Tag Archives: love

Economics of the Reign

Biblical Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the parable of the talents. We have trouble reading this today I think because the word talent itself has become on English word with a meaning. A specific gloss of this parable is part of our language just in the use of that word, talent. What this sermon attempts to do is hear the parable in parallel with last weeks, and not just accepting the embedded gloss. I did that because that embedded gloss skips the gospel. It delivers the moral punch without pondering the reason why. To me the talents is all about our big choice in this life. Who is God? Is God hard and capricious and untrustworthy, or his He full of steadfast love? Is the economics of the kingdom about scarcity or about love? The amount of talents, the returns, the numbers that catch our attention are so much yawn. What the Lord is interested in is the attitude of our hearts towards him. Do we trust him to do what he’s promised, or not? Are we fearful, or faithful?

Then…And Now

Biblical Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the wise and foolish virgins which is one of Jesus’ most enigmatic parables of the kingdom. The images are striking, but we often don’t know what to make of it. For Protestants and Lutherans especially the simple reading would seem to give too much play to good works. It doesn’t really fit neatly into any theological system. Which is probably part of its intention as the point is “watch”. What helps me is the word and tense it starts out with: then with a future tense. Then the reign of God will be compared to 10 virgins. Then things are simple – 5 are wise and 5 are foolish and you can tell them easily. The wise have brought oil. The “then” and the future time frame is the end of days. The parable invites a then and now comparison. It describes then and asks us what behaviors and what “watching” has lead to this immutable divide. What lead to the 5 wise having oil, and the 5 foolish not? All fell asleep, what lead to the difference? This sermon is a fleshing out of that.

Worship Note: The recording includes what is one of the top 5 hymns of all time: Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying. That is LSB 516. The hymn tune seems to capture the affect of rising from slumber to a happy tumult. The text is a poetic meditation on the words of scripture applied to the person or the collective Zion hearing the proclamation.

Revelation and Challenge

Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-3 (Psalm 136)
Full Sermon Draft

Today was All Saints (observed) on the church calendar. In Lutheran circles All Saints is not a celebration of some spiritual elite but the celebration of the church in all its dimensions – the church militant, the church at rest, and the longed for church triumphant. Given special notice are those who have entered rest in the past year of the congregation’s life. Because of this juxtaposition of those of us still struggling and those at rest, as well as its position toward the end of the church year, it opens itself to a meditation on our now and not yet existence. Now we are children of God; not yet do we fully know what that means. That is John’s writing. We see the Love of God, but every time we see it, it is met with challenge. Satan challenges it, the world refuses to see it, and even our own weary flesh can challenge what has been revealed to us. God loves us. When Christ appears, we will be like him in glory, in that resurrection body. We know this because we’ve seen it, or have accepted the witness of the apostles. That is what we know by faith and by hope. And because we hope, we live into that not-yet reality now. “We purify ourselves as he is pure.” No, we will not always be successful. But blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

What Are You Wearing?

Biblical Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Full Sermon Draft

We had a guest with us in worship today, Ms. Natalie Howard, who is a missionary to the Dominican Republic. So, the sermon pulled double duty, as an intro.

But the preacher in me doesn’t hand over the pulpit so easily, and the text is a fascinating one, or at least it was fruitful meditation material for me this week. Jesus parables all take some strange turns. Last week with the wicked tenants I invited us to see the horror. And if we stop to think about horror, what causes it is the presence of something that shouldn’t be or acts that transgress what should be. Those wicked tenants might be more appropriately absorbed by those in leadership roles, but today’s wedding feast is simply the man not dressed for the occasion. The point of the picture is not what everyone else is wearing, but what he is not, and what that says. And it should cause us to ponder what are we wearing?

Worship Notes: In the recording I did not leave in Natalie’s presentation. Not because it wasn’t good, but because the person is part of the presentation. (If you would like to hear it, contact me and I can send you the larger recording.) You always get more if you come to church. I did leave in our hymn of the day. LSB 636, Soul Adorn Yourself With Gladness. The text and tune together create one of the great works of beauty in Christian Worship.

