What do me mean when we talk about last things? There of course is the very literal, but
other than 10,000 mile stuff, Jesus really doesn’t answer that. Because that is not what we are talking
about. What we are talking about is
impermanence and our anxiety caused by that impermanence. And that is was Jesus goes after. Even these “noble stones” of the temple will
come down. This thing that centers our
identity will fail. All earthly props
will give way. And Jesus goes on to name
them. And then he gives us a
promise. “Not a single hair of your head
You have both the knowledge and the promise. The knowledge that yes, the world is
impermanent. Don’t place your faith in
it, in any part of it. The promise that
there is a permanent thing, and that you are already a part of it. The Kingdom of God is coming with power and
great glory. So straighten up an raise
your heads. Because this is your redemption. This is your hour.
We are already in the last two weeks of the Church Year, so what that means for the texts is typically various parables and text that relating to the end. Some are more end focused while others have a near meaning in the AD 70 destruction of the temple. This text is one that is heavily focused on AD 70, but Jesus seems to invite some meditation at the end.
This sermon looks at the difference in how Jesus describes AD 70 from how he turns to the end. While in AD 70 he gives the warning to flee, in the end the command is to “stand tall and look up, for your redemption draws near.” That difference has influenced the Christian attitude to worldly events during the entire time of the church, or in the words of the text “the time of the gentiles”. The signs of the kingdom’s coming happen all the time. What the Christian takes from these is not fear or anxiety but assurance. Our redemption draws near.
The applied moral is really for this congregation. We are debating the purchase of a new organ. The sermon attempts to calm some fears in those matters.
Worship Note: Two musical parts are left in. Our opening hymn: Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying is the classic Lutheran chorale, LSB 516. Also, our choir sounded very good today at full strength singing the Psalm of the Day, Psalm 98.
The day on the Church calendar was the Baptism of Christ and the text recognizes that. I think in the sermon there is recognition of baptism. If not, all the hymns of the day picked up on it as their connecting theme. But as I was preparing the sermon verse 18 (“So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people”) combined with a comment by Origin (2nd Century Teacher quoted in the sermon) made me look at John the Baptist himself. What was the gospel, the good news, that John preached?
As he would say, “Christ must increase, I must decrease”, so as a preacher the core of that Good News was simply the bridegroom has come – Jesus. That is the core of any preaching. But John’s good news, just from this brief snippet (Luke 3:1-22), is expansive. And Luke’s version of John has a striking and touching emphasis. After pointing out the bridegroom – the kinsman redeemer of Israel, John preaches against a false in everyway redeemer, Herod. Jesus & Israel are the bridegroom and sanctified bride. Herod and Herodias are the mocking of that redemption. John calls him out, and pays with his freedom and life. John’s preaching of good news, includes the role of suffering.
I didn’t make the connection in the sermon because the sermon itself is more breadth than depth. Pulling together all the threads of levirate marriage that this text relies on would have been explaining too much for a sermon. Better suited for a study. But marriage as the symbol of what God does for his people, and the mocking of marriage made by the state, and John’s suffering caused by that confrontation, seems applicable.
Recording Note: I have left in our opening hymn Lutheran Service Book 405 To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord. The congregation sounded great, and that hymn really captures the core message of the festival – “This man is Christ our substitute!” Also, they sang it post the OT reading, but I’ve moved it after the sermon here. These recordings can’t really capture the full service. We don’t really have the recording equipment for that, so the focus is really on the spoken parts (i.e. texts and sermon). But, I included our Choir singing a wonderful Epiphany piece. I included such things as markers to the full live experience. Worship really is about being there.
The text and the church occasion is the baptism of Jesus. This sermon uses as a theme what Mark says happened at the beginning and at the end of his gospel – Heaven Torn Open. First at the baptism when Jesus becomes willingly the new Adam, taking our baptism. Then at the cross, when the veil to the holy place is torn open. Jesus counts himself with us sinners, so that we might be counted in the holy place. He doesn’t abandon or crush his creation, he redeems it.
I wish I had caught a good recording of the hymn post the sermon. It is LSB 404 – Jesus Once with Sinners Numbered. It is a great hymn and spot on. Here is a link to someone with a great voice singing it.
Text: John 1:1-14, Heb 1:1-5 Trouble in the World
The presents are all bought, if not all paid for by now. St. Nicholas is busy putting stuff under the trees. We are all at that point of the gifting season where it is what it is. Boyfriend and girlfriend will exchange and find out who likes who better. Husband and wife will find out if the spark is gone or still there. The kids will find out who mommy really likes better.
I suppose I’m only partially kidding. Because we know those thoughts come along with our gifts. Those thoughts are probably the real driver behind most Christmas angst. How will everything measure out? Can I make it through one more year without a major faux paus…or one more year of guarding my heart from breaking.
Jesus once told his disciples that you had to receive the kingdom like a child. Christmas is a great time to see some of what that means. The kids do most of the receiving. They are happy about it – unless it is socks. They are not immediately weighing how to repay the gift. They are not attempting to hide disappointment. They will shout for joy.
After a certain age and enough good training, all kids turn into adults. And as adults we are better givers than receivers. We have a phrase – ‘it is better to give than to receive.’ The naïve take is just that we should be generous. The deeper reading is that as long as you are giving, you are never in anyone’s debt.
