The first Sunday in Advent often carries over a theme from
the previous week – the Kingship of Christ.
But instead of concentrating on the fulfillment of the Kingdom, Advent
places us back in our temporal surroundings.
It reminds us that the Kingdom comes humbly. It comes by invitation and promise. It comes one heart at a time. And yet it is a Kingdom. We are called to watch. It has a King.
This sermon is a meditation in a busy week of what it means
in our day to have a King. And I think
that most realistic analogy is when we talk identities. This is an advent pondering on putting on
Given the events of Las Vegas, it was a week of horrors. This biblical text is the parable of the wicked tenants which turns on the horrors perpetrated by those tenants. This sermon is a meditation on what we as Christians should discern in horrors. Also what is a Christian response to such horrors. In a search for “why?” that so often ends unsatisfactorily, or ends in too easy answer, the Christian is able to focus on the justice of God. And this justice is good news. I’ve pondered three forms of that justice. 1) Those wicked men will come to a horrible end. We might not be used to this as a good news proclamation, but it is. God is just. 2) That phrase should inspire a holy fear in us, and the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That wisdom should lead us to repentance and a return to the Lord who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 3) The vineyard will be fruitful. The horrors that we might witness are the groaning’s of the world longing for the revelation of the son’s of God. They are the rage of Satan and those aligned. But the Justice of God will replace them, and the vineyard will produce its fruit.
I have left in our final hymn, LSB 753, All for Christ I Have Forsaken. The melody is the Southern Harmony Restoration which has an interesting minor key feel (give it a listen and you’ll know what I mean). The lyrics are From Calvin Chao, a mid-20th Century Chinese Christian, the chair of the Chinese InterVasity in the WW2 years. He had quite the life as a missionary. Here is an old article on his wife I unearthed. You can get the feel for the source of the powerful words.
The confrontation of Jesus with the chief priests and elders is the confrontation of the prophet with the stewards of the priest and king roles. It is a confrontation of authority. And the abiding question is how do we know when we’ve heard THE WORD of GOD?
The typical authority granted is of that priestly or kingly type. It comes with the office and the special garb of the office. The authority of the prophet is different. And we still long to hear that prophetic authority. The first part of the hard answer is that the prophetic authority is self-authenticating. You know it in your hearts and guts when you hear it. Our opening hymn was “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding”. That is the part of the response. The second part of the hard answer is that THE WORD comes to us under the cross. It comes in power and can be crucified, the violent can bear it away. It is always “punching up” as it were. If it is not, it might be something you desperately want to be THE WORD, but you are fooling yourselves.
When we hear the prophet the most likely response is repentance. That is the goal of THE WORD – Repent and believe. The Kingdom is here. A contrasting honest response would simply be to have the courage of your convictions. Sit in the seat of the priest or the king and deny that the prophet has any authority. It is at least a courageous honesty response. The worst response is “we don’t know”. Did you hear the Word? “We don’t know”. Stop it. You know. You just don’t like the decision is forces. True repentance or true rebellion. We want it both ways. The safe authority with the romance of the prophet.
Recording Note: You might notice during the sermon a shift in sound direction. For some reason I think the pulpit mic cut out. The altar mic picked it up fine, but it will sound more ambient. I also had to amplify the line just a smidge. We had some great hymns, like the opener mentioned, but I didn’t include any in the recording because it was one of those days where the recording just didn’t sound as good as live. Come to church, a much better experience.
Biblical Texts: Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday Matthew 21:1-17, Matthew 27:32-66 Full Sermon Draft
Have you ever been in a situation where you knew exactly what was going to happen, what was going to happen was a travesty but the desires of everyone involved are just too set in stone? Every action and reaction is a cruel inversion of the claims of those doing them? That is Holy Week. The desires of the Galilean crowds, the desires of the Jerusalem priests and the desires of Rome are locked into a danse macabre . The thing about the dance of death is that it reveals all of our follies. All of our false pieties and crass ambitions are laid bare and open for us to see. Those groups dancing 2000 years ago desired messiahs not very much different from those we often desire. Jesus exposes them, and defines what the messiah is. The sermon explores our false messiahs and how they tyrannize us, and the freedom the true King offers us.
