Tag Archives: law

Truly, Truly, I Say to You

Biblical Text: John 10:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the fascinating precursor to the “good shepherd” passages. In the context, precursor is the wrong word because the first 6 verses of John 10 are the basis. Verses 7 through 10 are an expansion or a change of emphasis. The good shepherd verses are elaborations on these initial “truly, truly” sayings. What this sermon attempts to do is meditate on those sayings. It asks the confirmation question “what does this mean” about the structure. After answering is examines three things: a) how God acts in this world as explained by the parable, b) our duty after “hearing the voice” and c) what Jesus means by abundant life. I think this is a rather thick sermon, but worth a listen

Scandalized Hearts

Biblical Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Full Sermon Draft

We continue reading the sermon on the mount today. The Sermon starts with a very quick recap of the past two weeks before turning to the text. At a very basic level Jesus re-ups the 10 Commandments as part of the law that not a jot of tittle will disappear from. While this section of the Sermon on the Mount could be used as case law, Jesus’ purpose is really beyond just looking references. Instead what he is doing is demonstrating what we tend to do with the law, and telling us what we should be doing with it. We tend to look for an easy way to externally keep the law. We want the recognition for keeping it without the actual work (virtue signaling). What Jesus says back is that the external matters little, what he desires is that we attempt to keep the spirit, the internalized law. The real definition of privilege as that term is used today is the extent to which we can claim to keep the law while relaxing its claims on us individually. Part of keeping the law inwardly, is being willing to be scandalized over our own behavior. Hearts of flesh contrary to hearts of stone are able to feel the effects of sin, know where it leads, and be willing to make personal changes and sacrifices to avoid scandalizing our hearts, and not just to avoid scandalizing the neighbors.

Worship Notes: I have left in one of my favorite hymns, LSB 716, I Walk in Danger All the Way. This is the opening hymn of my funeral right now. The text and the tune mesh together perfectly. It is the rare example of the slow burn hymn. The open verse states a true problem, and things get worse from there, but there is no immediate delivery or magic as so often happens. It doesn’t deny the reality of this world, but it develops over the last three verses our solid hope both here and for eternity. Powerful text if you let yourself hear. The second item is that you might hear a missing note. Our organ decided to drop a note this morning. Providentially, we have a new organ on the way.

Glorifying the Father

Biblical Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Full Sermon Draft

The lectionary continues reading through the sermon on the mount. For me the best way to read it is as what it was to the early church, a catechism on the Christian life. In these verses Jesus addresses a couple of questions. The first is a rare instance of a why question being answered by God. The second is what is the relationship between the messianic Kingdom and the old covenant contained in the law and prophets? The two answers feed into each other. As it turns out the old covenant maintains an honored role. This homily explores those answers and the role of the law in the life of the Christian.

Worship note: The Hymn of the Day supporting that theme is LSB 579, The Law of God is Good and Wise. It is a great example of a Lutheran Catechetical hymn. It teaches the three uses of the law, the important powerlessness of that law, and as with the Gospel text the fulfillment of that good and wise law. The law has become something of a four letter word in many churches. The more you read both Jesus himself and the church from different ages you realize how wrong that is.

Means and Extremes

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Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

Actually hearing Jesus is tough. What I mean by that isn’t that listening is tough, but that what he is attempting to teach is just so foreign to both our natural ways of thinking and our learned ways. The text today in the context of the the Gospel according to Luke is actually a non-confrontational part. Things should be low key, but Jesus’ teaching might be at its most extreme. And that is part of the mystery of faith and its danger. Wisdom rightly would tell us to avoid the extremes, except when the extreme is what is true. That is the mystery of Jesus. He is extreme, but he is true.

This sermon develops that theme. It suggests that this mystery is grounded in the two natures of Christ. And it suggests that our experience of of being bound either to sin or to Christ is also an expression of this mystery. We so want to be in the middle, in the mean, but truth is at the edges. If you listen I hope it inspires some good contemplation, a hearing of Jesus. And at hearing an attempt not to settle for the mean, but to live the tension of Christian extreme.

I did not include any of the hymns today primarily because the recording quality wasn’t quite there. Hymns are so much better live. (Sermons too for that matter.) So please, take this as an invite to come next Sunday. Blessings.

