Tag Archives: hope

Stop Fearing – Here’s Why

Biblical Text: Matthew 10:21-33
Full Sermon Draft

As we start the long green season the readings have dropped us into the Missionary Discourse. That is a fancy way of saying Jesus’ sermon on sharing the faith. We read the start of it last week. This week in the middle we have Jesus both telling us what to expect, but also his encouragement. The expectation is various levels of persecution. But we are still disciples. We are call to follow the crucified. The core of the argument is encouragement. In the face of persecution the natural response is fear. Jesus three times says stop fearing. And with each tells us a bit of why we should have no fear.

Telling our faith is an appropriate reading for the day. In the Lutheran Church- the Church of the Augsburg Confession – June 25th is celebrated as the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. This is what should be known as reformation day. If you get me going what I’d say is that out of the Reformation came four churches. The first is the church of the Augsburg Confession (1530). Then came what we know as the Roman Catholic Church formed at Trent (1545-1563), The Anglican church with the 39 Articles (1562), and the Reformed Church which had its earliest generally accepted confession in the 2nd Helvetic (1562). The Lutheran versions have always been at great pains to say this is the faith that has always been confessed. Yes, the Romans ran away with the most people, but Augsburg is more true and the first flag raised in the ruins of the old Western Church, caused in much the same way that the missionary discourse begins, with Jesus recognizing the shepherds of the people have abused and left the post.

Worship Note: I left in two of our hymns today. The congregation was in great form especially in the opening, LSB 913, O Holy Spirit Enter In. I also left in our closing hymn, a sentimental favorite that is a great capstone to the text and sermon, LSB 725, Children of the Heavenly Father.

Look at the Lilies…

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Biblical Text: Luke 12:22-34

We had a special treat in worship this morning. Our preacher was Tim Bayer, our seminarian. So, I don’t have the full text of the sermon. The word cloud in not the sermon but the text of the day. But, the voice you will hear delivering a great sermon is Tim’s. The Parson still read texts of the day.

I’ve left in a couple of hymns. If the text and the sermon are the proclamation to us not to worry. The hymns are our emotional responses. LSB 741, Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense, understands both that we can be compared to the lilies, but that we are also so much more when in simple faith we cling to Christ. It is a wonderful 2nd generation Lutheran hymn with a Catherine Winkworth english translation. The closing hymn is a prayer that this faith and its Lord would accompany us as all hours of the day. You’ll recognize the hymn tune – Slane – with its probably better known lyrics of Be Thou Our Vision, but for me Jan Struther’s simple plea and structure is as deeply moving as that one’s more soaring spiritual emotion. LSB 738, Lord of All Hopefulness.

A Pastoral Letter on Political Decisions

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One of Martin Luther’s most famous phrases is the odd one “Sin Boldly”. Of course it is usually used prior to doing something really stupid or clearly sinful. As college kids we often used it on Friday around 4 PM just before heading out for the night. That is one of the more harmless places, but what it is often used for is to justify some action you want to do but know is wrong. One could imagine saying “sin boldly” before lighting a Molotov Cocktail as part of a “protest”. After all, nothing is going to change if we don’t do something in the fierce urgency of now. One could also imagine saying “sin boldly” before starting a rumor about one’s opponent. The problem is that is not really what Luther was talking about. What that phrase captures is our bound and fallen nature. In this world we really don’t make choices between good and evil. If we did, ethics would be easy. Rather most of the time our choices are given to us with little ability to influence them. And, most of the time those choices are both compromised. Ethics is not about good and evil but about bad and less bad. And the reason we argue over it is we often come to different conclusions what is less bad. Sin Boldly as a phrase meant choose less bad to the best of your ability, and more importantly rely ever more on the sufficient grace of Christ. He is the one who in this world turns less bad into good for his people. He is the one who one day will make less bad untrue.

There are multiple biblical stories that I ponder in these regards, but I keep returning to one specific place, Genesis 21:8-21. I’d suggest going and reading the story. It is Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael and Hagar. Sarah, impatient and untrusting of God’s plan, had given Abraham her slave, Hagar, to have a child with. She would fulfill by her efforts what God so clearly wasn’t. That child was Ishmael. And as these things go, you can imagine that Abraham would become attached to the child and to the mother. Sarah, perceiving this had immediately sought to have mother and child banished, and Abraham gives in. But The Angel of the Lord finds Hagar and the baby and restores them to Abraham and Sarah. In another of its great ellipses, the bible doesn’t explain how. Fast forward a few years and Sarah has Isaac. And this time, more insistent, she tells Abraham “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”

The entire scene is caused by the failure, the sin, of not trusting the promise of God – “I will give you an heir”. The entire scene is the full born fruit of that sin. There is no good choice. The choices are cast Hagar and young Ishmael out into the wilderness alone most likely to starve or to die of thirst, hunger and exposure, or keep her and the son and deal with the daily problems of the heir and his mother, and the first born and his mother. The vast majority of our choices are like this one – the fruits of past sin. We might be forgiven for that sin, but in this world we live with its results. And in Abraham’s case it really is binary – choose, you first born or your heir. The bible in its typical understatement says, “the thing was very displeasing to Abraham.” No kidding.

