This might be the first sermon I’ve written that I think needs a soundtrack. If we were a big megachurch, I’m sure it could have been a multimedia presentation, but that is not us. We just depend on the spoke Word and the hymnbook. The Word this day is one of the mot plaintive passages in scripture – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you…”. The passage is a dance between the necessity of the path that Jesus walks, and the desire of love. And a certain type of pop song, one not made much these days I think, hits all the right chords. The sermon explores those songs and their feelings, and how that represents the weakness and risk of the gospel – a God who ain’t too proud to beg. Who longs to hold you again.
The title here is is a phrase that Jesus repeats three times – What Grace is Yours? And it is a question as world turning today as it was when he said it. We all have coping strategies for remaining “good people” without it really costing much. We narrow down who are neighbor is. We display love toward those we know by social conformity will return it. This is how the world works. But Jesus holds that up and says “you know what? Sinners do that. What Grace is Yours?”
If you want the good news, if you want the gospel, you can’t do what the world does, but to a new group – meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The grace that is yours, is the grace that Christ has shown us. While we were sinners, while we were the ungrateful and the evil, Christ gave us himself. And being incorporated into Christ, and with the indwelling of the Spirit, we can have that grace – both for us and to share toward our neighbors. Not in a narrow sense, but toward the world.
And when you live this way, the measure you give will be filled by God. What grace is yours? The measure of God.
This sermon is a meditation on how and what we assign meaning to. Luther in assigning meaning to the first commandment said whatever we fear, love and trust the most is our God. We all have “wonderful stones”, things we have assigned meaning, things we expect to last, that have or are often in danger of becoming our idols. We trust those stones more than anything else. Jesus’ words to all such stones – even ones that once contained the glory of the living God – is that they must come down.
For me the strongest competition to the cornerstone of Jesus Christ might be labeled an anti-stone. We’ve learned the lesson that all such temples made with hands come down. But what we then trust most is absurdity. It is a fool’s game fearing, loving or trusting anything. So we trust nothing. That likewise is a false path. Jesus says “watch lest someone lead you astray.”
But living based on trust – based on faith in Christ – in the middle of a world that is hostile to such a life is not an easy walk. As our opening hymn, the hymn I left in the recording at the end puts it, “I Walk in Danger all the Way“. The Apocalyptic accounts remind us who has it all in his hands. Yes, we walk in danger all the way, but our walk is also heavenward all the way. And along that walk we have help – like the Angel Michael from the OT lesson. We also have the examples of our Lord and the great cloud of witnesses. The Christian life is not the easy one. It is an examined life for wonderful stones that have become idols. It is assailed by temptations of shelter that are not. But it is a true life. The one who perseveres will be saved.
In my reading one of the biggest shifts from the church fathers to the kids of stuff written and preached today is the concentration on the person of God. The church fathers would preach and write constantly about what we might call metaphysical or philosophical points – like the goodness of God. When you read modern works there is rarely if ever any words on the person or attributes of God. Everything for the modern is about the human experience. When I reflect on that the human experience is quite varied, and we have a giant ability to lie to ourselves. Generalizing from human experience is tough. The church Fathers through some sturdy logic, rhetoric and understanding of the sacred text come to a solid understanding of what God has revealed about himself. And when you have a solid understanding of who God is, both a general application and specific applications to our varied situations are possible.
The text today is a perfect example. The church Fathers all were interested in the goodness of God. In my experience this text, combined with next weeks, are typically turned into stewardship items. The difference I think is between the gospel in the text and the law. The gospel is that God is good, and he invites us to share in that goodness. In no other way can we or anything be good, other that a participation in the divine.
This sermon is in part an invitation to that goodness. It is also an examination about what that goodness means to how Christians then prioritize actions in light of that goodness. It is a pondering of the call of the first commandment.
Worship Note: I moved out hymn of the day to the end of the recording. LSB 753, All For Christ I Have Forsaken, is one of my favorite hymns. It never fails to just kill me. If you do a little research on it and it author Calvin Chao you’ll be torn up more. They’ve set a very Chinese text to the Southern Harmony tune “Restoration”, and it works wonderfully. I usually don’t do this, primarily because it is illegal, but I’m doing it here because this hymn is so good. Most of us will never live a life as dedicated as Calvin Chao, but here are the words of many who heard the invitation clearly.
Reflecting Chesterton, it isn’t that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sexuality is hard to grasp and not worth the time, it is that it is easy to grasp and not desired to give it the time. The teaching is real simple. Marriage is a first thing; sexuality is part of marriage. It is the desires of our heart that wish to make marriage one potential form of a sex life. It is the desires of our heart that take God’s good order and wish to remake it in some other design. This sermon has three parts. The first is an examination of the heart, “where does sin come from?” The second is an examination of Jesus’ teaching from the text and also how it is taught clearly through the church’s wedding liturgy. The last part is an attempt to reconcile “what do we do” when we are so far away from that teaching.
