Tag Archives: Promise

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.

Pep Rally or Precious Treasure?

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the conclusion of the parable sermon. It encompasses three parables, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price and the net. In this preaching I’m, resting almost exclusively on work done by Dr. Jeff Gibbs. Parables are interesting in how we treat them, in that they are often simply free floating stories. And we tend to interpret them divorced from the speaker or the context. But the parable sermon didn’t come from nowhere. It came from the building opposition to the advent of the kingdom in Jesus. It came from the anxieties of the John the Baptist, Jesus’ family and even the disciples themselves. The standard gloss on these parables I compare to a pep rally (remember those?). Pep rallies can be fun, but they don’t really change anything. As often as not, those pep rallies can turn into something cruel just a few hours later. If these are a discipleship pep rally, I’ve got to sell everything and commit to Christ, there is a way that it it true, but the second you go out of the house failure is waiting around the corner.

Instead of a pep rally, these parables are a promise. You are God’s precious treasure. Christ sold everything to buy you through the Incarnation and the cross. Yes, he sticks us back in the ground and goes to complete it, but even that conforms to the parables of the kingdom – the yeast hidden in the dough, the wheat and the weeds together. They are not statements of discipleship cheer. They are statements that actually change things. God has bought you. The only choices left are to believe it or shun it.

Worship Note: I left in our opening hymn: LSB 573, Lord, ‘Tis Not that I Did Choose Thee. I think it captures the real purpose of the text. It also has for my money one of the most affecting hymn tunes – O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE. It is the same tune used for Jesus, Refuge of the Weary – Savonarola’s great hymn. It has that “heartsong” effect of a steady beat going up and down with the occasional extended beat. The meter is listed as 87 87 D. What that means is that each measure of a stanza has 8 syllables followed by 7 syllables, 8 followed by 7, and then doubled. When I look at the other hymn tunes following the same meter, I find a list of many of the most beloved, but I’d bet that when they are played people walk out singing the tune, but not exactly remembering the text of the hymn. Hymns that hit the heart carried by the music.

Hidden with Christ

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Text: Luke 23:27-43
Full Sermon Draft

It is the last Sunday of the Church Year, often called Christ the King Sunday. The other years of the lectionary that typically means an eschatological parable like the 10 virgins trimming their wicks. When we are in Luke, it means Good Friday. Luke’s Good Friday scene is unique because there is a divergence from the other Gospels. One criminal sees something that the others don’t. The world is united in seeing “This is the King of the Jews” placed above Jesus as a great joke. One naked criminal sees the King. One naked criminal sees His Grace. It is like all acts of God – hidden and revealed. It is done plainly before all the world, yet it is faith alone that perceives the revelation. To those without God’s acts remain hidden. The sermon is a meditation on this and what we see – mistaken peasant or King.

Worship note: The text drives some different hymns than normal. The opening hymn was “The Head the Once was Crowned With Thorns”, but I’ve left in the Hymn of the Day. LSB 534, Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor. The tune right after the alleluias is tough, but the words uniquely to me capture the day’s theme. The cross as throne, the acts of God hidden in humble frame.

Remembrance (October Newsletter)

Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. – Isaiah. 44:21

I’ve never been a specific date person. If you asked me how old I am, I’d have to calculate it. Probably after looking at my driver’s license to check the date. And I recognize that there are people who get offended when you forget specific dates, but such things to me have usually been abstractions. It is real hard for me to fix emotion to an abstract calendar. There are concrete things that make me recall past events. For example walking around Darien Lake this summer one of the things that is unmissable is the strollers and little kids being carried on shoulders. Ethan is now past riding on shoulders. But that concrete experience brought to mind the three-year-old we might have been carrying around. Another one would be an upcoming happy event. By the end of the year we will have the car paid off and be back to no car payments. Seeing as the car I drive is almost 14 years old and well over 100,000 miles that might mean it’s my turn. I haven’t driven a new-ish car since the one I leased in 1998 when I got my job at IBM and kids were still just a thought. But I’m in no hurry to lose the Santa Fe. A practical reason is I’m cheap, let’s say frugal to be nice. But that car was my brother’s. He had just finished paying it off when he passed away seven years ago already. Time like an ever rolling stream, soon bears us all away.

Remembrance is a tricky thing. The young are unburdened by it. The old can wallow in nostalgia over things that never actually were. The constant drumbeat of crack church consultants is relevance. Stay in the now looking to the near future. But that has never been the way the people of God have operated. The proclamation of the Kingdom – OT and NT – has always started with the call repent, and repentance is an act of remembrance. It is a remembrance of whose we are – “remember these things, O Jacob…I formed you.” It is a remembrance of His words and His ways – “you are my servant”. Repentance is always an act of memory.

