Tag Archives: grace

Pep Rally or Precious Treasure?

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the conclusion of the parable sermon. It encompasses three parables, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price and the net. In this preaching I’m, resting almost exclusively on work done by Dr. Jeff Gibbs. Parables are interesting in how we treat them, in that they are often simply free floating stories. And we tend to interpret them divorced from the speaker or the context. But the parable sermon didn’t come from nowhere. It came from the building opposition to the advent of the kingdom in Jesus. It came from the anxieties of the John the Baptist, Jesus’ family and even the disciples themselves. The standard gloss on these parables I compare to a pep rally (remember those?). Pep rallies can be fun, but they don’t really change anything. As often as not, those pep rallies can turn into something cruel just a few hours later. If these are a discipleship pep rally, I’ve got to sell everything and commit to Christ, there is a way that it it true, but the second you go out of the house failure is waiting around the corner.

Instead of a pep rally, these parables are a promise. You are God’s precious treasure. Christ sold everything to buy you through the Incarnation and the cross. Yes, he sticks us back in the ground and goes to complete it, but even that conforms to the parables of the kingdom – the yeast hidden in the dough, the wheat and the weeds together. They are not statements of discipleship cheer. They are statements that actually change things. God has bought you. The only choices left are to believe it or shun it.

Worship Note: I left in our opening hymn: LSB 573, Lord, ‘Tis Not that I Did Choose Thee. I think it captures the real purpose of the text. It also has for my money one of the most affecting hymn tunes – O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE. It is the same tune used for Jesus, Refuge of the Weary – Savonarola’s great hymn. It has that “heartsong” effect of a steady beat going up and down with the occasional extended beat. The meter is listed as 87 87 D. What that means is that each measure of a stanza has 8 syllables followed by 7 syllables, 8 followed by 7, and then doubled. When I look at the other hymn tunes following the same meter, I find a list of many of the most beloved, but I’d bet that when they are played people walk out singing the tune, but not exactly remembering the text of the hymn. Hymns that hit the heart carried by the music.

Witnesses to Easter

Biblical Text: Acts 5:28-42
Full Sermon Draft

This is typically the Thomas Sunday, but the first lesson from Acts just struck my imagination too well this year. Gamaliel’s tolerance and wisdom typically gets pride of place, but I think that discounts Saul in the background. The sermon attempts to tell both the foreground story of Peter preaching repentance to the High Priests who a month ago crucified Jesus and the background story of Saul (soon to be Paul) who wouldn’t listen to his teacher’s advice. The point of preaching, of Peter’s and of ours, is repentance and salvation. It is not justice or balancing the scales. It is not getting back at anyone. It is simply repent and believe. That repentance is a gift. It is part of faith. Caiaphas or Annas, the High Priest, heard the preaching and knew what was going on, but they did not repent. Saul, did not repent, yet. The call of those who have repented is to be witnesses to Easter. Pray for the repentance of the unbeliever while bearing the cross for those who won’t, yet. In this we witness to Easter and the Great Easter to come in the resurrection of all flesh.

A Man of the Pharisees, A Ruler of the Jews

Biblical Text: John 3:1-17
Full Draft

This has been a strange 8 days with a Sunday in the middle. The church lost power for most of three days (Wed-Fri) due to a windstorm. Personally I was bedridden sick Friday night until I forced myself up Sunday morning. And then Tuesday and Wednesday we’ver have over 2 feet of snow and been snowed in. Wind, plague, snow and bitter cold, I asked our secretary this morning if Friday was scheduled for the earthquake.

So, buried literally under snow and figuratively under a week worth of work, including tracking and arranging a new date for the delivery of our new organ (did I tell you that was supposed to arrive last Wednesday), I am just getting to the sermon file. Of course the recording line gets real silent at the end of the gospel reading. So, no musical stuff. Also the sermon recording might be a little rough as occasionally not even amplifying brings the sound. (I’m thinking I moved a little far away from the mic at those moments and it got lower clipped.)

It is a shame, because it is one of the greatest texts of the bible. And being under the weather for final editing, I’m short. No hinting or sneaking up on the point. No padding or weak attempts at story telling or making relevant. Just expository. Christ for you. Fitting of John 3:16-17

Would You Call Him Jesus?