Rally Day

decalogue-windowThe second use of the law is as the mirror. It shows us our sins. One of the old Rabbi’s ways of using the Decalogue was to line up one through five on the first side and six through ten on the other and use it as a diagnostic. (Sorry any reformed/evangelical readers, Calvin and Zwingli messed up your order because two commandments on coveting offended their reason and they needed to bolster their iconoclasm. The numbering used is the Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran.) If your community or society was engaged in rampant adultery (sixth commandment), the deep problem was idolatry (1st Commandment). That particular insight is often found in the prophets where Israel is compared to the harlot. Likewise if your culture is driven by coveting stuff (“ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”, 10 Commandment), the deeper problem is with the 5th (don’t murder). The presenting problem may be late stage capitalism, but we are willing to make commodities of everything because we have already made commodities of each other. We can see this in cases big and small, the over 1 million aborted a year to the Chicago murder rate. And if you take Jesus in the Sermon in the mount at his word that hating your neighbor is murder, well our every 4 year festival of hatred where the people wearing the other color are compared to Hitler and real friends are sacrificed should be troubling.

A particular outgrowth of that media cycle that I find almost like cat-nip is the attributing of the worst possible meaning to whatever the red/blue flag bearer said yesterday. Charity assumes that what was said has some reason behind it, that there is some way in which it captures truth, until the pure malevolence of the speaker is proven. I may not understand it, but it is my moral obligation to attempt to or at the least assume there is one. This is the 8th commandment’s territory. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor which Luther glossed with a positive force of “defend him, speak well of him and put the best construction on everything.” Not being a Pollyanna type, more specifically being a hyper-analytical person who likes winning, I have too often put those traits not in the service of charity but destruction, of figuring out the worst possible meaning and imputing that to the speaker. It has been a conscious effort and struggle of mine to control that impulse. It is depressing how often I fail.

That might be the sin that lives in my members, the battle against the flesh, but if I look at the parallel commandment, the 3rd (Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy), I think I am staring at what the world is attacking. When asking what does this mean Luther wrote that “we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” That Sabbath commandment to Luther is about our handling of the Word of God. As Jesus would say “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Word of God is given to us for our good. If I am willing to intentionally distort my neighbor’s words, that stems first from my willingness to impugn God’s word. When God’s Word is not taken as sacred, it is real easy to treat my neighbor’s word as trash.
We can lament that the world does not take the Word seriously as Alan Jacob’s article in Harper’s a few weeks ago did, but we really should have no expectation of the world doing so. That was part of my response a couple of weeks ago which I posted here. It is another thing when the church neglects the Word. This interview with Kenneth Briggs, the “godbeat” editor for many years at places like the New York Times, talks about what he has seen. His pungent phrase is that the Bible has “become a museum exhibit, hallowed as a treasure but enigmatic and untouched.” Until the church is willing to reform its house back into what Luther called “God’s mouth-house”, the place where the Word forms us deeply, we will find it tough living with our neighbors. The church is the salt of the earth. If we can’t treat each other with charity, how will the world know?

I occasionally get asked why I insist on or put so much effort behind things like VBS, Sunday School, Bible Class and confirmation when the numbers are few. My response is usually something like “that is the call”. If the Pastor doesn’t put the Word first, then who will. Do I worry, especially around budget season, that someday that focus will leave me without a paycheck? I’d be lying if I said no. Another thing to repent from – “each day has enough trouble of its own, don’t fret”. So I turn back to the call, to call out all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is near, and to proclaim that now, in your hearing, is the year of the Lord’s mercy. Or taking that out of the high Biblical register, it’s Rally Day. Sunday School and Bible classes are starting again. I’d invite you to set aside a Sabbath to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn that Word.

A Humble Parson’s Response to Alan Jacobs

I tend not to preach on them because in the fifteen minutes a week I get for proclamation of Jesus I start with the gospels. But in my personal study I spend an inordinate amount of time in the twelve minor prophets. I feel drawn to them in a deep way because of the end of the age society they see. They are sent to prophesy, but their conviction is like Amos. “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman. But the Lord took me from following the flock.” They prophesy because the Lord told them to, and they do so with a passionate intensity, but what they do not prophesy with is an expectation that they will be heard. When a herdsman approaches a King, he knows that a seat at the table is probably not on offer. Joel cries, “who knows whether he will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind…”, but when the Lord has pity it is tied to the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh. Hosea is told to marry a prostitute as a sign of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and his two kids receive the worst unique names in history. Habakkuk, tired of his prophesy, takes his complaint to the Lord. “How Lorg shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry ‘violence’ and you will not save…the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth.” These prophets have words that cut my heart, and promises that I claim in Christ, but they stand to me as an awful warning for my brothers of the flesh.

