The curse and blessing of a liturgical church. When everybody else has already moved on to Christmas, maybe they’ve been on it for a month, we are still in Advent. The day is often given over to Mary and the magnificat. There is a great recording of our choir singing one of those here. But I’ve been spending time with the minor prophets this season. We’ve been taking them in bible class, and I felt I had to bring one into the pulpit. One more day of blue and purple. One more day of the penitential and the hopeful. Grant me 15 minutes of Advent on this 4 Sunday of the season. We’ve got a bakers dozen for Christmas starting tomorrow.
The Sermon is for Palm/Passion Sunday, so the service starts out with those Hosannas and the Palm procession, it moves through Pilate’s palace, and ends at Golgotha and the tomb. There are a myriad of subjects possible, but the with Mark’s text what stood out to me this week was Pilate’s repeated pawing, “The King of the Jews”. He’s having perverse fun with the Chief Priests, and the crowds, and even with Jesus. He’s abusing his office for entertainment. The sermon compares it to an old cat and a mouse. The irony is that Pilate, the de facto king of the Jews, actually has the King of the Jews before him. And all throughout Jesus is nothing but truthful. The test is can we see that. Can we see the King not just in his purple, but also in His suffering? Old cats grow blind, all tyrants fall, but the King shall come when morning dawns. Can we see it?
Worship note: I’ve left in a verse or two of several of our hymns today. The hymns of Palm Sunday are such a big part of the experience.
We fade in with the choir processional – Hosanna
In between the split reading is No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet verse 2 (LSB 444)
At the conclusion of the readings is Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted verse 2 (LSB 451)
The conclusion is Ride On Ride On in Majesty (LSB 441)
All of these hymns in their fullness deal with seeing the King on the Throne which is the cross.
Have you ever read a biblical passage that just doesn’t make sense or maybe I should say makes sense in very bad ways? Then this sermon is for you. This text is one that has often struck me wrong and is one that when I pushed or heard others ask question the explanations would just “keep digging.” When I hit a passage like this I typically find one of three things: 1) the translators have chosen a particular word or phrase that carries the wrong connotations or ignores the larger context, 2) the cultural assumptions of the writers are just different than ours or 3) I have a sin problem that is more or less directly being addressed by the text. In the first two categories it is not that our English translations are bad, we should just recognize that the task of translation is an art. With this text I think it falls into my first category. So, this sermon starts with my problem, which I think would probably be familiar, and attempts to think our way to something that doesn’t make Jesus a liar or the Father a cretin. Hopefully the path is full of the gospel, helping us not to lose heart.
Worship note: I’ve left in our final hymn of the day. Lutheran Service Book 652 – Father, We Thank Thee. The text is from the Didache, the earliest catechism of the church from the 2nd century. I left it in because I think it captured the two main points almost perfectly: 1) the Father that Jesus reveals is full of compassion for the sinner and 2) that we do not lose heart by staying connected in prayer. The second verse is a mighty example of the prayer “your Kingdom come”.
I broke a rule today. One of the main sermon rules is pick a point or a theme and stick with it. You can’t develop more than one in the time allowed, and your listeners can’t absorb more than one. But today I had three things. There was the highly moralistic point of the lesson in its context following last week. Charity is not a false lesson. It is also one that we need to hear. But the rich man and Lazarus is more than a moral. The second was also short. I’ve heard and read way to many sermons that construct an entire picture of heaven and hell from this example. That is an abuse of the text. The sermon tells you why.
But then I turn toward the point that I think is deeper. “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” The moral point is true, but it depends upon two things embedded in that phrase – faith and the word. Everything that happens – even a man rising from the dead – can be interpreted in different ways. People will go to great lengths to ignore or explain away things that are contrary to their monetary benefit or settled beliefs. The message of Jesus – of the cross – is contrary to both in this life. It has always been a stumbling block. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God. And what that power of God has done, by the waters of baptism and the word, is give us a name. Like poor Lazarus, we have a name. The world would surely know the rich man’s name, but we do not. Jesus didn’t tell it. But he knew Lazarus. Like he knows ours.