What do we do in such a situation? Such situations often lead to paralysis and breakdown. In attempts to find third ways, we compound sin by avoidance or grumbling. I bet Abraham decided to spend some time with the herds for a couple of days. The camp was probably walking on eggshells. But in this case God comes down to Abraham and tells him, “Whatever Sarah says, do it. And don’t be worried about Ishmael, I will prosper him.” This prospering of Ishmael will be a thorn in the side of Israel forever. Today’s Arabs claim biblical descent as the first born of Abraham. Some of the consequences of sin are long lasting. But God tells Abraham make the choice. Sin boldly, and trust on the grace of God to bring out good. In this case, Joseph’s brothers would sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites who would take Joseph to Egypt where he would eventually save Israel from the famine. A further good would be Ruth, the Moabite, part of Ishmael, who would become a grand-mother of Jesus.

I’m talking these things because I think we have found ourselves with such a choice in November. Whatever the merits of Trumpism, Mr. Trump himself does not appear to be fit for such high office. But likewise the other major party has nominated someone who if her last name wasn’t Clinton and she were not running for President would be in an orange jump suit right now. FBI director Comey found fit to put Martha Stewart in one for much less than exposing the nations secrets for personal whim. None of which gets into the international grift of the Clinton Global Initiative. Due to the sins of the primaries, and the sins of past years, we find ourselves with such a choice – a felon and a man who describes his personal Vietnam as dodging venereal disease in the 1970’s and who has never asked God for forgiveness while proclaiming himself a Christian.

What does a citizen do in such a case? And what can we expect? Ted Cruz said “vote your conscience”. It’s a cute line and he earned it. When someone unleashes conspiracy theories against your dad, I would imagine your conscience would say words I can’t write here. But it begs the question, what is a properly formed conscience in such a case for a citizen, especially for one not directly slandered? One option, which the Amish normally take, is simply not to vote. The citizen does not have to take part. But, if you are like me, this feels like a cop out because I am not Amish. The Amish see politics as necessarily defiling oneself with the world. That has never been the majority report of Christianity which has normally held that God is sovereign in the political kingdom (the kingdom of left) just as much as in the gospel kingdom (the kingdom of the right). When he sits at the right hand of God it is not over some truncated Kingdom. The biggest difference being that the kingdom of the left is exercised through crooked us, while the right is simply the declaration “your sins are forgiven” in the many ways that Christ has instituted that to be said. There are many voices – both former Sander’s supporters and supporters of people like Ted Cruz – that sound very Amish. Voting for either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump would sully their morals. Such a conscience to me seems malformed in a hyper-moral way applied to the wrong place. If you want to see saints, you go out to the desert, you don’t go to where people wear the soft clothes and $5000 suits.

So, what does a citizen do? Sin boldly. Choose which ever candidate seems least bad. And trust in the grace of God to work for his people. That doesn’t mean I don’t think either choice is going to lead to good things immediately. Abraham’s choice lead to 400 years of slavery in Egypt. It was roughly a millennium until Ruth met Boaz. I have a sense of foreboding that long after I am gone, my grand-children will be living with the results of this election, the results of picking two such uniquely unqualified people for such an office. But then the Christian’s call is not to think about preserving one’s holiness because we have none. The Christian’s call is to consecrate the fast and call the solemn assembly. Cry out to the Lord. Who knows, after it is past, he might relent and leave a blessing behind. Our salvation comes not from the Princes we elect for a mere four years, but from Christ who reigns forever, and ever. Amen.

Lenten Valentine

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Text: Luke 4:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

Easter is so early this year we have an odd confluence. The first Sunday in Lent happens to be Valentines Day. So this sermon attempts to reclaim a bit of St. Valentine for the church.

The traditional text for the first Sunday in Lent is the temptation of Jesus. We read the rest of Luke chapter 4 just a couple of weeks ago. The entire chapter in my reading is an interesting study on our three great enemies: the devil, the world and our sinful natures. What today’s text does, much like a couple of old testament texts (Adam and Eve & Job), is give us a view of that first enemy, Satan. It lifts the veil to the reality behind those temptations.

