The Sunday after Pentecost is always set aside as Trinity Sunday. And the key piece of Trinity Sunday worship is the Athanasian Creed. Creeds can unfortunately be turned into dead letters. Something read or looked at, but not pondered within one’s heart. Not a symbol of a living faith. When they are dead letters they turn into checklists of mental assent or legalisms or even worse esotericism. What this sermon attempts to do is show them as invitations. “This is the catholic faith”. When you hear/say them as that, they become deadly practical. They help us remember what this sermon attempts to bring back.
Note: Here is the “funny” that the sermon starts off describing.
What a day. Emergency organist replacements, still singlehanded, and a bunch of other things.
But this is one of those sermons you put in the book, the book of ones that you feel good about. What is the seat of wisdom? The text is Solomon’s request and then his life. It is also the answer that I am pretty sure we are missing in most of our troubles. I’d invite you to give a listen.
Christians often talk about our freedom in Christ, or at least pastors do, but I’m not sure that we often talk about what the freedom actually is. If we do the farthest we often go might be our freedom from sin. Yes, Christ has freed us from sin. And that is something big. But I think borrowing the Apostle’s analogy, that is the milk of the Christian life. As one grows one needs to eat meat. And what is that meat, or at least some of it? We have not just been freed from sin and because of sin from death, we have also been freed from Satan and the powers and principalities. The Good Samaritan parable is a lesson in Christian freedom. We can be so bound in our identities, the laws, rules and chains of those powers, that we pass-by on the other side. Life – and the Lord who writes that life – presents us we many opportunities to exercise our freedom in being and becoming truly human. In becoming Christlike and triumphing over those powers. We can choose to be neighbors. We can choose to pay the cost of that. We can have our guts churned and be human. Or we can stay bound in identity chains. Christian freedom mean choosing to be a neighbor.
If you haven’t watched The Magicians, you should. It is one of of the best shows on TV. It works on a very simplistic level (I mean c’mon, just look at that cast), but while having the facade of every really bad show kept alive by tweens and their mothers, it has an almost fathomless depth. This article gets as some of that. But one part of this past season was very likely the theological problem of our age.
The character who was probably the main character (which is actually a question in the series), has a monologue that stands at the climax of the season in which he asks, “Shouldn’t loving the idea of Fillory be enough?”
The simple answer is no. But I think that article, and most of the comments I’ve seen, get it slightly wrong. They want to talk about love. But that is not the searing heat of that question. For all of our faults, we know love when it is given. We may hate it, but we know it. The cross of that question is “the idea”.
We all carry around with us the idea of perfection, or the idea of escape (Fillory in that series), or simply “THE IDEA”. That idea could even be our idea of the church or our idea of God or Jesus. And we want credit for loving our idea. Shouldn’t that be enough?
And the answer is no. Because that idea is just ourselves, and not even ourselves, but some picture perfect presentation of ourselves.
Jesus loved sinners.
If you are loving the idea, kill the idea. The only thing that is enough is loving the reality.
Maundy Thursday is the night the Christians remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Liturgically we celebrate it, and then the altar is stripped. The service does not really end, no “Now Let Us Depart in Peace”, no benediction, no closing hymn. It continues with Good Friday. If follows to the garden and the trial and the cross and the grave. It finishes on Easter Morning.
The meal is a Passover meal, it is also as it is called a “last supper”. It is a reading of the last testament of Jesus. And what Jesus grants us is himself. He gives us his righteousness. He gives us unity with God. And he does this by giving us his body and blood with the bread and wine. This sermon is a reflection on that great miracle.
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.