Tag Archives: Luke

Christmas Day – Children’s Pagent

I have a big thank you to send to the parents of St. Mark. By a blessed miracle they were all in town and agreed to do the children’s service on Christmas day. The picture above is the “stars”: Mary, Joseph, Shepherd and Angel, preparing before the service. We also had a couple of wonderful readers who read us the Christmas story (and one OT passage), and a couple of sheep this year (although the sheep got scared and decided not to hang around). We had joked during practice about Christmas turning into a sermon on the parable of the lost sheep.

The service was broken into three parts according to the movements (Birth, Passion, Ascension) of the 2nd part of the Apostle’s creed. The children would read and act out. The congregation would respond and sing. I’d add a short meditation.

It was a really humble Christmas service that was just lovely. Adding to that vibe was the fact that we sang acapella. We exhausted our organist the night before. So we decided that we’d just sing. Thank you also to those who “kicked us off” close to pitch.

Meditations
Service Folder

Christmas Eve – The Angelic Pronouncement

The Angelic Pronouncement
Text: Luke 2:10
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luk 2:10 ESV)
The people…which people? I hate to be a grammar scold on Christmas Eve – that’s like being the parent who gets to give the socks and underwear.
But it is not all the peoples. The angels’ pronouncement is not a multi-culturalist parade, at least not in a Disney, it’s a small world after-all, way. It is not all people – the angel choirs cannot be claimed to be universalists. The angel pronouncement is specific – the people. “Fear not and pay attention – I bring you good news of great joy – for all the people.” Who gets the good news? Who gets the joy?
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To understand that requires looking at what the claim of Christmas is – what is the angels’ pronouncement?
Today, to you, has been born a Savior. This baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger is Christ the Lord.
Everything – of heaven and earth, visible and invisible – everything came about through this infant. In the beginning was the Word…through Him all things were made. This babe is the Lord.
Caesar is not the Lord. Great Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census. And he had his purposes. His coffers needed funds. Support needed to be assured. The Cult of the Ceasar needed to be spread. But the Lord used Caesar to take the Holy Family to Bethlehem.
The regional ruler is not the Lord. Quirinius was governor of Syria and he carried out the census. The apparatus of the state – the smaller lord fulfilled their function – to bring the Lord to the town of prophesy.
The local ruler is not the Lord. Herod – “the great” – sought the child to kill it. One less Chirst. But the child escaped to Egypt – to be called out like Israel of Long ago.
The wise men of the age are not the lord. They saw the star and followed it. Giving homage to the new born king.
Even the heavens bowed down. That star rested over the spot where he lay. The heaven’s knew their Lord.
The creator of the stars of night – the Lord of everything – wrapped in cloths lying in a manger. The Lord chose the humble.
He was born of a virgin. Mary, 12 – 14, not yet wed, but pregnant. Trekking across the Judean countryside at the orders of gentiles, and taking up residence in the place of the animals. The Lord – not in the palace – but with the poor and oppressed.
He was announced to shepherds. There was no court waiting to greet him. No joyous celebration among men at the birth of a prince. No tables laden with food or games given to celebrate the day. Heralds were not sent throughout the land to the noble and grand. There were shepherds watching their flocks at night. And the angels appeared to them.
It’s no wonder that “he was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Application
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus is Lord. Not any of those people that claim the title, but the humble infant. He came to the poor, the humble, the needy. He came in the midst of squalor. He came under oppression. He came under shame. He came to us. He came to sinners. The Lord of all chose to become incarnate amongst sinners. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He came to us not as a conquering, vanquishing and damning Lord…but as Savior. His glory was not the glory of men and all those false lords. His glory is full of grace and truth.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace. He makes the nations prove, glories of His righteousness and the wonders of his love. The lords of this world demand tribute. The Lord comes with grace and love.
Behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people?
Which people? You. You who hear the proclamation of the Angels and take it to heart.
Jesus – this humble baby, born of the Virgin Mary – is the Lord. He sits on the eternal throne of His Father David. His reign will never end.
This light shines in the darkness.
All the people – receive it.
All the people – The Children of God – you Children of God – born not of natural descent but from God.
Receive the joy prepared for you this night.
O come all ye faithful. Come and behold him, born, the King of Angels. Amen.

Stewardship 2: The Importance and Return to Faithfulness

This is a link to post #1 in this series.

The texts we will discuss below: Matt 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27

I wanted to look at the parables of the talents in regards to stewardship first, and I put them both on, because I think they help each other.

The Matthew form is probably the most familiar. A man goes on a journey and gives his servants a large amount of money to watch until he returns. One he gives 5 talents, one he gives 3 talents and one he gives 1 talent. The first two double their amounts and are welcomed. The one with 1 talent goes and buries it afraid of losing it. He is “cast into the outer darkness” when the man returns. The stinging question is why were you so dumb to bury it? At least give it to the bankers to collect interest.