On a literal level of the story, this temptation is the reversal of that one in Eden. But the devil withdraws until the appointed time. That appointed time is a temptation not like Adam and Eve, but like Job. The devil’s two forms of trial – enticement and suffering. But both forms are based on the lie that God does not love us. The cross is Jesus demonstration once for all that He does. The cross stands as God’s complete gift of love, a complete giving of himself.

And that is where we start to move from lent to Valentine. Love is a giving of ourselves. In this world that love might not come back. But love is never lost, because it all finds its fulfillment in Christ. St. Valentine is an example of such love. The reason Valentine is a saint is because he was a martyr. He loved God and the people he was bishop too enough to witness, in red blood. Valentine gave himself away. in such love. But it is only in so losing our life, a life expended in self-giving love, that we actual find it. We find that all that love have been made full in Christ.

Worship note. The hymn of the day in the recording is Lutheran Service Book 424, O Christ You Walked the Road. Unfortunately the text is again copyrighted, but here is a source that has the words. I always find this tune a haunting introduction to lent and an invitation to live the love that Christ has shown us.

Repentance Walk

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Ash Wednesday

I like the church year because along with Christmas and Easter and the days that you naturally blow the trumpet it has days like Ash Wednesday. Days that force us to think about things we don’t want to think about.

I’ve been told that the word sin has no meaning in modern English. That what sin means to the vast majority of Americans is an understandable indulgence. The sinful chocolate. The scale says you don’t need it, but hey. The sinful car. Yes, the payment is a little more, but you’ve always wanted that badge and now can swing it. Biblically those really aren’t sins. They might be foolishness, or they might even be just enjoying God’s creation. Jesus was called a drunkard and a glutton by the Pharisees.

Sin biblically is dominated by two metaphors. There are the purity metaphors – clean and dirty. And there are the special metaphors – missing the mark, walking the wrong way, ever before me. A common division of the Jewish law is between the ceremonial and the moral. The ceremonial law is what governs what is kosher and non-kosher. The breaking of the ceremonial law was cleansed by the ceremonial washings and the sacrifices. Purity being the primary way to talk about it. And purity – clean and dirty – tends to be digital. You are clean or dirty, there is no space in between. Eat a bacon cheeseburger and you are ceremonially unclean. Offer the sacrifice and you are restored to cleanliness.

The sacrifice of Jesus fulfilled that ceremonial law for all time. That cross has made us clean. It has washed us, created in us a clean heart.

The other portion of the law is the moral. The 10 commandments are the shorthand for it. This is where those spacial words start to take over. Cast me not away from your presence. Uphold me with a willing Spirit. The word that becomes resurrection is literally stand up, be put aright.

When you read repent in the New Testament, there are couple of different words used. Metanoia, which focuses on the mental. The recognition that we by ourselves are unclean. And the first call of metanoia, repent, is believe. The other word is epistrepho, which is spacial and means turning around and walking in the other direction. We start walking in the ways God intends.

Luther said in the first of the 95 theses, When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. That is not a life of constantly changing our minds, but of constantly walking in the correct direction.

And here is where Ash Wednesday is unique. Our justification is immediate. We are made clean by the righteousness of Christ by faith. But because we went wrong, we wandered a far distance “east of Eden”. And the consequences of sin are death. Abraham never possessed the promised land. Moses never entered it. David’s kingdom fell apart. Dust we are and to dust we will return. However far we walk in the way God intends, this flesh is not going to make it.

But this flesh is not our hope. As the writer of Hebrews says in the chapter of the heroes of the faith.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Heb 11:13-14)

Our hope is not here and now, but then and there. Our repentance walk here and now, turns into a triumph then and there. When we are no longer clothed with this mortal flesh, but we receive the resurrection – are stood aright. There are plenty of days on the calendar to celebrate that. But Ash Wednesday is on the calendar to remember that it is not yet a full on triumph. We only share in that triumph to the extent that we seek a homeland. To the extent that we pick up our cross and follow him past Calvary. Amen.

Abominations and Consolations

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Biblical Text: Mark 13:14-37
Full Sermon Draft

This week we read the rest of Mark 13. The sermon is really divided into a macro and a micro part. The consolations are the macro. If you read Mark 13 as a whole there is a great rhythm to the sermons. The horrors seem to increase, but each increase ends with a promise. The point is not to stoke worry or even less rage as so much of the world’s narratives are designed to do. The point is to restore sanity. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He really does sit at the right hand of God. It’s going to be okay.

The micro part is when you start focusing on the words and tracing out what they mean in scripture and history. One part of that is listening carefully to Jesus’ time markers. When we listen carefully we can make the distinction between those times by which Jesus means the time around AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple and that day and that hour by which he means the last day. Those times have a specific sequence and will end within this generation. And they did. That day and that hour are unknown. That is necessary to set some ground rules, but the word that this sermon hones in on is abomination or more specifically the abomination of desolation. It is actually a well defined term or concept in the Old Testament and history. We can’t use it to make a timetable; that is foolishness, but we can think about endings of old orders. This sermon lays out that groundwork and does what a watchman does, it cries watch.