Worship Note: I haven’t been leaving in the music sections as much because the recordings haven’t been as good. I’m not sure this one a great recording, but I want to mention the hymn. It was our opening. I’ve moved it to the end in the recording. LSB 858, O Father, All Creating. It is a marriage or wedding hymn, but we so rarely sing at our weddings anymore as they are special occasions and not congregational celebrations anymore. This particular song is not so specific to a bride and groom standing before the gathered as to prevent general use. It appropriates a good hymn tune familiar from The Church’s One Foundation. And the text well celebrates both the biblical foundations and directions of marriage, and the prayers that we would ask of God for our individual marriages. And our organist had a wonderful introduction.
This was our “Rally Day” or recognition of the start of School week. (We delay a week typically due to the labor day weekend.) So, there are parts of the service – like the installation of Sunday School teachers, and blessing of backpacks – that I couldn’t get on the recording. Physically we did them down in front where our various mic’s don’t capture too well. That blessing was probably the key to thinking about this sermon unfortunately.
In my head the sermon is an existential one. It points out a common thought, looking up at the night sky and what do you see? There are naive answers, but nobody really holds those long. That is the purpose of the Lion King reference. The existential question of that sky (a sign) is: is their order or is it all just chaos?
The answer revealed to us by the Word of God is that there is an order. In our sinful condition we are like the deaf and mute man in our text, unable to hear the music of the spheres. But Jesus has come to give us back the ability to hear. That same Word that tells us of God’s loving order, opens ears and loosens tongues. And in the application to educating, learning/education/wisdom which is based on that word is a worth endeavor, because God desires to be known just as we are known by Him. The universe makes sense, the foundation of which is revealed to us in the Word of God, so we can grow in Wisdom just like Jesus. It is not the dark forest nor the great filter that haunt our minds when we tune out the music of the spheres.
The 6th and the 1st is a reference to the 6th commandment (adultery) and the 1st commandment (no other gods). In the Hebrew scriptures sins in one are directly tied or related to sins in the other. This sermon is a continuation of our reading of Ephesians this summer. In our presentation Paul had three main points. The third of them is that the Christian life is a witness to the Wisdom of God to the powers in the heavenly realms, Satan and the World. In the back half of Paul’s letter he makes concrete examples which are elaborations of the 10 commandments. This week we’ve got the 6th and the 1st. The apostle’s presentation runs smack into the wisdom of our age, which is the lies of Satan and world. Paul doesn’t back away, but says choose. Are we witnesses to the powers that be, or do we prefer their lies? Test me. Listen to it and search the scriptures. Whose story conforms better to our flourishing? What I preach after the Apostle Paul, or the world?
Picture of Perfection might not be the best title for this, although that is where is ends up. Maybe the path of maturity, or Growing to fullness. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians makes the switch that his letters often do in the second half. He has a main point to express which has been the last three weeks of chapters 1-3. The sermon does a quick recap of that before digging in. The back half of Paul’s letters turn to concrete practical matters. How does the theology that he’s just proclaimed become real in our lives both personal and congregational. In the case of Ephesians how does every spiritual gift that builds us together look?
It starts with love. It is helped by the concrete gifts of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. And when is all strives toward maturity, we get a picture of the perfection or the completion intended. A church not blown astray or led away by some pied piper because it is perfectly fit together in the bond of love. This sermon expands on this growth to maturity.
We all start off as parents with great expectations. It doesn’t take long, and the older they get, to see those expectations give way to more realistic definitions. Instead of forming the next president we take on goals like stopping them from doing stupid stuff, or in Chris Rock’s formulation “keep them off the pole”. We might think this is miles away from Jesus especially in that High Priestly Prayer on the night he was betrayed. But I think we’d be wrong. His formation of his spiritual children, those disciples, was over. And given the fact of what Judas and Peter were about to do we might even say it was a failure. Yet what Jesus prays is akin to every Mother’s prayer – “keep them away from the evil one”. It is not a prayer of formation or heroic desire, but of salvation and preservation.
And while that prayer often gets a “not yet” response, as it did with Jesus himself. It ultimately gets a “yes”. He will not lose a single lamb that has been given to him. On that great day, his children will be kept away from the evil one. And this is because Jesus consecrated himself, dedicated himself to the purpose of saving sinners. While formation as solid adults, prayer for their well being, and all the other higher goals of parenting good and proper. The highest truth of the job is to relay that truth – whoever has the son has life, and wherever we are at however stupid, we can have the son. Teach them that truth and the good shepherd will keep them from the evil one.
The Christian Life could be described as being drug kicking and screaming towards love. While we never reach perfection here in this world, if we are blessed I do think that we can outgrow the kicking a screaming part. The natural sinner in each of us will always be there, but we can become wise to ourselves and know that his or her ways leads to misery and death. Instead we listen to the Spirit and walk where He leads. The main text for this sermon is the Acts 10 story of Cornelius and Peter which I paint as something of a NT fulfillment of the Jonah story. Peter, through the Spirit overcomes his kicking and screaming, while Jonah never does. This is the difference of Pentecost which we are fast approaching, and which Acts 10 is sometimes called the Gentile Pentecost. The sermon seeks to proclaim how God has chosen us, and how we can become wise to ourselves becoming Spirit led.