The Luke form has 10 servants instead of three. Each servant is given the same amount – 1 mina. 1 mina is a much smaller amount than a talent. 1 talent contained 60 minas. 1 mina was roughly 100 drachmas or 100 days wages. So the poorest servant for Matthew gets 6000 days wages or about 16 years. The second difference is the context of the parables. In Matthew the talents is in the middle of the “End Times” discourse. Jesus is answering the disciples’ questions about what the end times will be like and when they will be. In Luke the parable is right at the end of the travel narrative before Palm Sunday and after a Rich ruler fails to enter the kingdom but a blind man and Zacchaeus are welcomed. Obviously the purpose of the story is different in each gospel, it illustrates something different about the Kingdom of God and the amount of money means something different.

In one parable the servants are treated vastly differently but still opulently. In the other they are more modestly treated, but all treated the same. In what way are all Christians treated the same? The simple answer is that in baptism all Christians are given the Holy Spirit. Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as a deposit or a down payment or guarantee until the return of Jesus. (1Tim 6:20, 2Tim 1:14, 2Cor 1:22, 2Cor 5:5). Is it a stretch to see the individual indwelling of the Spirit at the equal deposit given to all the servants?
If we take the individual mina in that sense, then the rest outfolds this way. They all perform differently in the Lukan parable – One returns ten, the next 5. One comes back and has done nothing with the mina. That one is thrown out. Individual Christians from baptism through the sanctified life all live more or less faithful lives. And that is what the king says in Luke – “you have been faithful in little, you will be put in charge of much”. The only unfruitful or unacceptable course is to guard the deposit passively. Essentially say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church…” and then live as if you don’t.

In the Matthew version of the parable it is not the individual deposit of the Spirit in question, but the vastly more variable outpouring of gifts. Just looking at the church through the ages – why do some churches get apostles, prophets, miracles and strong teachers while others get thieves and abusers? We do not know. It hasn’t been revealed. What has been revealed is that this variance is how God says he’ll act until the end times. One gets 5 talents and another 1 talent. Either way the capital stake is enough to do at least caretaking business. (Put it on deposit with the bankers or maintain the capital). In this form the only unacceptable outcome is to whittle away the deposit of faith.

So, the lesson out of both is faithfulness. All the endeavors are risky. Any business is risky. Many lose money. In both of these parables those risking the deposit are all rewarded handsomely. 5 talents, a staggering some, a lifetime’s earnings, double! 1 mina becomes 10! God’s word does not return empty. If an individual or a church is faithful in their walk, God prospers it. [I should make a side note that this is not an endorsement of what we think prosperity always is. This is not a material prosperity gospel message. We might be humanly disappointed in God’s idea of prospering when he sends a church a raft of homeless to take care of instead of that bright shiny intact family.] If his people are faithful with what has been entrusted, large or small, corporate grouping or individual, God will prosper and reward the work.

So what does this mean for stewardship? The most pressing question to answer to me is: what does it mean to be faithful in stewardship? All Christians have been given the Spirit, but they have been given a great variance of material means and spiritual means. What does it mean to be faithful in our use of that variance? That will be the topic of post 3 in this series. The foundational text will be the story of Cain and Able in Genesis 4.

Stewardship 1: The messy side of the gospel

One of the planks of our vision statement says that we grow and engage the faith. The church has many euphemisms. It also has many fine words. Too often what I have found is that fine words also have euphemistic meanings. And the church has worked to promote the euphemism because it is easier than the hard work of teaching the good word. It is easier until it isn’t. And when it isn’t, things have stopped working. We are teaching the good words and wrestling with them.

One of those fine words with a euphemism is stewardship. The euphemism that we all know is: 1. It is budget time and the pastor’s salary is at risk. 2. A pet project needs some money. 3. We will talk about time, talent and treasure, but what we really want is your treasure.

The good word is much more complex. Something like: the proper use of what is not actually yours.

Good stewardship is a theologically deep and complex problem because it lies on the messy side of the gospel. Lutherans like to talk about law and gospel or one big theological word – justification. The entire reformation split was over justification – how God makes us right with himself. The reformers answer was pure grace. The law shows us our sin and the gospel pronounces the grace of God over that sin. So, there is a sense that we can say that we are saints. We are baptized, and in baptism God has connected us to His son Jesus Christ. We are justified, declared righteous, in Jesus Christ through baptism. End of story, right?

Well, it would be if at baptism God also decided to rapture you. But then there would be no one left to baptize the next person. No, we live in tension that we are now saints, but not yet fully realized. Christ has already won the victory over sin, death and Satan, but we still struggle. One little word can kill them, yet they seem so strong. Welcome to the messy side of the gospel.