Charles Dickens’ tale of Ebenezer Scrooge probably has influenced our ideas of Christmas more than the Biblical story. Scrooge learns “the real” meaning of Christmas. The real meaning to Ebenezer and his three ghosts is how to be a generous giver. Don’t be a Scrooge, that way you never rack up the eternal chains of debt that poor Marley carried around. A Dickens’ Christmas is about balancing the scales. About finding the power within us to make things right. Gospel – Section 1
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– (John 1:11 NIV)
The Gospel story is not about balancing the scales. And it is even less about guarding hearts or learning how to give. And it is not about the power within. The Gospel is about learning to receive.
The Father loved his Son, and the Father and the Son loved their creation. The creation that constantly broke their collective heart. “Long ago, at many times and in various ways, God spoke through the prophets.” And Israel would refuse to listen. They wanted a king like other nations. They wanted gods like other nations. They wanted to balance the scales. They wanted to be free and independent. They wanted their power. They wanted to be like God.
“but now, in these days, He has spoken to us by His Son…” For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. God sent the true light into the world knowing that the world would not get it. Knowing that even though everything had been made through this light, the world would not know him…that the world would not receive him. The cross was born for all mankind, knowing that some would not receive it. Didn’t matter…God would empty his heart. God would not guard his heart in his giving. He would open and reveal himself fully – in a child in a manger…in a peasant on a cross. One last gift given – no give backs…no possible way to payback.
Gospel – Section 2
The Gospel is about receiving. It is about understanding our own powerlessness.
The world looks at that baby and sees helplessness. The world looks at that cross and sees defeat. God looks at those and sees the son He loves. The son who willing put all the glory aside. Put aside the glory for a manger, for a cross, for us. And in the light of that gift, God sees us – he gives us the right to be his children.
But we have to receive it. We have to open our eyes. We have to understand that we are more helpless than that baby in the manger. We have to understand that there is nothing inside of us that can save us. We can’t bootstrap our way to heaven. We can never balance the scales. We have to receive it. We receive it like a little child. We receive Christ like the gift from the Father who loves us. Conclusion
The gospel is about receiving. Receiving eyes to see our true state. Receiving the love of God for us. Receiving the adoption as sons and daughters. Receiving the light that the world can never understand. Receiving the baby in manger, as a mirror of our state before God, and yet so much more than what these eyes can see. Amen.
This sermon owes a debt of gratitude to William Willimon whose theme I stole and reworked in a way I could deliver it.
The gospel text for the day was Mark 16:1-20 or the ending of the gospel. The non-scripture reading that was paired with it just bowled me over to the point that you wonder if it was just another “preacher story” – truthfully I would hope that it was a pious fiction, but sorrowfully knowing that it was real because our fiction doesn’t imagine stuff like this. I’m probably breaking 50 copyright laws (although the readership is not so great that even on the internet it might be considered private use 🙂 ), but I’m just going to type it out.
From Paul Tillich:
In the Nuremburg war-crime trials a witnes appeared who had lived for a time in a grave in a Jewish grave-yard in Wilna, Poland. It was the only place he – and may others – could live, when in hiding after they had escaped the gas chamber. During this time he wrote poetry, and one of the poems was a description of a birth. In a grave nearby a young woman gave birth to a boy. The eighty-year old gravedigger, wrapped in a linen shroud, assisted. When the new-born child uttered his first cry, the old man prayed: ‘Great God, has Thou finally sent the Messiah to us? For who else than the Messiah Himself can be born in a grave?’ But after three days the poet saw the child sucking his mother’s tears because she had no milk for him…When I first read it, it occured to me more forcefully than ever before that our Christian symbols, taken from the gospel stories, have lost a great deal of their power…it has been forgotten that the manger of Christmas was the expression of utter poverty and distress before it became the place where the angels appeared and to which the star pointed. And it has been forgotten that the tomb of Jesus was the end of His life and His work before it became the place of His final triumph. We have become insensitive to the infinite tension which is implied in the words of the Apostle’s Creed: ‘suffered…was crucified, dead and buried…rose again from the dead.’ We already know, when we hear the first words, what the ending will be: ‘rose again;’ and for many people it is no more than the inevitable ‘happy ending.’ The old Jewish gravedigger knew better. For him the immeasurable tension implicit in the expectation of the Messiah was a reality, appearing in the infinite contrast between the things he saw and the hope he maintained.
Dangerous territory the later days. Especially when you ponder the Jewish people. Over and over again in history Christians have looked for the wholesale “return” of the Jews to belief. It is one of those thoughts that is just too tantalizing. And when it doesn’t happen in a person’s lifetime the results are not often pretty (see Martin Luther’s late writings on the Jews). There it is in today’s text – “in later days, you will return to the Lord your God and hear his voice…” Paul in Romans ponders the question and answers “all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26) What both this text and Paul have in common is disobeidience. Moses says, “that the people will be few in number amoung the nations and there you will serce other gods of wood and stone….” Paul writes (romans 11:32), “God has bound all men over to disobeidience so that he many have mercy on them all.”
Becoming infatuated with the hereditary Jews misses Paul’s and Moses’ distinction. All Israel will be saved. The elect, the chosen, Israel – not the hereditary line, but the line of faith. “When you are in tribulation and all these things come upon you in the later days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice, for the Lord your God is a merciful God.” The disobeidient will hear the voice and repent. All have fallen short. All have been disobeidient. All have been called by the Gospel. All Israel hears the Good Shepherd’s voice. (John 10:5, John 10:27)
And how is Israel chosen? “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out… (Romans 11:33-36)”