I am thinking about the twelve after reading Alan Jacobs’ article in Harper’s Magazine. A strain in that article is a lament that Christian Intellectuals abandoned the liberal public square. His rebuke in these regards is not a heavy one. Mr. Jacobs understands that it was partly a two-way street. Richard John Neuhaus developed his own vehicle because when he talked about abortion he was no longer welcome at the liberal table as he had been over the Vietnam War. Likewise Mr. Jacobs does take Christians such as Marilynne Robinson to task for a witness to the liberal table that in my more harsh twelve inspired thoughts would be “peace, peace”. She is the house prophet saying all is well while Jeremiah is in rags. Another strain that Mr. Jacobs picks up but then abandons is Stanley Fish’s thoughts in First Things about just this desire to be a Christian Intellectual at the liberal table. “The religious person should not seek an accommodation with liberalism; he should seek to rout it from the field, to extirpate it, root and branch.” It is this strain that I wish he would have developed more for his audience in Harpers.

Being a Lutheran, we think in terms of Law and Gospel. The law is simply the demands of God. It can be summarized as the 10 commandments or probably better Jesus’ summary, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and your neighbor as yourself.” The bitter truth of the law is that we can’t keep it. It is good and wise, but beyond our fallen ability to actually live. That causes all sorts of strategies. You can restrict the demands of the law. “Who is my neighbor?” or “Am I my brother’s keeper?” are classic attempts to limit it. You can also replace it. Arguably this was the Pharisee strategy in tithing mint and cumin. They substituted certain holy looking ceremonial practices for the demands of the law. Likewise, this is start of Luther’s reformation calling out indulgences, pilgrimages, relics and other pious acts that were replacing the actual law and gospel. Our modern liberal society also has gutted and replaced the law. It does not have ears to hear even the basics of natural law such as marriage and children let alone the tougher strains of the temptations of the devil, this world and the flesh. In Lutheran parlance not only will it not look in the mirror of the law to recognize its sins, it has also jumped the curb of the natural law meant to be shared and keep us all safe in God’s providence.

In Lutheran Law and Gospel thinking, one cannot be raised by the gospel – the message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ – until we have been killed by the law. When ears are closed and hearts are hard, that is the time of the prophets, of the twelve. What that looks like is confrontation. What that looks like is crazy, right up until the moment everyone is carried away. Into oblivion for the 10 Northern tribes, into exile for Judah. That is the wrong message for my congregation. For them the message is more eschatological – “comfort, comfort my people, says the Lord”. Today we might be like the grass of the field, but we are forever safe in the Lord’s hands. But for those outside Christ I can only hint at that. Tease like the parables into contemplation. There are two choices for those outside. There is the kinder and gentler law proclamation, like Corinthians 13 on love. It is heard at every wedding, and it is a ridiculous call. I can’t do that sacrificial love on my own. That takes the indwelling of the Spirit. One can be temporally kind and hope that in the moment of the first fight or the first night he’s home way late, the newlyweds will contemplate how they have trespassed that love they said they wanted. Then there is the proclamation of the twelve. “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” That is about as effective as you might think. But as Mr. Jacobs quotes Rorty, “of course the theists can talk, but we don’t have to listen.” Such prophecy as the twelve is nor really prophecy for listening, but prophecy for witness. It is the Lord putting down a marker for future generations.

Mr. Jacobs ends with the lament that the liberal table lost the ability to hear religious responses “at least in part because we Christian Intellectuals ceased to play it for them.” That might be true, but as a humble preacher I would have to add a caveat. We ceased to play it for them because the Word God was sending us wasn’t peace, but repent. As much as Cornel West and a steady stream of mainline preachers liked to claim being a prophetic Christian witness, the dreams they dreamed very often did not line up with the Word. We have had a plague of prophets, but an absence of the Word.