Worship note: I’ve left in a bunch of music this time. The hymns for Palm Sunday are probably the greatest in the hymnal. Between the palm and passion lessons the choir sings a pretty arrangement of the Palm Sunday Hosanna. The Hymn of the Day was LSB 444, No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet, a modern hymn which keys off of Pilate’s ironic words in the gospel of John “behold your King”. Truer words were never spoken that came off a tongue so false. The closing hymn, LSB 441, Ride on Ride on in Majesty, also beautifully connects the Palms and the Passion.
The gospel text today is the second “vineyard parable” in three weeks. Two weeks ago it was the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Today was the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Vineyard parables to me are always, at least in the background, parables of election. I suppose I’m using a technical term there, election. The doctrine of election is the Christian phrase for being chosen or God’s choice. It often gets invoked in debate about free will and determinism. I’m also completely convinced that every person has deep within themselves as part of how they understand the world a doctrine of election. That is because election is about love. Who loves you and why and how and how long.
This sermon starts off with secular parable of election of sorts – the TV show The Voice. It then turns to the vineyard parables to think about election in the Kingdom of Heaven and how it differs. Along the way we look at cornerstone vs. head of the corner in building and how that relates to Christ, the alpha and omega, and how misperception of election causes us to reject the stone/son. It finishes with a reflection on living the sacraments, especially baptism, and how we live into the grace of election. I’d invite you along to think about election and how you view and receive the Kingdom.
Authority is one of those words that, depending upon your context, can be a dirty word today. That is truly a shame because it used to be something that was exercised with wisdom. Those with authority knew they also had accountability. Those with it respected where it came from and its proper use. They knew authority came in multiple forms – hierarchical and moral – and that you couldn’t last long with the first if you didn’t respect and preserve the second. Authority was always a grant, a gift, a grace. It was never something that you earned. If you took it you were a usurper.
This sermon has a simple movement:
1) Our current trouble with authority
2) Authority abused by the chief priests and elders of the people and proper authority in Jesus
3) Jesus’ grant of his authority to his people in discipleship
It traces a deep vein in the Gospel according to Matthew of the sources and uses of proper authority.
This is the biblical text for the events of Palm Sunday, the start of holy week. The outline is very basic law and gospel. The law consists of identifying where we have gone astray. That happens in the reactions of the crowds. Those who should have known don’t care. This is traced as a pattern in Matthew’s gospel. Those who have some idea never-the-less attempt to pervert the power of the Kingdom to their personal Kingdom. The gospel is simply that the King comes anyway. The King comes, and humbly offers himself to all who believe.
The text for the first Sunday in Advent always seems a little off. There is an alternate to the Palm Sunday Triumphant entry, so I had to check if that was because this was a change in the appointed readings that went along with changing Palm Sunday proper to Sunday of the Passion. But that is not the case. I guess someone else just had the same odd feeling that you don’t expect to show up in Advent and hear Palm Sunday.
But the text actually establishes the time. Jesus is committing a political act declaring himself a king. But not like any King the world would recognize. Neither the Galileans marching him in, nor the residents of Jerusalem, as Matthew makes clear, understand. Both want a messiah of their own making. Not this messiah who comes humbly. Not this messiah who stops to give sight to the blind. Not this messiah who is willing to suffer violence instead of inflicting it.
Nothing has really changed. We still want Jesus in our image. But thankfully we don’t get that. We get a King who comes right now in grace. To those with eyes that have been opened, this kingdom calls us to be its witnesses and its hands. One day this Kingdom will come in glory, but right now, it comes humbly. Through flesh and blood, through word and sacrament.