Tag Archives: Matthew

The King who comes humbly – Palm Sunday

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Biblical Text: Matthew 21:1-17
Full Sermon Draft

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.

Say you want a revolution…

Sermon Texts: Isaiah 45:1-7 and Matthew 22:15-22
Full Text of Sermon

First, I love it when the Children’s Choir signs. You can hear them on the Podcast well directed and taught by Mrs. Kristin Bayer who is a wonderful sax player and teacher. (I hope she doesn’t mind the plug.) The simplicity of the songs they sing makes worship and sermon themes very easy to construct. Someone has already done the hard work of distilling a biblical message to a child’s level – I get to piggy back it. And this Sunday had the serendipity to have lectionary texts very easily meshed.

Second, the Lordship of Jesus is something that Reformed usually do better having a strong Sovereignty of God theology. But even they take it in a different direction normally than I think the New Testament does. When most theologians start talking Sovereignty of God it is usually about election or salvation. Everything gets bent to a salvation theology. Not wrong, just not the entire story. The old and new testaments teach that God is actively involved in the world for the benefit of his people. He is not some distant deity. He is not some pull in case of emergency God or a galactic vending machine. He (typically) operates through means – like Cyrus, King of Kings of the Persian empire, or Pilate, Prefect of Judea or you and me wherever we might be.

That gets to that radical nature of “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” The authority is God’s duly appointed. She is there for a reason. The authority should also recognize they are not an authority grounded in themselves. There is a Sovereign, an active one. All authority is accountable in the Kingdom of Heaven. That is why when the Beatles sing “everything’s gonna be alright” we don’t just tune it out as Pollyanna drivel. Everything’s gonna be alright, because He’s go the whole world in his hands.

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.

Where’s the leader?

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It is not really fair to make fun of the disciples. We are at a great advantage. We know the full story and we have the Spirit. (Yes, Pentecost means something). And I’m sure I’m bulldozing over huge cultural difference, but I just kinda think that human nature never changes. (Without the intervention of the Spirit.) The disciples’ questions may seem thick, but they are usually very logical. When they ask, like today, who is the greatest – they are asking a real question. Maybe not the way we would put it, but even a question that has prophetic background. Elisha asked for a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah. A prophet who is going away leaves a successor. Jesus has predicted his death three times in rapid succession. The disciples are just asking who’s next in line. What is the succession plan? A natural question.

But hierarchies and succession plans and great leaders are not what the church is about. The gospel does not depend upon the leader. Because the gospel is Christ’s. And he is present wherever two or three call in his name. And what does that look like? Keep on eye on the least – the little child. Be watchful; remain faithful. Look for the lost. Seek reconciliation; not just forgiveness but living with your brother who has wronged you. All of these things are how the church lives grace and depend not a whit on who the local leader is. You can choose to live a life guided by grace. (Enabled by the Spirit). The church is the place where that happens. Where ever two people practice grace instead of power – there Christ is.

So easy, yet so hard to do.

The Office of the Keys


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The office of the Keys is all about who has the authority, responsibility and accountability to forgive and bind sins. The good news in Lutheran doctrine is that Christ himself rules the kingdom of the gospel. If sins are forgiven here, they have already been forgiven in heaven. Heaven acts first. And heaven acts through the means of grace – baptism, Lord’s supper, confession/absolution, preaching. In those methods the grace of God through Jesus Christ is proclaimed; it is announced. The words have power and are received simply by faith.

That faith is given or revealed by the Father (in the son and through the work of the Spirit to complete the Trinitarian formula). We are not left without proof. Faith itself is a proof. The work of Jesus is the greatest revelation. But faith is a revelation. Peter did not confess Christ by flesh and blood but by the revelation of the Father. Same with us. Hard teaching or pure comfort. Either God is still at work on an hourly basis and involved personally with you, or faith is something you can’t accept.

