There was an ancient tradition, probably coming over from the synagogues, where visitors would share news of what was taking place in the church where they were from. Maybe the salutation (“The Lord be with you”) at the start of the service is the ritual placeholder for that. We welcome you, please share. To which the response would have been to share and end with “and also with you”. The welcome has been given and accepted. This sermon is a bit like that. When you read something that is so profound it humbles you, you really need to share it. I could not come up with a better illustration of “a city on a hill” than the response of this pastor from Wuhan.
Biblical Text: Luke 12:49-53 (Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3, Jeremiah 23:16-29)
The text is an apocalyptic saying of Jesus. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” On the face of it, it contradicts the message of the angles of Christmas. This sermon attempts to keep them together. How do we have both divisions and peace?
Thomas and his doubt usually get pride of place today, but in the text Jesus repeats on phrase three times. And when Jesus repeats something it is usually worth paying attention to what that is. In this case it is peace, or more specifically “Peace be with You”. The Lord desires that his disciples have peace. The question is what does he mean by peace.
This sermon ponders on what type of peace the Lord brings. How that peace differs from what the world calls peace. And how that peace comes to reside in us and the life that it gives us. The resurrection peace of Christ be with you.
The big think event for this week would or should have been peace. This was the 100th anniversary of the WW1 Armistice. The text for the week was the widow’s temple offering. And we had a local congregational fact of passing a budget and the fact of stewardship.
The through line that I worked on in this sermon was this. Jesus points out the Widow as an example of faith. Her faith went in two directions. First she found what happened at that Temple to be meaningful. She supported the temple not because of the great stones that her mites wouldn’t do anything to support. She supported the temple because that is where she found the mercy and peace of God at. He faith also went outward in the fact that this God who had provided this peace was not limited to the temple, but would bestow his providence in her life. She offered the whole of her life because he trusted the promises of God which she had experienced there. In our world there are lots of things that want to say they provide peace and security. But the truth of all of them is that peace is not something we can create or every maintain. Peace is a gift of Almighty God. The history of the 20th century and the American experience of the 21st is proof of that. I didn’t include it here, but echoing Lincoln, it is beyond out ability to hallow. The only thing our great stones – our monuments – can do it point to the greater peace. And seeing that greater peace is acting as the widow. It requires faith. Specifically it requires faith in the other one who would give all he had to place the new cornerstone of the living temple – Christ. This sermon uses the example of a WW1 memorial cross that is currently under assault for exactly what it does – point not to the Armistice peace which soon failed but to the greater peace of the one who hung on the cross. The test of that peace then becomes are we willing to live out of it. Do we trust the providence of God like the widow? Or do we measure our peace and security like the others bringing their offerings. How do you measure the peace that Christ has given? Do we recognize its worth, or begrudge its price?
Probably tried to do too much. But it is a much more complex and messy answer I think. It is the mystery of faith and its sustaining in this world.
Worship Note: LSB 787, The Temple Rang with Golden Coins, is lovely simply hymn that walks the sermon through line very closely. It was our hymn of the day. I have included it at the end of the recording as a conclusion.
Living the Christian life isn’t always easy. I’m not talking about easy choices like things coded into the 10 commandments or lines of the creed. Those things are easy. I’m also not talking about those times of clear persecution. Those are easy in the way I’m talking about, but hard in reality. What this sermon addresses is what the text addresses which is the normal life of discipleship. Jesus’ words put a couple of things in tension. On the one side discipleship is a serious thing. I call it the discipleship of commitment. We are to be committed to each other in that we are responsible for our brother’s faith. Likewise we are to be committed to holiness for the sake of our own faith. Jesus is serious as a literal hell. On the other side, this commitment never excuses a lack of openness or grace. The disciple, as long as who they are interacting with in not against Christ, is to act as if they are with you. What that will lead you into sometimes is getting burned. But that is to be expected as Jesus says “we will all be salted with fire.” We are to be living sacrifices. Salted in ourselves. Ready to be at peace. This sermon expands on that and explores what that might mean in concrete situations.
The text is the standard text for the second Sunday in Easter, Doubting Thomas. It is paired with the epistle less from John’s first letter. The pairing of these two texts is almost perfect. This sermon stakes out three points: 1) The pride of place in the Thomas passage should not be the sight of the body, but Jesus’ “Peace be with You”. It is this proclamation of the gospel and the shorthand for the entire story that enables all the disciples to truly discern the resurrection. 2) Jesus re-explains just what that peace is about. That peace of God is both the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the issuance of the Keys. The Keys are the authority to forgive sins which are given to the church and to individual members. We as Christians are at peace because we are forgiven. Because we are forgiven we can “see” the resurrection rightly. 3) When we live by the story (Peace be with you), we have fellowship with the Father. That fellowship is unto eternal life.