Worship Note: We had a great slate of hymns today. I didn’t include it in the recording but LSB 845 (Where Charity and Love Prevail) was the hymn of the day picking up on the moral point of the lesson. What amazes me is that the text is 9th century Latin. The church has taught the same things for a long time. Thy hymn I left in was LSB 782 (Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings). It was pledge card collection day, so that is part of the reason, but the hymn gets the order right as few stewardship hymns do. We have received mercy. We have heard the word. We are sustained in this creation. Lord we pray that we your people, who your gifts unnumbered claim, through the sharing of your blessings, may bring glory to your name. We have that name. We don’t do good works because we’ve been told, but because we have been named. That and the tune is one of the most uplifting in the book.
The Gospel of Mark, per the early church, is the memories/sermons/stories of Peter written down around the time of his death. And I tend to think at the close of sections, like today’s text, you can see just the way memory works. The big story about a point is told, but there are a bunch of smaller sayings and stories that rush into the mind afterward. Those other stories and sayings are important, you can’t imagine the full story without them, but they are footnotes or modifiers on the larger points. After being put in their place about status positions this text modifies just how disciples are to walk with each other. The main modification is an acceptance that the Kingdom is something larger that one tribe or expression of it. But that modifier deserves a second, a don’t let your brains fall out. While you can find joy in an expression of the Kingdom that isn’t yours, the church still has boundaries. Those boundaries involve sin and truth. The church is a community of truth and as such is calls out sin. It doesn’t just accept it as a different expression of church. And the teachers of the church have a scary role in that that could end in millstones and deep water.
The sermon attempts to have an artistic flair. Parts of a one man show, the remembrances of Peter. And those remembrances are brought forward in application to our situation. I’ve succeeded if you’ve heard the voice of the Apostle.
Music Note. I left in the recording our hymn of the day which is in my top 5 hymns. My guess is that you wouldn’t here this one in many churches and definitely not in the local mega-church. Mainly because it is a little slow do develop and has a strong poetic structure. The first three verses get darker before the last three speak of our reality in God. It fit with my understanding of these verses. Yes, we will all be salted with fire, but that is as the living sacrifices. We walk toward truth and peace which is with Jesus and heavenward all the way. Even in the midst of trial. I Walk in Danger All the Way, Lutheran Service Book 716.
Mark chapter 4 is a chapter of parables. In the midst of many familiar ones from other gospels is one that is unique to Mark – the seed growing silently. Not that any of the parables are easy, but some, like the parable of the sower and the soils, come with an explanation. Other, like the parable of the mustard seed which is pared with the silent seed in Mark, are more obvious in their intent. And the more obvious, the more likely we’ve heard sermons on them or grasped them ourselves. This sermon focuses on that unique one.
In many ways the parables of seeds are all attempts to describe what the seeds planted on good soil experience. Wheat and weeds together sown (Matthew 13:25ff) describes our experience of living in a fallen world. The mustard seed describes the way churches always surprise. They are not what you’d expect when you look at what is planted. But the seed silently growing talks about the experience of being a seed planted I think.
1) The seed is helpless in its growth. We individuals or the church depend completely upon God for growth. We can’t force it. We might hinder, but have not power to make grow.
2) Never-the-less the kingdom of God grows: often imperceptibly, constantly at the will of God, and inevitably. It takes constant effort to kill organic growth.
3) The reign of God includes a harvest.
This sermon ponders those three elements of the parable.
I included on the record two interesting hymns with organic growth metaphors. The first is a modern hymn, LSB 654, Your Kingdom O God is My Glorious Treasure. The hymn is a compilation of many of the Reign of God parables: treasure, pearl, yeast, mustard plant, field, seeds, weeds and wheat. The last hymn I included is one of the oldest the words taken from the 2nd century Didache, probably the earliest catechism. LSB 652, Father We Thank Thee. Both I thought were worthy examples of response to the Word of the parable.