But if that was all it was about, to hell with it. My remembering ends the day I do, maybe earlier. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may as the poet says. But when the bible talks remembrance it may start with repentance, but it always points to something bigger. “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD (Psalm. 25:7)!” “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke. 23:42).” Our remembrance ultimately fails. As much as I might be willing to fix the Santa Fe, eventually I won’t be able to, as Jerry’s experience with a model year newer recently reminded me. What the Psalmist begs for is not his ability to remember, but that God would remember him according to his steadfast love. Like the thief on the cross asking the innocent lamb, “remember me”. That is the promise. “Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.”

The church’s remembrance is not a false nostalgia, neither is it focused on a myopic short term relevance. It is sustained in the now, by looking far. By looking to the fulfillment of that promise that all Israel shall be remembered. By looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

A Pastoral Letter on Political Decisions

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One of Martin Luther’s most famous phrases is the odd one “Sin Boldly”. Of course it is usually used prior to doing something really stupid or clearly sinful. As college kids we often used it on Friday around 4 PM just before heading out for the night. That is one of the more harmless places, but what it is often used for is to justify some action you want to do but know is wrong. One could imagine saying “sin boldly” before lighting a Molotov Cocktail as part of a “protest”. After all, nothing is going to change if we don’t do something in the fierce urgency of now. One could also imagine saying “sin boldly” before starting a rumor about one’s opponent. The problem is that is not really what Luther was talking about. What that phrase captures is our bound and fallen nature. In this world we really don’t make choices between good and evil. If we did, ethics would be easy. Rather most of the time our choices are given to us with little ability to influence them. And, most of the time those choices are both compromised. Ethics is not about good and evil but about bad and less bad. And the reason we argue over it is we often come to different conclusions what is less bad. Sin Boldly as a phrase meant choose less bad to the best of your ability, and more importantly rely ever more on the sufficient grace of Christ. He is the one who in this world turns less bad into good for his people. He is the one who one day will make less bad untrue.

There are multiple biblical stories that I ponder in these regards, but I keep returning to one specific place, Genesis 21:8-21. I’d suggest going and reading the story. It is Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael and Hagar. Sarah, impatient and untrusting of God’s plan, had given Abraham her slave, Hagar, to have a child with. She would fulfill by her efforts what God so clearly wasn’t. That child was Ishmael. And as these things go, you can imagine that Abraham would become attached to the child and to the mother. Sarah, perceiving this had immediately sought to have mother and child banished, and Abraham gives in. But The Angel of the Lord finds Hagar and the baby and restores them to Abraham and Sarah. In another of its great ellipses, the bible doesn’t explain how. Fast forward a few years and Sarah has Isaac. And this time, more insistent, she tells Abraham “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”

The entire scene is caused by the failure, the sin, of not trusting the promise of God – “I will give you an heir”. The entire scene is the full born fruit of that sin. There is no good choice. The choices are cast Hagar and young Ishmael out into the wilderness alone most likely to starve or to die of thirst, hunger and exposure, or keep her and the son and deal with the daily problems of the heir and his mother, and the first born and his mother. The vast majority of our choices are like this one – the fruits of past sin. We might be forgiven for that sin, but in this world we live with its results. And in Abraham’s case it really is binary – choose, you first born or your heir. The bible in its typical understatement says, “the thing was very displeasing to Abraham.” No kidding.

What do we do in such a situation? Such situations often lead to paralysis and breakdown. In attempts to find third ways, we compound sin by avoidance or grumbling. I bet Abraham decided to spend some time with the herds for a couple of days. The camp was probably walking on eggshells. But in this case God comes down to Abraham and tells him, “Whatever Sarah says, do it. And don’t be worried about Ishmael, I will prosper him.” This prospering of Ishmael will be a thorn in the side of Israel forever. Today’s Arabs claim biblical descent as the first born of Abraham. Some of the consequences of sin are long lasting. But God tells Abraham make the choice. Sin boldly, and trust on the grace of God to bring out good. In this case, Joseph’s brothers would sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites who would take Joseph to Egypt where he would eventually save Israel from the famine. A further good would be Ruth, the Moabite, part of Ishmael, who would become a grand-mother of Jesus.

I’m talking these things because I think we have found ourselves with such a choice in November. Whatever the merits of Trumpism, Mr. Trump himself does not appear to be fit for such high office. But likewise the other major party has nominated someone who if her last name wasn’t Clinton and she were not running for President would be in an orange jump suit right now. FBI director Comey found fit to put Martha Stewart in one for much less than exposing the nations secrets for personal whim. None of which gets into the international grift of the Clinton Global Initiative. Due to the sins of the primaries, and the sins of past years, we find ourselves with such a choice – a felon and a man who describes his personal Vietnam as dodging venereal disease in the 1970’s and who has never asked God for forgiveness while proclaiming himself a Christian.