The text for the first Sunday in Advent is usually Palm Sunday. The theme is the Advent of the King. There are multiple ways that Advent invites us to ponder the Kingship of Jesus. We can reflect on the first advent in a holy longing for the second advent. The first time in grace and humility, the second in judgement and power. We could reflect on the King as stand-in for His people. In this case the King on the way to the cross and our penitential need. That is Advent as a penitential season. The Isaiah text which is just as much the sermon text of the day invites a third meditation, Advent as the dawning and growing of the light. What this sermon attempts to do is think about what it means to have a King. It posits a couple of forms of human kingship – modern and ancient. It then contrasts those with the Biblical picture of the Kingship of Jesus. It concludes with the encouragement as the natural light grows shorter, to let they spiritual light brighten. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Worship notes: The other voice you hear is our Seminarian Tim Bayer. He was in town for Thanksgiving and it is always great to be able to include him in the service. Since the break is a short one, he and his wonderful voice handled the liturgy for us. I’ve left in two hymns. At the start LSB 343, Prepare the Royal Highway. At the end LSB 331, The Advent of Our King. Both carry the Kingship theme and explore it is ways similar to the sermon. I love the hymns of Advent. I’ll often try to work some of them in during the year itself because the season itself is made to short. The other reason is that the themes of advent are so deep and worthy of reflection.
Getting last week off from having to polish a sermon because our Seminarian Tim did a great job gave me a lot of time just to meditate on Luke 12. On first read Luke 12 is all over the place veering from the harshest warning and condemnations to the sweetest promises. I think in our modern American Christian imagination we are all Jeffersonians of a kind. Jefferson famously cut out of his gospels all the “fantastical” accounts (i.e. the miracles and the resurrection) leaving nothing but a moralistic great teacher Jesus. We don’t cut out the miracles, at least not most of us, but what we cut out in the prophet. We string together nice Jesus, and come up with some way to tune out fiery Jesus. But if we refuse to listen to Jesus the prophet, we end up in situations like the OT lesson from Jeremiah, where our “prophets” blow us sweet nothings and we are shocked at division from both man and God.
Attempting to boil the chapter down into a single paragraph, it is more coherent that that first read. It is Jesus’ correction our natural views of the intersection of division/peace and temporal/eternal with the messiah or the work of God. Our natural view is that we want peace expressed temporally. Peace within families. Peace between religions. Peace on earth. Or at least we want those things assuming that they come with the correct division. Our temporal physical tribe get the peace while the out group is safely divided from us. And all of that peace coming with a healthy serving of temporal prosperity for our group. We want a sugar-daddy messiah, and we don’t give a second thought to the eternal. Or just assume like the rich fool that the good times will roll forever. But Jesus corrects us in our temporal thoughts. Now is not the time of peace, but the time of division. It is the time of division because this messiahs, and this God’s concerns, are not temporal, but eternal. Jesus has come to give eternal peace which you have right now. But this peace is by grace, through faith. And those that believe align their lives with the divine purpose. They know the will of the householder for whom they have been left as stewards. But, not everyone believes. Many might know, but they are unwilling to live with that knowledge. And that is the division in this life. That is also the cause of the temporal strife. A strife that is not yet resolved in peace. Not yet resolved in the hope that the full number will come in.
Program Note: I’m sorry about possible recording quality. I’ve been having a little trouble with the line volume. I think the pulpit mic might be going out, so the altar mic is doing all the recording except for occasional pops. I’ve amplified and leveled the signal such that I think its okay. The altar mic is a real good one and the system isn’t bad, but I’ve got some wire work to do.
The text for the day is often appropriated for mission Sundays, and it can work that way. Biblical texts are multivalent in that there are often multiple appropriate understandings of them. But I don’t think that the sending of the seventy-two is primarily about lay evangelism. Using it to preach that people in the pews should be ready and able to share their faith misses a distinction. That is better preached from something like 1 Peter 3:15. The distinction which is missed using it for that is that the 72 are the new elders of Israel. There are traditions that don’t have an ordained ministry, but the apostolic church, following Jesus here, did set aside those called – think Stephen and the Seven deacons and Timothy and Titus and those Paul sent Titus to appoint and lay on hands. When the apostles did that they were following Jesus here.
What Jesus does here is give the charter for that office. When that office is functioning within bounds as intended what does it do? It preaches peace. It seeks to heal those of the house. It proclaims the reign of God. What this sermon does is attempt to do that while providing examples.
Music Note: I have left in two of the hymns. Our opening hymn Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing (LSB 584) is a wonderful prayer for the opening of service that mirrors Jesus’ words to pray to the Lord of the Harvest. The hymn of the day has a wonderful message, but I left it in primarily because of the tune – We Are Called to Stand Together (LSB 828). Both of them are newer hymns the texts written by people living at the time of hymnal publication (2006) and the tunes as well, although Holy Manna is a new setting of an older hymn tune. The text of We are called mirrors the progression of the sermon moving from Patriarch, Prophets and Apostles through ages to us. The urge is to continue in each generation to proclaim the truth, that the reign of God has come near to you with His peace. That time will end, when we will all be united, but till then we tell the story.
The text is the second Sunday of Easter standard, Doubting Thomas. At least that is the first element that gets caught, but the text is larger than that one character. It is a story of seeing God, but it is also a story of beatitude or blessing on not seeing. The reality of the action works at counter-purpose with most of our natural assumptions about seeing God. The beatitudes bless not sight, but the Word. This sermon moves from the text and what it tells us about Christ, to our sending and moral responsibility and lastly to the eschatological reality of seeing God.