Biblical Text: Matthew 1:18-25
Full Sermon Draft

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

The Arrival of Love

arrival-posterI joked with Ellen that I wished Hollywood could learn to space out movies as I’ve gone a year with going to the theatre, but there are five that are tempting now. I enjoy movies, but films promising enough to get me to go to the theatre are few. There are a couple a year that I would see, but they don’t make the multiplex. I’d have to go to The Little (the local art film place) on the specific day they are shown. Easier to pre-order the DVD, and most of these don’t depend upon a huge screen anyway. There are the big budget spectaculars like Doctor Strange. The huge screen would be a plus, but going to those would have to be a family thing and dropping $50 plus snacks (if I actually want to watch it instead of listening to the whining about no snacks) on Doctor Strange just isn’t appealing. Again, wait for the DVD. Those are some of the economic reasons that “films for Mark” don’t get made. That, and the fact that “films for Mark”, once you screen out the completely mindless CGI extravaganzas which are just cool, tend to cause thinking. Thinking is an activity most people don’t enjoy, especially mixed in their entertainment. All of that is what makes Arrival such a unique film. It slips though all of those problems and still works on many levels.

The basic premise is all there in the title – Arrival. Aliens arrive on planet earth, and simplistically the plot is about how we collectively react. Close Encounters and Contact are closest to that simple plot, but Arrival, regardless of its containing aliens, isn’t really about the aliens. Although it does work at that level. I suppose because they would be afraid of giving something away, the love story isn’t part of the advertising. Calling it a love story might be a stretch, but love is at the core of the story. Love is also what makes Arrival a film you can’t stop thinking about.

I personally am not concerned with spoilers because if a movie is ruined by knowing about it, it wasn’t much of a movie to begin with, but this is your warning. Stop reading and go see it. What follows will be spoilers.

Arrival is about two questions. The military-state structures want to know “What is your purpose?” The question that over-rides that for the main character is “if you knew, would you live it anyway?” In the movie these are expressed as a contemplation of time. As a Christian what Arrival captures better than anything I’ve ever seen or read is the doctrine of election.

The main character, Louise, played by Amy Adams is a linguist. She is called in by the government to help in establishing communications. The trouble in this is that the Alien language is not phonetic like all human language, but it is ideograms. All of their ideograms are circular. This is never explained, but in the course of the film it should make sense. The aliens do not have a linear sense of the time. The past is not the past, and the future is not the future. Past and future are points on the circle. The circle could be shrunk down to a single point – everything at once, the eternal now, but it can also be expanded to be experienced intimately. No point on that circle is disconnected from any other, but it has its unique being. What that opens up to someone thinking in linear time is future causality. Events in the linear future can seem to cause events in the linear past. In the eternal now or on that circle there is no past or future, just a seamless thread. And if one understands time as such, and has the necessary technology, one can jump to any portion of that thread when needed.

This is the biggest spoiler. The movie starts with a montage of moments of Louise with her daughter Hannah. We see them at birth and at a few moments in life, but we are also introduced to Louise crying over the deceased 16 year old Hannah. You are lead to believe that this is backstory, in the linear past. Louise’s work with the Aliens and Physicist Ian played by Jeremy Renner as her contact partner comes after the daughter’s death. They are scrambling after the answer to “What is your purpose?” to prevent China and a few other states from attacking the aliens. But their work together, which does not include any gratuitous sex or even stray romance moments, grows into a work of love. Their strings are tied together. The big twist is that what we think is the past is actually the future. And it is a future that Louise is becoming cognizant of in the past. The question becomes, “knowing this, would you live it?”

That is the question of election. We are all part of God’s great tapestry. All of our circles are known to him and have been woven into his design. This includes Jesus who submitted to the cross. Knowing that creation includes the cross, would you do it? God answered yes. And he answered it for two reasons. Creation, even one including the cross, is an increase in love. It is a revelation of the God who calls himself love. It is also a revelation of his nature as gracious. Divine simplicity is not found in the point, but in the circle. It is found in how His grace sustains all the moments we are given to experience. The only question we are given is yes or no? Knowing that this is God’s design, knowing that is our circular thread, would we live it? The moments of pain and suffering as well as the moments of triumph. Yes is a submission, an acceptance of God’s election. No is the complete removal from the design.