1 Soul, adorn yourself with gladness,
Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
Come into the daylight’s splendor,
There with joy your praises render.
Bless the One whose grace unbounded
This amazing banquet founded;
He, though heav’nly, high, and holy,
Deigns to dwell with you most lowly.
2 Hasten as a bride to meet Him,
Eagerly and gladly greet Him.
There He stands already knocking;
Quickly, now, your gate unlocking,
Open wide the fast–closed portal,
Saying to the Lord immortal:
“Come, and leave Your loved one never;
Dwell within my heart forever.”
3 He who craves a precious treasure
neither cost nor pain will measure;
but the priceless gifts of Heaven
God to us has freely given.
Though the wealth of earth were proffered,
none could buy the gifts here offered:
Christ’s true body, for you riven,
and His blood, for you once given.
4 Now in faith I humbly ponder
Over this surpassing wonder
That the bread of life is boundless
Though the souls it feeds are countless:
With the choicest wine of heaven
Christ’s own blood to us is given.
Oh, most glorious consolation,
Pledge and seal of my salvation.

Give Me What You Owe Me

Biblical Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Full Sermon Draft

Look, America, we’ve got an anger and outrage problem. More specifically we’ve got a “righteous” anger problem. I don’t care who you are, you think that you are right, and that you deserve to choke the person who is wrong. If we can hear Jesus first teaching Peter directly and then everyone else through the parable, this is spiritually toxic. Forgive, 77 times, and if you can’t catch the drift that doesn’t mean you start counting. Yes, you might be right. Yes, maybe the issue you are being wronged on is costly. Doesn’t matter. We’ve been forgiven a millennium of debt through Jesus, and Jesus invites us into this proper work of mercy. Forgive your brother or sister. Put down the anger, especially the righteous anger. It is killing you, perhaps eternally.

Children of God

Biblical Text: Matthew 18:1-20
Full Sermon Draft

Matthew 18 is a section held together by a verbal theme. Children or little ones are present in each little snippet. The sermon attempts to paint a picture of Matthew having a store of stories that he can’t leave out, but that don’t exactly fit into the large narrative. What emerges for me I place under a comparsion of the son of man and the son of God. While the cross represents how we (mankind) treat the children/little ones, read as the powerless and vulnerable, the Father of Jesus treats his children much differently. Jesus endures our “Fatherhood”, such that we might have His Father. Experiencing the love of true Fatherhood, we are invited to be children of God, to live it out in our lives to others. In that sense it is a sermon about love.

Worship note: I have left in the hymn after the sermon, LSB 686, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. During the service I marveled at how well its text reflected what I was attempting to preach. It is something of a classic hymn, but if you asked me it is such less because of the text and more because of the hymn tune. I’m still humming it.

This is the Catholic Faith (A Meditation on the Immanent Trinity and its competitors)

Text: Matthew 28:16-20, Athanasian Creed
Full Sermon Draft

Trinity Sunday is the one Sunday a year that I feel free to talk a little pure theology. It is not that my sermons other Sundays are theology free, they couldn’t be if you were being faithful. It is that there are theological ideas that I think explain a lot in a compact form, but you end up explaining and lecturing instead of preaching, and the point is preaching. Trinity Sunday, with its spotlight on the Athanasian creed (which I left our congregational recitation in the recording), is a day given to deep foundational theology. What God is in Himself. Don’t worry, I connect the concepts of the economic and immanent Trinity to Pixar, Marvel and DC, so I hope I brought it down a little. It is a day to make clear the God we invoke, Three in One, and expose the idols of the age.

The Love You Had at First

The Apostle Paul acknowledges something of a split personality. He was weighty and strong in his letters, but his bodily presence weak and his speech of no account (2 Cor 10:10). I understand this tendency. Our modes of communication, such as texting, can blur the boundary, but in person one is often not willing to be quite as strong as with a pen. The reality of a physical person stirs empathy and fellow feeling where writing quickens the blood toward polemic and argument. That is definitely one of the reasons I write my sermons prior. If I didn’t have the text, I might not have the nerve to say some things that are necessary.

