance.

God’s Not Going Away

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Biblical Text: Luke 4:31-44
Full Sermon Draft

An honest appraisal first. This I think is one of those sermons that is rich content wise, but attempting to put a title on it and looking at the word cloud makes me think it was probably too full. I can’t tell you exactly what the “sparkler” that one would take away from it was. There are several potentials, but none of them sparkle enough, and there are too many. Looking at it with hindsight, I think I would re-focus it on that title I picked.

The emphasis I believe in the story is on Jesus’ definition of himself. What is this Son of God going to be like and do? The demons and the people are challenging him to smaller definitions. The demons want him to just go away. Go back to heaven and leave creation to its just reward. But Jesus silences them and gives mercy through healing and exorcism. Mercy is not receiving what we deserve. The demons aren’t wrong. Being sinners we deserve them. But Jesus in the incarnation takes on our flesh. God’s not going away. He is bringing mercy. The second challenge is to leave it right there, just mercy. But again God does not go away. He proclaims grace. Grace is when we receive what we do not deserve. We do not deserve the Kingdom, but that is what Jesus is here to give us. In the incarnation God gives us grace, and through the sending of the Spirit to indwell in us we are partakers of divine grace. That is the fullness of the mission of Jesus. Jesus defeats the temptation to sell himself short.

We also struggle with self identity, but our struggle is really the opposite of Jesus. As the sinless one, Jesus is self-actualizing. As those full of the sinful nature, self-actualization in this world is a bad goal. We will know everything we can be in the resurrection. In this world our call is more humble. Learn to love. Instead of holding on and hoarding the good things for ourselves, our end is to learn to serve others. To love our neighbor as ourselves which means giving away ourselves in faith that God will fill us back up. Simon’s Mother-in-law in the text is our example, or at least the more reachable example.

This sermon works through those thoughts I think in a meaningful way, but it is full. It requires your meditation.

On such day’s I’m always glad when the surrounding liturgy and hymns are great supports. I’ve left in a little more than usual. It was a 5th Sunday, so we pull out the bells and whistles of the liturgy including having the choir sing/chant the introit, gradual and alleluia/verse. The introit in particular was gorgeous this morning. I also left in the Hymn of the Day “Son of God, Eternal Savior” Lutheran Service Book 842. It takes the congregation a verse to get going, but they pick up. And I have to say as we sang the song my smile got bigger. You pick hymns in worship planning sometimes weeks in advance. You think the service holds together as a whole. It usually isn’t terrible, but today, I felt the Spirit while singing that hymn. When it so clearly reflects or in this case prepares for the sermon, you know someone else is there working with your terrible material.

Baroque Angels and Wooden Shepherds

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Biblical Text: Luke 2:8-20
Full Draft

The format was lessons and carols, so the main part of the service, singing all the great carols reflecting on the lessons, isn’t on the recording. But, this is the first Christmas Eve sermon in eight years that I’ve felt solidly good about. So, if you are ok with a single lesson and a homily for Christmas Eve, give this a listen. I think it comes close to the strangeness, the holiness, of the night.

And you can still come to Christmas day Divine Service tomorrow at 9 AM. Merry Christmas.

Grace was Never Practical

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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.

A Hidden Transfiguration

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Biblical Text: Mark 6:30-44
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the feeding of the 5000 which is portrayed as a foreshadowing of the Last Supper, so this sermon is about communion. A moment of self reflection here, compared to most of my sermons which are unified pieces around a single theme and following a single outline. This one is a little more Pointillistic. Two parts, a catechism part which builds up pictures around a review of Luther’s Catechism on the Lord’s Supper and a compare contrast section looking at the Crowds desires and reactions and Jesus’ desires and reactions. Jesus’ desires, expressed in the Lord’s Supper form us into His people. And that is often at cross-purposes with what we think we desire (i.e. the crowds). For me the picture that ultimately emerges is which people to you want to be a part of: those invited to the meal or those looking for a general/king. And that has a surprising number of personal applications.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Numbers 16:41-17:13 and Luke 20:1-18

Numbers 16:41-17:13
Luke 20:1-18
Envy & Call
The transfer of the vineyard

Kids, Sports and Grace

This article got me on edge. Here is a quick quote:

While neighborhood games become increasingly scarce, year-round travel teams have never been more prevalent. The U.S. Specialty Sports Association, the dominant organizing body for travel baseball, said it has around 1.3 million players spread across 80,000 teams, more than double what it had 10 years ago. The company’s website includes national rankings for teams in age groups that begin at “4 and under.”

Ismael Gonzalez, who manages the Miami-based 9-and-under team MVP Juniors Elite, said his team travels throughout the Southeast, playing more than 100 games a year and practicing two or three days a week. “These kids work like machines,” he said. “This is not just for fun. This is their lifestyle.”

That is child abuse. I don’t remember playing organized sports other than baseball before 7th grade. In High School I played a sport each season. I loved Basketball, but the thought of playing nothing but would drive me crazy. This is the hard saying nobody wants to hear. If your kid is going to make the big leagues in any sport, the level of innate physical talent, usually speed, is such that they will make it dedicating themselves to it starting in High School or later. If they aren’t going to make it, it doesn’t matter how early they specialize, they aren’t going to make it.

The problem with many rec leagues is that the zealots have taken over. The casual league is managed and run with the express purpose of giving travel teams free reign and developing a star player. That is not the purpose of rec leagues or rec facilities. The purpose is to give the average kid something to do for a few hours other than play x-box. To learn the love of being part of a team. To learn that just playing, win or lose, is valued and important. (Not that winning isn’t more fun.)

There are a couple of interesting theological ideas playing out here. The first is the freedom that the idea of election actually gives. Theologically election might be expressed in the biblical phrase, “those that have more will be given, those that have not even what they have will be taken away (Matt 25:29).” Knowing that God gets what God wants or that “my sheep hear my voice” takes the burden off our effort and allows for grace. Baseball wise, little league is not going to make or break a future big leaguer. When you reject election, it is all on you. When it is all on you, life gets out of whack and grace disappears. The second is that the law always accuses. When grace has been abandoned for the law alone, baseball wise when leagues are run for producing the future hall of famer, all who don’t measure up to that level are condemned. The law is unyielding. What grace does is not take away the chance to be a hall of famer, we still have saints. What it does is say is play it for love.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Numbers 16:23-40 and Luke 19:29-48

Numbers 16:23-40
Luke 19:29-48
The Holiness of God and What we approach in Communion
Recognizing when God is acting in our midst

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Numbers 16:1-22 and Luke 19:11-28

Numbers 16:1-22
Luke 19:11-28
Vocation & Faithfulness with what has been given
Lukewarm and our conception of God