The big theological term for this is sanctification. When Luther would write in the small catechism his explanation to the 3rd article of the creed, “…the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith…” he was compressing the Christian life. All too often the churches of the reformation fight the last battle. Constantly on the lookout for anyone who might be teaching works righteousness we miss that fact that if surveys are to be trusted – nobody is worried about God being judgmental and having to appease him or thinking they can. In other words they’ve accepted the gospel, but it is not the costly gospel of Jesus Christ but a cheap gospel substitute. We get scared away by the messiness of sanctification and retreat back to the bright line justification. In the words of the writer of Hebrews – we stay with the milk. (Heb 5:11- 6:3)

Stewardship is squarely on that messy side. We confess the creed. We believe our justification. How then do we live? Stewardship is really a word that describes how we use money (and other good things from God) in a sanctified way. Our entire lives are a form of stewardship.

I promise to get more concrete as we move into this series, but before that I’d ask you to read two biblical stories: either Matt 25:14-30 or Luke 19:12-27 and the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.

Christ the King – one rule, not multiple


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Text: Luke 23:27-43

Christ the King is the last Sunday of the church year. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent or the church’s new year. The emphasis of Christ the King is the pretty simple – the ascended Christ is Lord of All – hidden now, revealed at times, revealed for all times on the last day. The lectionary specified the crucifixion reading from Luke, which is different. The Matthew (Year A) and Mark (Year B) readings are the sheep and the goats and the the lesson of the fig tree. Year C with Luke focuses on the thief on the cross. Do you see the world aligned with the priests, and soldiers and skeptical thief? Or do you see it from the position of the other thief? Is the cross just a scandalous death, or is it a coronation. Is the one on it, The King of the Jews?

If you side with the thief in paradise – it has all kinds of implications. The world today really wants us to separate ourselves into separate little fiefdoms – this is my private life, this is my public life, this is my work life, this is my life life, this is my financial life, and this is my spiritual life. And the world wants us to act differently in each – to act as if they are all disconnected, as if we could isolate things in one life from things in another. That path just leads to broken selves. Harry Potter’s Voldemort is a great example. He divides himself into multiple horcruxes. It allows him to go on living, but he misses the entire point of being human, in fact in that very act he gives up his humanity.

Instead, God made us Body and Spirit. He made us whole and wants us healed and restored. Restored under the one rule of Christ the King – coronated on a cross. If Christ is King over the heights of heaven and the depths of the pit, then there is nothing mundane or secular. Whether that is money or holiday celebrations or the clothes we wear, it has all been redeemed by the divine. And how we use it, how we live, reflects our king. Do we live as if we have split ourselves – barely human? Or do we live as if Jesus, true man also true God is one Christ – King?

Its the end of the World as we know it…


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Text: Luke 21:5-28

Talking about end times or eschatology always inspires lots of speculation. But that is exactly what Jesus says don’t do. The false prophets claim “I am he” or “the time is near”. Pop Christianity waits for a rapture, which is flatly against Jesus’ teaching. The troubles that come on the world are the Christian’s opportunity for witness. The compelling message out of Jesus’ end times words are comfort. This world is constantly trying to get you to fear. And out of fear run to some false savior or false messiah. Jesus does the opposite. Even though you will be persecuted and some will be put to death, not a hair of your head will perish. The purpose of Jesus’ and Christian eschatology or end times teaching is incredibly here and now focused. When the whole world is losing its head of fear of what is coming into the world, the Christian is free and fearless. She know her redemption is drawing near. Which means that we can act with purpose and resolve here and now whatever comes, because its all in the Father’s hands.

Its peculiar to me that the “reality based” label afixes or is claimed by atheists or agnostics. I understand that the resurrection seems a fantastical event. I would go so far as to say it is an absurd belief – in the same way that Paul says Christ crucified is foolishness to the gentiles. But here is the difference, the fundamental story the Bible tells of the world gets proven to me time and again. And Christian eschatology is a great example (which dispensationalism or rapture belief throws away for fantasy). Jesus says these things will happen (famines, wars, persecutions, etc.) and they are necessary. God is directing them. People not grounded in Jesus’ teaching are easily led away to false saviors of every strife that comes into the world. Either wanting to know when like global warming to stop it, or claiming they are the savior like most political movements of the right claiming rescue from big government or the left claiming rescue from big business or the ills of society which are just the results of a sinful world. The christian is freed from those and with a clear eye can focus on what is within their power – being Christ to their neighbor. That is much more real than any large plan. Don’t be led astray.

The Gospel according to Private Ryan


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Text: Luke 18:1-17

Most things have a normal curve outcome – i.e. lots of “c’s”, a few “A’s” and a few failures. As I was writing and practicing delivery, I knew this sermon was inverted – all or nothing.