I haven’t written much recently not for lack of topics or subjects, but more because of that distinction. So much of what I want to write ends up falling into the “why” bucket. Nobody has ears to hear. It will just cause divisions. Those who show up on Sunday morning are different in that I am the called Pastor here at St. Mark’s. Newsletters have the same functions. Musings and speculations I’m not as sure they have any real worth other than as grist for what eventually is preached. This one I think does.

Rob Foote, the Pastor over in Ithaca, is a great preacher. It comforts me that a preacher as good as he is feels the same struggles over numbers that I do. That is no excuse and might be a sin in itself, but if the man with five talents is breaking even, the man with three talents has some space. Pastor Foote in what was essentially a homiletical footnote (it was that good a sermon that I could ponder of footnote for a week) made a comment about the Letter to the Church at Ephesus. If you don’t know it, it is the first of the seven letters of Jesus in the book of Revelation, specifically Revelation 2:1-7. The seven letters depict seven churches is various states of health. There are different schemas, but most people recognize a decline. Ephesus being the most healthy to Laodicea barely being a church. All the letters have roughly the same outline. Jesus praises them for something, but then he rebukes them for something, finally he leaves them with a promise. Ephesus is praised for: its works, its toil, its endurance, its testing and wisdom in doctrine, its bearing of the name. If you were trying to put metrics on discipleship, Ephesus is taking it to 11. But then Jesus notes “I have this against you, you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Being about love it is obviously very important to the God who defines Himself as love. But what does that mean, especially in the context of endurance they are praised for?

Pastor’s Foote’s speculation hinges on what comes next. Ephesus is correctly called out for “hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus hates.” The juxtaposition of love and hate is enticing. Who were the Nicolaitans? Clement (1st Century) is quoted by Eusebius (4th century) in his work Church History as saying that the Nicolaitans were: a) a heretical group led by Nicolaus, one of the first seven deacons chosen (Acts 6:4) and b) a heretical group given to “unrestrained promiscuity among the members”. A story is related that Nicolaus, “had a beautiful young wife, after being commanded to ‘treat the flesh with contempt’, he brought her forward and said that anyone who wished could have her.” The result of originally perusing such asceticism was eventually a rejection of the law. The works of the Nicolaitans were gross immorality and rejection of the law. These Jesus rightly hates. But Pastor’s Foote’s speculation was the falling from their first love was a giving into hate of the people. Instead of sincerely desiring and working for their repentance, which is the act of love, the Ephesians cast them out without a moments regard.

The first love of Christ was for sinners. “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” “While we were still sinful, Christ died for us.” We are not far removed from the passion story. What those disciples wanted, what we often want, is exactly what the Chief Priests were hurling at Jesus. “If you are the Christ, come down from that cross.” The implied action is to come down and kick some butt. Kill those who nailed you to the tree. Deliver your people, Israel. Restore the Kingdom. Man up. In a time where the church is the butt of many jokes, is pushed the edge of respectable society and feeling the pressure within to capitulate to gross immorality by changing the law, that feeling is recognizable.

Let me share a more personal example. Recently there have been rumors of a second Supreme Court Justice retiring. As someone who thinks the Roe vs. Wade stands as the most inhumane and evil rulings in Unites States history (and yes that includes slavery, how can you compare the death of 1 million babies a year and turning mothers against children to anything else), that is welcome news. But my thoughts quickly went past simply replacing say Justice Kennedy. They flew to the thought, wouldn’t it be great if Ginsburg were to die tomorrow. My hate of her works is justified. My hate of her is a sin. The proper thought is a prayer. “Lord, forgive her, she does not know what she does. Convert her to the truth.”

The first love of Christ was willing to endure humiliation and death to save sinners. We have fallen from our first love when we can no longer witness to the truth even if it is tough. We have fallen from our first love when we give in to hatred not of the works, but of the person. In reality, that is a fine line. It calls for being as strong in person as in letter. Something that even Paul struggled with. Christ ends the letter of the Ephesians with this promise, “to the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life.” In Christ we are right now more than conquerors. He has already given us the victory. Our life is hidden with Him. We should live like it. Not being given to hate, but to love. Not to love in a weak way as in “I love you man”, but love in a strong way, a way that endures the cross.