What does a citizen do in such a case? And what can we expect? Ted Cruz said “vote your conscience”. It’s a cute line and he earned it. When someone unleashes conspiracy theories against your dad, I would imagine your conscience would say words I can’t write here. But it begs the question, what is a properly formed conscience in such a case for a citizen, especially for one not directly slandered? One option, which the Amish normally take, is simply not to vote. The citizen does not have to take part. But, if you are like me, this feels like a cop out because I am not Amish. The Amish see politics as necessarily defiling oneself with the world. That has never been the majority report of Christianity which has normally held that God is sovereign in the political kingdom (the kingdom of left) just as much as in the gospel kingdom (the kingdom of the right). When he sits at the right hand of God it is not over some truncated Kingdom. The biggest difference being that the kingdom of the left is exercised through crooked us, while the right is simply the declaration “your sins are forgiven” in the many ways that Christ has instituted that to be said. There are many voices – both former Sander’s supporters and supporters of people like Ted Cruz – that sound very Amish. Voting for either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump would sully their morals. Such a conscience to me seems malformed in a hyper-moral way applied to the wrong place. If you want to see saints, you go out to the desert, you don’t go to where people wear the soft clothes and $5000 suits.

So, what does a citizen do? Sin boldly. Choose which ever candidate seems least bad. And trust in the grace of God to work for his people. That doesn’t mean I don’t think either choice is going to lead to good things immediately. Abraham’s choice lead to 400 years of slavery in Egypt. It was roughly a millennium until Ruth met Boaz. I have a sense of foreboding that long after I am gone, my grand-children will be living with the results of this election, the results of picking two such uniquely unqualified people for such an office. But then the Christian’s call is not to think about preserving one’s holiness because we have none. The Christian’s call is to consecrate the fast and call the solemn assembly. Cry out to the Lord. Who knows, after it is past, he might relent and leave a blessing behind. Our salvation comes not from the Princes we elect for a mere four years, but from Christ who reigns forever, and ever. Amen.

Joy in the Presence

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Biblical Text: Luke 1:39-56
Full Sermon Draft

Luke tells us a couple of things at the start of his gospel. One is the format, he’s telling a specific type of history, a diagasis which the dictionary defines as an orderly narrative. The second thing he tells us is that the eyewitnesses have delivered these stories to him and he’s compiling them. (Luke 1:1-4). It is not provable, but it has long been the supposition that Mary herself was the source for Luke’s first four chapters. (If you look closely at Acts there is probably even a time when Luke with Paul is in Jerusalem at the same time as Mary with John.) The repetition of the phrase “and his mother treasured up these things in her heart” is often taken as the textual signal of the source.

As with most saints, their reality is more interesting and human that the sanitized stories the church often tells. I think that goes in spades with Mary. Mary often gets transformed, like Jesus, into this meek and mild creature. That isn’t the story she tells, or the psalm she sings. These are full throated paeans of joy from someone who has had their dreams of conventional happiness shattered, but replaced with joy in the presence of God and his plan. And that is what this sermon attempts to explore, the source of joy in contrast to happiness. It winds through Dickens as an example of a surprising juxtaposition, but keeps Mary front and center. Joy in the presence of God.

Music Note: I’ve left in our opening hymn, Hark the Glad Sound LSB 349. This is one of the hymns I want at my funeral. The gates of brass before him burst, the iron fetters yield. Sin, death and the power of the devil give way before Christ. I’ve also left in one of the Magnificats or Songs of Mary that we sang today. Mary’s psalm has inspired some of the great hymns of the church as well as the standard chants in Vespers (West) or Matins (East). My Soul Rejoices LSB 933 is a modern text dating from 1991 paired with an older beautiful tune reflecting a little of the plain chant tradition. (I understand the need of publishing houses and hymn writers to have copyright, but it sure makes the sharing of the hymn experience difficult. I almost makes one favor older songs just because they are public domain.) I think both of these reflect the joy of the day even in the midst of Advent waiting and watchfulness.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 21:1-21 and Mark 6:35-56

Genesis 21:1-21
Mark 6:35-56
The slave child and the free child (Paul’s Allegory)
All Israel & God no longer “passing by” but getting into the boat with us

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 11:27-12:20 and Mark 4:21-41

Genesis 11:27-12:20
Mark 4:21-41
Abraham’s mini Exodus
The power of the Word

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Deuteronomy 30:1-20 and Matthew 19:1-15

Deuteronomy 30:1-20
Matthew 19:1-15
Moses preaches the Gospel/Circumcised Hearts & The nearness of the Word
Moses’ allowance for uncircumcised hearts, divorce
The normative nature of marriage & even Jesus’ acknowledgement of its toughness

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 1 Samuel 1:21-2:17 and Galatians 6:1-18

1 Samuel 1:21-2:17
Galatians 6:1-18
The great inversion in the power of God, Hannah’s song and Mary’s Song, the judgment and promise of the cross