The Law is Always AN answer, but…

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Biblical Text: Luke 10:25-37
Full Sermon Draft

I am always amazed as the lectionary’s ability to be a very appropriate text for the day. In a week of horror, the Gospel lesson was the Good Samaritan. There are no easy answers, but all of the answer start right there in contemplating mercy. This sermon attempts to do that in light of the week’s events, and a lawyer who asks “what shall I do?”

Worship planning is consistently one of those spaces where the work of the Spirit is evident. We plan services typically from a couple weeks in advance to a couple of months. We try to do 6-8 every time we meet, and we meet roughly every other month. So when you pick the hymns that far out, you really have no idea what will be happening. But I’ve rarely had a Sunday where the hymns just seemed out of touch. Much more often they are spookily on point. Often to the point of scratching my head: a) how did we pick this one and b) how is it so right. The hymn I left in the recording was the one we sang after the sermon. LSB 844, Where Charity and Love Prevail. The text is from a 9th century Latin work. It was translated and paraphrased circa 1990. The music it is paired with in the Lutheran Service Book is 17th century common meter work originally for the 24th psalm. The composer, Lucius Chapin was a soldier at Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. The hymn is spot on for meditation this week.

The Consolation of Israel

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Biblical Text: Luke 2:22-40
Full Draft

This sermon in the third in a week, and the last, so instead of the polish of a story, it is more intensely on the text itself. The good thing, I think, is that the text lends itself to such a homiletic study. I would be helpful to have the text in front of you while listening. You can double check my referents that way and see how the text is constructed. I’m not going to tell you the main purpose right here, because I think that would betray the purpose of the text and sermon which is understanding. And understanding takes some marveling.

Beware the Scribes

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Biblical Text: Mark 12:38-44
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon includes an larger explanation section than I normally try to enter. There are two things that need to be understood to grasp the text. Just what is a scribe in the time of Jesus, and the role of polemic in the ministry of Jesus. And neither of those things are immediately clear to us today. This sermon attempts to alert us. And then it attempts to translate to a more likely modern analogy. More likely than what our simple “religious bad guys” definition would mean. Part of that is drawing some distinctions between scribes and two other groups, Pharisees and Chief Priests, that they are often connect with. As with any speech where you are explaining, you are losing. One thing in hindsight that I would have added might be an elaboration on the “lay holiness movement”. The holiness part includes a code or an imbedded polemic. Every such movement thinks there is something in the society that is drastically wrong. We only call people Pharisees today whose code is obnoxious to us. And we do that because of the success of Jesus’ polemic.

But what this passage really attacks is corruption. Because of the fallen nature of the world, that corruption is inevitable. Even holiness movements are corrupted. The gospel focus is two fold. That corruption will be judged and dealt with. We believe in the life of the world to come. The second part is that we have been freed to make our own choice. We can be complicit in the corruption, or we can live lives of simple faith and charity. Because God sees the widow putting in her mites. Yes, the institution is corrupt. But her heart is not.

Loaded Camels

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Biblical Text: Mark 10:23-31
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon is the continuation of last week’s gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-22). The focus in the text is on the difference, the astonishing reversal of the values of the Kingdom of God. That reversal gets everyone’s attention, but that reversal is put to sharp use. The full weight of the law is brought to bear in the saying “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” What wealth really does, as the lesson for the day from Ecclesiastes knows, is increase our responsibilities. The weight of the law becomes greater. The camel gets its full load. At the same time we become convinced that we are good at this, after all look at all we have. Jesus call out the huge mistake in that thinking. But he then tells us what the eye of the needle is. It is his promise. All things are possible for God. You will have treasure in heaven. You will be paid back 100-fold. Not in a prosperity gospel way. In this appointed time that comes with persecutions, but in the age to come eternal life. We enter life because God is good, and he has made salvation available by faith. Trusting in the work of Jesus and not our work. He is so good that he has extended to us the change to participate in that gospel. And that participation is part of our proof, part of the return.

Program Note: This is a re-recording. I messed up the original. So you don’t get any of the great hymns we sang. My guess is that you wouldn’t hear these at most American congregations. They are gems of the faith, but supposedly not what is “relevant”. Although given the text the are spot on. We opened with Lutheran Service Book 730 – What is the World to Me. The hymn of the day, was Lutheran Service Book 753 – All for Christ I have Forsaken. That link is not a informative because it is a newer hymn. But here is another congregation singing this haunting hymn from you tube.