Ash Wednesday Meditation


Text: Matthew 6:19-34

The assigned Ash Wednesday gospel would have included the lines on prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we read a couple of Sunday’s ago, and stopped with the aphorism “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All of those items are a build-ups. The payoff comes after the “therefore”. “Therefore I tell you…” That is the introduction to a summary point based on what came before.

The piety practices aren’t because we need to eat our veggies. Just think for a second what each of those practices force us to do. Prayer forces our attention, our meditation, away from this world and toward the Kingdom of God. Fasting forces us to think about our hungers – physical and spiritual – and how they are satisfied. What is true food. Almsgiving forces us to give away what is probably our biggest rival idols, money and what we spend it on – ourselves. We give our own in support of someone else. The practices move us out of ourselves and toward God and others. Augustine would call sin the “incuvatus in se” the turning inward on ourselves. The practices, straighten us out.

Why? Why should we not care about old #1?

Jesus answer, listening to the ‘therefore’ is twofold. You are going to die, and your Father knows this.

Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Peter Theil thinks he can, or at least he’s throwing hundreds of millions at it, but Jesus didn’t expect and answer. Instead Jesus makes two comparisons to things whose lifespans are shorter than ours. The lilies of the field which are here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire. Not even Solomon could rival their dress. God showers a day or a short season with his finest – you think he doesn’t see you? Take the sparrow. It flits from here to there. It doesn’t have the flashy red of the cardinal. It doesn’t’ have song of the best songbird. It doesn’t have the size of the ostrich. It is a sparrow. Two a penny. Yet Matthew would say just a bit later that not a single one falls without your Father’s knowing. They neither sow nor reap, yet they eat. You think you Father doesn’t notice you?

Like Sparrows, like lilies, we are going to die. Instead of turning inward and attempting to horde what we can in an effort to avoid that, we should do what we were made to do.

Don’t lay up treasures in this world, but love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and strength and spirit. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Don’t be devoted to ourselves, or money or our status. The gentiles do all these things. The gentiles love those that love them. Instead love your neighbor as yourself. Like the lilly was made to give beauty to all, we were made to Love God and our neighbor.

Ash Wednesday has the most direct memento mori – “dust you are and to dust you shall return”. Sometimes we are so sick it takes such a shock. But don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Your Father knows. Seek first the Kingdom, and all these things will be added. God work through death and resurrection. Amen.

The Threshing Floor

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Biblical Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

The season, Advent to be specific but you could say the extended Christmas season, begins for me when I hear “On Jordan’s Bank”. That was our opening hymn – LSB 344. The funny thing is that hymn reflects some of the theological turns that obscure the Baptist’s message. It turns from the direct and present cry of John on the Banks of the Jordan toward a spiritualized understanding. “The Lord is Nigh” becomes “and let us all our hearts prepare For Christ to come and enter there.” Charles Coffin, the hymn writer, was a French Jansenist. What that means is a Catholic Calvinist. The Jansenists eventually were repressed and died out within the Catholic church, but in Coffin and Pascal they remain in the Church Universal. His Jansenism dominates verses 2 and 3, but he returns is verse four to the Baptist’s message which is not a retreat to a spiritual realm, but the coming down of the Lord.

The sermon attempts to get us to hear John the Baptist. True religion is not a matter of choice – something those Jansenists would understand. True religion in the reign of Christ. Today that is the reign of grace. Christ has taken our deserved baptism of fire and given us his baptism. This time the people of God don’t cross into the promised land across that Jordan on dry ground with swords for conquest. This time we cross by water and by our absolute repentance which is our acknowledgement that before the Lord we’ve got nothing. Coming right behind, is the final baptism. The Holy Spirit which we have as the down payment will be set free to recreate everything. Those sealed in the living water shall live, those without perish in the refining fire.

The final hymn – LSB 345 – Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding is a old Latin hymn that captures well that progression. Hear the Baptist; hear the solemn warning. Today see “the lamb of God with pardon. Let us haste with tears of sorrow, one and all to be forgiven”. Tomorrow, “when next he comes in glory, the world is wrapped in fear, He will shield us with his mercy, and with words of love draw near”. The Lord has treated us with love and solidarity. We have nothing to fear in his drawing near. Come Lord Jesus.