Here is why it could strike out: 1) reference to child sexual abuse, 2) talking about how to be a disciple/holiness, 3) the major image being a secular motion picture, 4) continuing or heavily referencing the previous week’s gospel (the context is critical), 5) a heavy theological concept at the end (absolution coming ‘extra nos’ or outside of ourselves), 6) an analogy that if I took it out of the context of the image would be gross work’s righteousness, 7) a different outline or format than I typically use and 8) a general high level of emotional pitch throughout.

It was risk piled on risk. (Ok Holy Spirit, better show up for this one.) I was pondering right up until Sunday Morning if I had the guts to deliver it.

Where God Acts


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Text: Luke 17:10-19

We are on the three year lectionary. What that means is that the scripture texts we read each week are on a three year cycle. What the three year cycle does really well is allow you as a congregation to read through entire books. There are other lectionary schemes. A not small number in the LCMS uses a 1 year lectionary. And this is a gross simplification, but the 1 year lends itself to a dogmatic approach. You’ve got these teachings of the church. You want to remind/teach people every year on them. You build your readings around those teachings. The 3 year lends itself to an exegetical approach. That is a 10 dollar would for deep reading. Deep in that word exegetical is a root word meaning turning the soil. The 3 year continuous reading turns the soil of the gospel because each year has a primary gospel text. Since Advent 2009 we’ve been in the Gospel according to Luke. If it takes me say 15 hours to prepare a sermon (roughly 1 hour for each minute talking), in a year you will spend around 600 hours (the gospel of John gets read occasionally) with one gospel. You get to know it well.

The text for this sermon pulled me up short. In 9 perfectly artful verses, Luke asks the eternal questions. It puts the question to its readers – where is God acting? And if you know that, are you ready to go there? Even if it means putting yourself between Samaria and Galilee, being the peacemaker and healer? Even if it means walking toward Jerusalem, toward the cross? That is the path of being made whole.

The Disciple’s Life of Repentance


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Text: Luke 17:1-10

Luke 14:1 – 17:10 in my reading is one long extended teaching on being a disciple. The text for this sermon is the summary or conclusion of that section. I drew that boundary because in Luke 17:11 Jesus is no longer ping-ponging back and forth between disciples and Pharisees, but he is back on the road to Jerusalem. The entire Jerusalem road narrative is about discipleship, but this inner part has been more intense. It has been much more about how the disciple acts while Jesus is not present here and now.

The focus on being a disciple gives the section a heavy law feeling and it does end with millstones and the blunt saying about being an unworthy servant. But it is right there where the gospel enters. Of course that is how we would act. If we had a field slave and he came in we’d tell him to go clean up and make dinner. But that is not how God acts. In Christ – God serves the dinner and washes the feet. The unworthy slave is told to sit, eat, drink, rest…while the worthy son is crucified.

It is just that love for the unworthy slave that should inspire the life of repentance. We no longer have to look pious. We are not part of a religious club where membership depends upon our status or appearance. We have been seated at the table. We repent not because it atones for sin or gives us any merit. We repent because we desire to be closer to the heart and mission of the God who loved us first. We repent as a plea – Lord come quickly and finish what you started.

It Looks Half Built

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Luke 14:25-35

The travel narrative in Luke, what the lectionary has been taking us through this summer, is about discipleship. It is Luke’s collections of teachings and events that the disciples learned from Jesus on His was to the cross, as He prepared them for their cross. The lesson this week was one of those “cool it down” moments. We’ve all gotten caught up in something in the past, and that new thing takes over your entire life. The younger you are the more open you are to that type of infatuation. Everything comes up roses.

The life of the disciple in this world is not roses. The grace of forgiveness and new life is heady, but there are some thorns. The biggest is probably the half completed nature of salvation. That is not the half completed nature of salvation to eyes with faith, but if you look at the cross without faith, it looks like a king who didn’t have enough troops. And that cross is the pattern of discipleship. Here, we follow the crucified one. We feel like we have 10,000 troops going against 20,000.

Maybe it is just my phlematic german coming out, but I’ve never understood shiny-happy American Christianity. Sanctuaries that hid the cross, preachers that talked about wealth and prosperity, seven biblical secrets to a great life. I really throw any form of progressive-ism in the same boat. We’ve had 100 years of amazing progress in medicine and technology and what are the stats: higher rates of suicide, huge numbers on anti-depressants, shameful rates of incarceration and long-term unemployment. I’m not against “progress”. I liked being able to get my gall-bladder taken out and my youngest having surgery without great worry. These are blessings, but hold them in their place. The reality is life under the cross. Orthodoxy speaks reality better than anything I’ve heard. The cross does not preclude joy. For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross (Heb 12:2). But the joy comes through the cross, not around it. Everything else seeks to avoid the cross, or deny it, or minimize it. The disciple embraces it. Not without understanding – count the costs – with understanding the disciple embraces the cross and the only solid foundation, even if it looks half built to those perishing.