Truth in the midst of Ugly


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I would be real interested to know what people actually heard from this sermon. I think it had a high emotional register, but I’m not sure if I used that emotion to the proper end.

The core concern that I think the text addressed is God’s truth. And God’s truth can be real ugly. It can be offensive. Because God’s truth tells us how ugly we are in our nature. The cross tells us and shows us what and who we are. Jesus became our ugliness. And God works in the middle of that ugly. He works through the messy and incomplete and ugly. That task of faith is to recognize that even how ugly this crucified God might appear, his love is revealed there. And it is a love that is wide and deep and more than enough. The scraps that fall, the pieces gathered after the dinner, are enough to fill his people and those like this Canaanite who were not his people but have been grafted in.

How did it come to this?…..


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The three texts for this week worked together almost seamlessly in my mind. There are always things that bother us – give us what I call the whys. And God is just not as interested in the whys as we are. Those whys are the crux of faith. Do we feel the need to create our own stories to explain them. And then we busily patch those stories as we inevitably get them wrong. Patch them until all we’ve got are patches. Or do we trust, do we have faith, in the one who does hold the whys. That is what the life of Jesus demonstrates to us – that the God who says he is love, proved it. Do we let him hold the whys, or collapse back into ourselves and our collection of patches?

Do we trust his providence that in the face of disaster we can say with Paul – blessed is the Christ who is God over all? And most shockingly that invitation is free and open. Come, everyone who thirsts…Come, incline your ear…buy food without money or price.

Easter Sunday – A Chance to Have Faith

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I was asked after church in Bible study if I like preaching on Easter Sunday the best. My answer was not as full a yes as might be expected. It is definitely up there, if just for the crowd size. This is not meant as a theological statement – the effectiveness of any sermon comes from the Spirit in the hearer – but when you’ve got a crowd the speaker does not have to supply the energy. The most draining times to preach are when there should be at least what I call comfortably empty crowds and you are below that. (Special days like thanksgiving don’t qualify because the 10 leper rule, only 1 of 10 returned which gives a different feel.) Those times and places are energy black holes. Again not a theological statement. Easter morning is one that the speaker can reflect the crowd’s energy.

But probably the bigger reason Easter is not number 1 by a landslide is that large audience. This is what I mean. The typical Sunday a preacher can feel comfortable that the Spirit is working in the lives of most of the congregation. The Word has taken root and it is the preacher’s job to water it. On Easter Sunday you get a different crowd. The fundamental job on Easter Sunday is casting the Word to the air. It is giving hard hearts and stopped up ears a chance to respond with faith. It is the gospel proclamation reduced to its core – he is risen! And while the taking root of faith and the word is the work of the Spirit, there is always a deep longing in an Easter Sermon. This might be the last time many gathered might hear the Word. This might be the last time for the Word to take root. And the Sunday after Easter you get a feedback. Too many prodigals haven’t returned. Too many seeds have been fallen on hard ground. Too many cares of the world have crowded out that He is risen. Unlike most Sundays that you know you will see much of the congregation the next week or soon, on Easter you worry. And every preacher is reminded that it is not the eloquence of the tongue but the mysterious work of the Spirit. Who never seems to work on our timetables or with the response we would like. Easter preaching is joyous and humbling at the same time.

We know the who…


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Transfiguration is an evocative word. Being creatures in a half dimension of time, we know the past but can’t do anything about it. We don’t know the future, and usually fear it, especially when we know that it will transfigure us. We can either let that fear change us, or we can let the Spirit transfigure us. What the transfiguration shows us is just how much Jesus was in the same situation. He trusted his Father (our heavenly Father) enough to put aside the glory for the cross. He trusted the character of the Father, the Father he reveals to us. We don’t know the future, we don’t know what Jesus will ask us to transfigure next, but we do know the Character of Jesus. We know what He did for us. Not that transfiguration won’t scare or leave scars, but that is the core of Faith. I trust that one – the crucified one – to change me by his grace.