In the film the two aliens that Louise and Ian interact with they call Abbot and Costello. Their names are ideograms without phonetic content, so the assigning of sounds is a moment of levity. But that moment of levity has a turn. Some of the military personnel they are working with decide that attacking the aliens is a necessity and smuggle a bomb onto the ship with the equipment Louise and Ian are using. The aliens are able to partially stop it, but a touching scene is Louise expressing sorrow when Abbot tells her Costello is dying. By this time, you should know enough to realize “it’s about time”. When you know that, you must realize that Costello took this trip knowing he would die in that blast. The purpose of the trip which the aliens had also revealed is that the aliens would need humanity’s help in 3000 years, so they are providing assistance to humanity now. Costello’s sacrifice was for aliens and people 3000 years hence. Knowing this, would you live it?

Which becomes the personal question to Louise. Ian is her future husband and father of Hannah. All the moments, including the child’s death, are in the future. Knowing this, would she live it? Is the increase in love correct? Is the grace enough to sustain it? Arrival is a love story, just not a decadent one, but one full of grace.

Lesser and Greater

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Biblical Text: Luke 17:11-19
Full Sermon Draft

Recording Note: Sorry, the live recording was unusable, so this is a re-recording after the fact.

I was sure walking into the pulpit this morning that I had failed. I was a page or more short. And I felt like that shortness wasn’t because I had successfully condensed a good word, but simply because I had wrestled with the text and lost. The Samaritan Leper is an easy story to just make into a moralistic word. There is nothing wrong with saying “give thanks”, the law is good and wise, but such often comes off not as “give thanks” but “give thanks because there are starving children in China”. There is always something specious about that old common phrase to get kids to eat. It doesn’t bring about thanks. It rarely made you eat your vegetables. So what I was struggling with was a way to preach not just “give thanks” as the law, but to make thanksgiving like the Samaritan Leper, full of wonder and joy and recognition. I thought I had failed, but somewhat surprising to me is that I got more good feedback than I would have expected. My inner cynic would say that is because it is only 10 minutes long, but I’m going to dismiss him as the crank he is. The Spirit takes the lessor and makes it greater.

Worship Note: Because of the recording problem you won’t hear it, but an important thing was this service started with a baptism. Baptism’s place in the sermon’s conclusion rests partly on what we had all witnessed that morning. Also, I just want to put this here. Lutheran Service Book 788, Forgive Us Lord, for Shallow Thankfulness, was the hymn of the day, surrounded by the staple hymns of Thanksgiving. This is also probably part of the rescue. Those are some of the best hymns in Christendom. But 788 is a powerful text. It is a comparatively modern hymn from 1965. I could wish that the text had a better tune, although Sursum Corda is not bad. It is the text that carries a necessary message about recognizing the greater and less, and not confusing them. The fifth stanza stands out to me: Forgive us, Lord for feast that knows not fast/for joy in things that meanwhile starve the soul/for walls and wars that hide your mercies vast/and blur our vision of the Kingdom goal. I’m sure it was written by a old fuzzy commie, but one that never let his politics become unmoored from the signs and wonders of the true kingdom.

The Narrow Door One at a Time

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Text: Luke 13:22-30
Full Sermon Draft

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.

Inheritance

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Text: Luke 12:13-21 (Col 3:1-5)
Full Sermon Draft

The parable at the core of today’s gospel can be highly moralistic. It is something we need to hear, but the parable itself gains it gospel grounding in the life of Jesus. The man at the start gives Jesus the opportunity to talk about life. What the life of Jesus, his questioner’s life and the parable invite us to do is correctly order things perishable and things imperishable in our lives.

When we have those thing properly ordered, then many situations and stations in life become much easier to judge the moral response.

Musical Note: I left in the hymn of the day Lutheran Service Book #732, All Depends on Our Possessing. I think it is one of the sweetest hymn tunes in the hymnal. Nothing flashy, but I’m still humming it. Not an earworm, but it strikes that right blend of melancholy and hope that is perfectly paired with the text. The text comes from the 17th Century Nurnberg church. The attribution is haus-kirche which would be house church, so it probably originated as a pietistic folk song shared among the various meetings much like campfire songs in the 1970s. But this text was caught by Catherine Winkworth, translator extraordinaire. What makes her translations so compelling is that unlike most American German to English translations which are more concerned about an exact translation, Winkworth cares first about the English. It doesn’t hurt that she has some evident skill at poetry. Technically she’s the translator, but most of her hymn translations are relatively free creations that manage to bring German hymns into a pleasant English expression.

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.