Musical Note: This morning was our matins week which I always realize when formatting is so defined by its music and continuous in one way it is difficult to cut pieces. But cut I did. I left in two musically bits. Our Choir sang “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” which is a great Last Sunday of the Church Year or Advent piece. And I left in the final hymn, Rise My Soul to Watch and Pray Lutheran Service Book 663, which is fast becoming one of my favorites and captures the key thought of Jesus’ sermon – watch. It is a great tune that you find yourself humming all day. The text is a typical Catherine Winkworth translation by which I mean crisply poetic and poignant if sometimes pietistic. (I’ve been told that her translations are often quite free. Nothing wrong with that because they work.)

A Watchful Hope

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Biblical Text: Mark 13:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

This is part one of what is variously called the Olivet discourse, the Mark Apocalypse or the end times discourse. The Olivet Discourse is so named because of its location on top of the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple. That is actually the name I prefer because I think the other two get things wrong from the start.

There is a way that Mark 13 is about the last days, but it not an easy direct application. Most of Mark 13 I think is talking about the run up to AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple. Jesus condemns the temple, what eventually serves as part of his conviction by the Sanhedrin, and the disciples ask when and what are the signs. Jesus tells them. Within this generation and a fairly detailed amount of signs. But after that, Jesus seems to know that we couldn’t resist attempting to find out the last day, so he says “about that day, no one knows, only the Father.” So Mark 13, for us, is not a step by step countdown. No one knows.

But there is a way it is not a dead letter. The temple was about the end of the old order. The temple specifically was about the sacrificial system. After the crucifixion there is no need of sacrifice. The cross of Christ is the only necessary sacrifice. The old order was over and its symbol the temple came down. But not all of the old order was brought to completion. This fallen world chugs along. Jesus doesn’t answer the when question to that, but much of what he says about the signs of the end of the temple also apply to the world. What are the signs? False prophets, political turmoil and persecution. These are the signs of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.

And what Jesus counsels is a watchful hope. We know we have won, because he won. Jesus lives. All who endure to the end will be saved. That is our sure hope. Watchful because we know this world hates us. It is dying and we have life. We are on our guard lest it manage to steal that hope from us. We live in that tension as witnesses to the hope.

Musical Note: I have left in our Hymn of the Day, Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers Lutheran Service Book 515. It is a pretty tune absent the often minor and melancholy of other End Times type hymns. The last couple of stanzas carry the watchful hope that I desired to preach about. The of the start of the fourth stanza: Out Hope and Expectations, O Jesus now appear.

Saints Now Saints Not Yet

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Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-5
Full Sermon Draft

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

That is one of the most profound and hope filled sentences in all of scripture. And it perfectly captures what it means to live as saints. We are saints now, but not yet saints. This was All Saints Day, so that is why I’m using that world. What this sermon attempts to do is describe the feeling and the facts that make it so. There is a reflection from family life that I think captures it better than everything that follows. But what follows that family picture attempts to follow John’s compact reading through three facts of the Christian life in the now and not yet. The resurrection opens the door which we enter through baptism. We are now God’s children by water and the word. But right now we live by faith. When he appears we will see him as he is, but that is not yet. Now by faith, not yet by sight. The final fact is what baptism and faith set us out on and that is sanctification. “Everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The pattern of that is the life of Christ, but as the biblical text continues it is captured in the moral law. Christians do not practice lawlessness, but they practice righteousness.

I didn’t include them on the recording. (If you would like to hear just leave a comment.) But, the hymns today were both some of my favorites and All Saints staples. I didn’t include them because “For All The Saints” (LSB 677) has 8 stanzas. It is great to sing, but our recording isn’t exactly professional. We opened with Jerusalem the Golden (LSB 672. And we closed with Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus (LSB 660). You’ve got a picture of the Church at Rest, a hymn sketch of the Church militant through the church at rest and into the Church Triumphant, and a Church Militant remembrance.

The Best and the Worst

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Mark 5:21-43
Full Sermon Draft

The events of the week offered two extremes. The last fruits of a culture that would listen the church, and the declaration of the end of that listening. This is a little raw, but call it first pass a law and gospel in exile. The fact of repentance and the hope of return.

What’s Your Ending? – Hope or Fear

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Biblical Text: Mark 16:1-8
Full Sermon Draft

The Easter Text in Mark’s gospel ends on a strange word – fear. What this sermon does is look both at our discomfort at fear and at what Easter has to say about it. Mixed in with a bit about that interesting ending of the gospel.

Happy Easter! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!